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9th Mariinsky International Festival, 14-22 March 2009
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Author:  Catherine Pawlick [ Sun Mar 22, 2009 12:14 am ]
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Interview with Viengsay Valdez
By Catherine Pawlick
March 14, 2009

For the first time in fifteen years a Cuban is appearing onstage at the Mariinsky Theatre. Catherine Pawlick sat down to talk to Viengsay Valdez before her St. Petersburg debut in “Don Quixote.”

CP: Is this your first time in Russia?

VV: It’s the second. In 2005 I was in Moscow for the Maya Plisetskaya Gala, 8th Anniversary in 2005 at the Kremlin Palace in Moscow. But this is the first time I’m going to dance a full-length ballet in Russia. It’s my first time in St. Petersburg.

CP: How does it feel to be at the Mariinsky?

VV: I am very excited. It’s an honor because this is a prestigious festival. It is the first time I’ve participated with a Russian dancer and only a few rehearsals so I am a little nervous.

They proposed that we dance Don Quixote, but it is completely different from my Cuban version. For example, I don’t do the second act variation in Cuba. Here I have to learn a completely new version in only a few rehearsals. But it is better for me, it is a new experience and a good opportunity. It is good for me.

I have to show how the Cuban dancers dance because we are a different school, we turn differently and put the arms in different positions, not close to the body like Balanchine. So we have specific steps in our school, the attitude is maybe more square than the Russian attitude.

CP: What is it like to work with Leonid?

VV: He is very nice, he’s funny and a good partner. I think we will enjoy the performance and have fun.

When you are on stage you only have to see the eyes of your partner and believe what he says and have a relationship on the stage. So that is important to bring the heart and passion to the audience.

CP: Why did you start dancing?

VV: I started artistic gymnastics in Havana, but gymnastics is a short career, at 23 years old you are a veteran. Ballet offers the chance to act on stage and not just do steps. That is why I started ballet. I was 5 or 6 years old.

CP: Do you have a favorite role?

VV: I like Odette/Odile. I love Kitri because it is so familiar; and I love Carmen, our Alonso version. And maybe Coppelia, Cinderella, Romeo and Juliet, Manon.

CP: Are there roles you haven’t danced that you’d like to try?

VV: I would like to try Manon and the Mayerling and Romeo and Juliet – MacMillan’s versions.

CP: You tour a lot. What are the differences in how other dancers work?

VV: I participate in a lot of international galas so I see how the other dancers work and express themselves. I try not to imitate other dancers; I am my own personality and have my own way of expressing roles. But there are many ballets that we do not do in Cuba so when I am excited and I can see Vishneva or Ferri or other famous dancers I really admire because I can see these beautiful ballets that we do not do in Cuba because of the rights. I try to take the best of what I see and use it in my own dancing.

Whenever the Cuban Ballet tours in other countries we are very well received. The Cuban “Giselle” or “Swan Lake” are completely different, so the audience sees something new. In 2010 we will be at the Coliseum in London with Swan Lake so its very exciting.

CP: Are dancers in Cuba treated well?
VV: In Cuba we are like heroes. (laughs) They really love us. We’re practically famous. We already have a 50-year tradition of our company so there are people who saw Alicia dance and many generations of dancers. The ballet is quite popular in Cuba, you have easy access to tickets because it is very cheap. Anyone can see it.

CP: Alicia is blind, how does she work with you?

VV: She is still the director of National Ballet of Cuba and yes she still rehearses. She makes the steps, she explains the way to do it. Maybe she doesn’t stand up and do it but she explains subtly each part. That’s how she works.

CP: Do you have a problem getting pointe shoes? Do they make them in Cuba?

VV: Yes, they make pointe shoes in Cuba. Cuban pointe shoes are very strong. They make me a special size that is customized to my feet. I used only Cuban pointe shoes all throughout school and graduation and in the beginning of my career until I became first ballerina. Then in 2004 I changed to Gaynor Minden and those are what I use now.

CP: What do you like to do in your free time?

VV: I try to rest or meet my friends, or maybe play dominoes with my family.

CP: Any thoughts of your career beyond the stage?
VV: I think it is a little early to ask this. I have to dance a lot until that happens. I have to have the opportunity to dance in this kind of festival. I danced in the Tokyo festival with Suzaki in 2006 and it was very exciting because Malakov, Aurelie Dupont, Manuel Legris, and Sylvie Guillem – all these stars were there. And the only Cuban dancers there were Romeo Frometta, my partner, and me. At the end there was a funny gala, where women and men switched roles. I was the Vasilio variation in pointe shoes with a wig and mustache. My partner did Esmeralda with a blonde curly wig with tambourine and green big tutu. Malakhov was Juliet and Tamara Rojo was Romeo. It was funny. They have that festival every three years and it will happen again this year.

CP: Do you have a favorite city?

VV: I like to dance in London. We danced in Sadler’s Wells, and I have danced with Carlos (Acosta) and Friends, I danced the Corsaire pas de deux with him. Tokyo is amazing, ballet is like Hollywood there, they roll out a red carpet and everyone screams when the dancers come out. And I had a good experience not long ago when our company was the first to perform in Egypt, in front of the pyramids in Cairo. In the desert the temperatures get very cold and windy at night. During the day it is hot at midday but during the night it is really cold and windy. We started at 9:45p.m. and I was dancing Kitri. It was freezing but it was a lot of fun.

CP: Do you dance any Balanchine?

VV: Yes, Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux. And we have Ballo Della Regina in our company, but we haven’t danced it in a while. The rights (to his ballets) are an issue.

CP: Do you prefer classics?

VV: Yes. We don’t dance too much Balanchine in Cuba, but maybe if I danced it more I’d prefer it instead.

CP: Do you have a certain coach in Cuba?

VV: Loipa Araujo helps me a lot when she’s in Cuba \but she travels a lot too. If not, we change coaches often, it depends on the ballet you’re rehearsing.

CP: What is your work week like?

VV: We work Monday thru Friday and a half day Saturday. Sunday is our day off. We dance a lot in Cuba and when we’re not there, we are touring. We dance a lot, and that is good.

Author:  Buddy [ Tue Mar 24, 2009 8:35 am ]
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I haven't had time to read your comments and interview yet, Catherine, as I just returned from Saint Petersburg. I look forward to doing so as soon as possible.

Here are some of my very quick thoughts from this year's Festival. I was most fortunate to be able to attend five of the performances in what seemed to be a very well rounded and extremely fine series.

Viktoria Tereshkina

Her "Swan Lake" was one of the Absolute Highlights, for me. It has developed over the last several years into a complete and Artistically Refined Masterpiece.

She has a lovely, warm and vibrant presence that always makes it a real pleasure to see her.

Evgenia Obraztsova

She is a Gem. She danced as one of the three Shades in "La Bayadere" and she performed the Pas de deux from "Don Quixote" at the Gala.

She has such a beautifully graceful and radiant manner.

Alina Somova

She is a remarkably talented and multi-dimensional performer.

In George Balanchine's "Theme and Variations" she showed a beautifully linear refinement. She also has the 'flexibility of style' to finely accomplish the Balanchine highlights that this ballet requires. She can also be very exciting in her dancing and highly compelling in her portrayals.

She is a lady that will most surely grow and grow in her abilities and there doesn't seem to be anything that she isn't capable of doing with the finest level of accomplishment. She appears to be the most likely performer at the company right now to make the Mariinsky-Balanchine connection.

Uliana Lopatkina

She is still one of the most innately beautifully classical dancers that I have ever seen.

In the very humorous "Grand Pas de deux" by Kristiana Shpuka, which se danced with a very entertaining Igor Kolb, she showed a real sense of humor, which made me think that she could also make a very fine Balanchine-Broadway presence if she ever wanted to. The "Grand Pas de Deux" definitely reminded me of Jermome Robbin's highly comical and entertaining "The Concert".

Diana Vishneva

She was once again 'expressivity' to the 'max' in "Le Park", which she danced with Vladimir Malakov. Like Uliana Lopatkina she remains at the summit of this art form and seems to be continually growing.

Irma Nioradze

For the second year in a row she performed "The Swan" at the Festival Gala and for the second year in a row she was 'Magnificent'.

[Corrected above, Alina Somova danced "Theme and Variations"]

Author:  Catherine Pawlick [ Wed Mar 25, 2009 1:31 am ]
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Hi Buddy,

Thanks for your post. I have to disagree with you on several of the performers. Nioradze was a poor choice for Dying Swan when we have the ultimate performer in the role, Lopatkina, here, healthy, and ready to dance. She would have been a better choice. Somova did not execute "Theme and Variations" as it is intended -- bent wrists, stiff, hyperextended fingers, and gargouillades that looked like jerky popcorn are not a testament to Vaganova (Or even Balanchinean technique). She may be pretty to look at (depending on your taste) but ballet is much more than that.

I had the chance to interview Somova during the festival and she is a charming girl. But technically she was and is not ready for the challenge of leading a ballet such as "Theme". Maybe in the future, but the lines and steps need to be refined first.

One performer I was overjoyed to see was Tatiana Tkachenko as Queen of the Dryads in Don Q. The audience adored her and she brought more lyricisim to the role than ever before. She's not cast as often as she should be, so this was a real treat. I also truly enjoyed Lopatkina in the Spuck pas -- this was a piece that took her out of her comfort zone but she looked utterly comfortable in it. It caused me to realize that her dramatic range is in fact much broader than the roles she typically dances.
The pas was not something I'd ever seen before, but it is a quaint concert-type piece that is a real audience charmer. It was a nice addition to the evening.

Author:  Buddy [ Wed Mar 25, 2009 5:31 am ]
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Thanks, Catherine, for your thoughts. Thank you also for your very nice and interesting interview with Viengsay Valdes. I tracked her down myself at the theater to congratulate her. She is a delightful and highly talented young lady. I wish her much future success.

Tatiana Tkachenko

I definitely agree with you about her performance as the Queen of the Dryads ("Don Quxote"). She danced this brilliantly. Her split jump grand jetes were both beautiful and breathe-taking.

There are a few more names that I would briefly like to mention.

"La Baydere"

Yana Selina

She has danced leads at other times, "The Overcoat" for one. In her group dancing, from demi-soloist to corps de ballet, I would say that she almost always sets the standard for the other group dancers. She certainly shone at this Festival doing two demi-solos and leading in the corps de ballet at the entrance of the Shades.

Polina Semionova and Anastasia Matvienko

Both these ladies as Nikia and Gamzatti, respectively, did a very fine performance. I look forward to seeing much more of Anastasia Matvienko at the Mariinsky and Polina Semionova wherever she may appear.

The Corps de Ballet

Always wonderful, they absolutely shone in the 'Magnificent Entrance' of the Shades. I have seen several complete ensembles of Mariinsky Shades and this year's was quite possibly the best. The Corps de Ballet was 'Heavenly Beautiful'.

There are two men that I would like to mention.

Igor Zelensky

He looked as fit as I have ever seen him and jumped as high as I have ever seen him do. It was really impressive and a very nice thing to see. Also his work with his company from Novosibirskovo, Siberia was very fine. It was great to see a performance of a George Balanchine work like this ("Who Cares"), done so well by a company like this. Igor Zelensky's long career in New York City seems to certainly qualify him to pass on the Balanchine tradition in Russia. His own dancing felt just right in its understanding of this tradition.

Vladimir Ponomarev

This man as a mime performer and 'mime dancer' remains one of my favorite Mariinsky male artists. His Don Quixote is my favorite. At this Festival he created a forth variation on a theme (of the ones that I have seen). I have always been very impressed with his first version, that is somewhat evident on the Tatiana Terekhova "Don Quixote" video. It has such a brilliantly subtle star-gazing quality. Last week he seemed to have combined the best of all his interpretations and, for me, it was very successful. His HIgh Priest in "La Bayadere" was also one of the best that I have seen him do.

There were many other fine and exceptional performances all deserving mention.

One other thing that might be of interest. I was able to see several ballets at other Saint Petersburg theaters. Although I consider the Mariinsky to be in a class of its own, these other companies have a youthful and very likable quality. They are 100% professional as well. At the Conservatoire across the street from the Mariinsky, for about $10, I was able to see a performance of "Swan Lake", that I thought was as good as anything that I have seen done by the other non-Mariinsky Saint Petersburg companies. I also thought that the orchestra was one of the best that I have ever heard. I also saw "Swan Lake" and "Sleeping Beauty" at the very intimate and lovely Hermitage Theater. The newly debuted "Sleeping Beauty" was absolutely charming, from the stage sets, to the costumes, to the dancing.

Author:  Catherine Pawlick [ Wed Mar 25, 2009 6:57 am ]
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I have to disagree about A. Matvienko. I was duly impressed with her line and her jete - no one can fault her for her appearance, she's gorgeous -- but emotionally speaking her Gamzatti was flat. I've seen Gamzattis who seethe and smoulder and this wasn't her. I wanted to see a bit more "bite" to the role.

Author:  NataliaN [ Wed Mar 25, 2009 9:38 am ]
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Thanks, Catherine & Buddy. I, too, am 'back to normalcy' at home after a delightful 12 days in Petersburg.

I am fully in agreement about Tatyana Tkachenko's unannounced Dryad Queen being one of the 'surprise highlights' of the festival. Buddy, I'm afraid that I have to agree with Catherine and Chiapuris regarding Alina's T&V. It's not quite there yet but I am grad that somebody (you) enjoyed it.

My one incursion into the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory -- Sunday's matinee Nutcracker -- also yielded felicitous results. Thanks for the tip-off on those $10 tickets, Buddy. What a capable, sweet company...and what a fabulous orchestra in the pit!

Here is my Hit Parade for the Festival:

1. GISELLE with Vishneva/Gomes (I had not expected this to be the highlight...not by a mile but, wow, was I wrong!)

2. DON Q w/ Valdes/Sarafanov (two super-virtuosos!)

3. BAYADERE w/ Semionova/Zelensky. Semionova totally won me over with her fluent Nikiya. Zelensky still holds his own. Alas, I have to go with Catherine on the weaknesses of Anastasia Matvienko...she may have a pretty face and skinny legs but a Mariinsky Ballerina she is not. There on her husband's coat-tails.

4. LITTLE HUMPBACKED HORSE opener with Terioshkina/Lobukhin - once I got over the disappointment of the non-sets...I saw a great ballet.

5. SWAN LAKE with Terioshkina/Kaniskin - she has so perfected her Odette/Odile and he had nice ballon, if not the most sparkling of personalities

The Not-so-hot: Lopatkina's Gala Boredom Night (all but the initial DIAMONDS was a waste of time and energy, IMO) and THEME & VARIATIONS at the final gala (S.O.S. to the Balanchine Foundation!)

Also in the not-so-hot category: Where were many able-and-fit dancers that we have so admired in the recent past, such as DARIA PAVLENKO, Zhanna Ayupova, Sofia Gumerova, Svetlana Ivanova, Tatyana Nekipelova, young Maria Shirinkina (who was such a hit in NYC less than a year ago), Nikolai Zubkovsky, Anton Korsakov, etc. Alexander Sergeev made a couple of nice appearances but was not featured nearly as much as he had been in the previous 2-3 festivals. What's going on?

Finally, on Saturday night after the GISELLE, I happened to pass a petite, young ballerina who had just been given the Pink Slip -- not named to protect her identity -- walking out of the theater in tears, three huge duffle bags slung over her shoulders. It was SO SAD to see her all by herself, on a snowy night, leaving her theater forever.

- Natalia

Author:  Buddy [ Thu Apr 09, 2009 4:54 am ]
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Viktoria Tereshkina

"Swan Lake"

In Italy in the 1500's was developed the idea of adding the Idealized Beauty of ancient Greek and Roman architecture to

A House--A Place of Ultimate Shelter.

One form that this took, which is familiar to many of us, is the Georgian house in all its attempts at refinement and simplicity.

* An Attempt To Combine An Idealized Sense of Beauty with Simple Day to Day Life and An All Embracing Sense of Shelter. *

This idea is one that for me reflects Viktoria Tereshkina.

Her Dancing and her Images are so Clear and so Pure.

There is also a Majesty.

Each Move and Each Position seems So Elegantly Thought Out and is So Elegantly Offered.

Yet there is also a Depth of Human Warmth that accompanies all this.

Within a design of Perfection and Refinement

there is an Aura of Music, a Humanness and a Joy of Life.

She as much as anyone, that I have seen on the performing stage, conveys

A Love of Beauty.

Author:  NataliaN [ Thu Apr 09, 2009 7:34 am ]
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Thank you for this, Buddy. To me -- and to many others with whom I spoke in Petersburg -- this was Viktoria Terioshkina's festival. There were many lovely princesses on the stage but only one Tsarina (with all due respect to Maya Plisetskaya sitting in the Tsar's Box the first two nights).

Best-Guest Tsarina for me: stately Polina Semionova of the Berlin Ballet, as Nikiya. That was also a performance for the ages.

Author:  Buddy [ Thu Apr 09, 2009 10:35 am ]
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Best wishes to you also, Natalia. It was so nice that we were all able to get together in Saint Petersburg and be treated to such a Beautiful Festival. Hopefully we can all do it again next year.

Author:  Buddy [ Fri Apr 10, 2009 4:12 am ]
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Natalia, I now remember that after 'Viktoria's' Act I Odette, during the intermission that followed, for several minutes I just sat in my chair in a 'State of Reverie'. I never felt quite this way before. I might have stayed there the entire intermission, except that I had some friends in the lobby that I really wanted to get together with.

I had seen two other of her "Swan Lakes" in the last 2 1/2 years and this one was a culmination ! Everything seemed right. All the elements came together ---- purity of Technique combined with a wonderful feeling of Aliveness ---- Magnificent Imagery !!!! ---- Total Flow ---- Positioning ---- expression, individual moves, beautiful and definitive facial expression, warmth, commitment, musicality....Everything !

Author:  Sacto7654 [ Fri Apr 10, 2009 6:25 am ]
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Buddy wrote:
I had seen two other of her "Swan Lakes" in the last 2 1/2 years and this one was a culmination ! Everything seemed right. All the elements came together ---- purity of Technique combined with a wonderful feeling of Aliveness ---- Magnificent Imagery !!!! ---- Total Flow ---- Positioning ---- expression, individual moves, beautiful and definitive facial expression, warmth, commitment, musicality....Everything !

Small wonder why Tereshkina was named Principal dancer in only a few years after joining MT. I remember seeing her last year live in Berkeley, CA and technically, she is an awesome dancer. 8) This is not a mean achievement considering that her facial look does take a little getting used to, in my humble opinion.

Author:  Buddy [ Fri Apr 10, 2009 8:47 am ]
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Hi Sacto,

I love her face !

In this most recent "Swan Lake" I would say that she was able to adjust and nuance her facial expression more than I have ever seen her do before.

The effect was, I thought, was quite 'Marvelous'.

Author:  NataliaN [ Sat Apr 11, 2009 3:47 pm ]
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Roger that, Buddy and Sacto. Terioshkina may not have the traditional 'angel features' of a Semenyaka or a Part many top ballerinas have it? Makarova? No. Terioshkina has a more exotic, almost Oriental beauty, much like Kirov primas of the past Mezentseva, Kunakova or Gannibalova.

Author:  Buddy [ Sun Apr 12, 2009 4:58 am ]
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Natalia, if I recall correctly, Natalia Makarova in her very short "Princess Florine" on the abbreviated Sizova-Solovyov "Sleeping Beauty" video had a 'Beautiful-Youthful-Angelic-Radiant' face. I sure liked it anyway.

PS--Maybe I'm just in love with all these ladies. It seems that way sometimes.

(In love from a respectful distance. I am a 66 year old grandfather.)

Author:  Sacto7654 [ Sun Apr 12, 2009 10:15 am ]
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One of the reasons why I think people like Ulyana Lopatkina is that even without makeup on, she is a natural beauty (look at the photos from from this season's Swan Lake performance with Lopatkina in the O/O role--she still looks stunning even with less eye makeup on compared to the 2006 performance available on DVD/Blu-ray disc).

If you've seen the picture of Viktoria Tereshkina from the MT bio page online: ... rioshkina/

Note that she's not exactly a "natural beauty" without stage makeup on. But she makes up for that supposed "shortcoming" by being a technically and artistically superior dancer. :)

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