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Mariinsky Theatre -- 225th Season


by Catherine Pawlick

19 September 2007 -- St. Petersburg, Russia

The beginning of the Mariinsky’s 225th season began in hallmark fashion earlier this week. Per tradition, the Opera had the honors of the first performance, offering up “Life for the Tsar” on September 16th. Diana Vishneva danced in “Romeo and Juliet” the following night, and Alina Somova appeared in the traditional season ballet opener, “Swan Lake”. However, the third ballet in this case was certainly the charm, for it wasn’t until tonight, in arguably the first real draw of the season, that the devoted contingency of St. Petersburg’s strict classical ballet lovers filled the Mariinsky Theatre to witness the queen of classical purity, Uliana Lopatkina, in “Giselle”.

Lopatkina debuted in “Giselle” earlier this year in a genius interpretation tailored to her own strengths. Again in this performance she employed slower tempos, a shift that only strengthened the libretto’s coherence. That one can so visibly see her character’s emotions throughout the ballet is a credit to Lopatkina as an actress. Her Giselle is an innocent, shy and overly careful peasant girl. In the sequences where her heart seemed to weaken, one glance at Albrecht would revive her with the breath of life, and love. In the Second Act it was that same love that stretched the bodiless spectre into a feeling, breathing being trying to protect the man she loved. Down to the details of her tulle skirt, made of what must have been hundreds of layers of fabric so light that the slightest air current would send it blowing around her wispy frame, nothing in the performance was overlooked. Arguments that Lopatkina is cold or that this is not her role were proven otherwise with this evening’s efforts. If well-rehearsed, nothing was calculated and yet her technique, as always, was flawless.

The evening was made more exciting by the debut of Ivan Kozlov, new to the company this season from Eifman Ballet. Kozlov is every tall ballerina’s dream. He stands a full head above Lopatkina’s 5’10” frame, with beautifully sculpted legs and plenty of upper body strength to make partnering seem effortless. If Kozlov’s good looks are not enough – and they should be -- his acting ability in fact draws from the deepest traditions of great dramatic danseurs. In Act I Kozlov’s Albrecht was the quick-thinking spoiled prince out to have some fun. By Act II, however, the depths of his remorse were visible in every gesture. Physically he is a perfect match for Lopatkina’s tall, lithe lines. The two make a wonderful onstage pair. The audience’s endless applause at the final curtain (and the lack of early departures from the hall) attested to their respect and approval for one of the finest ballerinas on the world stage today.

The Act I Peasant Pas de Deux was danced by Elena Sheshina and Phillippe Steppe adequately. If the lines in Steppe’s feet left something to be desired, he was clearly chosen for the role based on his ability to execute clear beats. Sheshina is a reliable ballerina but this evening her finishes were slightly bumpy. Ekaterina Kondaurova danced a chilly Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, with razor sharp tour-jetés and fluid port de bras. In her initial bourrée forward she skimmed the floor as if gliding on ice, never a wobble or a bounce. Throughout she was the image of a beautifully cold phantom and to date, along with Tereshkina, she’s the strongest Kirov dancer in this role. Her aides, Moyna and Zulma, were danced by Tatiana Tkachenko and Daria Vasnetsova, both also displaying strong footwork and fluid port de bras. Vasnetsova appears to be blossoming into a very mature, strong dancer. Islam Baimuradov held the drama of the First Act together as the headstrong and intelligent Hilarion, so much so that one felt sorry when he succumbed to the wilis’ revenge in Act II. The corps de ballet stunned in the Second Act arabesque crossing, drawing audience applause for their perfect synchronicity.

Mikhail Agrest deserves a medal for maintaining a legato tempo throughout the evening and for his attention to the dancers on stage during the performance. For tourists and locals alike, Lopatkina’s “Giselle” is a chance to witness history in the making and the strongest of the Mariinsky’s classical traditions.

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