Seasonal Offerings: “Pas de Quatre” and “Giselle”
2 and 9 March, 2007
St. Petersburg, Russia
By Catherine Pawlick
The shift ever closer to springtime in St. Petersburg was aided with a handful of unique balletic offerings on the Mariinsky stage in early March. The long-awaited “Pas de Quatre” was danced by four of the Kirov’s leading ladies and, just one week later, Uliana Lopatkina graced audiences with her second ever performance of “Giselle”.
The mixed bill on March 2 began with “Apollo” before shifting into Fokine’s signature “The Dying Swan”. In the first ballet, Daria Pavlenko’s energetic Terpsichore proved consistent with past renditions of the role. Her flirtatious eyes and long, sensuous limbs were every young god’s dream. Alongside her, Evgeny Ivanchenko’s even-keeled Apollo yielded technical accuracy, though in him one could not sense the true power of the young god. As the Swan, Irma Nioradze’s dance reflected significant work on the port de bras of the strained bird, drawing applause for her short but effective performance. Victoria Kutepova then appeared in “Le Spectre de la Rose” with Anton Korsakov. A strange casting decision, she danced with shoulders raised, her gestures and port de bras overdone.
The long-awaited “Pas de Quatre”, first danced in 1845 by the four leading ballerinas at the time, appeared fourth on the bill and to fresh eyes was an essay in stylized romanticism. Daria Pavlenko clearly depicted Marie Taglioni’s respected position as the eldest of the four ballerinas through her erect carriage. She took every opportunity to guide the other three women on and off of the dancing space with regal nods. Appropriately echoing Taglioni’s Sylph, in her variation Pavlenko danced with both lyricism and ceremony. Finishing in a slow kneel that seemed to catch most of the audience off guard, Pavlenko then lifted her eyes with a smile as if to signal completion.
Alexandra Iosifidi, in Lucille Grahn’s variation, towered among the other three, executing the entrechat quatre sequence reminiscent of Giselle in Act II. While accurate, her upper body seemed stiff in the tour jetés, and her arms equally rigid. Elvira Tarasova performed Carlotta Grisi’s variation with aplomb. Her saut de basques were academically perfect, her brisés crisp and light, and her boureés glacially smooth. She was truly a pleasure to behold. Anastasia Kolegova danced the third variation, that of Fanny Cerito, with smooth grace. Her small apple-cheeked face recalled a cherubim and the effect was one of sweetness and youth.
A second offering of arguably equal grandeur came in the form of Uliana Lopatkina’s appearance in “Giselle” on March 9. Lopatkina has danced the role only once prior to this performance, nearly a decade ago. She addressed this return to the ballet with the same perfectionist approach she gives to each of her roles – no detail left unconsidered, no step left unrehearsed.
In Act I, as Giselle, Lopatkina emerged from her cottage a wide-eyed, innocent peasant girl, shy and naïve. In a genius interpretation of Adolphe Adam’s score, she accented the down beat in the series of high ballonés in her initial circle around the stage, stepping forward with each count and thus accommodating her longer limbs. Rather than diminishing the effects of buoyancy and youth, this musical interpretation only served to uncover more color in the musical score and to underline her own multi-layered talents.
Throughout this act, Lopatkina issued every curtsy deeply, to the knee. At Albrecht’s initial entreaties, she seemed to infuse the daisy sequence with the powers of divine prophesy: she was so disappointed at the odd number of petals that one almost expected the curtain to come down immediately. However, Igor Kolb, as a cunning, slick Albrecht, was quick to prove her wrong. Then as Hilarion, danced by Dmitry Pikhachev, interrupted their romp, Lopatkina’s Giselle reduced everything to its simplest terms. “He loves me, what more do you need to know?” she gestured, completely clueless as to the evil ways of deceitful men.
Lopatkina’s persona as the inexperienced and unworldly peasant girl was underlined by her gestures. When she searched for Albrecht to show him to the Duke and his daughter Bathilde, she kneeled in humble embarrassment at her suitor’s absence. In deference to them or, alternatively, to her mother, her head would drop forward, shoulders hunched in docile submission. Through these small details Giselle’s character became her own.
And the dance itself was no less genius. During her variation, Lopatkina sustained the piqué arabesque before lowering into penché plié, rolling through each centimeter of her shoe in an articulation of the foot that is not typically Russian, but was characteristically professional. Her first pirouette was a smooth, unblemished triple, and she completed the manège of turns immaculately.
Valeria Martinouk and Grigori Popov led the Peasant Pas de Deux, their entrance performed in perfect synchronicity. Popov offered powerful cabrioles; and if a few of the partnered turns were unsteady, his own tours were sharp. Martinouk was all smiles in her variation, soaring in across the stage in jetés and whipping off turns effortlessly.
Lopatkina’s mad scene was an interesting interpretation of this famous sequence. The first half of her mime, after falling at her mother’s feet, seemed to be simple recollections of the day’s earlier events: meeting Albrecht, the daisy petal count, encountering Bathilde. Her hair was not disheveled and her gestures, if weak, were nonetheless still clear. It wasn’t until after she dragged the sword around the floor and ran towards her cottage that the real “madness” set it. From there she seemed to see the wilis in front of her, and began racing around the stage, groping madly for something in the air, but it wasn’t clear just what. After she ran towards her mother for the final hug, and then towards Albrecht, one could hear her bones hit the stage floor as she flopped lifeless at his feet. The effect was so realistic, it was chilling.
In Act II, Alexandra Iosifidi appeared as Myrtha, cold, majestic, and unforgiving. This role suits her stature, and provided numerous opportunities to display darting, steely jumps. As Myrtha’s new servant, Lopatkina’s Giselle arose from the grave vertically, then obediently stepping in sway to Myrtha’s commands. Here Lopatkina’s costume could not have gone unnoticed. Sewn especially for her, the upper layer of tulle on her skirt was a gauzy, impossibly light layer of some silk-like fabric, so fragile that the slightest rush of air would send it billowing around her. No doubt this was another personal touch that lent an additional feeling of weightlessness to her character. The material draped around her shoulders was of the same fabric, and the effect was one of a frail, waiflike spirit.
At Myrtha’s first command, Lopatkina continued her theme of low pliés – lower than any other ballerina -- sinking deeply before she began the mad spiral of hops in attitude. In the last diagonal of her variation her jetés also ended in deep plies, only without a bounce – and strangely, this version worked well musically.
In her adagio, danced around the kneeling, grieving Albrecht, Lopatkina left her leg in ecarté as she rolled down into plié, her diaphanous skirt trailing behind her like remnants of her own mist. And yet it was with touching warmth that she begged the wilis for respite, asking them to spare Albrecht. At several points she appeared almost human, reaching for him longingly or pleading with her spiritual sisters.
Igor Kolb was an excellent Albrecht, tireless in his unending dance in the second Act. Despite Albrecht’s perhaps despicable character, Kolb’s grand allegro variations nonetheless impressed. Of note was his choice to do the steps on both diagonals landing on the left leg – the first diagonal croisé, and the second effacé.
Daria Vasnetsova and Victoria Kutepova danced Moyna and Zulma in opposing fashion. Whereas Vasnetsova, lithe and majestic, danced with control and clarity, Kutepova’s flowing port de bras recalled more swan than wili. The corps de ballet, as a whole however, was breathtaking in form and unison.
It was a delight to be able to watch the most Russian of Russian ballerinas perform this role for only the second time. Between the “Pas de Quatre” and this performance of “Giselle”, it is clear that Mariinsky Ballet has plenty of hidden delights that should be revealed much more frequently. Boris Gruzin conducted.