CriticalDance Forum

7th Annual International Ballet Festival Mariinsky April'07
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Author:  jpc [ Mon Apr 23, 2007 4:44 am ]
Post subject:  21-04-07 all-Balanchine performance

Mariinsky Festival 21-04-07: Serenade, The Prodigal Son, Diamonds

The all-Balanchine program of the 21st was titled in the program The Americans.
I suppose this was a tribute to the guest principal performers, Maria Kowroski, Damien Woetzel, and Philip Neal.

There is also the 'americanness' of Serenade, a work that some consider the signature piece of the NYCB, in that it was the first Balanchine piece made in the thirties in America but using the timeless vocabulary of academic ballet technique.
Moreover, one could argue that Diamonds in Jewels is a tribute to the Mariinsky imperial ballet, as Balanchine experienced it in his youth, a tribute he distilled through his americanness and a tribute he offered in the terms of 20th c. academic ballet technique.

Musically, the evening dedicated to the work of Balanchine, couldn't be more Russian: two Tchaikovsky scores sandwiched between a 1929 Prokofiev score.

Serenade was beautifully led by Victoria Tereshkina, with the other soloists being, Ekaterina Osmolkina and Sofia Gumerova. Philip Neal of NYC Ballet was the principal male.

A storyless ballet, the dancers are on stage as dancers, whose movements, individually and as groups, give meaning and emotional content to the patterns, formations, and social settings that are vivified by the ebb and flow of the music.

The Sonatina, the Waltz and the final Elegy following the 4th movement's 'russian' dance, are really the 'story' that Serenade tells. “It's all in the music”, said Balanchine.
(Musically, Serenade in C for strings is played with the third and fourth movements reversed.)

A lovely performance.

The Prodigal Son, a 1929 work commissioned by S. Diaghilev, presents Balanchine following Boris Kochno's book based on the biblical parable, and the expressionist score of Sergei Prokofiev. The sets and costumes are by Georges Rouault.

The matching expressionist choreography of Balanchine is lively and with clear mime. It generally tells the story with classic measure. The orgy scene and the Siren's part need to produce effects of degradation: acrobatics and theatrical devices are used for efficiently advancing the story.

Damien Woetzel was appropriately athletic and impetuous as the prodigal youth.

Maria Kowroski was a marvelous Siren, cold, implacable, and certain of her allure.

The drinking companions were appropriately insect-like and repulsive.

The final scene of the prodigals' return to the patriarch's fold (the Father impressively played by Vladimir Ponomarev) was moving and climactic.

Boris Gruzin conducted for all three ballets.

The score for Diamonds (from Jewels) is the 3rd Symphony of P.Tchaikovsky, with the first movement omitted.

The choreography follows two scherzi, a grand adagio, and the finale, a grand polonaise.

The scherzi had two pairs of demi-soloists, Xenia Ostreikovskaya and Daria Vasnetsova, and Tatiana Nekipelova and Yana Selina partnered by Alexander Sergeyev, Maxim Zyuzin, Andrei Ermakov, and Denis Firsov.
(I can't match partners because I didn't take notes.). All soloists were excellent.

The grand adagio, the heart of the ballet, was led by NYC Ballet's Maria Kowroski partnered nobly by Philip Neal. With the trademark NYCB company style, the double work was fully expressed but keeping to a musical pulse that maintained its flow even in the most virtuosic and difficult passages. The breath was never stopped for posing or effect. There was always the next revelation coming up. Superb performances.

The finale, a breathtaking polonaise, brings the Mariinsky corps de ballet and the eight demi-soloists back with the principals for an applause-machine ending, both choreographically and musically.

Lots of flowers and curtain calls.
It's an evening I'll long remember.

It was also the last performance of the Festival for me.
I'm writing this back home, after an early flight out of St Petersburg on the morning of the 22nd.

Author:  Catherine Pawlick [ Tue Apr 24, 2007 9:06 am ]
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Thank you for your continued reports. I was not able to attend the American evening on Saturday, (although I'm working on Sunday night's review), so I read with interest your impressions. Can you comment on Philip Neal's performance? How did he compare to the other Kirov (male) dancers you saw here?

In all honesty I was unimpressed with Maria Kowroski's performance Sunday in "Middle Duet" - compared to the abandon with which Natalia Sologub and others had performed the role, I expected much more from a Balanchine-trained dancer (ie the idea of being off balance seemed foreign to her, and it shouldn't). Which leads me to another question: have you seen any Kirov ballerinas in the lead in Diamonds before and if so, any comparisons there? Just curious.

Author:  ksneds [ Tue Apr 24, 2007 9:41 am ]
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"Prodigal Son" has been one of Woetzel's signature roles at NYCB, and I hope they will revive the ballet for his final season (assumed to be Spring 2008). It's a role that seems to have grown on him with age, which I think is revealed by the fact that he's still getting good reviews in the part when he's just about to turn 38.

He seems to be tireless though, as besides his NYCB committments, he's also the head of the NYSSSA ballet program, newly named director of the Vail Dance Festival and has just finished his Masters in Public Health at Harvard where he did guest appearances at Boston Ballet on the side. Does he ever sleep?!

As to Kowroski - I think she can be hot and cold. She's often mentioned as one of the NYCB ballerinas who has never quite achieved her potential under Martins' leadership. For a while she and Woetzel were frequent onstage partners, and they still are out of this world in 'Slaughter on 10th Ave' and are the most experienced Prodigal pair in the company.

In addition since the NYCB season starts tonight - and Kowroski (and Neal) is dancing!! - she may have had to make her St. Petersburg trip very short because of rehearsal committments, thus the possibility of jet lag. Plus, I believe she'd previously done "Middle Duet" with Albert Evans, thus her timing with Neal might not have been down-pat.

As to Neal - he is at the stage where his (great) worth is as a partner. Age and inuries have taken their toll - I saw him in "Nutcracker" this past December and he couldn't have been a better partner, but his solos were very weak. It could well have been an off day, but I think he is now mainly cast for his supportive and experienced partnering - as in this week where he's doing 2nd movement in "Symphony in C" and one of the duets in "Episodes".


Author:  Catherine Pawlick [ Tue Apr 24, 2007 9:49 am ]
Post subject: 

Thanks Kate for all of those details. Kowroski danced with Islam Baimuradov (not Neal), and from what you say, this must have been one of her "cold" episodes. She clearly has beautiful lines and talent but I felt she didn't want to be there -- she was even impatient during the bows and looked a bit upset, it was very strange to see.

The festival ended here with the Sunday night performance and apparently a reception at the Astoria afterwards (I did not attend). So all of the dancers would be back in NYC as of today and possibly yesterday afternoon (with extreme jetlag!) had they left at dawn on Monday. I do not envy that schedule!

Author:  Catherine Pawlick [ Wed Apr 25, 2007 1:09 am ]
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Gala Concert
Closing Night
Kirov Ballet
Seventh International Ballet Festival
Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia
By Catherine Pawlick

22 April 2006

Some peculiar casting choices on a long mixed bill made for an interesting close to the Seventh Annual International Ballet Festival at the Mariinsky Theatre on Sunday night as representatives from America and Russia performed a series of divertissements ranging from modern to classical.

The almost four-hour recapitulation of certain festival highlights began with the complete rendering of Le Reveil du Flore, which was also performed during the first two nights of the festival. For those who had not attended the premieres, it was a chance to see this revived Petipa work from start to finish. However, as an opener to the mixed bill, it had a languishing effect on the energy of the evening, simply because it was so long. Svetlana Ivanova opened the ballet as Diana guarding the nymphs, once again her promenades and bourrees speaking of goddesses and creatures of the air in their lightness. Evgenia Obratsova and Vladimir Schklyarov danced the leading roles again with energy and accuracy. Yana Selina danced Aurora with a wide smile, and Ekaterina Petina appeared as Geba. Valeria Martinouk was once again a perky Cupid among Vaganova-trained mini Cupids. Having seen this ballet at both premieres however, we were more anxious to move into the rest of the program.

Damian Woetzel danced Jerome Robbins’ Suite of Dances as the first of five divertissements in the second part of the evening. The movement appeared improvisational and low-output, although it was hard to determine if this was due to the choreography or Woetzel’s interpretation. It came across as bland, and I found myself wishing to have seen him in something more upbeat, perhaps a variation from “Stars and Stripes” or something else Balanchinean.

The pas de deux from “Talisman” came next, and was a perfect program choice for its electric jumps and partnering. Sadly, Alexander Sergeev, who had been expected to dance the role, was inexplicably replaced with Mikhail Lobukhin alongside Ekaterina Osmolkina. This reviewer had looked forward to Sergeev’s energy and crisp, impeccable lines in the quick pas de deux; in contrast, Lobukhin’s interpretation looked second rate. Some casting choices are never quite comprehensible.

The central pas de deux from Alexei Ratmansky’s “Middle Duet” came next, with Islam Baimuradov partnering New York City Ballet’s Maria Kowroski. While Baimuradov was the perfect gentleman and partner, following Kowroski’s every step and movement with precision timing, Kowroski seemed reticent to devote energy to the piece. Clearly blessed with beautiful lines, this Balanchine ballerina she gave little sense of abandon to the role, seeming to abhor the idea of being shaken and stirred as the choreography requires. This was surprising considering the ability of former Kirov dancer Natalia Sologub, now with Dresden Ballet, to make the role her own by infusing it with adequate emphasis on the off-balance, tipped nature of some of the partnering sequences. Kowroski appeared reticent during her bows as well, impatient to get off the stage. Her mind was elsewhere, and it was reflected in her dancing. It would be nice to see Baimuradov again in the role with another, local ballerina.

Perhaps the most shocking program choice came in the person of Uliana Lopatkina in a soft-shoe number called “Tango” choreographed by Nikolai Androsov to music by Astor Piatsolla. Lopatkina, who is known for her adherence to the classical repertoire, here appeared dressed in black pants, a long-sleeve black silk shirt, a brimmed hat, and shiny patent leather jazz shoes. Lopatkina shifted between movement that was molasses-slow in nature and whipping chaine turns, using her hat and jacket as props within the dance. Her shock of chin length auburn hair was down, contributing an additional casual touch to the piece. It was a strange phenomenon indeed to see the epitomy of Petersburg classical ballerinas moving about her own stage in this manner. When her short solo was over, the audience gave her a warm tribute, calling her back onstage three times.

The Black Swan pas de deux from “Swan Lake” followed, danced by Maria Alexandrova and Igor Kolb. Here the return to classical constraints was visible in Alexandrova’s tasteful lines. If not blessed with the most flexible back, Alexandrova at least emitted a proper sense of sultry cattiness in this short excerpt. Kolb seemed entirely entranced with her, and the smile they exchanged at the finish seemed to reveal the knowledge of a job well done – which indeed it was.

After the second intermission, we returned for more. Viktoria Tereshkina danced “Grand Pas Classique” with Vladimir Schklyarov. No better casting choice could have been made for the ballerina in this piece, as Tereshkina is the perfect balance between precision and quick timing. Her variation was impeccable, her ballones razor sharp, moving from low to high, and she sustained each of her balances in the grand pas with regal airs that lent this piece the right flavor. Shklyarov fared less well in his variation, but the couple completed the partnering sections without problems.

Igor Kolb reappeared in a dance entitled “The Swan” set to Saint-Saens’ music for “The Dying Swan” but the choreography here was not classical and not meant for a female. Danced to a recorded version of the music with an audible male laugh imposed over part of the soundtrack, Kolb enters dressed as a bum in a long wool coat, with only a small leotard underneath that is decorated with strips of black and grey fabric hanging off of it – no doubt the “feathers”. His facial expressions ranged from fear to rage to laughter as he moved through some uber contemporary movements. The audience adored the piece, and it had enough wicked undertones to keep one wondering.

Uliana Lopatkina then reappeared with Andrei Mercuriev in the pas de deux from “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated”. Dressed in the Forsythe uniform for this ballet – green leotards with sheer black overtights, and pointe shoes – Lopatkina moved through the extreme positions of limb with ease alongside Mercuriev, who blissfully focused on her and the movement, appearing like a child in a candy store. The electric pulse of the music seemed to emanate from the dancers themselves as well, the only point of concern being Lopatkina’s now ultra-thin frame.

The final piece on the program was the pas de deux from “Le Corsaire”. Natalia Osipova of Friday night’s 64-fouette frame returned to the stage with Leonid Sarafanov for a brief fanfare of jumps, turns and balances. This time Osipova did a series of a la seconde turns mixed in with the fouettes. She again managed to outdo partner Sarafanov, although their mutual bravura kept the energy level high.

Between the revival of Petipa’s “Le Reveil du Flore”, and Alexei Miroshnichenko’s electric addition, “Ring”, to the Mariinsky repertoire, the company is currently on a path of refreshing creation that will hopefully continue to gain momentum with its 225th season next fall.

Pavel Bubelnikov conducted “Flore” and Mikhail Agrest conducted the pieces in the remainder of the program.

Author:  jpc [ Wed Apr 25, 2007 10:05 am ]
Post subject: 

Catherine Pawlick wrote:

Can you comment on Philip Neal's performance? How did he compare to the other Kirov (male) dancers you saw here? .........................................
Which leads me to another question: have you seen any Kirov ballerinas in the lead in Diamonds before and if so, any comparisons there? Just curious.

On your first question: Philip Neal was a noble partner, self-effacing, attentive and excellent in all the complexities of Balanchine's partnering.
His variation was not world class, so I thought it best not to say anything about it. But I don't think it detracted anything from his admirable performance as a partner, esp. his final pose and the kiss on the hand.

On your second question: Yes, I've seen Daria Pavlenko in last year's festival TWICE; once in Zelensky's gala eve and the second time in the
last night Gala. She is my favorite in the part for her vulnerability which infuses her dancing with a humanity, so deep and profound that no one else seems to match it.
Now I'm growing prolix.

Author:  Catherine Pawlick [ Wed Apr 25, 2007 12:18 pm ]
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Jpc, I'm glad to hear I have a fellow compatriate who agrees that Pavlenko remains unmatched in the Diamonds role! I think the fact that she can outdo a NYCB ballerina says a great deal!

"...vulnerability which infuses her dancing with a humanity, so deep and profound that no one else seems to match it. "

I could not have expressed it better myself! :-)

Author:  Catherine Pawlick [ Wed Apr 25, 2007 7:48 pm ]
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Leonid Sarafanov has just been promoted to principal dancer.

Author:  ksneds [ Thu Apr 26, 2007 3:03 pm ]
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Someone on another board made an off-hand comment about Kowroski's performance in NYCB's opening night saying that she looked like she'd been dancing on raked stage...

Is the Mariinksy stage raked? If it is, that could well explain her reticence during her guest appearances. Raked stages can be very unnerving if you're not used to them and might very well be why she looked 'cold'. With so little time to recover for her NYCB appearance she may have been trying to be careful to avoid straining herself on a raked stage.


Author:  Buddy [ Thu Apr 26, 2007 5:37 pm ]
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I have just returned to the US. I was able to attend most of the performances. I haven't had a chance to completely read any of the comments so far, but it looks like the Festival has been very well covered.

The Performances, I Thought, Were Wonderful !

I went to the Gala Party the last night (I bought a ticket to get in). Many of the dancers were there.

I Have To Say That I Have Never Spent An Evening With A Nicer Group Of Individuals.

Author:  Catherine Pawlick [ Fri Apr 27, 2007 12:44 am ]
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Kate - good point. Yes the MT studios and stage are raked -- that could certainly explain much of it!

Author:  Buddy [ Fri Apr 27, 2007 3:26 pm ]
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I have only read some of the comments here so far, but I would like to thank Catherine and jpc very much for their very fine reviews and for the time and dedication that they have shared with us. If I can add anything to what they have said I will be very glad to do so.

Author:  Catherine Pawlick [ Sat Apr 28, 2007 2:07 am ]
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Buddy, thanks! Please continue to share your impressions with us as well! :-)

Author:  Buddy [ Sat Apr 28, 2007 7:17 am ]
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Catherine, I look forward to reading your latest review as soon as possible. I do have some comments about the Festival that I would like to relate.

Not only did I think that the dancers performed wonderfully, but they also won my heart with their off stage warmth and friendliness. My figure skating teacher from the Ukraine has said at least once that to be a really good figure skater or dancer you also have to be a good person.

I would like to take a look at some of the dancers' performances. I have come to regard them as 'Equals', both as warm human beings and also as performers. I would not want to say that one of them is better than another. As dancers at this level of excellence anyone of them could on a given evening deliver a remarkable performance.

Two dancers that come to mind immediately are Natalia Osipova and Alina Cojocaru.

Natalia Osipova

She was an absolute delight ! For me, her performance in Twyla Tharp's "In The Upper Room" was one of the most enjoyable events of the Festival. Like a celestial angel at her 'sweet little sixteenth' birthday party she 'jitterbugged' in and out of about twelve other dancers with joy and teenage verve. As is her manner she didn't seem to be touching the ground. Every now and then she would also perform a series of balletic master moves. It was a joy to watch !

Her Don Quixote was once again spectacular ! (See my comments on her Bolshoi performances in Washington DC earlier this season if you are interested.) Her final night appearance in a segment from "Le Corsaire" with Leonid Sarafanov was exceptional as well.

Alina Cojocaru

Take the rotational force of the Earth and put it in a small crystal perfume bottle on a shelf with the most delicate decorative porcelain. Nothing will be disturbed, but something 'incredible' will be happening.

Alina Cojocaru never ceases to amaze me ! I have talked to her twice and off stage she is the most unassuming, modest and nice person that you could ever meet. On stage I have watched her for several years and even then I was in no way prepared for her opening scene in "Romeo and Juliet". She burst onto the stage from behind the nurse's chair and I just couldn't believe what I was seeing. Her portrayal was overwhelming ! Where did it come from ? The energy and theatrical acheivement was unbelievable ! She continued the entire evening at the same level. Her dancing of course was wonderful--her technical ability, accentuation of moves, naturalness and expressiveness have all been praised in glowing terms by most everyone who has ever written about her.

Both these women are remarkably talented ! Both of these women as far as I have seen are lovely human beings as well. It shows in their dancing !

Author:  Buddy [ Sat Apr 28, 2007 11:35 am ]
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A little girl is walking with her parents through one of the impressive aged side streets of the old imperial capital. Her only interest is to feel as much as possible of the springtime breeze that is blowing against her.

This memory that I have from my first afternoon in Saint Petersburg might well describe my feelings about the first two days of the Festival.

The Mind And Heart Set Sail To Joyously Wander.

For me these two days were dominated by the lovely and dreamlike "The Awakening Of Flora".

This one act ballet was actually performed a third time at the final gala by the same cast that danced on the first night. This performance may have been the best because of the dancers developing familiarity with the material. My interest was heightened the final evening by having read that this was one of Anna Pavlova's favorite ballets to dance. There is a great deal of dancing required of the lead ballerina.

Yevgenia Obraztsova and Ekaterina Osmolkina

The first and third nights of "The Awakening Of Flora" featured Yevgenia Obraztsova and the second night featured Ekaterina Osmolkina. Both women danced with beautiful classical delicacy and cast a wonderfully smiling aura so appropriate for this gentle dreamlike ballet. Having watched Yevgenia Obraztsova very politely engaged in a lengthy conversation with a rather 'enthusiastic' fan at the gala party I can no longer separate the performer from the very sympathetic real person that I had observed up close. Once again the beauty of the performance reflected the loveliness of the person dancing it.

Maria Alexandrova

I had the great pleasure of seeing her dance for a second time the Odile act from Swan Lake at the Gala. I had been unable to attend her performance of Gamzatti in La Bayadere. I also missed seeing Ulyana Lopatkina as Nikiya in the same ballet, but I was told that she danced wonderfully.

Maria Alexandrova danced with all the magnificence and bravura that I had seen in her Kitri several years ago and that one can see in her Ramze in the "Pharaoh's Daughter" video. Her character portrayal was once again remarkable. She was trying all the expressiveness possible to convince the real Igor Kolb, her partner, of her feminine enchantment. It was beautifully done and was a most wonderful sight to watch.

[spelling errors of Yevgenia Obraztsova's name corrected and confirmed by both the english and russian language programs. I managed to get it right the first time then somehow drifted off course.]

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