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"The Stars Of The White Nights" 2004
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Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Sat May 29, 2004 2:09 am ]
Post subject:  "The Stars Of The White Nights" 2004

50-day fiesta of classical music, dance
By Galina Stolyarova for The St Petersburg Times

The 12th International Festival "The Stars Of The White Nights" opens Sunday to be followed by a 50-day fiesta of distinguished classical music and dance. Established and run by the Mariinsky Theater's artistic director Valery Gergiev, this annual event has successfully served as a window to the world of opera and ballet for the local audience.

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Author:  mehunt [ Wed Jun 09, 2004 8:30 am ]
Post subject:  Re: "The Stars Of The White Nights" 2004

From Catherine Pawlick in Russia:

Opening Night: A Century of Balanchine
Part of the Stars of the White Nights Festival
Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia
2 June 2004
By Catherine Pawlick
“Chopiniana”, “Tanz Symphony” and the Shades scene from“La Bayadere”

St. Petersburg is marking the centenary of George Balanchine with a multi-tiered tribute to the esteemed Russian-American choreographer. A new exhibition at the Hermitage Theatre features rarely-seen photographs of the man, dating from his childhood, and a film documentary. A conference held in the Hermitage Theatre in early June provided a symposium for Balanchine scholars to listen to each other and discuss his life and work; and a series of performances at the Mariinsky Theatre highlighted Balanchine in Russia and in America each evening.

The conference lectures centered around the influences of Russian culture on Balanchine’s genius, the pre- and post-American periods in the choreographer’s life, the influence of jazz and American culture on his choreography, and his musicality. Lourdes Lopez, Executive Director of the George Balanchine Foundation, organized the project in tandem with Makharbek Vasiev and Valeri Gergiev at the Mariinsky Theatre, and Mikhail Piotrovsky, Director of the Hermitage theatre. As such, it is the first joint project of its kind between these organizations. American speakers included Merrill Ashley, Francia Russell, Peter Boal, Francis Mason, Lynn Garafola and Robert Gottlieb among others. The list of Russian speakers included Vadim Gaevsky, an esteemed Moscow ballet critic, Inna Sklyarevskaya, a ballet historian and critic, Elizaveta Suritz, dance historian, and Oleg Lebenkov, former solist with Perm Ballet and now teacher and author.

Comments on working with Balanchine were provided by Lourdes Lopez and Merrill Ashley as well as Francia Russell and Robert Gottlieb. Balanchine was said to have been practical, humorous, and having absorbed and reflected the emotions of those around him, acting as a mirror in some cases. And yet still, the question arose repeatedly throughout the conference, whether any one person really knew Mr. Balanchine, his wives included.

Following the first day’s opening press conference and lectures, an ode to “early Balanchine” was portrayed on the Mariinsky stage, featuring not his works, but the Russian ballets that influenced his growth as a choreographer.

The evening opened with “Chopiniana” set to Chopin’s ever-inspiring music. Yanna Selina performed the first variation evenly and without fault. Daria Pavlenko, with what seemed an even slimmer form (if that is possible) than last fall while on tour, danced the Prelude, ever-faithful to the romantic style in her epaulement and hand gestures. Evgeni Ivanchenko was the man surrounded by the ethereal sylphs. Ivanchenko has perhaps the longest legs of any male in the company, aside from perhaps Danila Korsuntsev, and this becomes more apparent when he performs a tour-jete, the arabesque leg extending even further, as if it were on a flight of its own. Irina Zhelonkina danced the Mazurka with Ivanchenko, and she appeared to float seamlessly in the series of lifts overhead, to his credit.

The corps de ballet lines in Chopiniana are remarkable – synchronic in arm as well as in leg, and aided by the score. This ballet, when performed by the Kirov, always gives the impression of being otherworldly. Indeed the Mariinsky sylphs are another, lighter breed, and more delicate than those found in other companies. The world would be hard pressed to find a better place for a ballet such as this, or a better company to perform it as faithfully and consistently as the Kirov does.

In contrast to the wispy specters, the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory dancers performed the second ballet of the evening. “TanzSymphony,” a reproduction of the work by Fyodor Lopukhov, was performed to the music of Beethoven, with a digital kaleidoscope projected onto the back scrim. The dancers all wore tan, peasant-like costumes, blouses and knee-length skirts for the girls, and similar shirts with knee-length pants for the boys. While no doubt faithful to the original costumes, these tended to obscure line more than they revealed it, a bit frustrating given some of the awkward steps and poses. The ballet is said to have influenced the young Balanchine and proof of that is suggested in various arm gestures and steps – hands covering the eyes as in “Serenade”, for example. However, it was sorely apparent that this was a revival that should perhaps have been left quietly alone. That it was not danced by the Mariinsky dancers was only one disappointment. No doubt the electronic display was not part of the original production, and it distracted from the work, which, after three of the four sections, seemed long enough. The grounded, earthy quality (aided by the tan costumes) lent a weight to the ballet that was not so pleasing to watch. Whether it was faithful to the original or not, one can only guess.

In welcome relief, the evening ended where it should have, with a classical Russian ballet. The Shades scene from Act III of “La Bayadere” was performed by Diana Vishneva and Leonid Sarafanov to the backdrop of the spectacular 32 mirror images of “the ballerina” in the dream sequence. This was the historical Russia that influenced Balanchine, classical, formal, tutu-ed and traditional.

Sarafanov as Solor emerged from the wings like a cannon and claimed the stage for his own. The arch in his back in arabesque has become as cat-like as Malakov or Ruzimatov and his partnering of Vishneva was reliable. However, proving that divas too can falter, Vishneva stumbled on each of the three sets of arabesque turns with the scarf, and Sarafanov finally snatched away the scarf to help her out.

Aside from that mishap Vishneva was the star she is known to be. This reviewer was not convinced, initially, that her range of emotion would be as wide as it actually is. But having now seen her in both Balanchine and a classical ballet, it is clear that her dramatic capabilities are perhaps one of her greater strengths. Vishneva’s body is compact and sinuous but in some ways she is not the most obvious “ballerina”. Her feet are strong, but by no means the most archy or beautiful in the profession, not of the Ferri or Guillem type. She does however have the flexibility of the most extreme gymnast, which, when combined with her strength and control, create an almost inconquerable technique. Her challenge however, is to fight against the tendency of becoming a one-woman circus act, towards which she can easily shift. And yet her dramatic maturity and range is the gift that sets her apart. She is a sublime actress, emotionally malleable according to the demands of the role and choreography. She fits as well into a jazzy Rubies as she does in a solemn Bayadere.

Three International Laureates performed the three variations. Olesya Novikova was the first, her hops forward in arabesque en pointe laudable for their strength and Novikova for her stamina. Ekaterina Osmolkina, a new favorite with a winning smile, performed the second variation with aplomb and energy in the cabrioles. The third variation was performed by Alina Somova, a red head with impossibly long legs. She must have performed the sissone ouverte sequence well, as one really just remembers those legs moving into assemblé for the turn. The evening was saved by beautiful images such as these, a fitting symbol of the beauty of the Mariinsky, its history and traditions, and how they have affected every creative artist who has passed through the theatre, Balanchine included.

Author:  mehunt [ Wed Jun 09, 2004 8:30 am ]
Post subject:  Re: "The Stars Of The White Nights" 2004

Evening Two: A Century of Balanchine
Part of the Stars of the White Nights Festival
Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia
2 June 2004
By Catherine Pawlick
“Apollo”, “Prodigal Son” and “Serenade”

In conjunction with the Hermitage conference discussions centering on Balanchine's early years in America, St. Petersburg’s “Century of Balanchine” at the Mariinsky Theatre continued on night two with works from early Balanchine. “Apollo” (1928), “Prodigal Son” (1927) and “Serenade” (1935), three exemplars of neoclassicism, were performed on the Mariinsky stage to a full house. Refined by years of performances and costume revisions (as was noted repeatedly during the conference held here this week), these ballets remain true to Balanchine tradition and style, even when slight variations a la Kirov do appear.

Both “Apollo” and “Prodigal Son” offer dance interpretations of well-known mythological stories. The Kirov dancers manage to portray the dramatic elements well, even when certain steps may evade them. Indeed, for all of their technical prowess, it seems that as they continue to master what are for them the “new” works of Balanchine, the theatrical aspects in some of these ballets are delivered more easily.

In “Apollo”, Andrian Fadeev was the young god of the evening, in both senses of the word. He seemed at first a childish boy, who struggles to make sense of his surroundings and finally comes into his own. A solid technician among male principals, he too is the perfect choice for this role: blond locks suggesting the sun, and a physique also befitting a deity.

As a group, the three muses were lovely, lean-limbed guides for Apollo and individually they each portrayed their distinct “gifts”. Sofia Gumerova’s Calliope was clean but not quite as convincing as Vanessa Zahorian (San Francisco Ballet) in the same role. Gumerova is strong technically but, as with some performances in San Francisco last fall, seems slightly hesitant at points, a trait that can be forgiven due to her technique but nonetheless is notable. Victoria Tereshkina danced Polizimnia consistently although the end of her variation was a bit forced. Daria Pavlenko was the most stunning of the three muses. As Terpsichore, what better representation of dance itself. Slightly taller than the other two muses, and aided by her slimness and long beautiful feet, Pavlenko danced with her face as well; flirtatious eyes, and a smile that spoke the joy of dance to the house. Of course no Balanchine evening is complete without a fall, and Pavlenko got it out of the way towards the end of “Apollo”, rolling over too far on a pointe shoe and coming down onto her knee. But she was back up again in no time, and none the worse for the spill. Indicative of the abandon which Balanchine always advocated, the master would have been pleased at the effort.

The second ballet of the evening was “Prodigal Son”, danced by Mikhail Lopukhin, with Ekaterina Kondayurova in her debut as the Siren. The Mariinsky first premiered this ballet in December of 2001, and despite minor glitches they now seem to feel at home in it. Lopukhin is a shorter, more compact dancer with solid turns and significant ballon. His series of attitude derriere turns (into retire-passe) was devilishly smooth. Upon his first encounter with the Siren, he was visibly mesmerized, although Kondayurova became tangled up in her maroon cape once or twice. The audience seemed surprised at the sexuality in the pas de deux with the Siren, only cluing into the symbolism well into the sequence. In the finale, Lopukhin’s shame at his return home to his father was poignant. Unlike Baryshnikov, he shuddered when leaning on the gate, as if in tears over the acknowledgement of his disgrace and errors.

The final ballet of the evening was “Serenade,” whose music infers a sense of the sacred or the grand, and in many ways it seems more at home in the church-like, ornately Baroque Mariinsky Theatre than in more modern, staid American opera houses. The piece was danced not by the Mariinsky dancers but by the Perm State Ballet Theatre, in a guest appearance in St. Petersburg. Their technique is also Vaganova-based, and as such they appeared a coherent whole, although there were wider variations in physique than one sees among the Kirov dancers. Balanchine’s enigma is perhaps most apparent in this ballet. The possible interpretations for the “storyline”, if one decides there is one, are many.

The first female’s solo was performed with slightly less abandon than one typically sees; and there was a general stiffness to shoulders and necks. But the patterns of the ballet were faithful. One sees echoes of classicism in the lines and patterns Mr. Balanchine created; a courtly bow here could easily be seen in a tutu rather than a floor-length skirt. Likewise a glimpse of “Apollo” may be evident in the sequence with three women and the man. The enigma of Serenade is ever-present. One may search for the story line endlessly, and the possible interpretations are numerous. The dark angel blinding the man from another woman. That same woman being carried off towards the light in a funereal procession. Angels? Dancers? It is a credit to Mr. Balanchine that so many years later, this work remains a beautiful mystery, no matter where in the world it is performed.

Author:  mehunt [ Wed Jun 09, 2004 8:31 am ]
Post subject:  Re: "The Stars Of The White Nights" 2004

Evening Three: A Century of Balanchine
Part of the White Nights Festival
Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia
By Catherine Pawlick
4 June, 2004

“Donizetti Variations,” “Concerto Barocco” and “La Sonnambula”

Evening three of St Petersburg's Balanchine Festival continued with three Balanchine ballets, all performed by the P. I. Tchaikovsky Perm Ballet Theatre on the Mariinsky stage. Despite the frequent punctuation of the performance with Vaganova style, the Perm dancers are to be commended for their courage in taking on this task.

Set to music by the composer of the same name, "Donizetti Variations", the first piece of the evening, is a “pretty” ballet. Judging from the Giselle-like peasant costumes one might conclude, at first glance, that this is an early Balanchine work, and one would be incorrect. The work was first created in 1960, after the ballet divertissement from the opera Don Sebastian, and the visual emphasis is on form and pattern. For example, the cannon of three couples performing the same steps one count apart (pirouette to arabesque, penchee, fifth, repeat) outlines the layers within the musical structure, one of Mr. Balanchines great talents.

Overall the ballet, as performed Friday night by the Perm Ballet, was so polite as to be unremarkable, and, as several former New York City Ballet principals in attendance noted, the sense of humor that may have pervaded the piece in New York versions was absent. Nonetheless the choreography was pleasing to watch. Of note was the xylophone section performed by three men, Nikolai Viozhanin, Konstantin Olionin and Nikolai Kalabin, their cabrioles well syncopated and crystal clean, an introduction to Natalia Moiseeva’s legato fouettes. Moiseeva was partnered intermittently by the reliable Sergei Mershin.

Watching the endless patterns of couples entertwining, Donizetti suggests a safe courtly ballet, void of plot but filled with polite smiles. Had the Perm dancers recaptured some of the humor in the ballet more successfully, it would have been even more engaging for the viewer.

Concerto Barocco, likewise, sustained a conservative delivery. Even under Robert Cole’s conducting, the dancers appeared less jazzy and more upright. Yulia Mashkina, Natalian Makina and Roman Geer were the leading Baroccians.

“La Sonnambula” offers an obviously meatier story line to follow and was easily the crown of the evening. Replete with lavish court costumes, the masked ball is well underway when the curtain opens. Vitaliy Poleshuk danced the role of the doomed Poet, aside Natalia Makina as a rather evil coquette and Elena Kulagina as the evasive Sleepwalker. Poleshuk’s interpretation was rather tame, and his theme seemed to be the chase. He chased, but never captured either the Coquette or the Sleepwalker, receiving death as his only reward. Kulagina was an ethereal Sleepwalker, commendable for her bourrees and ability to change momentum or direction instantly. Makina danced elegantly, suggesting a beautiful woman fully aware of her charms and her power over men. Her betrayal of the poet was tangible and prompted food for thought.

The ballet’s conclusion prompts a number of questions that those not blessed with personal tutorials by Balanchine will have more difficulty answering: why does the sleepwalker take the poet’s body in the end? Is it out of love? Or rather, is she a symbol of death itself, claiming his body after she has already taken his soul, upon first meeting? If love, then what other explanation could there be for accepting the body, and perhaps the promise of love it once held, when the sleepwalker has never consciously seen the poet? Is this a commentary on the strength of love, beyond conscious thought? Or is the sleepwalker an angel of sorts, a benevolent if mystical being, taking the poet back to heaven with her? Answers are not offered in the ballet’s libretto or program. The mystery of Balanchine continues.

<small>[ 09 June 2004, 12:06 PM: Message edited by: Stuart Sweeney ]</small>

Author:  mehunt [ Wed Jun 09, 2004 8:31 am ]
Post subject:  Re: "The Stars Of The White Nights" 2004

Evening Four: A Century of Balanchine
Part of the White Nights Festival
Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia
By Catherine Pawlick
5 June, 2004


How long ago it seems already, when last fall the Bay Area received the gift of the Kirov in Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall. While we weren’t blessed with the “La Bayadere” reconstruction, we were treated to the all-Fokine program, and Balanchine’s “Jewels.” On night four of the “Century of Balanchine” celebration here in St. Petersburg, the same ballet was offered in ode to its choreographer.

Once one recovered from the dazzling backdrop of jewels hanging from the ceiling, and the sparkling costumes, what was left was the dancing, in slightly less perfect form than last fall, but performed more “Balanchinean” with adequate abandon and jazz influence where needed.

In “Emeralds”, Daria Sukhurova moved in one continuous stream, dancing with more freedom and precision than last fall. Those traits – freedom and precision -- are two aspects of dancing seemingly at odds, but not in this ballet, not in anything Balanchine. Her liquid arms were beautiful, but she added touches of hip here and there, overall providing more flow to her dancing than before. The effect was one of more centeredness in the music and choreography, and quite pleasant to watch. Her partner for the pas de deux was Dmitri Pixachov, and together they suggested the courtly splendor of Sleeping Beauty, aided in part by Faure’s beautiful violins.

Sofia Gumerova had the first variation and managed to float through one of the pique attitudes in perfection. Her pas de deux with Denis Firsov featured the theme of time – arms ticking like the hands of a clock, and then her leg doing the same, into a penchee. In sum Gumerova appeared a bit more relaxed in the coda than in previous performances.

The trio was danced reverentially by Anton Korsakov with Yanna Selina and Svetlana Ivanova. Selina is a perky red-head, and Ivanova a calmer, smiling blonde, shorter of stature but longer of leg, and with a split jete well past 180 degrees. Together they fit well in this pas de trios.

And then there was red. “Rubies” was danced by Diana Vishneva and Leonid Sarafanov, now so at ease in their roles that the fun – and personal expression -- shines through. Not unlike dancing it, the more one watches “Jewels” the more one begins to notice different themes in the choreography. In Rubies, the lowest bass chords are predominantly danced by the second girl, in this case again performed by Gumerova. The higher notes, as well as the main pas de deux, are done by the leading couple (Vishneva and Sarafanov). Vishneva’s arms are the most toned of any ballerina at the Kirov, and she uses “Rubies” as a playground for gymnastic effects. Her battements front nearly hit her head, and she bends, at various points, in two directions at once, always stretching, elongating, moving. Sarafanov, in like fashion, played not only with the music but with his four male counterparts, looking back at them in a large boyish grin as they traipsed around the stage in balletic runs. The pas de deux between Sarafanov and Vishneva has a new intimacy that was not before present. Having mastered the steps and even the Balanchine technique, the couple has also managed to add some personal expression to the dance. Sarafanov acts as if he is courting her, and when not a gymnastic concourse, Rubies here is a passionate pas de deux.

Of course what is “Jewels” without the regal “Diamonds” to conclude the evening. Again, upon additional viewings, patterns and themes here begin to assert themselves more visibly. The arching back, a la Swan Lake, speaks more of classical ballet than anything neoclassical, although the remainder of the steps lie clearly within Balanchine's habitual vocabulary.

As part of the “Stars of the White Nights” festival, which frequently imports guest performers from leading ballet companies, Jose Martinez of the Paris Opera Ballet guest-partnered Uliana Lopatkina, the tall, popular Kirov ballerina in "Diamonds". Their opening promenades together were gracious, and Martinez’ jetes drew appreciation from the audience. Lopatkina’s rendition of this section is different from other versions, more continuous, with less separation of movement. The effect is fluidity but with a loss of clarity as to the separate steps. While perhaps a more mature interpretation, depending on one’s preference, there may be a predilection for a more clear, separate approach to the choreography. It isn’t clear how much rehearsing was allotted for the new partnership, but judging from their timing, they must have desired more practice . Martinez was a helpful, enthusiastic partner, but Lopatkina was on a different musical plane. The result was that much of their pas de deux was ever-so-slightly uncoordinated, and this detracted from the grandeur that “Diamonds” can hold. Luckily that grandeur was recovered in the finale procession by the corps de ballet of 16 couples, when the women don white gloves, and all parade around the stage in a courtly manner. That image, reminiscent of Imperial Russia, was an apt symbol for the classical ballet traditions that gave Mr. Balanchine his start in the world of theatre and dance.

Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Wed Jun 09, 2004 8:53 am ]
Post subject:  Re: "The Stars Of The White Nights" 2004

Wow! What a feast from St Petersburg.

Author:  Catherine Pawlick [ Wed Jun 09, 2004 9:55 am ]
Post subject:  Re: "The Stars Of The White Nights" 2004

After this one, I have one more review to share. I can't emphasize enough how thrilling it is to be here in St. Petersburg!


Evening Five: A Century of Balanchine
Part of the White Nights Festival
Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia
By Catherine Pawlick
6 June, 2004

Forsythe Evening: “STEPTEXT”, “The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude” and “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated”

The fifth night of the Century of Balanchine celebration in St Petersburg brought not Balanchine or Petipa but rather one of the newest choreographers on ballet’s world stage. The premiere of three William Forsythe works appeared in electric freshness on the Mariinsky stage, at times puzzling the audience and at others holding their utmost attention.

In the final panel discussion as part of the “A Century of Balanchine” conference at the Hermitage Theatre, Pavel Gershenson, assistant director of the Mariinsky Ballet, commented that the Mariinsky Theatre “could not cope with (dancing) Forsythe without (having danced) Balanchine’s repertoire.” The observation is an adept one, for when watching a work by William Forsythe, one soon realizes this is Balanchine taken one step further. It is as if one is watching a variation on Balanchine, a blood relative who might have branched off in another direction, straying even further from classical constraints and exploring in more depth the limitations of movement, momentum and technique.

In “STEPTEXT”, the house lights remained on when the curtain rose, and indeed many audience members were still too busy chatting or finding their seats to notice. The result was general surprise as to why the usual lights-down, conductor-up process had not been adhered to. Further bewilderment followed as the sound system began in fits and starts – no doubt intentionally but seemingly unintentional to the audience. The lights and music would continue to stop mid-phrase throughout the piece, while dancers continued dancing to their own beat, or stopped to casually walk in normal, non-balletic form, to another side of the stage, slouching, fixing a pointe shoe, generally just existing on stage. After a while it became clear that Forsythe was pushing the limits of the conventional ballet structure as we know it, eliminating nearly everything except the movement itself, which continued regardless of lights, music or fellow dancers.

The language of Forsythe in this ballet is coherent and unique, if strange. The dancers communicate to each other through a series of bent elbow hand gestures (almost like dance sign language), and an audience member nearby was heard to say aloud “this is not a ballet.” And that perhaps is the influence of Balanchine – stripped of tutus, plot and setting, down to simple leotards and electronic music, and complex, speedy movements, Forsythe’s “STEPTEXT” is new neoclassicism. Arms and legs trace rapid circles in the air (not unlike Alonso King) and momentum is shifted on the spot, direction changed, each step vastly different from the one previous. Natalia Sologub was the lead in the ballet, and she has a visible mastery of the Forsythe language. Clothed in a simple red unitard, she interacted with one of three men –Andrei Ivanov, Mikhail Lobykhin or Maxim Krebtov – alternately, at times shaking away an arm that grabs her, wishing instead to walk alone or to initiate her own steps. While partnering with one of the men, at times the other two would carry on a pas de deux of their own, crossing each other’s paths, preventing steps or dancing side by side. “STEPTEXT” is all about movement and boundaries, themes central to Balanchine, but here taken one step further.

“The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude” opens to women in lime green disk tutus and men in maroon boy shorts and fitted leotard tops. The movements in this ballet come from someplace within the torso, but the overall flavor is slightly more classical. Croise devant tendus, done with one leg and then the other, suggest Balanchine, while unique turns like a low degage devant suggest more modern steps. This ballet is a busy one to watch. The movement rarely stops. Irina Golub, Svetlana Ivanova and Marina Zolotova danced alongside Maxim Ziozin and Alexander Kulikov.

“In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated” was undoubtedly the evening’s dessert. Stripped again of tutus, but not of pointe shoes, the ballet is performed to electronic music, everyone in green leotards and black tights. Daria Pavlenko danced the lead, although in this ballet nearly each dancer has solo time on stage, and the idea of hierarchy is almost nonexistent. The ballet opens with a few dancers standing casually on stage, the girls stubbing their pointe shoes into the floor, waiting, as if during a rehearsal. Then, led not by music, although dancing to it, they begin their movements, quick arm circles traced in the air, with plenty of pushing and pulling. The dancers seem to extend their limbs in every direction, testing the limits of flexibility and motion whether dancing alone or with a partner. Movement is done either to the music or in spite of it, but the electronic sound seems merely a backdrop for the essay in human extensions on stage. At one point a man is measuring the space around himself with an invisible tape measure – small touches like these suggest mime, as well as the indiviual’s focus only on himself. There are plenty of swivels, abrupt head turns, arms locked into straight positions, chasses done in modern combinations with an underlying ballet vocabulary, but fast -- the movement comes from an arm, shoulder or leg rather than the center of the torso or chest. Other dancers on stage included Sofia Gumerova, Ekaterina Kondayurova, Elena Sheshina, Yanna Selina, Ksenia Duprovina, Andrei Merkuriev, Anton Pimonov and Mikhail Lopukhin. Selina’s very upright carriage stood out from the crowd, as did Lopukhin’s jumps and solo work. The Forsythe ballets certainly leave food for thought regarding the journey ballet has taken on the world stage thus far, Balanchine’s role in its evolution, and what the future may hold.

<small>[ 09 June 2004, 12:06 PM: Message edited by: Stuart Sweeney ]</small>

Author:  Catherine Pawlick [ Sun Jun 13, 2004 12:14 am ]
Post subject:  Re: "The Stars Of The White Nights" 2004

Stars of the White Nights Festival: Gala Concert
Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia
By Catherine Pawlick
12 June 2004

“Chopiniana” and “Divertissements”

A typical night at the Kirov brings with it certain expectations: excellent dancing, perhaps viewing a favorite ballerina or favorite ballet, the chance to admire the baroque interior of the Mariinsky Theatre and take in the general excitement of an evening in what is arguably the ballet capital of the world. What one doesn’t usually think of, however, is the conductor. But during the Kirov’s “Gala Concert” on June 12, it was Mikhail Agrest’s conducting that took center stage and -- almost -- stole the show.

The curtain opened to “Chopiniana”, the second performance of the ballet this month. The casting differed entirely from the previous performance, featuring Daria Sukhorukova, Ekaterina Osmolkina and Diana Smirnova alongside Sergei Popov. Sukhorukova emerged, with her usual flowing port de bras, but this time she was more in her element than ever before. Her arms floated, as did she, seemingly through the air, aided by Popov’s smooth partnering in the Nocturne section. Whereas her lovely arms are noteworthy in a piece such as “Emeralds” (where she is frequently cast), Sukhorukova was born for “Chopiniana”, both physically and musically. She danced the Mazurka with consistent fluidity, and Mr. Agrest, to his credit, delivered even slower tempos for both her variation and partnering sections. While one might think this would detract from the flow of the ballet or demean her interpretation, it did quite the opposite. Chopin’s music does not lose effect when the tempo is lowered, and a ballerina who can extend herself into that sort of legato is one blessed with gifts indeed.

Osmolkina danced a graceful waltz that was very well-balanced. Smirnova delivered a solid Prelude, managing to float soundlessly *out* of the tour jetes. She performed the series of arabesque releves moving upstage on her left leg rather than the usual right leg choreography. Smirnova has the kind of grand jete that leaves the hind leg higher than the front, and she seems to excel in allegro and batterie. The tall, slim and blonde Sergei Popov offered double beats in his tour jetes during the variation, and throughout was on the same timing as Sukhorukova, to his credit. But Agrest’s keen awareness of the dancers and their desired tempos was more visibly evident – and pleasing to both ear and eye – than previous performances of his. He is to be commended.

The second half of the evening offered seven different divertissements, all of them pas de deux excerpts, and several of them drawing significant audience appreciation.

The pas de deux from “Harlequinade”, a ballet rarely if ever performed in the States, featured Evgenia Obraztsova and Andrei Ivanov, both small, compact dancers with winning smiles and charming stage presence. The pas de deux itself is charming too, the Harlequin in love with the ballerina, the two kissing each other on the lips in young-love fashion.

Victoria Tereshkina and Igor Kolb danced the “Black Swan Pas de Deux.” It is a shame Tereshkina was not included in the Kirov’s tour last fall, as U.S. audiences would have adored her. She has the most female of forms, but she also has long, thin legs and arms, and beautiful feet that compliment her lines. Her Odile was seductive, evil, and nicely untrustworthy. Kolb has feet that many female ballet students would envy. Likewise, his jumps and arabesque lines are beautiful to watch. He was bewitched by his Odile, and when the score changed to the Odette theme, Tereshkina had him entranced as she mimicked the white swan. Tereshkina made it through a solid 30 or so fouettes and then finished, slightly off the music, but Agrest tried to help her out.

Despite it being the exception to the classical rule of the evening, Alexei Ratmansky’s “Middle Duet” drew more applause than any of the other divertissements. Set to somewhat electronic music by Yuri Khanon that includes the purr of the same instrument used to depict the Nutcracker, the piece was an essay in swivels and collapses, as if the two dancers are puppets driven by a force outside themselves. This interpretation is more plausible at the conclusion of the ballet when the couple both flop onto the stage as if lifeless. Natalia Sologub, one of the Kirov’s leading resident masters of modern ballet, danced with Andrei Mercuriev. Sologub could be thrown into any modern ballet company and hold her own – and then some – and it shows when she dances pieces such as this. Mercuriev would support her under the arms and jerk her from a balanced position in retire passé back to another place of balance. Jerk, pose, jerk, pose. The ballet was punctuated with this sort of movement. He also lowers her from a lift in three curt movements, rather than in one sweeping gesture. Ratmansky tests the limits of balance, and the relationship between collapse and recuperation. It is an innovative choreography, one that is unique to Ratmansky and endlessly intriguing to watch. The Bolshoi Ballet has a gem on its hands.

Irma Nioradze’s too-slight frame was hardly substantial enough for the Spartacus-like “Talisman” pas de deux. Accompanied by Mikhail Lobukhin, it seemed as if even his strength could not make up for her lack of stamina. Ms. Nioradze has the look of the Bolshoi’s Alla Mikhalchenko, but, on Saturday night, did not have the same endurance. That the Talisman music has the feeling of something grand is dampened by its rather restrictive choreography. Despite Lobukhin’s good efforts and strong jumps, and Nioradze’s delicate and clean variation, this was unfortunately not one of the highlights of the evening.

In like fashion, Yulia Makhalina, often hailed as a leading Kirov ballerina, was anything but in her mediocre portrayal of “Manon” in the adagio pas de deux from the same ballet. Non-balletomanes may not have noted that her feet, strong or not (it is difficult to tell), are not blessed with any sort of arch, and as such her legs do not have the requisite ballerina line. She was unable to maintain that intended line during one of the arabesque lifts, and her partnering skills were anything but smooth or well-coordinated. One would hope that acting talents could make up for this deficit of physical technique in such an emotional pas de deux – and one would in turn wonder why someone with such a deficit exists on the company roster -- but that was not the case. While Ilya Kuznetsov deserves kudos for his efforts to meet her half-way, Makhalina’s mind, and apparently body, must still be on summer vacation.

The divertissements section was saved by the last two pieces of the evening. The “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux” was danced exquisitely by Olesya Novikova and Leonid Sarafanov. To their credit and in contrast to Vishneva’s broadqay-esque catch-me-if-you-can portrayal on Monday night, Novikova took the serene, respectable approach and the result was even more pleasing. She was softer, more reserved, and used Balanchine’s steps not as a vehicle for her personal circus but as a showcase of how a real Kirov ballerina can stay within the constraints of the choreography and still deliver a la Balanchine. Sarafanov was as before – strong, smooth, consistent, reliable. He is one of the more valuable males on the Kirov roster and does particularly well in this role.

Danced by Anton Korsakov with Elena Sheshina, the pas de deux from “Don Quixote” concluded the evening on a festive Spanish note. Korsakov took a cooler approach to both his partnering and his variation, taking his time and dancing neatly, but safely. He seemed a bit more caught up in his own world than the performance taking place around him, but this didn’t detract from his technique. Sheshina, a short, compact, and fuller-figured dancer, delivered a crisp, quick-tempoed variation and a solid set of 32 fouettes. Evenings such as these provide a real showcase of the Kirov technique, exposing it in more raw form without the drama of full-length ballets. Whether tourist, city resident or simply ballet lover, given the chance, a gala concert program such as this should be the ticket of choice.

Author:  Catherine Pawlick [ Sun Jun 13, 2004 12:17 am ]
Post subject:  Re: "The Stars Of The White Nights" 2004

By the way, in my haste to finish the "Jewels" review, I misspelled Daria Sukhorukova's last name (it should be spelled like this).

Author:  Azlan [ Sun Jun 13, 2004 7:27 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: "The Stars Of The White Nights" 2004

Wow, CP. I have to say I am jealous of the ballets you are seeing in St. P. However it sounds like there were some off-performances, in particular by Nioradze and Makhalina.

<small>[ 13 June 2004, 09:27 PM: Message edited by: Azlan ]</small>

Author:  Catherine Pawlick [ Sat Jun 19, 2004 1:26 am ]
Post subject:  Re: "The Stars Of The White Nights" 2004

Yes, to be honest I was shocked myself. I didn't expect those anomalies so it's interesting to be here and see the day-to-day performances, not just the tour performances...

Speaking of which, here is my latest review, of Swan Lake from this past Wednesday. It was a beautiful production all around.


Stars of the White Nights Festival: “Swan Lake”
Kirov Ballet
Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia
16 June 2004
By Catherine Pawlick

In 1990 a televised version of the Kirov Ballet’s “Swan Lake” was broadcast live from Wolf Trap Theatre, in Virginia. That performance, which included Olga Tchenchikova and Konstantin Zaklinsky as Odette/Odile and Prince Siegfried, respectively, has become this reviewer’s measuring stick against any other production or performance of “Swan Lake”. That is because void of pretense and excess, but full of classical line and appropriate restraint, this 1990 version holds all of the attributes that a “Swan Lake” should. The Kirov Ballet continues to perform this, Konstantin Sergeev’s, version of the classical ballet, but 14 years later the dancers have changed and new faces have emerged onto the Mariinsky stage.

On June 16, Alina Somova and Evgenii Ivanchenko danced the same roles in Sergeev’s ballet. Before they met on stage, however, we were treated to several other dancers. Andrei Ivanov won the audience’s full support as the perky, playful Jester. He whizzed through his turns a la seconde, and was in the air as much as he was on the ground.

In the pas de trios, Yulia Kasenkova and Ekaterina Osmolkina danced beside Maxim Ziuzin. Kasenkova performed the first variation to a slower tempo than usual. Zuizin’s tempo, on the other hand, was faster than usual and he was still ahead of the music, finishing, however, with a perfect double tour. Osmolkina is a charming dancer and solid technician. She managed to finish her pirouette to a la seconde stopping en pointe. A bit more flair with her head or eyes would have made it perfect.

In Act II, Ksenia Dubrovina and Sergei Popov stood out among the various ballroom dancers, performing the Hungarian dance. Daria Sukhorukova also drew attention as one of the two swan soloists. As with “Chopiniana”, her style fits well into such classical “white” ballets.

And then came Odette. Somova is a seemingly tall, very thin blonde ballerina, who never hesitated to demonstrate her extreme flexibility to the audience, correct placement be darned. An arabesque from Somova is a chance to lift her leg to its limit, not to demonstrate balance or control. Indeed, her first entrance as Odette was just that, a flash of the leg, but no sustained balance. It would have been nice to have seen one pique attitude at a reserved 90 degrees, but without her torso tilted so far forward. Somova’s hyperextension contributes to beautiful lines in her legs, but her inability to restrain herself from legs flying overhead detracted from what could have been a more controlled, more enjoyable performance. This, combined with a slight incongruity with the music – not using it to its fullest at obvious points -- is cause for wonder why ballerinas such as she are awarded international medals. Is it just because of their flexibility? She is beautiful to watch, and for the untrained ballet viewer, no fault can be found. But where is the restraint and style of the Kirov of 10 or 20 years ago?

Somova was slightly more well-suited to the Odile role. She was a natural, inviting seductress, not evil or contrived, but playful and tempting. Her high extensions in this role more appropriately represented the extremes to which Odile goes to deceive the Prince. She also managed to complete all 32 fouettes, the first display of that step that has been carried out flawlessly in one month’s worth of Kirov performances.

Ivanchenko, on the other hand, was every bit the Prince. Also long of limb and tall of stature, he has mastered the demure demeanor of Siegfried, and has beautiful lines to boot. He repeatedly carried out six or seven pirouettes to a finish en releve. His acting ability also impressed – upon being shown his “mistake” by Rothbart in Act III he maintained his princely conduct while being visibly upset at the deception to which he fell prey.

For that matter, a comment on the libretto is warranted. Unlike real life, the gift that the evil Rothbart unknowingly gives to Siegfried is the knowledge of his mistake: he has deceived the one he truly loved, and as a result, it follows, he will lose her. In real life, such understanding and self-awareness is frequently missing. Betrayals often occur, but rarely are apologies carried through, rarer still are the lovers united in bliss. But this, thankfully, is ballet, and so anything is possible. Armed with the knowledge of his mistake, and the real source of the problem, Siegfried rips Rothbart’s wing off, symbolically killing the evil that came between him and his beloved, and fittingly, love conquers all. Would that life off stage were as wonderful.

<small>[ 19 June 2004, 03:27 AM: Message edited by: Catherine Pawlick ]</small>

Author:  Catherine Pawlick [ Thu Jul 01, 2004 12:21 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: "The Stars Of The White Nights" 2004

Kirov Ballet
Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg, Russia
“Giselle”: Tame and Compliant
1 July 2004
By Catherine Pawlick

With half of the Kirov Ballet on a quick tour to Turkey, the remainder continues to perform almost-nightly at the Mariinsky Theatre. On July 1, the company’s first “Giselle” in at least two months greeted the theatre audience in St. Petersburg tamely, if perhaps a bit fatigued. The magic that can often accompany a stellar performance of “Giselle” was missing in this performance, despite mostly technically-sufficient dancing.

The fire-haired Natalia Sologub danced a lovely Giselle alongside Vasilii Sherbakov as Albrecht. Sologub has a fluid quality of movement that the company puts to good use in many contemporary works, but that same trait is just as extraordinary in a classical ballet. Her flexibility is as impressive, if not moreso, than some of the company’s main ticket-sellers, but she uses it as a tool towards expressing choroeography, and not as an end in and of itself. Also unlike some of the Kirov dancers, Sologub moves in phrases, not in steps, and she has a port de bras that imbibes every gesture with the right amount of nuance, never over or underdone, and never stiff. She danced a shy Giselle who falls in love deeply and quickly with the deceptive Albrecht, and out of love saves him from the same fate he led her to.

Sherbakov drew applause for his technique as well, notably in the second Act’s diagonale of cabrioles and his bouncy sissonnes. As the Prince however, one did not receive the impression of noble blood. His gestures were reserved, his carriage upright, but that certain intangible quelquechose was unfortunately missing. This made the pas de deux seem more one-sided, as Sologub’s Giselle was a believable character, but alongside Sherbakov, became diluted.

In this ballet, unfortunately, those two characters carry the weight of the plot almost entirely on their shoulders, and as such, if something is off, it throws the balance of the libretto off as well. Hilarion, Giselle’s mother, and Myrtha, it may be argued, are also central to the plot, but as far as the continuity of the ballet goes (and the feelings that should emerge from it), they contribute less in terms of air time. As a result, even Ekaterina Kondaurova’s serene and queenly Myrtha helped pull the ballet up a notch in Act Two. A seemingly taller dancer who can easily fill the stage, she was unruffled by her broken rosemary staff, ever-insistent that Albrecht continue dancing to his death. And yet, while inspiring, she could not alter the overall taste of the evening.

The corps de ballet was, as always, impressive, even if some of Act One’s group sections looked a bit heavy. Act Two’s famous arabesque “trains” were notable, and the ethereal quality of the wilis effective, but a step or two down from the perfection of the Kirov’s “Chopiniana” or the elegance of their “Swan Lake”. Perhaps the company needs a break once in a while from their intense rehearsal schedule – it may have made a difference.

Author:  Catherine Pawlick [ Sat Jul 17, 2004 10:54 am ]
Post subject:  Re: "The Stars Of The White Nights" 2004

Kirov Ballet
Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg, Russia
16 July 2004
“Romeo and Juliet”: Careful Hesitation
by Catherine Pawlick

Was it uncertainty or unwillingness? Certainly not the latter, as most dancers dream of such roles. And as for the former – hours of rehearsal time seem to suggest there would be no place for doubt in the dance’s delivery. And yet, so it was. Friday night’s performance of “Romeo and Juliet” on the Mariinsky stage had more than a few moments of hesitation and an overall cool representation of the star-crossed lovers, with only tastes here and there of the passion that can carry this ballet forward.

Of particular note during the evening was in fact neither Romeo nor Juliet but several other characters who carried the ballet forward. Leonid Sarafanov was a taller, leaner Mercutio than most companies will cast, but his playful spirit and expert technique made him stand out from his fellow Montague cohorts. Likewise, Juliet’s best friend, danced by Ekaterina Osmolkina, offered the long-necked, effortless grace and continuous movement that should be brought to the lead female role in this ballet. One wanted to see her as Juliet, and hopefully audiences soon will be able to.

So, for a ballet that premiered on this stage 64 years ago, one would expect to have been greeted by perfection and swept away by passion in this tale of love, but unfortunately for whatever reason, that wasn’t the rule of the evening. While Irina Zhelonkina was a delicate Juliet, her passion was visible only in the scene with the priest when she obtains the poison, and again during Paris’ visit to her bedroom following Romeo’s departure. At these moments she was visibly, tangibly distraught, now asking the priest for help, now staring blankly into the distance as if her soul had left her when Romeo did. As she tore herself from Paris’ advances, one began to understand that she can act, and emote. But for some reason the chemistry with her Romeo was tepid at best.

Andrei Yakovlev, as Romeo, in turn didn’t take full advantage of musical opportunity to emote. Compared to some of the more famous Romeos in recent years, his acting was lukewarm at best. When he heard news of Juliet’s death for example, he was perhaps stunned, but hardly moved to show it, simply staring blankly ahead, and then running offstage to find her. Likewise, during Mercutio’s death, he seemingly wasn’t sure where or to whom to react, so simply picked up the sword and headed for Tybalt. Lacking was the thought process behind the character’s movements, which, in Shakespeare, is every bit the key to the plot.

The pair’s partnering sequences were reserved, and in some unlikely cases – during the balcony scene, or bedroom pas, for example – wobbly. Yakovlev is strong enough, as he demonstrated in the death scene, carrying Zhelonkina single-handedly around the stage with him, over one shoulder, or over his head in the form of a cross. Perhaps the two dancers simply haven’t worked together long enough, for the unsteady moments weren’t explainable. It wasn’t a question of not knowing the choreography either, it was simply a lack of continuity and flow, and several awkward repositionings that detracted from key scenes throughout the ballet.

And yet there were some noteworthy moments, which included the famous sword-fighting scenes in Act One that had the audience riveted, and the ballroom scene, which, in this, Leonid Lavrovsky’s version, opens to the members of the ball seated at banquet tables, Tybalt jumping up on the table to give a toast, then followed by the heavy ballroom “march” music.

The Kirov dancers have everything it takes to make a fantastic "Romeo"; hopefully this was just an anomaly and the next time round will be as dashing as their heritage.

<small>[ 17 July 2004, 01:03 PM: Message edited by: Catherine Pawlick ]</small>

Author:  Catherine Pawlick [ Sun Jul 18, 2004 9:38 am ]
Post subject:  Re: "The Stars Of The White Nights" 2004

Today marks the end of the "Stars of the White Nights" Festival for 2004. Last night's performance of Ratmansky's "Cinderella" was beyond impressive. Below are my further thoughts on it.


Kirov Ballet
Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg
17 July 2004
by Catherine Pawlick

In one word: brilliant. For the uninitiated, Alexei Ratmansky’s “Cinderella” may, upon first viewing, appear avant-garde, modernistic, unconventional. But it is precisely those traits that update his ballet with freshness and hints of mystery, allowing a classical fairytale to bloom again under a more modern cloak. His “Cinderella” is the perfect food for the Mariinsky dancers who, during Saturday night’s performance, demonstrated that they too have the ability to move modernly within the constraints of a classically-based training.

If Forsythe is contemporary ballet taken to the limit, Ratmansky’s “Cinderella” is just a few degrees shy of that. That his dance vocabulary is varied will come as no surprise. His movements stem from the center of the torso, including plenty of reverse port de bras and innovative lifts, punctuated by a swerving hip or flexed foot here or there. This vocabulary is set off and enhanced by equally modern sets. The audience filters into the house with the curtain already drawn, revealing a black and white, half-transparent scrim that outlines a cityscape full of buildings with hundreds of windows. We know even before the conductor lifts his baton that we’re not going to watch the 18th century horse-and-carriage version of this ballet.

The on-stage sets, in like fashion, are sparse and ultra modern. For the first Act, two tall scaffolds with iron stairs winding upwards are set opposite each other on stage. For the ballroom scene, the scaffolds disappear and the backdrop changes to an almost trompe l’oeil of a long regressing hallway. Clever use of a symbolic iron clock-turned-chandelier lends a nice touch during the scene changes.

Equally modern was the choice to choreograph the four “seasonal” fairies as men in unicolor unitards (yellow, green, red and blue, respectively). Their attendants were females in tutus and point shoes. Maxim Ziuzin drew recognition as the Autumn “fairy”, a long-limbed, succinct dancer with a great future ahead of him.

Other highlights in this ballet include the ballroom scene, abounding with men in full black-tie and tails, and women in slinky red or orange dresses with black elbow-length gloves, all circa 1930. Together they do the bunny hop, the choo-choo train, and dance in pairs, a la Ratmansky.

And, for all its modernity, the ballet holds some uniquely Russian touches as well. Cinderella’s father enters during the first scene with two drinking buddies. Clearly drunk, he asks his daughter for additional money. In contrast to the reality of this scene, Cinderella reminisces over her father and real mother, and they appear onstage behind her, illustrating her thoughts. The Fairy Godmother appears first as an elderly babushka in layman’s clothing, laden with too many bags, and seeks brief refuge with Cinderella. The Godmother reappears throughout the ballet, always heavily laden and hunched over, reminding Cinderella to watch the time.

To set the tone initially, the first Act opens with three male hairdressers, sleekly danced by Fedor Murashov, Alexei Nedvega and Grigorii Popov in black leather pants and black muscle T shirts, hair greased back, as they dance around their clients (the two stepsisters and the stepmother). Nedvega stood out in the trio, notable for his clear execution and presence. In this scene, one immediately one receives the impression of a Broadway-esque performance, which then morphs into fuller Ratmansky as the three females (for they are certainly not ladies) begin to try to dance. Tatiyana Serova was the proud Stepmother, replete with electric orange bobbed hair and an attitude to match. Her daughters, danced by Viktoria Tereshkina and Elena Sheshina, respectively, were essays in polar opposition – one tall, lean and dark-haired, the other shorter, more rounded and blonde. Nothing about this stepfamily matches, which makes it all the more enjoyable.

Especially when Cinderella comes along. Diana Vishneva danced the role expertly, taking full advantage of not only the off-balance reaches, but the centered balances sprinkled throughout the choreography. When not constrained by classical line and gesture, Vishneva is even more pleasing to watch. She exuded joy as Cinderella, and when pensive or sad her acting was palpable to the outer reaches of the house.

Andrei Mercuriev, the suave, debonaire Prince appears in all white, a stark contrast to the modernly clothed ball attendees. His clothing is as his movement: smooth, swift, flowing, certain. His calm certitude was a pleasing contrast against Vishneva’s shy, self-questioning Cinderella during the opening ballroom sequence. Together their partnering was untainted, the lifts light as clouds, the movements sweeping and grand. The final pas de deux was full of sheer romance as the two danced under a star-studded night sky. One can’t imagine this scene being done differently; it left a strong impression of a glorious fairytale courtship, suggesting dreams do come true. Watching this ballet, at least, can bring one to believe that.

<small>[ 18 July 2004, 11:42 AM: Message edited by: Catherine Pawlick ]</small>

Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Sun Jul 18, 2004 11:55 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: "The Stars Of The White Nights" 2004

Thanks as always Catherine for the vivid review. Wish I could have been there!

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