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Kirov Ballet -

International Festival

'Don Quixote'

by Catherine Pawlick

April 20, 2007 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia

Ballerinas worldwide, take note. The fouetté barometer has been officially raised, and on the greatest of classical ballet stages, no less. Fouettés – a series of uninterrupted turns done on one leg while the other leg extends out to the side, and folds back in again, never touching the floor – are one of the most difficult steps in the classical ballet repertoire because of the stamina and strength required to complete an uninterrupted series.

No fewer than 64 fouettés were performed, in two sets of 32 each, on Friday night at the Mariinsky Theatre by the Bolshoi Ballet’s Natalia Osipova during the final act of “Don Quixote”.

At lightening speed, Osipova began with nine double fouettés; the tenth was a triple, and the remaining were singles. After completing the turns in time with the music, and stopping on a dime, she received wild applause from the audience, who urged her to perform an encore. She returned to the stage, negotiated with the conductor and repeated the entire 32 (with the initial 10 double turns). Such a feat is rarely if ever performed on any world stage, and indeed few balletomanes have ever seen the likes of Osipova’s talents.

Compact, with an expressive face, at 20 Osipova is a rising star within the Bolshoi. Her praises have already been sung by leading ballet critics, who have noted her sprightly jumps, boundless energy, and professional command of drama while onstage.

Her performance on April 20 was the second of two in St. Petersburg. She appeared in the contemporary mixed bill on April 17 in Ratmansky’s “Jeu de Cartes” and Twyla Tharp’s gymnastic “In the Upper Room”. In “Don Quixote, Osipova danced alongside Leonid Sarafanov.

For someone her age, Osipova is already a master in her art. Although still listed as a member of the corps de ballet, Friday’s performance proved Osipova a ballerina of highest caliber, arguably higher than many principal dancers worldwide. Her technique balances refined lines with enough bravura sprinkled in to keep it interesting. Osipova’s Kitri was vibrant, energetic and dignified, upholding the greatest of Bolshoi traditions even while carrying them forward with inspiring freshness. Every jeté was crisply airborne; every bourrée a flutter of quick feet. Her stunning displays outdid even the award-winning Sarafanov, whose clean lines and jumps repeatedly gain him immediate favor with the international audience. But this time, Sarafanov danced almost in her shadow, so amazing was Osipova’s technique.

As Espada, Islam Baumuradov is perhaps second on the list from this particular performance deserving mention. His stealthy, debonair stance as the Toreador set an apt Mediterranean tone for the flashing cape sequence in the first act, and in his brief dance with Mercedes, danced by the incomparable Galina Raxmanova in the Tavern scene. Next to Baimuradov in the first act, Ekaterina Kondaurova’s sultry sensuality in their dance together displayed enough coquettishness to maintain everyone’s interest; her bourrées through the toreador’s goblets placed on the floor were an essay in well-estimated, precise steps. Likewise, Rakhmanova’s glowing smile, unbelievably flexible back and Spanish sensibilities were a joy to behold. Both ladies exhibited the essence of their characters and were pure delights.

The single misfortune of the evening existed in the presence of Alina Somova as Queen of the Dryads. Before a chassé tour-jeté that Osipova and Somova were to dance in unison, Somova chose to languish in her initial arabesque, blocking Osipova’s path and forcing the latter to pause, creating a jarring moment. Somova’s arms were repeatedly bent at the wrist and followed the rest of her body seconds later. She was unable to maintain any sense of legato in her dance: she can deliver a pose, but has trouble connecting steps in a clean manner. Despite acrobatically high legs, which appeared distasteful alongside Osipova’s textbook classicism, Somova’s delivery was sloppy, and her persona misplaced. During the Dryad variation, she incorporated a “come hither” look over her shoulder at the audience which is entirely inappropriate for the Dryad role. Nonetheless, she drew applause for her gymnastic extensions. Hopefully, after seeing the colorful poise of Osipova’s Kitri, some audience members will be wiser in dispensing their appreciation.

Financial Times’ critic Clement Crisp has compared Osipova’s vitality and bravura to Plisetskaya – a compliment of immeasurable degree, and one that few would find reason to disagree with. Both Osipova and Sarafanov received brimming bouquets of flowers at the final curtain, and even this volume of gratitude seems meager when compared to their talents.

Pavel Bubelnikov conducted an impeccable orchestra, supporting the dancers throughout the evening.

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