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Stars of the White Nights Festival

'Swan Lake'

by Catherine Pawlick

June 18, 2011 -- Mariinsky Theatre, Saint Petersburg, Russia

In recent years one can hardly find a rendition of “Swan Lake” that harks back to the conservative taste of yesteryear, when perhaps the arabesque lines were lower, the technical tricks fewer, but the entire production punctuated by good taste, accents of considerable nuance, and carefully thought-out characterization. Precisely that sort of performance, filled with old-fashioned charm, took place on June 18 at the Mariinsky Theatre, when Olesya Novikova appeared as Odette/Odile, and alongside Alexander Sergeyev brought old-time classicism to the stage.

Although the program did not list this as her debut in the role on this stage, for all intent and purpose, it was. The performance was given to a sold-out hall. Filled in great part by foreigners and visitors from the Economic Forum that took place during the week’s end, and including Bolshoi Ballet figureheads such as its new director, Sergei Filin, and Yuri Burlaka, the pressure in the atmosphere was elevated beyond Petersburg’s typical summer humidity.

From Novikova’s first entrance, her coaching by Olga Moiseyeva, one of the leading ballerinas at the Kirov in decades past, was evident. Favoring lowered legs, quick flutters of feet, and sharp turns of the head, Novikova’s presentation was that of a frightened bird, unclear on the reason for Prince Siegfried’s approach. Upon seeing him, she ran downstage and posed as if under a raised wing she would be invisible to the hunter. Novikova’s choices for emphases in the choreography – slow port de corps, more restrained port de bras, and heavily detailed footwork-- matched the simplicity of her costumes and hairstyles as well. In Act II her black tresses were pulled over her ears, in a 1940s/Giselle style that lent visual support to the aura that she infused into the entire evening. If Novikova’s Odette was a slight, fluttering woman-bird, then her Odile was a conscientious, sharp woman of the world, confident in winning over Siegfried. She chose pique turns instead of saut de basques in the grand pas; and her double pirouettes in attitude during the Act II variation were a blur of speed that is not seen on stage today. In the poses downstage before the partnered pirouettes, Novikova’s extended arm pointed wrist-up at Rothbart just meters away. “This is for you,” she seemed to say, their conspiracy confirmed. Novikova’s fouettés were interrupted by double turns on every third rotation. At Siegfried’s pledge of love, Novikova’s Odile tossed her head back, the flowers flew into the air, and she raced offstage in victory.

Alexander Sergeyev is one of the most attractive and noble Prince Siegfrieds that the Mariinsky has on offer, but unfortunately he rarely if ever performs this principal role. His carriage from the very first appearance on stage speaks of blue blood and royal lineage, and smooth turns in attitude underline that essence. Overjoyed at the gift of the crossbow, he rushes to thank his mother and stops – realizing he may only kiss her hand in proper royal manner. Sergeyev is also one of the few male second soloists in the company with beautiful legs and –this is key-- feet that extend the lines. His jumps are high and smooth, his partnering work unfaltering. In his Act II variation, the tour jetés soared. When he returned to Odette in Act III, full of remorse, Novikova’s gesture was one of lost hope, “You’ve come, but it’s too late,” her shoulders seemed to say. And their tender pas de deux spoke of eternal care and love, in great part due to his gentle attention towards her.

It was the final battle between Rothbart, the torn wing, the conquered Sorcerer, that brought the happy ending. As Novikova seemed to awaken from her listless state, she looked at Rothbart’s body and then at Sergeyev’s Siegfried, her realization of a dream come true. The gigantic basket of flowers bestowed at Novikova’s feet during the numerous curtain calls attested to the success of the evening, which was conducted beautifully by Boris Gruzin.

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