by Catherine Pawlick
April 16, 2008 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia
Twelve days ago I wrote of a spectacular performance of “La Sylphide”. As the Kirov Ballet wraps up its New York City Center stay this week, local Petersburgians were treated to a second Sylphide of note.
Irina Zhelonkina returned to the stage to dance the leading role in this ballet on Wednesday night, alongside Ruben Bobovnikov’s James. While I would never have presumed the Kirov to excel at Bournonville ballets, the precision and cleanliness with which this troupe executes any choreography immediately lifts the quality of the performance, no matter who the choreographer is. This performance was no exception, with the additional gift of Zhelonkina’s traditional, old-school style dancing a perfectly fitting approach for this tragic ballet.
Although Zhelonkina has been back from maternity leave for well over two years now, she has not danced frequently this season until now. This month she dances “La Sylphide” twice, and one can only hope this forebears more appearances as summer begins. With delicate pearl earrings framing her porcelain complexion, Zhelonkina danced a happy, mischievous Sylph, intent on playing with James and capturing his heart. The manner in which she stole his ring, batting her eyelashes with a coy grin, epitomized the Sylph’s playfulness. Likewise, as she pointed to the birds in the forest (in Act Two), full of fascination for the creatures of the wood, one could only fall in love with this fleeting, innocent being. If not quite the expert in petit allegro that Elena Sheshina is, Zhelonkina’s longer lines and mastery of the Romantic port de bras made her delightful to watch.
Ruben Bobovnikov, in like fashion, portrayed the dreamer James with a clear sense of mime. When the witch Madge appeared, Effi quelled his insistence on the witch’s immediate departure only with difficulty, when his final nod emitted a sense of surrender. Bobovnikov’s petit allegro jumps, if not quite as airborne as Grigory Popov’s, were nonetheless impressive for their crisp form and ballon.
Polina Rassadina again danced the role of Effi with high energy and bright facial expressions. Sergei Salikov, the peasant intent on capturing her heart, would stop at no bounds to get an extra second of her attention. The four sylphides were incorrectly listed in the program: Anastasia Petushkova did not dance, and Elena Vaskiokovitch did. The others – Maria Adjamova, Viktoria Kutepova and Elizaveta Maltseva danced adequately with Adjamova perhaps the most sylph-like of all of them. Kutepova’s attempts to avoid the initial developpé devant by quickly lowering her leg, and her high arabesque arms, distracted from the sense of line and tempo in her dance.
Islam Baimuradov danced a skeletal Madge with great evil; although this was his debut in the role, one had the sense of the veteran performer that he is. Evgenia Emelianova also reappeared as Nancy, dancing with pliant movement and easy smiles.
Alexei Repnikov conducted, and the audience gave the dancers a warm reception with plenty of curtain calls. While the frontrunners of the Kirov display their wares in the Big Apple, there is still plenty of reason to watch the rest of the company on its home turf.