Mixed Program: 'The Rite of Spring', 'Prodigal Son', and 'Symphony in C'
by Catherine Pawlick
July 25, 2008 - Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia
That Nijinsky's choreography for “The Rite of Spring”, in combination with Nicholas Roerich's avant-garde set designs, reflect perfectly the complex dissonance and uneven measures of Stravinsky's accompanying score was once again visible as the ballet returned to the Mariinsky stage at the close of the 2007-2008 season. The company performs this wild attempt at modern movements rarely, and indeed the piece is disturbing enough to warrant that infrequency. Friday night's performance, as faithful to the original as could be, nonetheless left viewers unsettled, which is, as we know, part of the choreographer's original intent.
The four-foot-long white beard decorating Vladimir Ponomarov as the Shaman, and his deep, wondering stare as he poised two flattened palms near his ears was just one of many symbolic images in the course of the ballet. Anastasia Petushkova danced the role of the proverbial sacrificial lamb with undying energy, fulfilling the rigid choreographic style with ease in the repetitive jumps and head jiggles of her role. The costumes – long black braids with golden headbands and vibrant colors that are visually jarring – seemed almost a caricature of ancient Russian peasant dress. Despite Alexander Repnikov's unwavering baton, this viewer was relieved at the close of the ballet. There is enough ugliness in the world that displaying such dissonance onstage is hardly a vacation for the eyes and soul.
Pavel Bubelnikov took over the orchestra in the second ballet of the evening, “Prodigal Son”. Mikhail Lobukhin in the title role was slightly less impressive on the heels of Andrey Ivanov in the same, just days ago. Tatiana Serova debuted as the Siren in a strange combination of technical adequacy and vacant dramatism. An ill-fitting pair of shoes distracted from the lines of her legs, and one could sense no electricity between her and Lobukhin, the latter content to strut his stuff in the solo sections.
The evening's pace dragged in these first two ballets, but the glory of George Balanchine's “Symphony in C”, a welcome and long-awaited conclusion to the evening, more than compensated for seeming torpidity.
An odd casting choice filled the first movement when Irma Nioradze attempted the soloist role. Unfortunately the choreography revealed her now stiffened back and diminished flexibility: in the series of saute arabesques, even while leaning on Maxim Zuizin's attentive arms, Nioradze tossed her head back with vulgar violence, attempting a Kitri-like kick that never materialized. Likewise her leg repeatedly hit a turned-in arabesque line that not only distracted, it disappointed. While glad Somova was not cast, this selection was hardly an improvement.
Only the two demi soloists provided pleasant dancing. Anna Lavrinenko's refined port de bras and perfect epaulement matched beautiful legwork displayed by both her and Elena Cherpasova. Both seemed overjoyed to be on stage, and moved as though the steps were second nature to them. Would that these two girls had danced for us instead of the pas de deux.
This viewer thought she had seen heaven on stage last week with Lopatkina in the Second Movement. In fact, Ekaterina Kondaurova delivered an equally breathtaking rendition of this adagio, her limbs melting from one pose to the next, seamlessly, like thick molasses. Even her arms in the reverse port de bras through high fifth position were smoother than Lopatkina had managed. Her partner, Evgeny Ivanchenko, was nondescript enough to not distract from the ballerina's beautiful lines. Yes, ballerina, for Kondaurova, after this performance, deserves the title. Demi soloist Svetlana Ivanova drew attention for her textbook perfect arabesque, a physical sculpture of perfection.
In the Allegro Vivace, Ekaterina Osmolkina joined Vladimir Schklyarov for a happy romp about the stage. Both dancers displayed the requisite vivacity with wide smiles, and matching high jumps: she sharp and quick; he soaring as far as humanly possible.
In the Fourth Movement, Evgenia Obratsova appeared suddenly, dancing her sequence of pas de bourree fouette and chaine turns downstage like a lightning bolt. Obratsova's adaptability to various roles and genres never ceases to amaze. Her infectious smile and surefire technique can win over any spectator, and her dancing eyes cement the deal. As her partner, Alexei Timofeev's virtually elastic limbs had him bouncing higher than Schklyarov, even if in a slightly more sloppy manner.
As the entire company appeared onstage for the finale, the glory of classicism reigned. With only a final “Swan Lake” left before the season closes, this display of virtuosity left an indelible impression. In just two more months, the new season begins.