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The Eighth Annual International Mariinsky Festival

'Swan Lake'

by Catherine Pawlick

20 March 2008 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia

On Thursday, the Mariinsky Theatre experienced a treat when the Royal Ballet's celebrated Tamara Rojo joined Igor Kolb in the fifth "Swan Lake" of this festival.

Seemingly no more than five feet tall, Rojo's command of the stage is nonetheless considerable. One would not expect a woman of such size to excel in legato movements or slower tempi, but in fact, in this performance, these seemed to be her greatest strengths. Rojo is a tiny ball of steel encased in a soft, fluid exterior, and she infuses all of her movements with care. At moments her eight-year tenure at the Royal Ballet was visible: arms in second, neck and spine perfectly erect, for a millisecond she recalled Fonteyn poised en pointe. But Rojo's movements are never stiff. A strong set of arches and perfect turnout serve her well, particularly in balances. With a retiré passé pulled up above her knee, Rojo performed triple tour degagés in her White Swan variation, and tossed off quadruple pirouettes during her Black Swan variation, which began with a double pirouette into a triple attitude turn that ended in a staccato plié, recalling a snake that sidles up slowly and then attacks its prey. During the Black Swan pas de deux, she held an arabesque en pointe for over eight very slow counts of music. Although many Cuban dancers are said to be doing the same these days in Havana, never, in the past four years here, have I seen a ballerina on this stage perform the same feat. Rojo's fouettés, punctuated with triples every third turn, and a quadruple thrown in for good measure, instilled confidence in her professionalism. A tiny Spanish ball of steel.

Two minor deficiencies in Rojo's portrayal nonetheless distracted from an otherwise stellar performance. The first was a smile. I searched her face for expression throughout both acts, and saw nothing that compared to Viktoria Tereshkina's intent focus on Siegfried in Act Two, or even Gillian Murphy's tenderness in Act One. Although she went through the motions, the blank look on Rojo's face throughout most of her First Act Odette sequences left me wanting more. It wasn't until the betrayal in the Second Act that Rojo pointed a finger at Kolb, opened her mouth wide in laughter and threw her head back in victory. The moment was overdone compared to the placid expression she wore in previous scenes. It wasn't until the Russian unison clap began during the Act Two bows that Rojo broke into a full grin, pulling her arms to her heart in gratitude.

The second point of concern was the prevalence of a female persona over that of a swan, as manifested by the lack of Swan-like port de bras. At many points Rojo included a quatri è me position of the arms (one arm in 3 rd high Vaganova, the other in second), or other classical port de bras, but not necessarily Swan-like. This may be a regional variation on the Odette/Odile character, perhaps closer to the Royal Ballet's interpretation, but it did not strengthen her character. Likewise, in Act One, Rojo ran as a woman, not as a swan, and at many points she appeared to approach the dance with intuition. In Petersburg, one is used to seeing Swan arms throughout all three acts, for regardless of her human form, Odette is nonetheless a Swan Queen, a woman-swan.

For his part, although a fairly modern haircut distracted slightly from the persona of Prince, Igor Kolb's cavalier approach and total presence in his role made for a multi-dimensional partnership. Kolb's uber flexible physique makes his Siegfried extra pleasing to watch. His turns in attitude (Act One, Scene One) were upright spins. Likewise his tour jetés (Act Two) peaked in an airborne split. In addition to such technical talents, Kolb's acting chops came to the fore in the last half of the evening. He's one of the Kirov's most reliable partners and strongest male dancers to date.

In the Pas de Trois this evening, Alexei Timofeev, another corps member, replaced Vasily Sherbakov (Sunday night) and Philippe Stepin (Wedneday night). Also blessed with a tight set of tours en l'air (he finished in fifth without any readjustments) and considerable ballon, he is slowly developing into an interesting young dancer.

Pavel Bubelnikov conducted an orchestra that wavered at several moments and tended to make abrupt changes in tempo during Act Three.

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