'Chopiniana', 'Scheherezade', 'Firebird'
St. Petersburg, Russia
10 November 2005
by Catherine Pawlick
The deep royal blue curtain, embroidered with “Les Saisons Russes” returned to the Mariinsky stage Thursday night as the company performed their all-Fokine program to a less-than full but nonetheless appreciative house.
After the overture to Chopin’s beautiful score, that same blue curtain rose to the well-known arrangement of ladies in white of “Chopiniana”, a breathtaking vision that drew applause upon first view. A special treat came with Igor Kolb’s attentive partnering of Ksenia Ostreikovskaya in the Seventh Waltz, and both dancers in their respective Mazurka variations. Kolb’s endless plie, chiseled legs and arched feet make for the some of the most beautiful lines in the Kirov. His double cabriole in the variation was performed with more energy than Ivanchenko’s, and he has clearly mastered the Romantic-era port de bras, its softness in appropriate contrast to the strength and accuracy of his legwork (his pique arabesques are perfect 110 degree lines). His partnering of Ostreikovskaya deserves more than simple praise: he walked en releve in the series of long, slow lifts from upstage right, making Ostreikovskaya appear even more ethereal. This was a partnering moment hinting at the highest of Kirov caliber, a glimpse of dance that extends above and beyond simple choreographic fulfillment.
Ostreikovskaya was polite and accurate in her variation; but the series of releves en face brought a change in port de bras with alternating hand-flicks that seemed an odd departure from the usual uplifting, circular motion done with the forearms at this moment. Minor choregraphic adjustments like this seem illogical and remain puzzling in a company that is home to such historical ballets.
Yana Selina danced the Eleventh Waltz, her constant bourrees suggestive of fluttering fairy wings, keeping her afloat. Her tour jetes (into a sustained plie arabesque) were done with a silent and perfectly elastic landing, without the rebound feeling that comes with others’ renditions. Selina’s eyes and smile added to the feeling of a light sylph, bubbly, but not deterring from the serenity of the Romantic style which was ever-present (as with Kolb) in her port de bras. In the releve turns in attitude, she is the first to have managed to completely avoid the wind-up motion – sheer force of standing-leg strength propelled her not only up onto pointe but around into a turn, seemingly without any preparation.
Diana Smirnova danced the Prelude with accurate, well-rehearsed positioning, pausing immaculately en pointe without a single wobble, but looked slightly nervous throughout.
The second ballet of the evening, “Scheherezade”, brought two veteran Kirov stars onstage. During the intermission preceding this ballet, the many foreigners in the audience were overheard chatting about Farukh Ruzimatov’s appearance in this classic, “one of the greatest male dancers of our time”, alongside Irma Nioradze. Ruzimatov, as Zobeida's Slave, of course didn’t disappoint. With gold body glitter, arched back, outstretched hands, he smouldered incessently. Either his reputation, or this performance, but probably both earned him four or five sole curtain calls with Nioradze well into intermission time, while the sets were already being prepared backstage for the next ballet.
Physically much leaner than Makhalina, Nioradze also danced differently, at moments more dramatic and others more cool. The overall inter-dancer chemistry visible in the last performance of ‘Scheherezade’ between Makhalina and Ruzimatov seemed less present this evening for unknown reasons. When Nioradze first unlocked the gate, she threw the pearls carelessly in the Eunich's (Igor Petrov) direction, paying him no notice, her eyes set on the audience, as she waited for Ruzimatov's entrance. For his part, when handed the cup from which to drink, Ruzimatov didn't perform with his usual greedy thirst. He sipped, but not hungrily -- as if he was going through the motions. Otherwise, through hand gesture and choreography his passion towards Nioradze was as visible as that towards Makhalina, prompting one to think that a simple difference in the ballerinas' interpretations accounts for this discrepancy in portrayal. Nioradze was a more evasive Zobeida, without the accents in dramatic delivery that Makhalina offerred.
This evening's "Firebird" was one of the more pleasurable portrayals of the ballet in the past year. Tatiana Tkachenko danced the leading role to Dmitri Semionov's Tsarevich Ivan. Ksenia Dubrovina was the Beloved, Beautiful Daughter of the Tsar.
Appearing onstage like a shot of red lightening, Tkachenko impressed. Her energy flowed into quick changes of head and flighty arm movements. She flitted on and off stage, sporting high saut-de-basques while fending off the Deathless (and yet deathful) “Kashei” evil skeleton (Vladimir Ponomarev). Tkachenko doesn’t fall into the stereotypical Kirov ballerina “type”. Not overly thin but well-proportioned, slim yet muscular, technically sound and more expressive than many, the role of “Firebird” suits her, providing a perfect vehicle for her strengths, as it allows room for both dramatic expression and technical displays.
Although it feels awkward to critique the ballet’s composition, especially in such a historical work, this reviewer feels a word must be said about it. Until this viewing it had been difficult to pinpoint, but the scene in which Ivan and the Firebird fight off the Evil Beings drags, at best. At first Ivan is caught by the ugly monsters. Then the Deathless Kashei appears. The lovely maidens dance in and out. The Firebird enters. She dances, the monsters dance, the maidens dance, rinse, repeat. From a purely compositional point of view, one wonders why, aside from the need to adhere to the score, this section could not have been reduced, as it appears lengthy and slows the dramatic progression which, until this point in the ballet, keeps a regular pace. When Ivan appears with the magic egg in the treasure chest, things are quickly resolved; but reaching that moment seems tedious.
In any event, thanks to the magic of the Firebird’s saving graces, as the ballet ends, each lady has a prince, Ivan has united with the Tsar’s beautiful daughter in robes of red and gold, a scepter in hand, and all live happily ever after, the city’s cupolas rising on the back scrim.
Boris Gruzin conducted.