Saint Petersburg, Russsia
2 June 2013
by Catherine Pawlick
On the heels of Sascha Waltz's uber-modern Rite of Spring, and in the midst of no classical revivals for the spring/summer 2013 season, it seems that strengths of the Mariinsky still lie in its classical traditions. And those strengths are turning out to be the main highlights of this year's White Nights Festival. Thus, Uliana Lopatkina's performance of Swan Lake was a focal point as soon as the summer month programming was announced.
No doubt due to his ongoing recovery from a back injury, Lopatkina's usual Lake partner, Danila Korsuntsev, was not cast tonight. Instead Evgeny Ivanchenko filled his spot with mixed results. This supposition seemed proven during the Act I Adagio when Ivanchenko performed the 3 overhead rotating lifts with Lopatkina; a week prior Korsuntsev replaced the same lifts with direct presses when partnering Kolegova. One guesses this may have been the simple reason for the casting selection.
But to step back to the start of Act I, the audience was treated to the return of a beloved favorite in the role of Jester: Grigory Popov charmed the audience, carried the dramatic progression of Act I, and executed technical feats --the crowd-warming turns à la seconde, pirouettes to the tune of 5 or 6 at a time, and soaring jumps throughout-- without batting an eyelash. Compared to some less-impressive Jesters in recent casting decisions, he was a salve for the soul.
Ivanchenko's initial entrance wasn't greeted with the usual welcoming applause; his short variation included a tombé-plié preparation for en dehors attitude turns, and one sensed a dramatic absence from the action of Act I.
In contrast, the lady of the night entered to applause honoring her stature, and what followed was yet another essay in artistic purity and musical ingenuity. Lopatkina altered Odette's entrance ever so slightly -- the initial bourrée sequence was followed by a bourrée while turning, then several steps on the musical notes -- no jeté -- finishing in the swan pose in plié. At several points she altered a sauté in arabesque for a piqué, and following the face-to-face moment of capture, when Siegfried finally grasps Odette's hands in his, her bourrées were more glacial than frantic, the moments of panic expressed in her arms and face rather than her legs. The slight alteration in interpretation gave food for thought, lent depth to the entrance scene, and underscored the rare intellectual approach of this ballerina to one of ballet's most complex and yet seemingly surface roles. In the coda section, after some brisk entrechat quatre passés, she altered the piqué attitude to one in retiré passé, another considerate touch.
The pas de trois was danced admirably by Maxim Zuizin alongside Anastasia Nikitina and Elena Evseyeva. Invincibly reliable, both ladies lent sparkle to their roles. Zuizin managed a series of triple battu in his assemblés and a quadruple pirouette finish in the variation.
Andrey Soloviev replaced the program listing of Ilya Kuznetsov as Rothbart, and the casting choice proved an excellent one (as also witnessed by vocal supporters from the top balcony). Soaring jumps, sharp accents of the head and impeccable partnering in the sequences with Odette, this Soloviev has the makings of a strong soloist.
As the four little swans, Svetlana Ivanova stood out for her crisp footwork, flanked by Elena Chmil, Oksana Marchuk, and Valeria Martinouk.
Act II introduced verve in the national dances. A newcomer to the Spanish dance, Trofim Malanov, lent excitement and energy to his performance. The charming Kseniya Romashova joined muscular Aleksey Popov in the Neapolitan, and all of the ladies and gentlemen in the Mazurka delivered with polish.
That was followed by sultriness in the Black Swan Grand Pas. Lopatkina -- as with Kondaurova-- replaces the saut de basques with piqué turns in the first section, an elective choice, and infuses the dance sharpness, alternating with moments of tenderness that echo Odette. Thirty two perfect single fouettés later, and numerous curtain calls after Act II, the biggest challenges of the ballet were behind us, leaving only the victory over Rothbart and Odette's rescue to come.
Act III closed with a poignant ending --the same ending as always, but each time, touching. As Odette wakes up and the skyline turns pink, we know that love conquers all.
Overall the lushness, excitement, and depth of this performance will make it difficult to improve on as the White Nights Festival shifts into its final 8 weeks.
Author, "Vaganova Today: The Preservation of Pedagogical Tradition" (available on amazon.com)