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Mariinsky International Festival

'La Sylphide'

by Catherine Pawlick

March 30, 2008 -- Mariinsky Theater, St. Petersburg, Russia

As pedagogues and dancers board planes for the three-week, long anticipated New York City Center stop, this morning's performance of "La Sylphide" demonstrated that the Big Apple is in for a treat indeed.

The talented young Grigory Popov paired with veteran Elena Sheshina for a matinee that charmed adults and children alike. Just twenty-four years of age, Popov is typically cast as the Jester in "Swan Lake" (he just carried all six festival performances here in Petersburg) or the Golden Idol in "La Bayadere", but today had a chance to shine in the limelight in this leading role in “La Sylphide”. And shine he did. Pulling off the extended petit allegro sections with aplomb, Popov seems made for a role such as James, which combines the need for authoritative acting with polished technique. From his initial awakening, Popov's James was completely overtaken by his dreamworld. The vision of the airborne Sylph, danced with sprightly finesse by Sheshina, seemed to infiltrate all of his senses. Popov depicted all of James' emotions with mastery, revealing the character's disbelief, confusion and attraction to both the Sylph and (whether truthfully or otherwise) to his fiancée. James, similar to Popov's own self-description, is a romantic at heart, chasing after a beautiful phantasm. Sadly, that creature of the air, for all her lively flirtatiousness, means only self-destruction for James, whose unhappy interactions with the witch kill both the object of his affection and him. 

Sheshina, likewise, moved as if she had been raised dancing the challenging Bournonville choreography. From a flutter of bourrées to any number of light-footed petit allegro jumps (en pointe), Sheshina was a pleasure to behold.

As Effi, Polina Rassadina brought an expressiveness and lighthearted feminism to her role of the stilted fiancée, intuitively sensing James' emotional withdrawal in favor of some other being. Evgenia Emelianova, not often cast in leading roles, brought justice to her part as Nancy, Effi's friend, with a beautiful smile and well-articulated legwork. The two Youths were danced by resident (twin) brothers Egor and Kirill Safin, a tall, lanky pair who excelled in their jumps and epaulement.  Yulia Slivkina debuted in this performance as Madge, the horrible witch. From her accusing fingers to bone-shuddering laugh, she made the role her own. Tatiana Gorionova lent a sense of matronly consideration to her role as Anna, James' mother.

The four Sylphides each brought individual gifts to their dancing sections. Anastasia Petushkova's variation was carefully executed. Maria Adzhamova danced with particular lightness alongside both Elena Vaskiovitch and Evgenia Emelianova, who danced double duty appearing in this role and as Effi’s friend.

New to my eyes was conductor Alexei Repnikov, who led the orchestra flawlessly, in beautiful unison.

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