by Catherine Pawlick
April 4, 2008 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia
The festival is over. The tourists have gone. The souvenir and program stands, once teeming with buyers, are left mostly empty at intermission, for the locals are already intimately familiar with their wares. But on Friday night the Mariinsky Theatre filled to the brim with diehard Russian balletomanes for a very special performance.
It would be hard to pinpoint a singular reason for the crowd. Evgenia Obratsova as Giselle would be reason enough. But Alexander Sergeev’s debut as Albrecht sealed the terpsichorean covenant and made the performance that much more spectacular.
Sergeev’s promise has been notable since his graduation performance in 2004. A student of the renowned Gennady Silutsky, Sergeev possesses one of the finest arabesque lines in the company, long, sinewy muscles, flexibility, strength, and balance. In his Second Act variation, he finished his cabriole sissones in a high arabesque; his tour jetés always reach a straight 180-degree line while still in the air. He managed four perfectly placed pirouettes before continuing to turn in attitude derriere, and throughout the evening provided flawless partnering support for Obratsova. But technique is something most Kirov soloists have in spades over their international counterparts. Sergeev offered something more.
It was clear from the start that this budding artist had thought through the libretto and defined his own portrayal of Count Albrecht’s character. Tiny nuances gave the story line added coherency, and those nuances were many. His initial entrance was accompanied by a noble demeanor. It was clear that his aide, danced by Fedor Lopukhov, only annoyed the count, judging from Sergeev’s dismissive gestures. Likewise, an unexpected passionate embrace of Giselle in the First Act pas de deux demonstrated Albrecht’s recklessness; a snap of the fingers showing his puerile side when he is caught in his web of lies. Sergeev’s Albrecht was the unevolved impulsive kind – not ill-intentioned, simply too impetuous to have thought through his plan and considered the possible repercussions. This overall good intent became clear during the Second Act, when his character’s palpable grief intertwined with surprise at the fleeting nature of Giselle’s ghostly embodiment. And finally, Sergeev’s attempt to hold onto Giselle’s hand as she disappears down into her grave, and the sobs he portrayed lying on her gravestone at curtain showed his character’s sincere care for the girl he betrayed. It is already clear that Sergeev will be a future star inside this company.
Evgenia Obratsova, stunning to behold offstage as well as on, danced a spectacularly happy and innocent peasant girl. As Giselle, she embodied youth, beauty and blind trust, and her interpretation of every scene was entirely her own. Particularly surprising was Obratsova’s mad scene. While a consummate actress, I had not expected such a dramatic shift from lovestruck youth to her character’s psychological distraction, but Obrastsova performed the transition masterfully. Perhaps more than any other ballerina on the current Mariinsky roster, however, Obrastsova’s honed technique provides unfaltering performances that leave no doubt as to her strength and stamina, and in the process open up room for refined character development. Her Second Act adagio, from the initial developpé à la seconde to the promenade in arabesque, were completed without a single wobble. Each pirouette was smooth. Her petit allegro, likewise, was short and crisp. In a word, she is faultless, and this role becomes her.
As Myrtha, Alexandra Iosifidi danced a cool Queen of the Wilis, only her rather flat fingers distracting from otherwise standard Vaganova lines. Viktoria Kutepova – her hair now black from its usual blonde shade – joined Yulia Kasenkova as the two wilis. Both danced adequately but did not offer the sparks that the leading couple provided.
Of note, there was oddly no Peasant Pas de Deux danced in the First Act. As Vladimir Schklyarov looked on from the company box, one presumes that the New York tour has removed any possible contenders for the male role, thereby resulting in the removal of the entire pas de deux from this particular performance.
Conductor Mikhail Agrest led a beautiful orchestral accompaniment for this milestone performance.