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Kirov Ballet

'Don Quixote' and 'Giselle'

by Kathy Lee Scott

October 7 & 10, 2008 -- Orange County Performing ArtsCenter, Costa Mesa, California

The Mariinsky (formerly Kirov) Ballet and Orchestra brought its fabulous dancers and musicians to the Orange County Performing ArtsCenter in Costa Mesa, Calif., to dance two classical ballets: Don Quixote and Giselle. Both programs won the audience's approval.  The former, a light-hearted romp through part of Cervantes' novel, offered dancers a chance to shine in numerous solos, pas de deux and other small groupings. All shone at the Oct. 7 opening night.

Olesia Novikov played Kitri as flirtatious, pouting and jealous in the three-act work. Her Basil, Leonid Sarafanov, kept the blithe tone throughout, even engaging the audience in his feigned suicide during the last act.  He looked younger than his partner, but his youth served him well during the strenuous lifts, turns and leaps. He and Novikov matched each other in height and attitude.

At first, conductor Mikhail Sinkevich ignored the audience's attempts to acknowledge well-performed entrées, moving the orchestra forward. After the first intermission, Sinkevich allowed the dancers to take solo bows after their featured divertissements. However, to make up time, he rushed several solos during the wedding scene.

Both Vladimir Ponomarev and Soslan Kulaev are tall and almost skeletal thin, giving both a fragile aura. As Don Q, Ponomarev wandered through the dancers like he was in another world, his head following something above the others' heads. Occasionally, he'd look at the dancers and, during the first act, insisted Kitri was his beloved Dulcinea.  As Gamache, Kitri's rich suitor, Kulaev wore bright yellow tights, carried a handkerchief he put to his nose often and strode around the stage with exaggerated dandy-like swishes and gestures. Truly an undesirable suitor.

Under a padded belly, Stanislav Burov played the loyal, distraught manservant, Sancho Panza, with humor and conviction.  Seemingly oblivious that their characters' inclusion was written to highlight soloists' talents, the street dancer (Ekaterina Kondaurova) and toreador, Espada, (Konstantin Zverev) exemplified Spanish-style ballet with extreme backbends, rigid centers, sharp arms and heads. Kondaurova's precise pointe work and Zverev's majestic leaps and turns deserved the applause.

Kondaurova wasn't finished when her street dancer left stage. She returned to perform as Queen of the Dryads and to dance a variation during the final act. She executed the well-known Second Act solo with its battement swing to attitude with aplomb.

Another notable dancer was Yulia Slivkina as the Oriental dancer, another thrown-in solo that stopped the storyline to highlight a performer. Her flexible arms and hands made the Indian-style movements delicate yet intricate.

During the nightmare scene, Ponomarev mimed breaking through thick bushes and trees to end with his sword thrust into an invisible adversary. If a viewer didn't know the storyline, the scene would be meaningless. Perhaps the company can shine the image of a spider on the wall or drape to help clarify the scene's intent (besides entertaining the audience while the stage is transformed to a fairyland).

Adding to the atmosphere, both Don Q and Sancho entered astride a horse and donkey, respectively. Not once, but twice. Kudos to costume designer Konstantin Korovin for the warm-colored, attractive outfits on the villagers and visitors. Set Designer Mikhail Shislianokov (who restored the originals by Alexandar Golovin and Konstantin Korovin) and Alexander Naumov, lighting designer, helped show off the dancers with beauty.

Stumbles and fumbles plagued the opening performance of Giselle on Oct. 10, 2008, at the Orange County Performing ArtsCenter, Costa Mesa, Calif. In the lead role, Diana Vishneva embodied the young girl in love. She alternated shyness with exuberance when her love, Albrecht (Adrian Fadeev), came calling. As her village suitor Hans, Dmitry Pykhachev, displayed his skill in acting. Every gesture and glance revealed his meaning while he snooped to reveal who his rival was.

Fadeev exhibited superb phrasing by filling up the music with movement. He and Vishneva matched each other physically. Their first act couple's dance revealed the joy of mutual attraction with bouncy steps and close attention to each other. Their steps on one pass, however, started a bit separately but ended in synchrony.  In another instance, during one solo, Vishneva fell out of her hops en pointe but recovered gamely.

The first act peasant pas de deux was painful to watch. Elena Sheshina fell out of supported pirouettes, and Philip Stepin labored through the simple leaps.

In the role of Albrecht's fiancée, Elana Bazhenova swept on wearing a gorgeous red velveteen gown. She even put sparkles in her hair under the feathered hat, enhancing the image of wealth. She and her courtiers glided around the stage in clusters before Giselle performed a cheery dance for them. During it, Vishneva clearly mimed her heart problem, setting up the tragic ending to Act 1.

After Albrecht admitted his engagement to the royal lady, Vishneva had Giselle entered another world wherein she reenacted her fascination with the deceiving count. Grabbing the sword by its cutting edge and dragging it around, she looked wild and uncontrolled.

The second act opened with Ekaterina Kondaurova floating onto stage, her bourées effortless and smooth, a true master of the move. As Myrtha, she dominated the stage, commanding the other Wilis to force any man coming within their sphere to dance to his death.  When Giselle appeared near her grave, Myrtha insisted she dance for her. Vishneva spun in grande pirouettes before being accepted as a Wili.

After Fadeev entered, Vishneva flitted on, paused for a quick pose and off. She dropped flowers on him from overhead. Eventually they connected, and Fadeev lifted her overhead. On the second lift, Vishneva faltered in the air before regaining her balance.  When the pair stretched during a supported arabesque, they reached further, secure each would counter the other's pull. The flying illusion worked when Fadeev lifted Vishneva in her sauté arabesques. But they slowed and ended behind the music.

Vishneva elevated her petite allegro so she appeared to be just touching the earth.  Pykhachev exhibited his skill during his death dance, leaping high and turning with control.

Again the corps created a real world with their interactions with each other and attention to the leads' actions. However, Maxim Khrebtov, as Albrecht's sword bearer, failed to imbue his role with any reality. He moved stiffly whenever on stage.

Lighting Designer Naumov used twinkling spots of light on the back wings to great effect as Wilis' pre-human forms.

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