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Raymonda Trilogy: The Kirov Ballet in "Raymonda"

Part 3

by Catherine Pawlick

February 6, 2007 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia

The third “Raymonda” in ten days served as a reminder of the talents quietly blossoming within the Kirov’s ranks. Last night, Tatiana Tkachenko, still a second soloist, danced the leading role alongside Danila Korsuntsev as Jean de Brienne.

On the heels of Lopatkina’s precisely delivered, technically perfect version – which, in a very rare treat for St. Petersburg residents, the great ballerina danced twice in four days – one doubted if any other interpretation could come close to impressing the viewer. In fact, Tkachenko’s rendition inspired with its freshness and clear differentiation from her predecessor. Infused with humanity and warmth, Tkachenko’s Raymonda presents an attainable feminine ideal that contrasts significantly with Lopatkina’s inaccessible model. Tkachenko’s is a Raymonda with compassion, love, and tangible emotion bubbling at the surface, but she is never coquettish or insincere. From her first entrance in a peach tutu trimmed with gold beads, the sparkle in her eyes decorated a shy but sure smile. With Tkachenko, one never has the sense that dancing is labored or calculated. Her gifts, both dramatic and technical, lend her a reliability that not all Mariinsky dancers hold. She is solid, strong, consistent, but never boring, dry or cold.

At this third viewing, still more details of the production revealed themselves that heretofore have been less obvious. In Act I, when Abderakhman leaves the stage just prior to Raymonda’s harp and scarf dance, he throws the dark-skinned male pages at Raymonda’s feet. These are two young boys from the Vaganova Academy dressed in colorful orange clothing that appears North African in nature. The boys are scuttled quickly to the side of the stage by members of the court where they remain seated during the harp scene. These small attendants are apparently another one of the Sheikh’s gifts to Raymonda, another desperate attempt to obtain, or purchase, her love. They seemed also a symbolic reminder of her struggle. Even during the dance with the ephemeral length of white gauze she is not alone; the Sheikh’s wards remain ever-present reminders of what she is trying to avoid.

Certain miming sequences were less ambiguous in this performance. In Tkachenko’s portrayal, Raymonda clearly informed her mother that she was fatigued from all the celebration and intended to retire to her room for some rest. This small miming detail lent more depth to the libretto, and had not been as noticeable in Lopatkina’s version.

Details aside, one of Tkachenko’s wonders is her strong, almost God-given technique. Even the most arduous steps appear second nature when Tkachenko dances them. Blessed with a lean frame, and turnout that seems to have its source at each and every joint, one has the sense that ballet is easy for her. The complex challenges that Petipa has presented in this full-length work appear almost undemanding on Tkachenko’s watch. Technically, she was accurate, with tidy pointework, tight, surefire turns, and light, buoyant jumps. While dancing with the white scarf, Tkachenko had not only mastered control of the unruly garment, but of the steps themselves. During the dream sequence that followed, she appeared completely engaged with her handsome prince, and for his part, Korsuntsev again came to the rescue with admirable, well-timed partnering.

Tkachenko took good advantage of each and every one of Raymonda’s opportunities to truly act throughout this performance. At the end of the dream sequence, when the vision turns darker with the appearance of Abderakhman, the fear in her face extended to her very limbs. Likewise, upon awakening in her chambers, she gestured grandly in relief that real life did not entail such nightmarish endings.

Other dancers followed Tkachenko in presentation. In the dream scene, Daria Vasnetsova debuted in the adagio variation. Her finish was unsmudged, the entire variation taken at the slowest tempo yet, the relevés strong, her weightless legs floating high inspite of themselves, and her bourrées solid. In contrast, the earthbound Yulia Kasenkova seemed weighted down, her lines sloppy, and her ending rushed, musically.

Tkachenko’s variation in this section, however, was flawless. She seemed united with the conductor in tempo, a rare occurrence on ballet stages. When watching her, one is at no risk to fret over whether or not she will finish a step or variation – as mentioned earlier, reliability is a given – and so, indulging in her easy delivery and strong lines becomes the audience’s pleasure.

Tkachenko simply bubbled with life this evening, up until the final curtain. In the last upstage diagonal of Act II, which Lopatkina delivered as a half hop before the soutenue to developé ecarté, Tkachenko gave a full sauté, injecting the dance with more energy. On more than one occasion her delivery eschewed the popular 200-degree extensions for perfect academic placement and thoughtful emotional delivery – preferences of thankfully still a significant number of Petersburg viewers.

As the evening continued, there were still other moments of note. At the end of Act II, the duel between Abderakhman and Jean de Brienne took on a life of its own when Korsuntsev’s first sword broke in half. One wondered how he would defeat the Sheikh when devoid of his own defenses, but Count Rene de Brienne (Vladimir Ponamarev), watching the combat, was quick to provide his battling son with a replacement sword. The blow was delivered, the enemy defeated, and Korsuntsev crowned by his countess. Having conquered Evil once again, it was time to celebrate.

Tkachenko’s fresh, energized approach this evening seemed to set the bar high, but the national dances of Act III met her challenge and delivered with equal verve. Galina Rakhmanova’s dancing in the Hungarian variation drew loud appreciation from the audience. Evgenia Obratsova appeared in the relief variation, solving the problem of double casting that appeared in Lopatkina’s January 27 performance. Obratsova was not included in the corps de ballet partnering, and so stepped on stage after the previous dancers had exited. Petite, she nonetheless captured the entire hall with her expansive gestures, contagious smile and stylized port de bras and head movements. If one didn’t know better, one would have thought she was Hungarian herself.

The four courtiers dancing the cannon of double tours were other than the program listed. Vladmir Shklyarov and Maxim Krebtov did not dance – Grigori Popov and Maxim Chashchegorov did.

In the pièce de resistance, the Act III variation , Tkachenko entered, proud, silent, and majestic. Her first three steps entailed no hand clap at all – the second three included the same soundless brush of the fingers that Lopatkina displayed last week, a token gesture adhering to the choreography without detracting from the mood. With serene, almost spiritual reverence, Tkachenko covered the stage, her aura one of deference, presumably to Hungary, her new husband’s country, to the court, and to her own future. As the music shifted to allegro, so she transformed, now imbibed with energy, sudden snaps of the head accenting the choreography, her eyes too dancing. More than 16 counts of retire passé were executed with verve, and her final diagonal accented with flicks of the hand.

She was free, a living, breathing Raymonda, a woman who has found her prince. Tkachenko’s version seemed to suggest that such fairytales are possible … even for the rest of us.

Once again, Alexander Polyanichko conducted.

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