“The Russian Project”
International Ballet Festival
St. Petersburg, Russia
12-13 April 2007
by Catherine Pawlick
The opening of the seventh annual International Ballet Festival at the Mariinsky Theatre greeted locals and tourists alike with the premiere of two new works by Mariinsky choreographer Alexei Miroshnichenko and Sergei Vikarev’s reconstruction of Petipa’s “Flora’s Awakening”.
The evening, entitled “The Russian Project” is a three-hour glimpse at Russian ballet over the centuries. From Petipa’s structured classicism in “Flora”, through Balanchine’s neoclassical “Apollo” to the fresh choreography by Miroshnichenko, it takes one on a visual journey, presenting various genres of ballet to suit every taste.
Igor Kolb debuted as Apollo alongside Victoria Tereshkina’s Terpsichore, in one of the more virtuosic renditions of the role on the Mariinsky stage to date. Kolb understands Balanchine on a level that many of the Kirov do not; his generous flexibility and strong technique allow him the basis from which to take the movement further, and this he did. Sofia Gumerova’s Calliope was clean, her variation more unleashed and expressive than is often the case. As Polygymnia, Tkachenko was also a delight. However, having seen “Apollo” on the Mariinsky stage numerous times, the second ballet of the evening was the bigger draw, and no doubt more than one audience member attended with curiosity for the same reason.
Alexei Miroshnichenko’s “Like the Old Organ Grinder” carries with it a cool, somber overtone in which two dancers explore complex movement patterns to the sounds of famed Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov’s fresh score. Daria Pavlenko entered in a simple flesh-toned dress with pointe shoes. She pulled open the black curtain hanging upstage to reveal a warehouse cityscape from which light streamed onto the otherwise dark dancing space. Moving alone to the onstage piano’s notes and the sounds of a solo singer, Pavlenko’s steps were precise; it was as if she was testing the ground with her feet, or testing her shoes, all the while seeming to reflect an internal search or thought process. She infused every movement with emotion and meaning, thereby promoting the suggestion of melancholic pensiveness and injecting a level of intrigue.
After her first dancing interval, Anton Pimenov joined her. They both danced until a violinist entered the stage to provide music for Pimenov’s solo. Pimenov’s untiring exploration of complex stop-and-go movements included an interesting series of steps through his own clasped hands. Towards the end of his exhausting foray, his arms began to trace step patterns, as if his hands were his feet. The commonly recognized “marking” language that dancers use in rehearsals was presented quite cleverly here. At this point, Pavlenko entered again, unseen by Pimenov, and performed the leg movements that he was marking with his hands. The couple did not dance a pas de deux, although they finished lying side by side onstage, their heads looking backwards at the audience as the stream of light slowly closed.
Miroshnichenko’s choreography is similar to Forsythe, but with emotion and Russian soul added to the mix. He uses classical forms – plenty of fourth and fifth positions, and port de bras that move through second and first or fifth – and accents them with speed or neo-classical tendencies, tweaking them slightly. His impressiveness, to this reviewer’s eyes, lies not in the technique so much as the emotion, the libretto, the themes that he embraces in creating a ballet. His work is not just about steps – it incorporates a storyline, and even in a lack of interaction with each other, his characters speak volumes. For this Ukrainian born, Vaganova-bred choreographer, the future seems bright indeed.
Unfortunately not everyone in the Mariinsky audience appreciated this second piece, and those that left during the second intermission missed the strongly contrasting debut of “Flora’s Awakening”, which presented Petipa’s glorious, structured classicism in purest form. With Svetlana Ivanova opening the ballet as Diana, protectress of the night, one was carried immediately to the realm of Greek mythology. Ivanova’s erect spine and creamy bourrees gave a sense of vibrancy and lightness as she danced among Flora and the other sleeping nymphs. Upon the entrance of Aquilon, whose very brief interval was danced by Islam Baimuradov, his cool breeze awakened Flora and the nymphs. Coming to their aid was the lovely Ksenia Ostreikovskaya as Aurora, whose calming smile and smooth movements invited a sense of safety and warmth. As Apollo, Maxim Chashegorov announced the will of the gods: that Flora be wed to Zefir. And thus the crux of the libretto is presented.
As Flora on April 12, Evgenia Obratsova was unspeakably marvelous. Her perfection in classical roles is awe inspiring for someone of her youth. Her footwork is highly articulated, and a beaming smile never leaves her face unless it should. Unfortunately, the equally talented Vladimir Schklarov as Zefir was stronger in his solo work, failing to keep her on balance in many of the partnered sections although, watching her, one would not have noticed his mistakes. Both presented a bright display of pristine classical dance – what the Kirov does best.
The second night’s cast was different: Ekaterina Osmolkina replaced Obratsova in a much cooler rendition of the leading role. Andrian Fadeev, after pouring his soul into “Apollo” earlier on the same bill, reappeared as Osmolkina’s partner here, surprisingly with energy to spare. Yana Selina danced Aurora, also more coolly but as precisely as Ostreikovskaya. And instead of the long, lithe, leggy Daria Sukhoroukova as Geba, Ekaterina Petina appeared in the role, slightly more pert but no less lovely. A new name on casting lists, Maria Shirinkina, replaced Svetlana Ivanova as Diana with equally pleasant line and grace.
The costumes – large, flouncy tutus for the main soloists, and Greek draped garments for wine bearers, satyrs, nymphs, and other members of the corps de ballet – appear nothing if not authentic to the time and setting of this Petipa masterpiece (1894). Likewise, Ricardo Drigo’s beautiful score was a refreshing addition to the classical repertoire whose sounds endlessly pervade this theatre’s hall. “Flora” is an example of something unique to the Mariinsky theatre: purely classical Russian tradition. They are home to it, they present it authentically, and it is truly a gift to all who watch.
On April 13, the program repeated itself with one change. Instead of “Organ Grinder”, Miroshnichenko’s second new creation entitled “Ring” premiered to wild applause by the full house. Of Miroshnichenko’s three Petersburg premieres to date, this is by far the most innovative and cutting edge. Set to electronic music that incorporates a fast-talking Russian rap section as well as vocal sound effects (inhaling, giggling, and the like), the curtain opens to a referee in the middle of four dancers in sleek leotards with horizontal racing stripes across their chests. He leads them each to the center and seems to command them to dance; there is a short pas de deux, entailing a mix of classical (a poised attitude derriere en pointe held securely by Daria Pavlenko) and avant garde (as she is promendaed in slinky catlike style by Alexander Sergeev with turned in, low steps). The other couple, Viktoria Tereshkina and Mikhail Lubokhin, were strong and accurate in their delivery as well. In all, the combination of music and dance inspires and invigorates. Once again Miroshnichenko has taken modern movement and infused it with a storyline and meaning, but here the mood is upbeat, everchanging, and energetic. The dancers emote and express themselves; the steps and port de bras vary from classical to modern. And there is the custom-made score by Russia’s 2H Company, a hip club music group, to carry it all through. Credit goes to Miroshnichenko for his efforts in less than ideal choreographic conditions. In the month of March, the cast was on tour for 3 of 4 weeks; in February they went from Moscow’s Golden Mask Festival to Munich. In an incredibly short period of time, this young choreographer has created two new works of promise – promise for the efforts he has made, and for the fresh approach to movement in the most classical of theatres that he has brought to this stage.
For both performances Mikhail Agrest conducted “Apollo” and Pavel Bubelnikov conducted “Flora’s Awakening.”