Anastasia Volochkova with Guests
by Catherine Pawlick
July 9, 20058 -- Alexandrinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg
I thought it never would happen. After trying and failing to obtain tickets to Volochkova one year ago, I presumed it was impossible unless I knew an oligarch. So the email from the Mariinsky Press Office, alerting all journalists to Volochkova’s solo concert at the Alexandrinsky Theatre came as a shock. Under the umbrella of the “Symphony of Ballet” project in cooperation with the German International Orchestra, Volochkova would perform with the Orchestra here in Petersburg and later in Germany. I jumped at the opportunity to see what it was all about.
For this review to make sense, you have to understand the myths and realities around the woman that is Anastasia Volochkova.
She is, for all intents and purposes, the Paris Hilton of Russia. She manages to maintain a constant spotlight on herself in the Russian tabloids after being fired from the Bolshoi Theatre for her dealings with various, well, oligarchs. The official reason given was her weight. At 5’6” Volochkova was said to have weighed 110.
That was then.
Based on the July 9 pick up troupe performance at the Alexandrinsky Theatre, I can attest to the concerns about her weight. Volochkova doesn’t take class every day. She rehearses when she wants to, takes class when she wants to. And it shows. In each of her costumes, a “spare tire” of a considerable number of inches was visibly hanging over the seam of what must have been her tights. I’ve never seen such a thing on stage before.
If that wasn’t enough, a very soft pair of old Freed pointe shoes served her throughout the evening. Why didn’t she change her shoes? The answer was clear: because only in the super soft model could she manipulate her foot enough to look pointed as she stubbed her toes into the floor in a sec-abesque tendu, somewhere between where a la seconde and tendu derriere should be.
Technique? She can put her leg up to her nose. She can turn if her partner spins her. She can mime a sultry Carmen or a pained Swan. But every role she performed used one of those two expressions.
In short, she isn’t a ballerina. She is more of the Broadway Revue mold, or Music Hall dancer masquerading as an example of the high art of classical ballet. For anyone who knows a bit about this art form, she is no representative of it.
The audience was filled with fans however, and many, many friends and relatives. The cross-section that appears to watch her is far from the audience that fills the Mariinsky Theatre night after night. They are another group of people, ill informed of high art, but well informed of tabloid news. That, and not art, is what brings them to see her.
Finally it must be stated that Volochkova married a very wealthy business man one year ago, and had three weddings: one at Catherine the Great’s Summer Palace in Tsarskoe Selo, one in the Russian resort Sochi on the Black Sea, and one in Moscow.
Rumor has it that said spouse purchases these venues for his ballerina wife, so that she can indulge her whims and continue her “performing career”. The entire set up could not be more Russian. Does this happen in America? Maybe it does, and it’s just not so publicized. Not so…vulgar.
But enough of the background. On to the program itself, which began with Rodion Shchedrin’s “Carmen Suite”. As Carmen, Volochkova was every bit the flirtatious, selfish, sexy Spanish diva. However, in a mostly miming role that wasn’t hard to do. The extent of this choreography included pique turns en pointe, and many turned-in, sickled feet. Every third minute Carmen posed, leaning onto one bent knee, her hands on her hips. This piece might not have suited her had there been more to the choreography. Then again, no doubt it was chosen precisely because it didn’t present much in the way of a technical challenge.
As Jose, Evgeny Ivanchenko, guesting from the Mariinsky Theatre, was a rigid soldier who fought his desire for Carmen. An Armenian looking man danced Torerro. Alas, as no programs were sold, I can’t say who this dancer was. Yuri Smelakov of Eifman’s troupe was listed in the initial email announcement, but Smelakov is injured and did not appear. And as the “Korrekhidor,” the finely chiseled Rinat Arifulin appeared. The men made the most of the steps they were given, but this piece fell flat for its length and lack of spice in what should be a hot, Mediterranean story.
After an intermission came Act II of the program, but here the order of the pieces differed from the press announcement. First Volochkova danced an intriguing piece that must have been Mikhail Radovsky’s “Inspiration” set to music by Mozart. The short work seemed to depict an interlude in the life of a musical composer who receives his inspiration through a muse, embodied by the ballerina on stage. The man and muse dance, although she is clearly no more than a figment of his imagination. Volochkova appeared in a sheer, ankle-length pink gown for this piece, and again one wished perhaps she’d watched the carbohydrates the week prior to the performance. As her partner, Arifulin managed to maneuver her up onto the piano, overhead or onto his shoulder with surprising ease. Nonetheless, seeing a true ballerina such as Lopatkina in this chamber piece would have brought the house down.
Then Ivanchenko (and not Arifulin) joined Volochkova in what must have been Edvard Smirnova’s “Sicilian” set to music by Nino Rota. With both dancers clothed in pastel colors, this lyrical ballet was short, sweet, and unimpressive. Volochkova danced as if for her own pleasure (which was no doubt the case).
Volochkova then danced Saint-Saens’ “The Dying Swan”. This great composer’s music is moving whenever it is played, and the International German Orchestra under the direction of Arkadia Berin did it more than justice. I found no fault with the danseuse in this short section.
Edvard Smirnova’s “The Death of the Gods” to music by Percell came next. Without context or program notes, the piece was slightly difficult to follow. A man, danced by Danila Korsuntsev from the Mariinsky, stands onstage in a black suit and white shirt, his tuxedo tie hanging loosely around his neck. He’s deathly pale. A woman in a velvet corset and long slim black skirt kneels in front of him, and slowly removes her earrings and necklace, placing them in a white napkin on the floor in front of her.
A long pas de deux ensues in which she attempts to engage him in the dance. He dances weakly, staggering frequently. At the end, he removes his jacket to reveal a blood stain on the back of his shirt and he collapses on the floor. She pulls the knot tight on the jewel-filled napkin and the piece ends. I would love to find out more about this tiny concert gem. Is it part of a longer ballet? Had the casting been different, this ballet could have had a magnificent impact. As it was, the piece intrigued me, and I was content to watch Korsuntsev work his way through it.
The final piece of the evening was the Czechist pas de deux from Act I of Boris Eifman’s “Red Giselle”. Having seen the latter done by Eifman’s company a few times, I have a frame of reference from which to evaluate Volochkova’s rendition. Her execution was passable, but nothing compared to the vigor and dynamism of the Eifman ladies. Again, given the long stretchy skirt, I had the impression this piece was chosen for its lack of exacting classical technique. Eifman’s work isn’t easy to do, but it is more forgiving than any tutu role will be. I’m not sure quite how she obtained rights to dance this piece, except for the fact that almost everything is for sale in Russia these days, money does talk, and money is something she is not short on.
In sum, Volochkova is a phenomenon unto herself. I wouldn’t classify her as a ballerina, and one viewing was plenty for me. But the One-Woman Traveling Revue format is something I hope does not take root on this side of the Atlantic. Especially in a city like Petersburg, the home of Russian classical ballet, it seems a travesty that performances such as this are passed off as ballet, when in fact they could not be further from the genre.