I attended the Friday and Saturday night performances of “Carmen Suite” and “Symphony in C,” as well as the Sat matinee “Little Humpbacked Horse” for a clean sweep of the Mariinsky week. I’m still pretty exhausted so it’s taken me a few days to gather my thoughts.
First, as a general comment, I was struck anew by how much one’s preconceptions and expectations of a piece can influence one’s reactions, and how you only get one “first viewing.” I also noticed that my own enjoyment of a performance is highly dependent on where I am sitting (the closer the better, it seems) and other extraneous factors (like the person sitting behind me whose cellphone rang in the middle of the adagio section in “Carmen”).
Prior to Friday, I had seen neither Alonso’s “Carmen” (nor Balanchine’s “Symphony in C”). I have also never seen the opera, and my only exposure to the music has been through snippets of other Carmen ballets and 3-4 minute clips in figure skating programs. I had a vague notion that Carmen was kind of sexy character who gets involved in a love triangle and is killed, and that’s about it.
So I personally had no qualms with the music arrangement, and while the story and characterizations may have been simplistic compared to the opera, to me they seemed appropriate to the piece at hand. The ballet itself felt very stylized; it’s stripped down to only a few essential elements and a limited range of steps.
On Friday, I enjoyed it as one might enjoy some chips and salsa—not really filling fare, but tasty and spicy. And I thought Vishneva provided all the requisite heat—to me, she looked stunning and was terribly seductive. She seemed to embrace all the non-balletic steps/movements as evidence of her character’s defiance of convention—she jutted her hips out and brought attention to a flexed foot as she suggestively slid it down the back of her other leg. To me, she seemed irresistible, and it was no wonder that she and Smekalov seemed to have that chemistry which was lacking on Monday in “Anna Karenina.”
However, I will agree with other posters that her movements were lacking a bit of that effortlessness that I am used to seeing in her other roles. And there was little in the choreography in which she could show off her virtuoso technique. I also agree that Ivanchenko was disappointing as the torero—while watching him, I kept thinking “dough boy”—because of the white costume, the lack of sharpness in his execution and movement, and general blandness. But overall, I enjoyed the ballet for what it was, and so did my friends.
On Saturday, Lopatkina played Carmen very differently. Whereas Vishneva’s movement had a very sensuous, slinky quality, Lopatkina’s movements were very sharp and powerful, emphasizing Carmen’s strength. Unlike Vishneva, who seemed to revel in the non-classical poses, Lopatkina kept the movements very classically correct—in fact, the arabesque pose where she had her arm straight up by her head as well as a supported backbend with Korsuntsev looked like they could have been straight out of “Swan Lake.” Although the images she created were striking—those lines!!—I felt like I did when I saw David Hallberg in “Don Quixote.” Gorgeous dancing, gorgeous lines, but not for a second did I believe the Spanish flair. Lopatkina’s Carmen felt a little too cold and regal for my tastes, but my friend, who saw both Vishneva and Lopatkina, put it this way: “One is fire, one is ice, and both can burn you.”
I heartily enjoyed “Symphony in C” on both nights, but again, I had no reference for comparison. Seeing the entire cast in perfect harmony at the end of the piece was exhilarating!
Shklyarov was again a standout for me as he has been all week. That smile, that charm! And where did he get those front extensions? Wow! I love Obraztsova (and they continue to look so cute together), but he outshined her here, in my opinion. Lopatkina and Korsuntsev looked impeccable in the second movement, but I might have preferred Kondaurova by a hair. She has a luscious quality to her movement, and that seems to be something I personally adore. I would love to see her in anything. Fadeyev, Shirinkina and Timofeev were all great too.
On Saturday, it was a pleasure to see the brilliant Tereshkina in the first movement. I had noticed this on Tuesday in the “Little Humpbacked Horse,” and my impression was confirmed on Saturday: she just seems to radiate warmth and an easy-going confidence—she looks like she’s having a great time. Like Kondaurova, I would also love to see her in anything I can. What a difference from Friday night!
And that brings me to Alina Somova. I had seen clips of her in the “Ballerina” documentary a few years back and read about her in detail in reviews and on this forum, but this was my first time seeing her live. And for me, personally, it was pretty horrifying.
Friday’s “Symphony in C” gave me the initial unfavorable impression. First, at every possible opportunity, she seemed to stretch the front of her neck as far as it would go, leading with her chin—instead of lengthening the back of the neck, like I have been taught. And when Fadeyev lifted her vertically and she beat her legs, her feet were like 10 inches apart instead of tightly crossed in front and in back of each other.
But most of all it was the quality
of the movement that offended me. I read a great description of “plastique” in a dance review recently—the “coalescence of softness, flexion and tempered steel that gives movement its flow.”
But when Somova danced, all I saw was softness and flexion and no steel, kind of like silly putty—sure, it is stretchy, but that’s it!
Still, this was only a very short performance. Others suggested she might do better as the Tsar Maiden, so I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt in the Saturday matinee.
And at first, all was good. She certainly is very pretty and made a picture-perfect princess. I found nothing wrong with her initial solo. With the slow music, she was able to control her movements, show some flow. I was even somewhat touched by her lonely, yearning exp
…And then it went all downhill from there for me. The tempo picked up and it became a floppy mess of limbs flung all over the place with little connection to the rest of the body. I suspect that she is just so naturally flexible (maybe even double-jointed?) that she really needs to think about controlling her movements, and she can do this when the music is slower but not when it is fast.
My friend and I were discussing this odd quality of her dancing by comparing a picture of Somova and Tereshkina in basically the same mid-air pose.
When I saw this picture on the promo posters, I felt that it looked “wrong.” Somova’s body feels very static to me and lacks a sense of movement. She looks like a wooden puppet whose arms and legs have been pinned onto her torso; there is no sense of connection between the parts.
On the other hand, with Tereshkina, everything looks connected, and energy seems to emanate from the core through the limbs. The impression I get is that of strength (but not of effort).
It’s a very subtle difference, and I admit that I am extremely picky about these things because it’s something I’ve been taught
to see and correct in my own dancing. Our ballet teacher is constantly reminding us “don’t lift your leg; push down through the ground” and let the weight/energy flow down and through it. So that is instinctively what I look for.
But it wasn’t just the technique (or lack thereof) that bothered me with Somova, it was also her characterization. Both Tereshkina and Obraztsova seemed to find the humor in the role and played it a tad tongue-in-cheek, but Somova played her Tsar Maiden very “straight”—very much a sugar-sweet Barbie doll princess. That would be fine since the “Little Humpbacked Horse” is a fairy tale, not heavy drama, but her facial exp
ressions were surprisingly amateur. My friend wondered how young she was/how long she’d been dancing, because her exp
ressions seemed very inexperienced and immature. Once Ivan arrived, she glued this awful fake smile on her face and resumed with the neck-stretching. I think it would have worked much better if she hadn’t tried so hard with the face-pulling—when she left her face neutral (or when she forgot that she was supposed to be “emoting”), she looked so much more comfortable and believable.
The rest of the cast was somewhat mixed for me as well. Alexander Sergeyev was not as incandescently charming as Shklyarov, and his humpbacked horse, Grigory Popov, outshined him technically, in my opinion, whereas Shklyarov looked better than his horses. In fact, Popov was almost a little too technically strong (those jumps!) and polished for me—a little goofiness or roughness in the movements seemed appropriate to the offbeat, humpbacked horse character.
I noticed several small changes to the choreography versus the other two performances. In the first scene, when Ivan is interacting with his brothers, there is a movement where he lunges forward in an arabesque and is pulled by the leg by his brother—here Shklyarov kept his leg fully extended and his foot pointed, whereas Sergeyev kept his leg bent and foot flexed. And again, when his brothers hold his arms and he does these sideways split jumps, Shklyarov kept his feet pointed while Sergeyev flexed his. At the end of the ballet, Sergeyev did his solo starting on the opposite side (he did a mirror image of the steps), and he finished with a series of pirouettes instead of the high-flying center-split leaps that Shklyarov did. (Popov did them instead.)
However, despite the less-than-ideal Tsar Maiden, and despite the slightly less scintillating Ivan, I still enjoyed “The Little Humpbacked Horse.” For me, it’s one of those ballets that you can’t really go wrong with; it’s so much fun.
All in all, though I didn’t really love most of the ballets that were performed, I was oh so glad to have seen the Mariinsky perform.
Though perhaps the greatest excitement of the whole week came from going to the stage door on Friday night! I don’t normally do that, but it was so fun to see so many of the Mariinsky stars come out. Shklyarov was an absolute sweetheart, even more adorable in person (if that is possible), and I will treasure the photo I got with him.
But the greatest pleasure of the week for me was getting to meet several of you in person! It made my ballet-going experience extra-enjoyable. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing you in the fall!