by Catherine Pawlick
June 27, 2007 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia
As part of this year’s White Nights Festival, Daria Pavlenko appeared at her lyrical best alongside Danila Korsuntsev’s ever stronger Siegfried in “Swan Lake” this Wednesday night. To the chills inspired by clashing cymbals during the Mariinsky Orchestra’s powerful and crystal clear rendition of Tchaikovsky’s well-known overture, the company offered a tight, traditional performance of this the whitest of white ballets for a full house.
The house, however, was not full at ten minutes past the hour. In fact, the curtain was delayed 25 minutes due to several tour buses whose contents apparently comprised more than half of the audience. This frustrated those who had made an effort to be on time, and resulted in ultra speedy intermissions for the mostly tourist-filled audience who barely applauded at the appropriate intervals. Despite these inconveniences, this performance nonetheless proved a shining example of high-quality, pristine dancing that can be found only at the Kirov.
Pavlenko’s last appearance in “Swan Lake” took place this January. Her continuously rare casting in major roles is an ongoing, inexplicable and frustrating phenomenon, but followers and newcomers alike were given a reprieve on Wednesday night as her warmth and soulful emotion graced the stage for more than three hours. Pavlenko inevitably is always given the more inconvenient programming choices: matinees on tour, Monday night performances at home (when the house is less likely to be full), last-minute replacements for dancers calling in sick. And despite her positioning as the step-in girl, or perhaps because of it, she is one of the strongest intuitive dancers on the company roster and without any doubt the most soulful on the list.
But before we were able to feast our eyes on her beauty, the first Act offered some other charms. Notable was Grigory Popov’s openly humorous portrayal of the Jester. From a fourth-row orchestra vantage point his vibrant acting skills and love of the game – in this case, entertaining the Prince and the guests, and propelling the story forward throughout the first scene – came across clearly, leaving nothing to be desired. Popov’s performance in this role has grown in the past two years, resulting in a polished actor who can play inside the score’s musicality and repeatedly come out ahead. In the Pas de Trois, Maxim Zuizin proved a nice surprise for his forceful jumps and beautifully arched feet; his faille assemble diagonal soared, and his beated tour jeté was effortless. He need only smile more to win each audience member over. Ekaterina Osmolkina was a delicate princess in her variation, her soft port de bras floating gently while pristine footwork covered the steps. Only Yulia Kasenkova disappointed; despite a strong jump, which is no doubt the reason she is placed repeatedly in this role, her short lines and stiff feet fail to match those of her counterparts, providing for an imbalanced third portion of the trio.
As Siegfried, Danila Korsuntsev seems to have grown more into this role with the passage of time as well. His legs now more powerfully built, he carries an arabesque line beautifully, and his manège of split jetés quickly covers the entire expanse of the stage for his lengthy limbs.
And finally, the ballerina. From her first entrance of trembling bourrées and that initial arabesque held perfectly for several seconds, Pavlenko entranced. She was at her expressive best. As she stretched her arms in alarm at first sight of Siegfried, one had no doubt as to what she was saying. Her own beautifully arched feet curled over each step with ease. One knew from that entrance that this was not just a ballerina, but a Russian one, filled with soul, emotion and warmth. In the White Swan adagio, Pavlenko’s initial double pirouette to arabesque was performed with a honey-like legato, the entire adagio one long, uninterrupted phrase. She accented the partnered sequence of soutenue-retiré passé- dévelopée into arabesque plie with a quick petit battement before the retire passé, and used her lush back and neck to express every manner of feeling. Pavlenko then shifted without warning from luminous legato to sparkling, sharp allegro in the beaten entrechat quatre/retire passé sequence. A final stroke of interpretative genius showed Pavlenko’s call to return to her swan-form. As she bourréed backwards, she paused, reaching for Siegfried while still en pointe and then, facing the audience, waved her wings with a blank stare as she retired behind the curtain, no longer human. Throughout this act Pavlenko mesmerized so that one hadn’t even the desire to steal one’s eyes away to the pristine corps de ballet.
However, once she disappeared from the stage, the eyes could feast on the sea of white swans. Here in the swan corps, whereas some swans appeared perhaps tired or bored, Yana Selina, Svetlana Ivanova and Liobov Kuznetsova stood out for their appropriately frightened, innocent looks. Anastasia Petushkova looked under her wing angrily and seemed discontented. But the rest of the flock appeared beautiful, and certainly not a foot was out of line or unpointed. As the four big swans, Ekaterina Kondaurova, Anastasia Petushkova, Tatiana Tkachenko and Alesandra Iosifidi performed expansive, rousing movements, covering the stage with long graceful limbs.
In Act II, Pavlenko, of course, returned. While Odile’s persona is by no means close to Pavlenko’s own, her acting ability proved to the contrary. Pavlenko’s Odile succeeds for her glamour; her eyes are the character, now glancing sideways from under her brow at Siegfried, testing him and enticing him closer, now pushing him away with the impetuosity of a whimsical female who knows the value of her feminine wiles. Pavlenko was not afraid to play with musicality either. She included several slower sequences, but her variation was sharp. She has virtually eliminated the Russian double-preparation for pirouettes, for as soon as her back leg hits fourth, she is already turning. Pavlenko’s Odile was every bit the Egyptian queen out for a kill, her lips curled into a wicked smile of deceit under knowing, clever eyes. But in this role, as in Odette, there was an element of human warmth: Siegfried falls in love with two women, not two swans, and Pavlenko’s interpretation makes this distinction clear.
In Act III, Pavlenko’s warmth shifted once more back to the betrayed Swan Queen. To the backdrop of Daria Vasnetsova’s solo as the first swan, in which her great foot articulation was met by beautiful port de bras, and Nadezhda Gonchar’s accurate second swan, Pavlenko entered, miming Odette’s tears, the entire corps de ballet following suit. The pain of Odette’s loss was nearly tangible. Herein lies the brilliance of Pavlenko’s dancing: she is reachable, understandable, human, imperfect, and all the more lovable for it.
As Korsuntsev defeated Rothbart, danced by Konstantin Zverev with more hatred, attack and precision than is usually given this role, Pavlenko awoke from the spell, looking at her Prince in disbelief. As the two lovers took their final pose, it was with a smile that Pavlenko stepped into arabesque, perhaps with the knowledge that love truly does conquer all.
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