Kirov Ballet – “Le Corsaire”
St. Petersburg, Russia
March 7, 2006 -- By Catherine Pawlick
Wednesday night’s dazzling performance of “Le Corsaire” by the Kirov harked back to its awe-inspiring US performances of the same ballet in the late 1990s, when stars Farukh Ruzimatov and Altynai Assylmuratova drew repeated curtain calls for one of the most exciting productions shown on American stages by the company. Serving as a reminder of the talent and skill that can emerge from the core of the Kirov when the circumstances are right, Uliana Lopatkina joined Dmitri Semionov, Nadezhda Gonchar and Leonid Sarafanov in a two-plus hour bravura display of exceptional polish and superlative artistry.
Despite the audience’s initial coolness, perhaps due to the long pauses during the first two scene changes, (during the second of which the stagehands could be seen rolling on the podium for the slave trade bazaar before the curtain came completely down), by the final act warm, almost frenetic cheers arose from the house attesting to the artists’ job well done.
Nadezhda Gonchar danced her first Gulnara with poise and aplomb, her initial entrance performed at a very fast tempo with Anton Korsakov’s comic Lankedem reliably supporting her in the series of lifts. She reminded one of Irina Chistiakova at first, but then first-time jitters overtook her strength and poise so that, by fouette time, she reverted to demi-pointe for some of the turns. Nonetheless, to appear alongside Lopatkina after her own recent maternity leave demands great courage, and her overall performance showed a dancer strong in technique with the promise of possibility at her feet.
As Lankedem, Korsakov was surprisingly entertaining in the role. Unaccustomed to his acting abilities, his talent in the comic sections and his miming sequences was remarkable. His initial double-passe/assemble jumps in the third scene were void of the grand plie landings that others before him have done, and initial jumps appeared more weighted down than airborne. But his manege of revoltades drew warm applause from the audience. He danced a solid performance, partnered reliably and his surprisingly expressive acting was a refreshing addition to the ballet.
Many argue that Dmitrii Semionov fits the danseur noble mold better than the bravura type, but as Conrad he proved that both his technique and persona can fit into the latter. Tall in stature, and long of line but well-muscled, Semionov has strong, powerful jumps that he delivers with panache. One hopes that his success in this role, and partnering ballerina Lopatkina, will win over the administration into granting him more principle roles in the months to come.
Sergei Kononenko also debuted as Birbanto in this performance. Well-acted and believably sinister, Kononenko displayed his strengths at character-type roles, and hopefully will do more of them in the future.
Queen of them all, Lopatkina set the tone for the rest of her performance, as is typical, from the very first entrance. Her pleading eyes expressed fear and innocence at being captured; she danced exquisitely, crowning off the famous pas de deux with 32 perfect fouettes finishing on time with the music. As is also typical, her characterization was well-contemplated. In the romantic, seaside pas de deux with Conrad, just after being “purchased”, she did not evade his kisses, but rather played the role of equal-in-romance, happy to be alone with her new beau, and never coy…until the flowers are delivered from Lankedem that is. Not recognizing him, and after bequeathing them to Conrad, she looked searchingly as if to ask “Just who was that who brought me the flowers?” Other Medoras have been more flirtatious, and less inquisitive as to the source of the poisoned petals, but Lopatkina’s interpretation was characterized by innocence and sincerity, to say nothing of the beauty of her long lines and pristine technique.
Leonid Sarafanov danced Ali in a display of pyrotechnics that has yet to be equaled this year on this stage. If the stage was a stove, Sarafanov lit it on fire. For his often evident self-absorption, it is nonetheless difficult not to appreciate his technical prowess. He looks at the audience from under his brow as if to say “if you thought that was impressive, watch this.” Lightweight, with minimal musculature in his upper body, his frame is not given to extended partnering overtures for obvious reasons – the requisite physical strength is just not present—but that same thin frame no doubt contributes to his ability to remain airborne and, when turning, well-centered. Some of the feats he performed this evening defy description but an attempt follows: He punctuated the a la seconde turns during the famous pas de trois with turns in low arabesque plie (all en releve), alternating between the two positions before pulling into retire passe and pausing, still en releve. His manege during the coda featured a variation on a Ruzimatov jump that gave the impression he would fall from the air, but before doing so Sarafanov would flip, still airborne, and then land fine. Not one step sequence or diagonale was faulty, all finished musically, each one outdoing the rest. Preferences aside, Sarafanov is a grand allegro technician who loves to fly.
The Odalisque Trio deserves mention for accuracy. Here, among Yana Selina and Yulia Kasenkova, it was, surprisingly, Daria Vasnetsova who was most dazzling. Her bright smile, flirtatious eyes and refined delivery were startling in the brise variation. She even managed to relate to Seid Pasha, seated downstage, at the completion of each sequence. Selina danced the emboite variation cleanly, but did not draw one’s attention to the same extent. Kasenkova unfortunately appeared misplaced in the trio, her arms marring the classical positions, her lines not as sleek as the others’.
The Living Garden of Act III was a vision of fairytale pinkness, where the corps de ballet proved that uniform lines and choreographic symmetry can be just as pleasing as individual bravura feats. Here Gonchar reappeared, more gracious and self-assured than in her initial entrances, a thankful second chance to reclaim the performance for her own. Lopatkina’s refinement in her Third Act variation – highlighted by an ellonge from attitude devant all en pointe – underlined her undoubted stature as a Kirov leading lady.
Appreciation goes to Mikhail Agrest, the conductor, for waiting through the pre-performance and post-intermission pauses and his ever-attentive fulfillment of various timing requests on the behalf of the dancers.