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Kirov Ballet - International Festival

'Jeu de Cartes', 'Misericordes', 'In the Upper Room', 'La Bayadere'

by Catherine Pawlick

April 17-28, 2007 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia

Tuesday and Wednesday nights this week presented opposing genres of dance as part of the Seventh International Ballet Festival at the Mariinsky Theatre. From a mixed bill danced entirely by members of the Bolshoi Ballet on Tuesday, to “La Bayadere” with two Bolshoi soloists the following night, the audience was treated to a wide range of dance styles within just over 24 hours.

The mixed Bolshoi bill began with Alexei Ratmansky’s “Jeu des Cartes”, a busy ballet set to Stravinsky’s equally complex score. Between the multilayered movements and various dancer groupings, the eyes were never given a rest. Dressed in purple unitards with skirts, and headbands decorating their heads, the women danced through various combinations interspersed by the men, whose elasticity and powerful jumps appeared only slightly less impressive than Bolshoi male corps of 15 years ago.

In “Jeu”, several women drew one’s attention, Maria Alexandrova for her well-advertised face and a tall, curvaceous blonde for her light features and long, sensuous lines. Following the ballet, Ratmansky was pulled onstage to warm applause by the audience.

The tone shifted to one more somber and medieval in nature with Christopher Wheeldon’s dark “Misericordes”. Wheeldon is already recognized as a talented choreographer; that the Bolshoi Ballet dances his work further underlines this point. “Misericordes” featured Dmitry Gudanov as the soloist with finely chiseled legs and beautifully arched feet in a silver jacket and tights, decorated by four couples in rich jewel-toned costumes.

The movements are modern with hints of classicism provided by very clean lines and lifts. Following a pas de deux between Alexandrova and Yuri Klevtsov, Anna Rebetskaya and Yan Godovsky danced a slower adagio pas de deux with great lyricism. Although the meaning of the piece is slightly elusive, the final tableau pose with arms intertwined left plenty of food for thought.

“In the Upper Room” was by far the highlight of the evening. Tharp’s gymnastic, energetic choreography kept the dancers running – literally – for the entirety of the piece. Dressed in striped jumpsuits, the dancers reappear at various intervals at various stages of undress, ending the ballet in simple red leotards and jazz shoes. The attitude is casual, as if they’ve all gone for a jog in the park, and playful.

Of note was Andrei Mercuriev’s return to one of his home stages (he has danced at the Maly/Mussorgsky as well as the Mariinsky). His jumps appeared feather-light, and the beaming smile on his face displayed a lighthearted joy that was a pleasure to withhold. Of the women, Natalia Osipova’s acrobatic tendencies and endless energy caught the eye.

The theatre left no seat empty for Wednesday’s performance of “La Bayadere”, and no doubt the casting was responsible for that. On loan from the Bolshoi, Nikolai Tsiskaridze danced the role of Solor alongside Petersburg’s revered Uliana Lopatkina; Alexandrova reappeared as Gamzatti.

Puzzling was the great welcome to Alexandrova as Gamzatti before the dance had truly begun. Although their greeting of applause upon the appearance of Tsiskaridze or Lopatkina onstage seems understandable, this reviewer had yet to discern what it was about Alexandrova that set her apart – that is, until the wedding grand pas. Alexandrova’s legs seem to carry her skyward in any split jete. Likewise the series of fouettes – 16 Italian followed by 21 en tournant, then stopping on a dime – were nothing if not virtuoso. In addition to acting the role of a believably jealous bride, this Bolshoi ballerina’s talents lie in her legwork, the faster the better.

What can be said of perfection? Lopatkina’s Nikita is one of, if not her signature role, and the audience adores her for it. This performance was impeccable in every respect, from her first refusal of the Great Brahmin’s advances to her flawless interpretation in the Third Act. Her solo during the Second Act was filled with mournful melancholy, which shifted immediately to hopeful joy at the arrival of the basket of flowers. As has been noted before, Lopatkina’s thorough regard for detailed nuance is her trademark, and this performance was no exception. Throughout the length of the ballet, no gesture, movement or step was other than ideal. Her interpretation is almost impossible to critique – it is textbook perfect.

Tsiskaridze is a wonder of another kind. In the wedding pas he greeted Gamzatti and the audience with a smile of sheer joy; his manège of split jetes was impossibly high and light (the back leg in a slight attitude), the series of double tours en manege simply dazzling in their speed and clarity. In general, Tsiskaridze seems born for the stage, his ballon and lightning-fast chaine turns only half of the equation. A sense of warm Georgian hospitality extended to the reaches of the theatre, as if he had invited us all to take part in a life event – for a moment, it was not ballet, it was life.

In the Shades scene, soloists Olesya Novikova, Tatiana Tkachenko and Ksenia Ostreikovskaya danced the three variations to a suddenly high-speed tempo in the first two cases. Alexander Polyanichko’s baton seemed to disregard Novikova’s own timing, meaning she began the final diagonal (arabesque releves) about four counts late. In contrasting manner, the tempo for the adagio variation (Ostreikovskaya) seemed almost too slow. In all, however, these soloists glowed like pearls among the rest of the pristine corps de ballet.

Mention must be given as well to the reliable dramatic passion of Vladimir Ponomarev, without whose esteemed acting chops the momentum of the libretto would never be able to take off as it does.

Alexander Titov conducted the Bolshoi; Polyanichko conducted “La Bayadere”.   

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