Victory Day Performance
Young Girl and the Hooligan, Ballet Imperial, Leningrad Symphony
Saint Petersburg, Russia
9 May 2013
by Catherine Pawlick
Victory Day -- celebrations of the victory over Fascism and the final end to the grueling, barbaric Second World War -- is celebrated each year in Russia on May 9. Parades in Moscow and Saint Petersburg begin in the morning, preceded by a Presidential address, followed by various daytime celebrations, and concluded with fireworks at 10 p.m. In accordance with the celebrations, the Mariinsky Theatre also does its part each year to commemorate the veterans who fought to protect Russia from the German invaders by presenting a program of two historical ballets: The Young Girl and the Hooligan, and Leningrad Symphony. This year the two works were punctuated by the inclusion of Ballet Imperial into the program, perhaps a commentary on the theatre's Imperial traditions. A packed house and numerous curtain calls attested to the glory of the evening.
The 1962 production of Hooligan is set in the USSR with sparse abstract sets by Vyacheslav Okunev. Costumes - white leotard dresses and classic white hair ribbons for the girls, and factory worker overalls, or sleek pant suits for the boys - easily depict the times of structured Soviet happiness. The usual heroine in Hooligan is danced by Svetlana Ivanova, sidelined by an injury three months ago, and as a result the administration has been wary to grant her any of her previous roles. So while she appeared in Ballet Imperial, Hooligan was led by Elena Evseyeva alongside the rough and tumble Ilya Kuznetsov as the Hooligan. Kuznetsov is an old hand in this role and perfectly depicts the uncultured brashness of a street boy who has deep feelings he can't quite express appropriately. Instead of tenderness, he uses fear tactics and macho acts to attempt to win over The Girl. Evseyeva danced the girl with full technical accuracy, and her expressions of joy at the end of the tragic ballet were palpable. But missing was the sense of fragility, the high-strung nature of the heroine who doesn't understand this street urchin's repeat proclamations of love - until it is too late.
Ballet Imperial then cleansed the palette with a dose of abstract neoclassicism that somehow nicely contrasted with the two story-based ballets that bookended the program. Oksana Skorik made her debut as the lead alongside Timur Askerov. Skorik broke into a smile only in the coda section at which point warmth and relaxation infused not only her expression but the dancing itself, which suddenly seemed filled with more ease and less tension. Askerov's petit allegro was briskly brilliant as usual. Valeria Martinouk danced the soloist in pale blue with sharp attack, flanked by Alexei Timofeyev and Maxim Zuizin who both proved attentive partners.
The crowning glory of the evening, however, was Leningrad Symphony. This dance tribute to the history of Russia's participation in World War II is a poignant, dramatic work set to Shostakovich's powerful Seventh Symphony, performed with such gusto during this evening that the floorboards in the first level baignoires were vibrating from the sound. Andrey Ermakov appeared first in the role that Yuri Soloviev inaugurated on this very stage. Ermakov -- tall, sleek and handsome -- depicted the innocence and beauty of youth, and seemed a perfect fit for the lady of the hour, Uliana Lopatkina. From the initial section, "Tranquil Happiness", where joy and optimism reigned on the faces of young men and women, to the invasion of horned-helmet Nazis in brown uniforms and black boots, the ballet covers the full spectrum of emotion incited by war. Konstantin Ivkin stood out among the Russian male corps dancers--the bright young men dressed in pale greys and blues defending their countrymen-- with soaring powerful jumps. Lopatkina's final solo perfectly depicted the grief, angst, wonder and exhaustion incurred by the women of Russia during the war. And when the curtain fell, numerous curtain calls expressed the audience's appreciation of this milestone production that truly should be performed more than once per year.
Author, "Vaganova Today: The Preservation of Pedagogical Tradition" (available on amazon.com)