Opening Night 2005-2006 Season
“Swan Lake” – Diana Vishneva’s debut
St. Petersburg, Russia
21 September 2005
by Catherine Pawlick
The opening night of the Mariinsky’s 2005-2006 ballet season, the last season to be held in this theatre before its year long closure for renovation, began with a stunning display of virtuosity on September 21 as Diana Vishneva joined Igor Kolb in her St. Petersburg debut of “Swan Lake”. Although Vishneva has performed Odette/Odile with the Berlin State Opera Ballet company, she has never before danced “Swan Lake” as part of her Kirov repertoire. The new role offered her yet another opportunity to display the strengths of her technical and dramatic talents alongside Kolb’s matching skill.
This performance, despite odd sounds emerging from the orchestra pit under Boris Gruzin’s normally steady baton, offered plenty for rumination. Diana Vishneva, the queen of passion. How would she dance the innocent, graceful Odette? How would she meet the technical challenges of the full-length evening, especially in the Black Swan pas de deux? The full house waited with eager anticipation, and, judging from the ovations at curtain fall, was not disappointed.
The ballet begins, as we know, with the Prince celebrating his birthday with the court, offering us context for the storyline. Kolb in this role was not the cool, regal sort. He was more boyish than mature, more joyous than reserved (Korsuntsev and Ivanchenko come to mind), more attainable and thus, more human, which was in fact to everyone’s benefit. He set the stage, both literally and figuratively, for a more tangible swan queen.
It would be amiss to say that Kolb is the only male in the company whose steps are infused with grace and careful execution, but this performance highlighted his vigilance and set him several steps above the rest. His approach is akin to Lopatkina’s: well thought out and well rehearsed without ever nearing dry or static in his implementation. When he received the crossbow as a gift from his mother, his happy demeanor was contagious. What better gift could a guy possibly want? His sauté assemble sequence just prior to the pas de trios in Act One was infused with an unbelievably light ballon. His tour-jetes were accompanied by perfectly placed port de bras. Kolb cares how it all looks and is gifted enough that he need not worry (as other males may need to) about meeting technical demands. Kolb is a pleasure to watch.
The pas de trois, danced by Ekaterina Osmolkina and Tatiana Tkachenko with Anton Korsakov, was steady although the orchestra accompanying them, at this point in the ballet, was not. An overpowering solo horn stood out at several points, and the over-fast tempo made one cringe. Osmolkina didn’t finish a partnered pirouette on time, and one had the nagging feeling that the music would finish before the dancers. Korsakov, in typical fashion, again changed his first diagonale to a series of triple cabrioles moving downstage left, and drew applause for his entrechat six. He didn’t manage to support Tkachenko in the closing pirouettes of the coda however, forcing an awkward finish. Osmolkina and Tkachenko in their variations were secure and confident; Tkachenko performing the echappe, attitude entrechat six variation and faille cabriole series in the coda, and Osmolkina the variation with hops en pointe. Despite the sudden musical instability of the sequence, the dancers managed an admirable performance.
And then came the swans. Among the corps, it is to be noted that Liobov Kozharskaya, who stood out in the Vaganova graduation performance this year for her roles as the Lilac Fairy and the lead in Vikulov’s "Valkiri", is now in the corps de ballet, second in the line of 24 swans behind Yana Selina.
For the most part, the corps de ballet was in fine form for the season opening. Marring their perfection was one instance when Elena Vostrotina fell completely to the ground in the First Act. Compensating for that was the four Big Swans’ expansive, space-consuming movements. If one came only to watch this section, it would have been a treat indeed, but as it was, the audience enjoyed far more than that.
Vishneva’s appearance on stage was awaited with more than eager anticipation. Her entrance was accompanied by an equally speedy tempo. She is not of the ethereal diva set to which Lopatkina or others may belong, and hers is not the langorous, adagio that Odette’s choreography lends itself too. Instead she was a flighty, ever-moving Odette, quick, frightened at first at the strange man in her presence, never stopping to pose, and in fact not even holding the initial pique arabesques for very long.
As the White Swan pas de deux began, Vishneva motioned as if to say “don’t touch me” to Kolb. His partnering was flawless and they were well-synchronized choreographically.
In her variation with the rond de jambs en l’air her epaulement was evidently something she had worked on for the role, her torso leaned significantly forward, her bourree here a fast flutter of feet until she posed.
Care and feeling made their way into her interpretation only after Kolb swore his love to her: she pulled his hand to her cheek and pressed it to her skin where other dancers simply bring the hand towards them or wrap it around themselves in an embrace. This human quality between the two dancers made their coupling more believable, more attainable and more earthy than other partnerships.
But all this was tame compared to what was to come. Vishneva’s fiery passion found its vehicle, its means for escape in the Black Swan pas de deux. Entering with a tutu studded with blue sapphires and a crown with red rubies, she was a vision of evil seduction waiting to happen. And one could sense this in the White Act: Vishneva is no Odette. It isn’t her nature, it is not her core personality, at least on stage. Her talent is drama, and the more she can sink her teeth –or feet—into, the better.
She entered strong, confident, energetic. No prince would have been able to resist her charms or her self certainty. Her every movement spoke of Diana the Siren: her quick penche after the first diagonale was snappy and evasive; her luxurious develop a la seconde was an offering of meat to a hungry animal before it becomes her prey. Diana-Odile, the huntress. Conductor Boris Gruzin saved the end of the partnered pirouette to attitude derriere so that it was on time with the music (emphasizing here that perhaps the quick tempos were at the dancers’ request, earlier in the ballet, for he is not a temperamental conductor). The penche in the pas de deux was a kiss between Kolb and Vishneva, the first step towards securing Vishneva’s spell on the poor prince.
In his variation Kolb was elegant but fumbled slightly, evidently due to nerves. Vishneva’s variation was solid but she finished the final pique to step-up turn one count early, moving her arms to complete the musical phrase. The fouettes were as promised: 32 singles, finishing one count late.
For those looking for a strictly traditional Swan Lake, or one in which Odette is the heroine, Vishneva’s interpretation is not the one to watch. She draws outside the lines, or even draws the lines herself, extending boundaries, shifting them, sometimes only slightly and sometimes to an extreme. The colors are her own mix, but sometimes, that makes for a more interesting evening.