Saint Petersburg, Russia
6 June 2014
by Catherine Pawlick
Announced just weeks ago, on June 6 the Mariinsky audience was blessed with the opportunity to witness Uliana Lopatkina in La Bayadère. The unbelievable good luck -- her Swan Lake was just 12 days prior - of witnessing this masterful artist in yet another white ballet in such a short time span was a rare event.
Often the programming is such that local audiences go months between viewing her in two purely classical ballets. And yet, we were rewarded with two virtually back to back performances, both equally breathtaking.
Lopatkina's characterization of Nikiya remains complex and multilayered. From her first entrance in Act I, pride and integrity infuse her every gesture in the face of the Great Brahmin's advances. Her strength is visible physically -- sternum forward, chin held high, but only until the Brahmin backs down. Then she immediately turned away, exhausted from the efforts, revealing the internal delicate innocence of her character, Nikiya's true vulnerability to being wounded.
This evening she appeared even more lyrical than usual, taking more liberty with the musical phrasing in the short pas de deux that is her first encounter with Solor in Act I. During the first three lunging steps around his kneeling form, she held onto his arm longer than usual, and he to hers, her every step filled with joy and love. In their sweeping duet, fluidity of movement seemed foremost. After Solor swore his love for her, she looked as if to heaven, her face covered in a radiant smile. That Solor - the talented, and quickly rising Andrey Ermakov -- was the most expressive he has ever been in this role. We saw a noble prince, but one that was brightly expressive in all of his emotions. His passion for Nikiya was visible in his face, his strength as a warrior in his stance. During that same declaration of love, one had no doubt that this Solor was a man of his word.
Act II, of course, sadly takes a different course, but first one is offered the distractions of the wedding celebration dances. Here David Zaleyev as the Golden Idol stunned the audience with a new approach to the role. In the section where the young students encircle him and he stands frozen, shifting leg positions every 4 counts, here Zaleyev widened the circle, performing a series of whip fast tours a la seconde. Zaleyev's talents almost exceed the company's ability to cast him - he's one for whom the dance is easy and knows no bounds.
In similar fashion, during the Act II Grand Pas, Ermakov hung in the air in the tour jetés (ending in attitude) at the entrance with Gamzatti, as well as the Bournonville jetés heading downstage. The man's height --well over 6'3"-- means that his legs go on forever. But unlike his tall counterparts in the company, Ermakov has a means of using every last millimeter of leg, so when he jumps, he consumes an incredible amount of physical space. The results are magnificent.
Upon Nikiya's Act II entrance, things become more somber. Lopatkina's monologue, taken here at an appropriate legato pace to the mournful sounds of the cello, depicted the anguish in Nikiya's soul. The soutenue, retiré passé into plié fondu arabesque sequence was performed silently, seamlessly and without wobbles, as if already a phantom moving through space and time. And when, during her lament, she glanced up to see her beloved kiss Gamzatti's hand, she covered her mouth in horror and tried to run upstage - interrupted in her flight by the offer of the fatal basket of flowers. Hope immediately returned to her face at that moment, causing an additional ache in the viewer's heart, knowing what was to come.
Act III was an essay in pure classicism and remains one of the expert components of the Mariinsky repertoire. All 32 shades were in perfect form, calling forth applause for their synchronic movements. Of the 3 Shade variations, the most noteworthy was Nadezhda Batoeva who performed the arabesque hops en pointe. A born ballerina, it's only a matter of time until Batoeva climbs the ranks. Her style translates to reliability and flexibility; no matter the choreographic challenges, she always matches the role dramatically and delivers with ease technically. One wanted to see Victoria Brilyova, Svetlana Ivanova, or Alisa Sodoleva cast alongside her in one of the other two Shades variations.
Nikiya and Solor's mystical dance of love was infused with carefully thought out details, as is Lopatkina's signature. The jeté-to-écarté sequence ended in a careful matching of both Solor and Nikiya's lower arms, and they maintained the distance of the pose throughout the 360-degree promenade.
Endless yells of "Bravo" from even the 5th balcony after the final curtain attested to not just Lopatkina's high level artistry, but how beloved she is among the local, and international audience. One had the sense, on June 6, of witnessing an incredible moment in ballet history, a performance unparalleled even by Lopatkina herself. Would that the casting directors gave her more than just a handful of such opportunities each season.
Author, "Vaganova Today: The Preservation of Pedagogical Tradition" (available on amazon.com)