Just in. Apparently a very important article about the Mariinsky Ballet and the personnel policies of its Acting Director, Кому танцевать в Мариинском? (Who is to dance at Mariinsky?), was published today in the Saint Petersburg journal Время культуры (The Time of Culture).
I will try to do the translation and will post it in this space later.
[added later: the promised translation]
“Who is to dance at Mariinsky?”
The author is a senior Saint Petersburg ballet critic, historian and theorist, Ph.D. (2005). Currently a professor at the Academy of Russian Ballet (Vaganova Academy) where with interruptions she has worked since 1999.
An author of many articles in various ballet magazines (1980-ies to present), and of monographs devoted to ballet and it's history (“Alla Osipenko”; “Natalia Makarova. 18 Years Later”; “Theater of Leonid Yakobson”; “John Neumeier in St. Petersburg”; “Petersburg ballet during three centuries. A Chronicle: 18th century”).
2006 – 2010 a publisher, editor and author of the Petersburg magazine “Ballet Ad libitum”.
Her professional interests are concerned with dramaturgy and theory of ballet, art of John Neumeier, history of Russian and world ballet and so on.
The translated article is an expanded version of the article commissioned by German journal «Tanz» to serve as a presentation of Yulia Stepanova as a "new face" on the world stage. The «Tanz» article about Stepanova already appeared in print. Natalia Zozulina was commissioned last year by the same journal to write an article on Olga Smirnova.
Yet another class just graduated at the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet and once more the situation that occurred three years ago repeated itself. The strongest two graduating students of that class who impressed in the ballerina level part of Nikiya from “The Kingdom of the Shades” during their graduation concerts, did not join Mariinsky Theatre to the great embarrassment of the ballet community at large. One of them became a leading artist at Bolshoi, the other one — at the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Theatre in Moscow. One may think, of course, that the girls were unable to resist the temptation of dancing in the capital city. Not so: they simply chose what looked as a superior path of developing their careers, sensing the interest expressed by the art directors of the respective troupes, and the lack of that interest displayed by the management of Mariinsky Ballet, in person of its acting director Yuri Fateev. That those two talented girls were offered to join the corps de ballet at Mariinsky is not the main issue here, the issue is that the head of the company neither made an effort to hire them in the first place, nor was visibly upset by their loss, having been busy promoting graduates and dancers from other schools. Now the history is repeating itself. The most recent Vaganova “starlet”, having just performed the principal part in the Grand pas from “Paquita” and the challengingly difficult Pas de deux from “Talisman”, in the eyes of Fateev earned barely admission to the corps de ballet with humiliating “trial period” terms. She who is graduating with distinction (and that means above all the highest grade in Classical Dance), a prize winner of international competitions, who has already danced soloist parts on the stage of Mariinsky Theatre. Luckily for the young star, a repetiteur from Bolshoi was present at the Vaganova Academy graduation concerts. A call from Moscow that soon followed made the depressed graduate happy by offering her the position of a soloist (!), at the same time depriving Mariinsky of a promising artist.
And how are faring in the Mariinsky troupe the young hopefuls of Saint Petersburg ballet who graduated in previous years? Who among them has become an undisputed leader during Fateev's five years tenure? No one. The efforts of Mariinsky repetiteurs during that period were focused on making leading dancers out of two representatives of the school of Perm, the protegée of the management, Oksana Skoryk and Maria Shirinkina, with Chebykina of Kiev joining them recently. They are not subjected to limitations as to the number of ballets they are given, they are not placed in the corps, they are accorded ample time to prepare difficult parts, their debuts are always supported by the repeats. Judging from their sometimes problematic performances (watching their performances, on occasion, feels like a punishment!) it is hard to see what advantage they may possess over the Petersburg school graduates, or why the former are considered the primaballerina material, while the latter are not. Girls with magnificent physique, the pride of the Vaganova Academy, at the theatre are being literally ‘pickled’ in the corps de ballet, emerging to perform variations and, occasionally, even soloist or principal parts, only to be placed in the back next day again. Tonight you may be Odette-Odile, tomorrow — you will carry somebody's train of dress like an extra. If to look at it as Stanislavsky did, then, of course, ‘there are no small roles’, ‘love art in yourself, not yourself in art’, yet from the point of view of ballet this is sheer mockery that is capable to break anybody. Thus, Darya Vasnetsova got tired waiting for her good fortune for so many years ambiguously suspended between a leading soloist and a perennial coryphée! She left, who will be able now to see those resplendent contours of dance reminiscent of Zubkovskaya? Technical, dancing with ‘drive’, Valeria Martynyuk disappeared… Where is that supple and rare beauty, Maria Shevyakova? Maria Adzhamova who during a ballet competition has once attracted attention of Natalya Makarova herself, has been ‘reclassified’ as a character dancer!.. More lucky was Nadezha Batoeva, promoted from the corps de ballet to Second Soloist, however, after her enchanting rendering of the “Rubies” instead of equally enchanting Kitri in “Don Quixote” she has been constantly given to dance choreographically inferior part of Cinderella in the ballet of Ratmansky. Finally, particularly troubling is the constant neglect by the management of artistic capabilities of Yulia Stepanova, likely the most notable and talented among the young dancers of the passed five years. Her difficult, constantly obstructed climbing up the career ladder eloquently speaks that ‘something is rotten in the state of Denmark’.
Her brilliant Lilac Fairy performances in the Vaganova Academy graduation concert in 2009 seemed to guarantee the imminent birth of a new primaballerina. Besides her excellent physique, the dance of Stepanova bears the stamp of the Vaganova school that is today uncommon, with its trademark beauty and cantilena of movement, its culture of porte de bras, its nobility of poses. Her exemplary training is a result of six years spent in the class of Lyudmila Safronova, a former student of Agrippina Vaganova. A leading ballerina in the past, a pedagogue with half a century of experience, taught Yulia how to dance with entire body, sing with the upper body, breathe with one's back, speak with one's hands. Wasn't this remarkable training that, by the way, caused Fateev to express his admiration for Safronova, also the reason why Yulia has been buried deep in the corps de ballet? That decision of the management is not even hard to understand — were this artist accorded a more visible position, her presence would have been emphasizing the anomalies of advancement of certain soloists. Yet, the shortage of soloists combined with the abundance of performances forced the management to bring Stepanova back out into the open.
Since then any one of her debuts has been causing a stir. Even the episodic parts: Friend of Raymonda, City Dancer, Queen of Dryads in “Don Quixote” — were objects of admiration and stood out on account of the caliber of the performance. Her debut in the part of the Second Wife in the “Bakhchisaray fountain” is still remembered at the theatre, while that part never before received a mention in the annals of ballet. Amazingly mature was the young artist's rendering of the role of insidious Aegina in Jakobson's “Spartacus”, evoking the legend of Anna Shelest. Yet she was denied an opportunity to solidify her achievement. For the repeat of her performace she had to wait two years dancing in meantime in the corps de ballet, while she never again was seen as Street Dancer or in the image of the Second Wife. For full three years she was denied to perform the Lilac Fairy, the part that made her a celebrity at the graduation, and when she was finally assigned it, she swept away any doubt regarding who was the best in it. For her next bigger part — of Myrtha in “Giselle" — yet another year had to pass of being kept in artificial ‘confinement’ in the mass scenes and rarely given variations. The picture has not been significantly altered by a rather minor principal part in the “Firebird”. After her Myrtha only a blind man could not acknowledge in Stepanova a ballerina capable to be a principal.
Last Spring she had two debuts at once: in the parts of Gamzatti and Odette-Odile. One after another. With no time to prepare. With nightly performances in the corps de ballet. More than that, in “Swan Lake” she was assigned a partner for whom that was also to be his debut and, as it was demonstrated during the performance, barely instructed in the execution of lifting. The extreme conditions notwithstanding, Stepanova carried herself through the ballet as if she danced it already not once, assuredly and emotionally charged, with characteristic expressive plasticity. Stepanova's name subsequently appeared in the announcement for the block of “Swan Lakes” of the planned Mariinsky tour at London — this alone attested to her passing the exam in the eyes of the management. That did not, however, prevent moving her next “Swan Lake” from May to July. The repeat performance demonstrated excellent dynamics of perfecting the part by Stepanova, the work expended at contrasting the two protagonists, it displayed contagious ‘la vérité des sentiments’ of either one. Stepanova's Gamzatti, on the other hand, did not see a repeat at all! Certainly, not the quality of the debut memorable for the sparkling performace of the Grand pas was the reason… Well, the bitter taste has been sweetened a bit. In May she unexpectedly got the principal part in Ashton's three-act “Sylvia” whose premiere just took place. As it often happens in theatre, on account of an emergency casting change. Stepanova accepted the challenge and made the audience wonder throughout the performance. Once again the image construction and the acting aspects of the part were given due attention though her seemingly only task was to get successfully through the ‘text’ of the dances that the vastly more experienced primaballerina who danced the premiere had these words to say about: ‘I never danced anything as difficult’. Stepanova whose experience is not even comparable, got through this Marathon part preserving her energy for a daringly sparkling performance of the Final variation and Coda pas de deux. This part certainly demanded to be given a repeat for further refinement. Alas, the subsequent “Sylvias” others were dancing, not her, in meantime Yulia has been spotted in “A Midsummer Night's Dream” among the group of those who carried the train of the dress belonging to Titania. How strong must be one's resolve in order to be able to go and dance the way only few can dream about, under the conditions of premeditated artistic and human humiliation flourishing at the Mariinsky Ballet under the direction of Fateev. For example, the third and the most difficult variation in “The Kingdom of the Shades” is danced by Stepanova essentially flawlessly. This is why it has been selected for being recorded. Let us hope this to be the symbol of perseverance of the young ballerina in the face of depressing conditions. It remains to be wished that this vicious circle one day be broken.