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16th Annual White Nights Festival
As part of the 225th Anniversary of the Mariinsky Theatre

by Catherine Pawlick

May 13, 2008 -- Mariinsky Theater, St. Petersburg

This year’s Annual White Nights Festival, the 16th to date, will offer 79 performances by the Mariinsky Opera and Ballet in less than three months. The festival opened on May 12 with a reprisal of this March’s much discussed premiere, “The Glass Heart”, and was followed by an even more exciting program on May 13th.

Sandwiched in between a polite rendition of “Carnaval” – another premiere that audiences enjoyed this March – and Balanchine’s “La Valse”, featuring members of the reserve troupe in the limelight, Konstantine Boyarsky’s genius “Young Girl and the Hooligan” easily stole the show on this second night of the summer celebration.

Set to music by Shostakovich, the ballet tells the story of a Hooligan – a young, rough-and-tumble, unrefined street urchin whose poor social skills isolate him from the girl of his dreams – and that very girl, the picture of innocence and beauty who jumps at the slightest noise and is horribly afraid of the Hooligan’s aggressive demeanor. In the course of the ballet, he wins her over, and their moment of revelation is shown in a joyous pas de deux that displays the understanding that they finally speak the same language. That joy is short-lived, however, as the sleek, scarf-wearing, magazine-cover God stabs the Hooligan in a street brawl.

The genius of this ballet comes in its essay of contrast. The Hooligan’s rawness is contrasted visually and choreographically with the refined nature of the girl. His open-legged saunter, hands stuffed in his pockets, a 1920s style worker’s cap pulled down over one eye, and the repeated gesture of him spitting a cigarette out of his mouth, all draw the picture of a turn of the century gang member, which is exactly what he is. She, on the other hand, in a pristine pale blue pinafore with white sleeves, her ponytail tied back in a white ribbon, is the essence of unattainable female beauty. As she tiptoes in pointe shoes or slowly shakes her head, we see her world has nothing in common with his. The ballet shows how their paths cross, and ultimately end, but the moment of connection is the peak of the story, both in dancing and in dramatic terms. And here it is the dancers who carry the responsibility for the effectiveness of the libretto.

Twenty four year-old Grigory Popov, and a new addition to the company this month, Elena Evseeva, did more than justice to the two leading roles. Popov is known for his airborne nature as the Golden Idol, the Rose in “Spectre”, or the Jester in “Swan Lake”. He recently danced a stunning James in “La Sylphide”, and is finally receiving long overdue recognition. “Hooligan” gave him a chance to shine once more, both in the revoltades and fast, slick jumps over the bench on stage left, and for the smooth overhead lifts he managed with Evseeva. More than the pyrotechnics, however, Popov brought an extraordinary depth to the character of the Hooligan. From the smile of glee when he finally kisses the Girl, to the look of pain on his face at the moment the dagger hits him, Popov proved his talent in this debut once more.

Elena Evseeva is a bright spot in the often questionable ranks of the female corps. A recent import from the Mikhailovsky Theatre, and a 2001 graduate of the Vaganova Academy, her talents are clearly already being rewarded with the opportunity of this immediate solo debut. With slim arms and legs, a light jump, and pale strawberry hair, Evseeva fit the image of the Girl no less perfectly than Svetlana Ivanova has done in the past. She gave a polished performance far beyond her years and seems capable of much more.

As the God, Sergei Popov portrayed the heartless killer with adequate aloofness. As his Girlfriend, Alla Sisoeva brought a sultry and sexy nature to her role. Had this been the only program of the evening, I would have gone home quite content. It was in any case the indubitable highlight of the evening.

“Carnaval” was delightful to watch once more, especially with Philip Stepin in his debut as Harlequin next to Evgenia Obratsova’s charming, coquettish Columbine. Evgenia Dolmatova as Ciarina brought brightness to her dance with Sergey Salikov, who again danced as Esubius. Unfortunately Yulia Kasenkova’s butterfly was far from light and flighty – one longed for Yana Selina to replace her. As Pierrot, Anatoli Marchenko gave a personalized performance that differed from Islam Baimuradov’s but was commendable for a first run.

In “La Valse”, Tatyana Serova danced with Popov, who reappeared here as her suitor. After the intense sparks of “Hooligan”, and despite the wondrous whirlwind of Ravel, “La Valse” felt diluted somehow, as if the summer rains had dampened the mood, the approach, and the dancers’ energy levels. Alexandra Iosifidi, Alla Sisoeva, and Lidia Karpukhina (another new addition to the company, a smaller blonde with a tan tint to her skin), danced the three soloist girls in the introduction.  Both Evseeva and Karen Ioannisyan debuted in two of the soloist roles. Evseeva was easy to spot after her appearance earlier in the evening, but her delivery in “La Valse” at moments revealed her inexperience with the Balanchine mode of movement. This underlined both how well rehearsed was her appearance in “Hooligan”, and the challenge for Vaganova-trained dancers to adapt to Balanchine.

It was hard to follow Serova in the ballet. She delivered the choreography but didn’t go much beyond that. Having seen Pavlenko’s sublime interpretation of this role – the ballerina infuses it with great magic and mystery – I wanted once again to return to relive the excitement of “Hooligan” instead.

Mikhail Tatarnikov conducted pristinely.

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