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8th Annual International Mariinsky Festival

Closing Night Gala Concert

by Catherine Pawlick

March 23, 2008 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia

The 8th International Mariinsky Festival drew to a scintillating close on Sunday night as the company presented a gala concert charged with moments of high voltage virtuosity that were full of numerous delights. The unannounced program, which had kept potential attendees guessing until the week of the gala, began on a light note as the company repeated the premier of “Carnavale”. Here again Islam Baimuradov’s poignantly gloomy Pierrot drew considerable applause; Yana Selina’s fleeting Butterfly was sprightly and joyful; and Evgenia Domatova, thrown in last minute as Kiarina, depicted her role with clarity and vivacity. On second viewing, Vladimir Shklyarov and Evgenia Obratsova’s partnership seemed even more evolved and mature. When Shklyarov (Harlequin) attempted to remove his heart from his chest (in mime) and place it at her feet, Obratsova's glee was evident with a quick flutter of her hands in applause. Shklyarov’s bouncy nature and quick hand waves also perfectly underlined his character’s cheerful demeanor. The couple’s dramatic interludes easily carried forward the ballet’s light-hearted tone.

The real show stoppers came after intermission, however, as both Mariinsky stars and guest performers worked their way through a series of Divertissements. That Mikhail Lobukhin adores the chance to jump and turn in the pas de deux from “Talisman”, was most clear. As his partner, Tatiana Tkachenko danced strongly with sure technique and lovely, expressive port de bras. They were followed by the incomparable Uliana Lopatkina in Alberto Alonso’s  “Carmen Suite” with Ivan Kozlov. The couple first danced this ballet in Moscow last year, and finally, tonight, Mariinsky spectators had the opportunity to see it firsthand.  Entrancing it was, and somehow Lopatkina, the longtime model of innocent, Swan-like purity onstage, metamorphosed into a sexy, brooding Spanish woman right before our eyes. The choreography, which matches the musical bells and chords with sharp hand movements or flexed feet, is not what one typically sees on this stage, but was invigorating for its freshness. The passion with which Lopatkina approached the role speaks only to the depth of her talents as a performer.

She was nearly outdone, however, by the guest appearance of Bavarian State Opera Ballet’s Lucia Lacarra and Cyril Pierre in Roland Petit’s pas de deux, “Taiis”, a lyrical pas de deux that displayed LaCarra’s enviable lines and beautifully arched feet to advantage. As Pierre lifted her high overhead, lowered her to his shoulder level and hefted her up once more – thrice in a row before setting her back on the floor – one knew that this was a strong, trusting partnership. After sweeping interludes and an essay in perfect lines, the couple finished the dramatic pas turning slowly under a single yellow light from overhead. Multiple curtain calls followed.

Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobberg danced in the pas de deux from “Coppelia”. While quaint, and despite several nice initial balances from Cojocaru, and her twelve fouettes in the coda, it lacked excitement, leaving more than a few viewers indifferent.

Unfortunately the following two divertissements left even more to be desired. Irma Nioradze appeared ill-fitted for Saint Saens’ “The Dying Swan”, which had a sense of roughness around the edges. Instead of the exquisite lines with which Lopatkina often fills this role – long, outstretched limbs expressing the struggle to retain life by reaching for it – Nioradze was overripe, her struggle apparent only in fulfilling the choreography.

Alina Somova was paired, surprisingly, with Angel Corella for the pas de deux from “Le Corsaire”. This proved a strange decision for their height mismatch, cultural mismatch, and the difference in performing experience and technique between the two dancers. Somova managed to bounce vertically in her fouettes, and the line of attitude derriere in the pas de deux promenades was sadly lost due to the unnatural height of her working leg. A sloppy set of (again, bouncy rather than controlled) emboités, flailing port de bras, and a chin lifted higher than normal attested to the argument that the young dancer has ignored the measures of Vaganova training in favor of circus-like feats. One sympathized with Corella for having to endure this partnership. His own bravura was pleasing, if overdone as he drew his hands to his chest and grimaced like a tiger. Corella nonetheless delivered a series of whip-snapping turns and jumps that left the audience wanting more.

Hans van Manen’s “Trois Gnoissiennes” completed the Divertissements, with Ivan Kozlov and Uliana Lopatkina. This short pas de deux, first shown here in last year’s festival, is a tidy little chamber piece set to music by Erik Satie. Van Manen’s choreography is an interesting portrayal of music via movement in which the woman is carried around like a doll, where hands clasped behind the back or low lifts parallel to the floor create some of its imagery. With the pair dressed in simple blue dancewear (a leotard and skirt for her; bare chest and blue tights for him) the piece's minimalistic approach is consistent and somehow intriguing.

The regal “Ballet Imperial” closed out the evening with ceremonial majesty. This evening it seemed as if the Balanchine ballet had been created just for the Kirov, so illumined was it with energy, purity of line, and sparkling moments of inspired dancing. Viktoria Tereshkina led the way with the abandon and zest of the greatest of Balanchine ballerinas.  Andrian Fadeev’s princely demeanor and finessed delivery proved a perfect match for the newly named Honored Artist of Russia. Svetlana Ivanova and Elizaveta Cherpasova shone as the two soloists alongside Olesya Novikova’s blue-gowned self. Novikova’s soft elbows approached a romantic style, contrasting with her steel legwork. Maxim Zuizin and Philippe Stepin were the two reliable soloist cavaliers.

Mikhail Tatarnikov conducted “Carnavale” and Pavel Bubelnikov conducted the rest of the evening.

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