St. Petersburg, Russia
06 February 2005
by Catherine Pawlick
Not even the exalted halls of the Mariinsky theatre are immune to the minor onstage mishap, the technical faux-pas suggesting that the gods of fortune have decided to have a little bit of fun. As Chance would –and did-- have it, to the horror of some, and even the surprising laughter of others, such was the case in Sunday night’s performance of “La Bayadere.”
To a sold-out house, the casting was superb, a list that would draw any ballet-goer’s eye: Daria Pavlenko dancing the role of Nikiya; Leonid Sarafanov as Solor, and Ekaterina Osmolkina slated to dance Gamzatti. What could be better? Unfortunately, much could have been better, but, depending on the incident, it is arguable whether the dancers were to blame.
In her opening sequence Pavlenko appeared onstage, a vision of strength, courage and poise. As her veil was removed from her face, revealing her recognizable high cheekbones, wide, consuming eyes, and long slim neck, she displayed a feminine self-awareness in her struggles with Vladimir Ponomarev, the Great Brahmin, who tried to win her over. He wants her, she refuses him. Everything seemed in order.
It was with surprise and sympathy, then, that one noticed Pavlenko’s shoe. The ribbons on her left foot were completely untied only moments after her entrance. There ensued the silent guessing game: does she know they’re untied? Will she stumble on them while dancing? Will she change the choreography to avoid that happening? When is her first chance to leave the stage and correct the problem? Will she have time to tie them? Did she forget, or did they come undone? Snickers from some audience members, evil glares from others. Luckily after her first sequence, the problem was corrected and, at least costume-wise, things remained calm for the remainder of the evening.
However, logistically, Sarafanov’s turn was next. In the lover’s first garden encounter, Sarafanov lifts her overhead with both arms and walks upstage. Upstage happens to also be where the rock “fireplace” is. One watches – how far will he walk? Has he forgotten the fireplace is there? Is he going to put her in it? Unfortunately, the fireplace found his foot before he found it – as he was looking up at Pavlenko, which is what any male dancer should be doing in such a lift. His foot hit the fireplace, in surprise he stopped moving, starting to set Pavlenko down, and the result was a quick but awkward stagger over the bump in the road. Mishap number two went injury-less, to the best of my knowledge.
The final, albeit minor, mishap was a mere choreographic falter during the pas de deux with the veil in the Shades scene, Act III. On the first pirouette Pavlenko stumbled; but Vishneva has done far worse at the same moment in the ballet. During the last of the arabesque turns, Sarafanov had the good sense to snatch the veil away seconds earlier this time, saving Pavlenko, one assumes, from a similar fate.
What came before, after and in between these small annoyances (for they must have been so to the dancers, if they weren’t so to adoring fans) was in fact a rather even performance. One might wonder if this sort of beginning will lead to an unraveling of the Terpsichorean thread throughout the evening, or if the incidents will remain well enough isolated so as not to effect the overall outcome of the performance. This viewer would argue that the latter was the case on Sunday night.
Sarafanov was unaffected, pulling off his signature split jetes, tour jetes, cabrioles – anything with a French name, he did it and the audience loved it. Osmolkina remained poised, Solor’s jealous vengeful bride. It was surprising to see her Aurora-persona turn so black so quickly, and so believably. Only Pavlenko appeared somewhat uneasy later in the evening. While her temple dance during the wedding celebration was visibly wrought with despair, she seemed slightly nervous in the Shades scene, her shoulder rising a bit in her turns, her port de bras before the pas-de-bouree-fouette-to-attitude-let-Solor-step-in section a bit haphazard, and her shoes clapping the floor in the landings from tour-jetes. Nonetheless the length and shape of her feet alone make her legs an essay in beauty, and even an off-night for Pavlenko is a taste of heaven.
The Kirov corps de ballet is of course, the crème de la crème, and this performance was no exception. The Shades scene drew applause; only one of the 24 was seen to have wobbled at one moment. Leading Shades Evgenia Obratsova , Tatiana Tkachenko and Alina Somova danced the trio. Obratsova’s variation was danced at lightening speed until the fourth measure; she finished her variation en releve, like steel. It was impressive. Tkachenko is reliable, if not overly feminine as a Shade, but her cabrioles were strong. Of them only Somova seemed miscast. That her legs can pop up past her ear in a split-second does not impress. Her initial sissone, the very first step in the variation, was delivered with several hops; her footwork was sloppy and her neck jutted out inappropriately. The casting directors would do well to take heed to technical capability, not just gymnastics, when planning for a ballet such as this.
After all of the excitement, it is with relief that one can say in conclusion that, void of any orchestral mishap, the three-hour evening was conducted by Mikhail Sinkevich.
<small>[ 07 February 2005, 12:21 PM: Message edited by: Catherine Pawlick ]</small>
Author, "Vaganova Today: The Preservation of Pedagogical Tradition" (available on amazon.com)