Mixed bill: Young Girl and a Hooligan, Without, Leningrad Symphony
Saint Petersburg, Russia
9 May 2011 - Victory Day Celebration
By Catherine Pawlick
Amidst parades on Red Square in Moscow, an address to the nation from President Medvedev, fireworks over Palace Square in Petersburg, and veterans everywhere donning old uniforms laden with military pins and ribbons, Victory Day in Russia is arguably one of the largest holidays outside of New Year’s Eve. For most, it provides a three-day weekend, but not for employees of the Mariinsky Theatre, where orchestra and ballet alike demonstrated their dedication to both art form and country with a performance tribute to the nation’s victory at the end of World War II.
The ballets typically performed for this national holiday rarely appear in any other month, thereby granting them a treasure-like status of sorts. The first of these favorites, “The Young Girl and the Hooligan,” a title that sounds smoother in Russian than in its English translation, focuses on the purity of the young Girl in a white dress who embodies the unattainable ideal of a rough-and-tumble bad boy, the Hooligan. Through a series of scenes created by little-known choreographer Konstantin Boyarsky, the bad boy scares her, dreams about her, idealizes her, and eventually wins her over, only to lose his own life to a bunch of gang thugs in the end.
The delightfully girlish grace of Svetlana Ivanova’s Girl, etching the choreographic drawing with prim walks en pointe, hands carefully clasped, and a wide-eyed innocent look, projected the perfect embodiment of this character, the feminine ideal, untouched, unreachable, but young and innocent in every way. Ivanova’s performance is so perfect, in fact, that it is hard to imagine anyone else in the role. In the schoolroom, where the Hooligan realizes she is the teacher, she finds the courage to push the Hooligan out of a kiss with another girl, but his coarse attempts to frighten her with the stomp of a foot or a sudden gesture succeed, ultimately sending her away.
The Hooligan, danced by a forceful and boyish Ilya Kuznetsov, emitted every bit of unharnessed power and immaturity requisite for the role. Twice Ivanova’s size, he managed the barrel turns in the initial solo with authority; his angst during the dream sequence (in which he dances with the Girl) were readily apparent through frustrated gestures and twisted grimaces.
The Hooligan finds his match in Vozhak, danced by Kamil Yangurazov, the unspoken leader of a gang of smudgy boys dressed in factory overalls and slouchy caps. Vozhak, in a slick black suit and white scarf, is in a way the Hooligan’s physical opposite, and seems to hold court at his nightclub/restaurant, where un-Soviet women undulate around nightclub tables, and the Hooligan is offered his first drink of alcohol. Yangurazov plays the role slowly and coolly, less with malice than with reserve. An offense of sorts takes place here, which seems the only motive for the Hooligan’s later demise.
Images of Soviet utopia, visible in the other characters –the schoolgirls’ braided hair tied with white ribbons, their matching white dresses, accompanied by strong sportsmen, abound. So do the grimy factory boys, who are more interested in street fun. The classroom gone wild –before the Girl teacher arrives—shifts into the nightclub. The scenography by Valeriya Dorrera and sets by Vyacheslav Okunev lend an authentic feel to the time and place of the libretto.
Although the entire ballet makes a firm impression, several scenes stand out from the others. When Kuznetsov finally embraces Ivanova, putting his head in her lap while she’s on the park bench, Ivanova realizes instantly that his coarseness is his only means of expressing love, and the pure joy on her face speaks volumes. Likewise, as he dies slowly from the stab wound, her tenderness towards him is touching, her angst at her unheard calls for help palpable. Although this seems to be a holiday ballet, it is one that the company would do well to perform much more frequently. The audience was ecstatic.
Benjamin Millipied’s new work for the Mariinsky, “Without,” which premiered during the April Festival, presented its second cast for the first time during this program. Ivanova appeared again here in the “blue” role previously danced by Alina Somova. But where her Girl was all innocence and controlled emotion, here her highly arched attitudes and expressive epaulement evoked a release of sorts, into sensuality, mood and movement. Accompanied by her reliable partner Alexei Timofeyev, the two danced a tender duet. Olesya Novikova and Maksim Zuizin were the passionate leading couple in red, their relational tug-of-war evidenced by a series of emotionally-charged pas de deux. Novikova’s realization that he has left her –twice—is met with support from the other eight dancers only at the ballet’s closing. Novikova’s ability to project thought and emotion to the far reaches of the hall –in addition to having a meaty role that allows her to indulge these skills—is not shared by all of the cast. Zuizin has come more into his own in the past season, dancing more strongly, more assertively, and stepping into his wardrobe of talent that until now has only been partially tapped; it is a pleasure to see these fuller colors in his own dancing.
The other three couples – Yana Selina with Filipp Stepin, Maria Shirinkina with Alexei Popov and Anastasia Nikitina with Alexander Parish—seemed more subdued in their dramatic expression than the first cast, although Parish attacked his solo with equal gusto, and Shirinkina’s delicate lines are always a pleasure to watch. The brief quintet of men on stage was particularly sharp and well-timed.
The final ballet of the evening, the true ode to the Fatherland, “Leningrad Symphony” is, as most recall, set to Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony. To witness the ballet that premiered with the likes of Yuri Soloviev, Alla Sizova and Gabriella Komleva on its native stage exactly 40 years after its premiere is a historical moment. The honor of the leading roles this evening went, rightfully, to Uliana Lopatkina and Igor Kolb, who led the sea of dancers, bright faces full of hope and light. These are the children of the Soviet Union, symbols of happiness and possibility, who open the curtain.
Lopatkina, dressed in a long white sheath, appears as if she has stepped out of the 1940s, her hair in a short curled chignon, low on her neck, her movements slow and careful; she is youthful purity as yet untarnished. Kolb, on the other hand, is masculine strength personified. It is easy to see how much Soloviev may have impressed in his debut in this famous role, where the choreography for the men contrasts so intensely. At one point Kolb performs four double tours in a row, alternating directions; his dance is punctuated with numerous soaring leaps. At first the couple, flanked by other similar couples, perform a slow rocking step –pique coup de pied, step step coup de pied—right and left, slowly. The effect is a visual lullaby, a song of peace that is short lived. Soon the music changes, the lights in the distance appear. War has come.
The ruthless Fascists, dressed in brown unitards with black “horned” helmets, at first received snickers from the audience. Granted the caricature is almost cartoon-like, but only at first. As the march within the musical score mounts, the serious nature of their havoc is witnessed: Russian men climb the planks and die. A single desperate soul frantically does the “prisyadki” or squatting knee dance, begging to be spared, but is killed as well. Lopatkina shrinks in horror, crawling backwards across the stage, and finally burying her head in her hands. Her subsequent dance of grief and shock includes plenty of battements and renversés, visual symbols of the upset in her soul. Almost all of the men are destroyed before Kolb, mustering energy from within, emits an invisible source of power from the center of his torso, and it is this “field” that fells the last Fascist standing. The war is won.
In Lopatkina’s final gesture to the curtain , she crosses her hands at her chest, releases them to gaze at her palms and then reaches out, palms up to the audience in a look of surprise that is almost a question. The masterpiece completed by a genius ballerina leaves layers of messaging and the pride of a nation in one single gesture. The curtain calls and flowers that graced the stage afterwards could not have been more appropriate.
Author, "Vaganova Today: The Preservation of Pedagogical Tradition" (available on amazon.com)