Maslenitsa Festival: “Cinderella”
St. Petersburg, Russia
14 February 2007
by Catherine Pawlick
What better way to spend Valentine’s Day than taking a loved one to see the greatest fairytale of all time? That is what Russian couples of all ages decided to do in St. Petersburg on February 14, filling the house of the Mariinsky Theatre to the brim for a performance of Alexei Ratmansky’s contemporary “Cinderella”.
This was just one of the performances billed under the Theatre’s Maslenitsa, or Shrovetide, Festival, held from February 12 to 18 this year. Commemorating the end of winter, historically Maslenitsa has been celebrated with various festivities, including charity balls and masquerades, the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre playing a particularly significant role. It did so again tonight, creating a world of fantasy where dreams come true for a few hours.
As an added treat, we witnessed Daria Pavlenko’s debut in the title role. Cinderella seems ideally suited to Pavlenko in many respects. Not only does it parallel her personal life in some ways (she lost her parents at a young age, for example, and has climbed the ranks inside an increasingly political art world in Russia), but this character is a great match for her own demeanor. Pavlenko’s shy, girlish smile is an honest one that emits, even in its moments of utmost joy, a sense of underlying tragedy. I can think of no dancer on the Kirov’s current roster more deserving of a fairytale ending than Pavlenko for her hard work (unlike other principal dancers, she paid her dues in the corps de ballet before being promoted), and her dedication (while others may guest at the Met or the Bolshoi, or even leave the company for higher paying European posts, Pavlenko maintains her home base in St. Petersburg).
Pavlenko danced beautifully throughout the evening alongside Alexander Sergeev, her dashing prince. And dashing he was. A handsomer prince could not be found, but moreover, Sergeev has all the makings of a star. With the panache of Ruzimatov’s delivery, and a technique that rivals the best male dancers worldwide, he is the future of the Kirov’s male component. More than one sequence of jetes drew audience favor, and his initial appearance onstage in a white suit and pants suggested nothing but the most ideal of men. More than simply being “one to watch”, he is, it seems, already well on his way to greatness.
As if this was not enough, the chemistry between the two dancers was electric, and unlike previous renditions by other casts. In the grand ball scene, upon first catching sight of one another, the stage slowly emptied as Sergeev and Pavlenko began their dance. At more than one moment, their mutual gazing at each other seemed almost intimate – it felt as if one was intruding upon a highly romantic moment between young lovers, and yet it was impossible to look away.
Technically, Sergeev’s partnering efforts were perfectly timed, his split-second maneuvers providing constant reliability throughout the dance. Sergeev's bravura lies in both his line and his ballon. His arabesque displays a high leg and arched, erect back. Tour jetes are always finished in a high split, and nearly any jump of his soars. He turns like a top, and has an innate sense of stage presence. His talents onstage seem unlimited.
The couple’s language of gesture seemed perfectly natural. The series of curled arm movements gestured by Cinderella and the Prince in the air as they walk, arms intertwined and heads together, were created by Ratmansky to show the lovers’ conversation. Here were soulmates who, after introductions, felt completely at home with one another. Sound is another unique part of this production. Cinderella’s spitting on the window as she polishes it is heard from the orchestra seats, and the squeal of the ballroom full of ladies reaches even the upper balcony, to cite a few examples.
Other dancers also deserve mention. As the mother, Tatiana Serova led the two ugly stepsisters – Elena Sheshina and Ksenia Dubrovina – through their jealous, raving antics with haughty pride and commandeering gestures. Alla Sisoeva led the female “ladies of the night” section with sultry abandon. Islam Baimuradov appeared both as the impatient, effeminate dance instructor (woe to him, being forced to teach the clumsy mother-daughter trio) and, geniusly as the lead of the pack of effeminate men in blue, where he received plenty of audience chuckles for his smooth attempt to distract the Prince.
The Act I hairdressers and, in Act III, magical fairy godmother aides, Alexei Nedvega and Grisha Popov stood out for their own sleek moves. Elena Bazhenova, as the Fairy Godmother carried the libretto forward with her mysterious magic and evident care for the motherless Cinderella.
This evening was one of the Mariinsky’s more magical ones. Perhaps it was Maslenitsa, or the day of hearts that filled the air. But under Mikhail Agrest’s baton, one left the theatre with the distinct impression that fairytales do come true.