Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia
Fall Season Opener: Swan Lake – A Palpable Love
8 October 2004
By Catherine Pawlick
Summer vacation works wonders. At least it did for the Kirov Ballet’s return to the theatre tonight for the start of the fall 2004 season. The company appeared reenergized after their annual break, more expressive and even more technically sound (if that is possible) than in many of their summer performances.
Despite the existence of the perpetually tourist-filled (and therefore minimally appreciative) audience and seemingly requisite latecomers, the second night of the season at the Mariinsky Theatre was the ballet’s first chance to shine. Following yesterday night’s opera, “Life of the Tsar”, the Kirov Ballet chose the most classical of classics, “Swan Lake”, to ring in the season.
And a good choice indeed it was, enhanced by the casting: Uliana Lopatkina as Odette/Odile, Danila Korsuntsev as her Prince Seigfried, and Ilya Kuznetsov as Rothbart.
One has not seen a real ballerina, a modern, 21st century ballerina, in the fullest sense of the word, until one watches Lopatkina in Swan Lake. And one doesn’t even realize this until after having seen her dance a completely classical role. This reviewer had, until tonight, only seen her in “Diamonds” and “La Valse”, and thus expected an excellent performance, consistent with those neo-classical roles. Lopatkina surpassed not only expectation, but almost possibility itself with her emotionally-engaging, meaningful interpretation of what is often considered the most challenging of classical ballet roles.
Lopatkina’s entry onto the stage as Odette serves as a snapshot of the white swan’s role. Unlike many ballerinas who simply enter the stage and begin the choreography, she stepped on stage, up onto pointe, arms stretched overhead, the image of the woman-swan. She stood there poised for perhaps only a nanosecond, but long enough to set the tone of the entire character. And then, to the backdrop of her musical theme, she began to dance. Consistent with that entry was her extremely controlled delivery. Not one step was misplaced, off-balance, ahead of or behind the music. Her tempos were notably slower, but instead of being painful, they only accentuated her long lines and supreme technical control. Few ballerinas across the globe can match this sort of control -- indeed, not one competitor comes to mind – in a classical or other role.
Lopatkina’s Odette exuded a palpable love, visible in her eyes and facial expressions, to the point that mine were not the only tears in the audience at the final curtain. Her Odette is soft, slow, feminine and controlled; she never falters or wavers. She is the calmly self-assured swan-woman, innocent, but full of love and beauty.
Her Odile was mastery itself, a well thought-out psychological approach to the seductress’ role. Where many ballerinas will simply play the seductress, Lopatkina plays with Siegfried’s memory. Her Odile has all of the requisite sharp turns of head and wrist, the quick accents implying wicked deception, but sprinkled throughout is also Odette’s softness and femininity, the very things that Seigfried supposedly loves. This is a minor detail, and completely dependent on the ballerina’s mannerisms, but one that holds the entire plot together, and indeed, one that usually is left out of most “Swan Lake”s. For it was with this softness that she portrayed the image of Odette, with these echoes of the Swan Queen’s femininity that she “captured” Siegfried, locking him into her evil web of deception.
This is what sets apart the amateurs from the professionals, and Lopatkina has secured herself a place in the latter category already for many years. However, she does much more than simply dance perfectly. Every gesture, every glance, every sustained balance – no matter what color her tutu -- is imbibed with meaning. Her musicality is also highly developed. All dancers know the ballet’s score backwards and forwards – some can stay with the music, some cannot. Lopatkina actually uses her musicality to provide a deeper, more consistent and more believable interpretation of the role. She dances within the music’s limits, but times her steps so as to stretch them here, speed them up there, and she never takes tempos to either extreme (as many often do, to cover a weakness in jumping or in adagio work).
Over the past six months, Danila Kuznetsov has shown continued maturation both physically and emotionally as Prince Seigfried. His leg muscles appear stronger and leaner than they were just one year ago when the company visited San Francisco, and the physical change proffers related emotional development. Just as his grand jetes now soar and his jumps appear more sure, where he once was more closed off and unreadable emotionally, he now relates directly to his Odette/Odile through understandable facial expression and gesture. While he does not hold the innate magnetism of a Baryshnikov, he has all of the bearings of a nobleman, and his generous height compliments Lopatkina nicely.
The Pas de Trois was danced in traditional Kirov style but at a level unseen all summer by Irina Zhelonkina, Irina Golub and Anton Korsakov. Golub’s sparkling eyes and wide smile drew audience members in – she too has the gift of strong musicality along the lines of Lopatkina, neither rushing to finish nor behind the music. She floated through her variation, and the final manege of double step-up turns were perfectly placed. Zhelonkina’s ballon and entrechat six were strong, soundless and light. Korsakov technically can never disappoint, whether dancing alone or supporting a partner, but he seemed almost too at ease in his self-tailored variation, in which he had altered the first diagonale’s choreography to a downstage-bound faille, triple cabriole en avant. The rest of the variation’s choreography was the same but also done to the left rather than the right.
The Jester, again danced by the compact but lofty Andrei Ivanov drew applause for his consistent finishes, speedy turns and cheery demeanor. The dances in the second act were not as remarkable as before, but conductor Mikhail Agrest is to be commended for his understanding of ballet dancers, to say nothing of Tchaikovsky’s famous score. In sum, performances like these are why the audience keeps returning night after night. Opening night showed that the Kirov Ballet continues to uphold its reputation and traditions. This season should be a good one.
Author, "Vaganova Today: The Preservation of Pedagogical Tradition" (available on amazon.com)