The Kirov Ballet
St. Petersburg, Russia
11 February 2005
by Catherine Pawlick
On Friday night, the Mariinsky offered its monthly run of the all-Balanchine program that first joined its repertoire one year ago April. “The Four Temperaments”, “La Valse”, and “Ballet Imperiale” were danced with the coolness of a Russian winter and an equally-Russian accent, with but with unevenness, and very few moments of inspiration sprinkled throughout. It is possible that last minute replacements contributed to the unevenness, but how last-minute those decisions were, is hard to tell.
In “Four Temperaments”, Olga Esina was partnered by Artyem Yachemnnikov in the Theme, alongside Svetlana Ivanova and Alexei Nedviga, and Ekaterina Konadurova with Maxim Chashegorov, this last dancer a new addition to the ballet. Of the three couples, Kondaurova seemed most at home in the Balanchine choreography, and Chashegorov kept pace with her. Likewise, Nedviga and Ivanova matched each other well in their sequences. Esina was once again an essay in flexibility, which can almost be acceptable in a Balanchine work, when one isn’t concerned with emotion or the refinements of classical technique. With time and a stern eye kept on her, she could become a favorite, but for now she continues untamed gymnastics that seem to please the casting directors.
As Melancholic, Anton Korsakov offered an emotionless but powerful variation. Were it not for the music and the program notes, it would be difficult to determine which of the four temperaments he was portraying. In contrast, Aleksandr Sergeev, debuting in the Sanguinic variation with Ekaterina Osmolkina, offered a heart-felt rendition of their temperament. Sergeev is a handsome dancer, suited well to Osmolkina’s own grace, and the two moved in expansive gestures. Andrei Mercuriev danced a believable Phlegmatic, his emotions changing with the music, and the four mysterious girls who enter later influencing his mood. Ekaterina Petina darted around the stage with energy and verve as Choleric, offering pride and strength and not much gloom or sullenness. Repeat viewings of this ballet bring to light the genius in Balanchine’s choreography. His musicality is transparent through the steps and patterns seen onstage, always reflecting both the base rhythm and surface notes.
Whereas Uliana Lopatkina was advertised online as the lead in “La Valse” up until performance time, in fact Daria Pavlenko danced the role, partnered admirably by Vladimir Shishov. Their entrance appears as two sides of the same coin: parallel steps danced facing away from each other until the combre back, and voila—they turn to each other as if seeing someone in the mirror, a dancing partner, their second half. Pavlenko dances this role with mystery, beauty and cool aloofness, but abandon in her steps. Shishov was colorful as well, and reliable in his partnering.
Among the three curtain-openers, Kondaurova, Alexandra Iosifidi and Daria Sukhorukova, only Sukhorukova seemed frail, much thinner than last year, but not in an appealing manner. Kondaurova was the most fitted to this ballet as well – her facility lends itself to neoclassical works just as well as to classical ones.
Otherwise, the introductory section included some moments of brightness: Andrei Mercuriev reappeared in this ballet as well, his partnering of Yana Selina velvety smooth. Maxim Ziuzin seemed at home surrounded by waltzing beauties in the opening sequence. Selina, next to Kondaurova and Olga Esina all danced elegantly.
“Ballet Imperial”’s casting also went through some changes at curtain time, or sometime after the postings first went up. Irina Golub, originally cast as the second soloist in blue, was replaced by Ekaterina Osmolkina. And Victoria Tereshkina, originally to dance the first soloist role, was replaced by Tatiana Tkachenko. This last substitution was an odd choice. There are other ballerinas with as much skill but more femininity. Tkachenko danced well technically and even with grace and emotion in her delivery, but her presence and physicality don’t lend themselves well to soft ballerina roles, even one as regal and strong as this one. Her partner, Andrian Fadeev, adapted well to the shift in casting, but Tkachenko seemed larger than he is on stage, making his partnering efforts seem at times heroic, which alters the entire feeling of the piece. Fadeev was valiant throughout, running here and there to support the various girls, but never losing his own composure.
Osmolkina was, on the other hand, a fine replacement for Golub. The two share not only similar physical characteristics but similar emotional capabilities as well. Aside from a spill when rounding the corner at her first entrance, Osmolkina danced with her eyes as well as her arms and legs throughout the ballet.
Yana Selina and Evgenia Obratsova both displayed polish and precocite in their demi soloist roles. Selina’s refinement of technique in fact makes her a candidate for Tkachenko’s spot, or at least some meater casting.
The last minute casting changes for this program and their sometimes odd replacements point to an ongoing theme in the company administration: the choices that determine who dances what, and when. It is unclear on whom this responsibility lies, but many say it is not Ballet Director Makharbek Vasiev’s choice. That leaves one to ponder who is controlling the puppet strings, and why many of the talented dancers in the company aren’t given the opportunities they can to perform certain roles. While many of those who performed this evening did a fine job, they tend to be cast repeatedly, while others in the more than 100-member company remain someplace behind the stage. For this performance, Mikhail Agrest conducted.
Author, "Vaganova Today: The Preservation of Pedagogical Tradition" (available on amazon.com)