St. Petersburg, Russia
3 August, 2004
By Catherine Pawlick
Another Swan Lake, you may think. More white swans, Siegfried’s betrayal, the conquer of evil, and happily ever after. Well, yes and no. The lovely Daria Pavlenko was originally billed for tonight’s performance of “Swan Lake” at the Mariinsky Theatre, so it was with some disappointment that this reviewer read the revised playbill, which announced the debut performance of Elena Vostrotina, a tall (over 5’8”), thin and lanky redhead as Odette/Odile. It was with equal anticipation that the audience awaited the curtain’s opening, wondering what Vostrotina would do in the challenging role.
Unfortunately, it was more of the sort that Alina Somova delivered in her June performance, leading one to think this is a trend among company members (or among companies). In like fashion, Vostrotina’s legs –which bear a strong resemblance to Svetlana Zakharova’s -- were behind her ears, no matter what the position. With feet like hers, this can be beautiful to look at. But to anyone who knows the choreography and the challenges of dancing it, and can see natural “ballerina legs” at a glance, Vostrotina’s extensions did little to impress. It was clear that for her, a position proves very little challenge, whether it’s an attitude or an arabesque. What she had trouble with was control (her legs are so long that sections of the Odette variation were delivered at a very slow tempo so she could complete the choreography in time with the music) and acting.
When it came to emotional delivery, the tourist-filled audience was left empty-handed, whether they realized it or not. (Judging from their reactions to both the Pas de Trios and the Jester during the first Act, they didn’t realize it.) A word first on those two sections. The Jester, danced by Grigorii Popov was perky and bouncy as ever, and deserved his applause. But even more deserving were Irina Zhelonkina and Yulia Kasenkova alongside Maxim Zuizin who danced the Pas de Trois as the friends of the Prince. Zuizin has the perfect legs of a male dancer, well-proportioned, strong, with archy feet. Blessed with good ballon and a disarming smile, he’s one to watch in the next year or two. He was accompanied by reliable, consistent delivery from both ladies, true to Kirov style and Konstantin Sergeev’s choreography. If the audience was more appreciative of Popov’s turns a la seconde than of Zuizin’s elastic ballon and perfectly timed partnering, one can blame it on the tourist season.
But back to our swan. Vostrotina has a tendency to dip her head down, way down, as Odette, apparently in some attempt to express something, but it wasn’t clear exactly what. And while her arms and legs performed the choreography correctly, there was none of the reaching or longing that more effective dancers often add to the role. It was only as Odile that part of her acting ability was demonstrated. Vostrotina was believably deceptive in grin and gesture, and if she was not seductive, she was at least strong, self-assured and evil. However here too there were some moments of confused acting, as her face would change suddenly without reason from a smile to a coy look that was not in synchronicity with the music or choreography. As if she suddenly remembered she was supposed to act.
It was then with welcome relief that the swan corps arrived on stage, in unison, in white, pristine. Victoria Tereshkina stood out among the big swans for her pliant back and musicality. And in the second act, Alex Nedvega’s “Neopolitan” dance alongside Evgenia Obraztsova drew applause for its sparkle and energy.
Our Siegfried, amidst all of this, was Danila Korsuntsev, no doubt matched to Vostrotina in part for his height, and in part for his princely demeanor, which fit the role perfectly. If there are remnants of type-casting still within the halls of the Kirov, this may be one example, but it harms neither Korsuntsev nor the spectators, for he appeared stronger, more muscular, and more clean in line and form than his past performances of “Chopiniana”. He looked more at home in the role of Siegfried, and carried himself as every bit the prince. Even when Vostrotina was slightly off-balance, Korstuntsev would save her. And after defiantly ripping off Rothbart’s wing, it was with a palpable look of sheer joy and relief that he picked Odette up, saving the ballet's ending from the risk of an emotionless close.
Boris Gruzin, rarely seen at the podium for classical ballets during the summer, provided stellar conducting for this performance debut. Any dancer who completes this three-act classic deserves praise for their effort and stamina. Vostrotina has the facility to make of herself a great dancer, but only if she begins to address the internal aspects of the role. Otherwise the risk is simply artistic gymnastics, and ballet is so much more than that.
<small>[ 30 September 2004, 02:06 AM: Message edited by: Stuart Sweeney ]</small>
Author, "Vaganova Today: The Preservation of Pedagogical Tradition" (available on amazon.com)