Seventh International Ballet Festival
Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia
By Catherine Pawlick
22 April 2006
Some peculiar casting choices on a long mixed bill made for an interesting close to the Seventh Annual International Ballet Festival at the Mariinsky Theatre on Sunday night as representatives from America and Russia performed a series of divertissements ranging from modern to classical.
The almost four-hour recapitulation of certain festival highlights began with the complete rendering of Le Reveil du Flore, which was also performed during the first two nights of the festival. For those who had not attended the premieres, it was a chance to see this revived Petipa work from start to finish. However, as an opener to the mixed bill, it had a languishing effect on the energy of the evening, simply because it was so long. Svetlana Ivanova opened the ballet as Diana guarding the nymphs, once again her promenades and bourrees speaking of goddesses and creatures of the air in their lightness. Evgenia Obratsova and Vladimir Schklyarov danced the leading roles again with energy and accuracy. Yana Selina danced Aurora with a wide smile, and Ekaterina Petina appeared as Geba. Valeria Martinouk was once again a perky Cupid among Vaganova-trained mini Cupids. Having seen this ballet at both premieres however, we were more anxious to move into the rest of the program.
Damian Woetzel danced Jerome Robbins’ Suite of Dances as the first of five divertissements in the second part of the evening. The movement appeared improvisational and low-output, although it was hard to determine if this was due to the choreography or Woetzel’s interpretation. It came across as bland, and I found myself wishing to have seen him in something more upbeat, perhaps a variation from “Stars and Stripes” or something else Balanchinean.
The pas de deux from “Talisman” came next, and was a perfect program choice for its electric jumps and partnering. Sadly, Alexander Sergeev, who had been expected to dance the role, was inexplicably replaced with Mikhail Lobukhin alongside Ekaterina Osmolkina. This reviewer had looked forward to Sergeev’s energy and crisp, impeccable lines in the quick pas de deux; in contrast, Lobukhin’s interpretation looked second rate. Some casting choices are never quite comprehensible.
The central pas de deux from Alexei Ratmansky’s “Middle Duet” came next, with Islam Baimuradov partnering New York City Ballet’s Maria Kowroski. While Baimuradov was the perfect gentleman and partner, following Kowroski’s every step and movement with precision timing, Kowroski seemed reticent to devote energy to the piece. Clearly blessed with beautiful lines, this Balanchine ballerina she gave little sense of abandon to the role, seeming to abhor the idea of being shaken and stirred as the choreography requires. This was surprising considering the ability of former Kirov dancer Natalia Sologub, now with Dresden Ballet, to make the role her own by infusing it with adequate emphasis on the off-balance, tipped nature of some of the partnering sequences. Kowroski appeared reticent during her bows as well, impatient to get off the stage. Her mind was elsewhere, and it was reflected in her dancing. It would be nice to see Baimuradov again in the role with another, local ballerina.
Perhaps the most shocking program choice came in the person of Uliana Lopatkina in a soft-shoe number called “Tango” choreographed by Nikolai Androsov to music by Astor Piatsolla. Lopatkina, who is known for her adherence to the classical repertoire, here appeared dressed in black pants, a long-sleeve black silk shirt, a brimmed hat, and shiny patent leather jazz shoes. Lopatkina shifted between movement that was molasses-slow in nature and whipping chaine turns, using her hat and jacket as props within the dance. Her shock of chin length auburn hair was down, contributing an additional casual touch to the piece. It was a strange phenomenon indeed to see the epitomy of Petersburg classical ballerinas moving about her own stage in this manner. When her short solo was over, the audience gave her a warm tribute, calling her back onstage three times.
The Black Swan pas de deux from “Swan Lake” followed, danced by Maria Alexandrova and Igor Kolb. Here the return to classical constraints was visible in Alexandrova’s tasteful lines. If not blessed with the most flexible back, Alexandrova at least emitted a proper sense of sultry cattiness in this short excerpt. Kolb seemed entirely entranced with her, and the smile they exchanged at the finish seemed to reveal the knowledge of a job well done – which indeed it was.
After the second intermission, we returned for more. Viktoria Tereshkina danced “Grand Pas Classique” with Vladimir Schklyarov. No better casting choice could have been made for the ballerina in this piece, as Tereshkina is the perfect balance between precision and quick timing. Her variation was impeccable, her ballones razor sharp, moving from low to high, and she sustained each of her balances in the grand pas with regal airs that lent this piece the right flavor. Shklyarov fared less well in his variation, but the couple completed the partnering sections without problems.
Igor Kolb reappeared in a dance entitled “The Swan” set to Saint-Saens’ music for “The Dying Swan” but the choreography here was not classical and not meant for a female. Danced to a recorded version of the music with an audible male laugh imposed over part of the soundtrack, Kolb enters dressed as a bum in a long wool coat, with only a small leotard underneath that is decorated with strips of black and grey fabric hanging off of it – no doubt the “feathers”. His facial expressions ranged from fear to rage to laughter as he moved through some uber contemporary movements. The audience adored the piece, and it had enough wicked undertones to keep one wondering.
Uliana Lopatkina then reappeared with Andrei Mercuriev in the pas de deux from “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated”. Dressed in the Forsythe uniform for this ballet – green leotards with sheer black overtights, and pointe shoes – Lopatkina moved through the extreme positions of limb with ease alongside Mercuriev, who blissfully focused on her and the movement, appearing like a child in a candy store. The electric pulse of the music seemed to emanate from the dancers themselves as well, the only point of concern being Lopatkina’s now ultra-thin frame.
The final piece on the program was the pas de deux from “Le Corsaire”. Natalia Osipova of Friday night’s 64-fouette frame returned to the stage with Leonid Sarafanov for a brief fanfare of jumps, turns and balances. This time Osipova did a series of a la seconde turns mixed in with the fouettes. She again managed to outdo partner Sarafanov, although their mutual bravura kept the energy level high.
Between the revival of Petipa’s “Le Reveil du Flore”, and Alexei Miroshnichenko’s electric addition, “Ring”, to the Mariinsky repertoire, the company is currently on a path of refreshing creation that will hopefully continue to gain momentum with its 225th season next fall.
Pavel Bubelnikov conducted “Flore” and Mikhail Agrest conducted the pieces in the remainder of the program.