Petroushka, Prodigal Son, Rubies
Saint Petersburg, Russia
05 April 2013
by Catherine Pawlick
Petroushka is rarely danced on the Mariinsky stage. It pops up on mixed bills here and there, quietly, mid-season without much fanfare, and yet the ballet itself is saturated with symbolism and messages about the human condition. Set in Saint Petersburg's Admiralty Square in the 1830s during Maslenitsa, the Russian Orthodox pre-Lenten celebration, it was created in 1910 in a short period of intense collaboration between Alexandre Benois, Igor Stravinsky, and Mikhail Fokine. The result is a bright ballet indicative of the Russian character, the nuances of Russian politics in the era, and filled with unique step patterns to Stravinsky's mercurial score. The crowd scene on the square that opens the ballet is filled with bright characters - gypsy women, dancing boyars, performing gymnastic girls and bears, scarf sellers. The atmosphere joins the laymen's merriment with oppression - in the visage of the evil-looking Magician and the stern guard who must be bribed in order for a performance to occur on the square. A strong sense of looming terror hangs in the air.
When the puppet show on the square begins, we see the three main characters: The Moor, the Ballerina and Petroushka himself, a floppy limbed clown doll in love with the Ballerina. The trio act out the love triangle for spectators, but back in the reserves of their private rooms, we see that the dolls in fact have lives of their own.
Grigory Popov, having just flown in from a month of guest performances in Canada, danced the role of Petroushka with soul and depth. That the turned-in movements, the requisite limpness, and the score's odd-numbered counts are a challenge goes without saying, but it's one that Popov meets and then takes to another level. His face expresses the angst of longing to escape from the chains of his Magician master, and the frustration of unrequited love - he wants the Ballerina. Sharp hand and head movements along with droopy shoulders and a wide-eyed hopefulness rendered Popov's clown melancholic. We see the tragedy of his character early on, and we root for him.
The self-satisfied Moor, relatively powerful in the small world of these three puppets, was danced superbly by Islom Baimuradov, unrecognizable in the black-face makeup and rich robes of his costume. Tossing his coconut impatiently while reclining on his ottoman, he etched the image of a tyrant of his own order with wide steps and sweeping gestures. He's clearly the most powerful of the three dolls; when the Moor signals, the Ballerina --danced beautifully by Oksana Marchuk, whose facial features perfectly embody this role-- jumps, or turns, or follows him.
Unfortunately for Popov, Baimuradov and Marchuk, technical disruptions distracted from the mastery of the dance. A late curtain close forced Popov to leave the stage in audience view after the scene in his black box room; likewise the lighting came on late at several points, when dancers were already moving but not lit for the audience to see. This is a vote in favor of running Petroushka more often, for otherwise the dancers did a superb job of renewing this thickly historical work.
Balanchine's Prodigal Son presented a confident, energetic Maxim Zuizin in the leading role with boyish support from his two sidekicks, Alexei Nedviga and Fedor Murashov as the two men who accompany on his journey of desertion. When given the opportunity, Zuizin can fill any principal role, and has come a long way from his early coryphée days. Here, with chiseled chest, powerful leg muscles and the impatience of a naive young man, he presented the range of role's emotions, from eagerness and confusion to repentance and shame. The last image of him pulling himself into his father's arms -- the stately Vladimir Ponomarev-- concluded the ballet's message in a poignant note. Anastasia Kolegova danced an imposing Siren, aloof, greedy, and with just a hint of evil.
Rubies followed, a unique choice for the program close, where Ekaterina Kondaurova danced the second soloist and Nadezhda Batoeva danced brightly in the main role with Alexander Sergeyev as her partner. Batoeva, increasingly promising in solo work and perhaps already on the path to star status, is a dancer to whom even bravura steps come with ease. She has a lovely beauty that suits the stage: long limbs, dark hair, high cashew-type arches, and an ability to flirt, ever so slightly, that recalls, in moments here or there, a young Vishneva. Sergeyev is prince-turned-cowboy in this pas de deux, and with the exception of one excitingly off-balance turn, he partnered her reliably and played with the steps within the music.
Mikhail Agrest conducted, and Ludmila Sveshnikova performed the piano solo in Rubies expertly.
Author, "Vaganova Today: The Preservation of Pedagogical Tradition" (available on amazon.com)