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Festival 'Quick Reports'for Feb 27/Mar 2 period; bigger reviews to fol

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I'm commencing this thread just for 'quick updates'on the final four performances of the festival - last night's 'Princess Pirlipat' world premiere (with 'Nutcracker'); today's 'Manon'; tomorrow's 'Swan Lake'and Sunday's final Gala In Honor of Nureyev...including NDT's 'Bella Figura'(as the permits from Russian customs came through for the set & costumes!!!!). :)

I promise - SINCERELY PROMISE - the usual detailed reports early next week. You see, my friends & family are concerned that I have been up, writing on my computer, way too late at nights, then all mornings at the internet cafe, so I am literally being ORDERED to RELAX with ice fishing and banya at a dacha all-day Saturday. But we will be back at the Mariinsky in time for the all-important 'Swan Lake' Saturday night.


Last night's premiere of the one-act "Princess Pirlipat" ( a preamble to "The Nutcracker") was an enormous success!!! My God, what a masterpiece, replete with dancing -- yes, Marc, lots of dancing ;) -- choreographed by Kirill Simonov; a rich, tuneful score by Sergei Slonimsky; and drop-dead-gorgeous scenic & costume designs by Mikhail Chemiakin. The 'look' of the work is very similar to that of the Simonov/Chemiakin Nutcracker. Now'the Kirov-Mariinsky, in effect, has a three-act 'Nutcracker,' as 'Princess Pirlipat' relates the earlier sections of E.T.A. Hoffman's tale of the Nutcracker Prince. And what an evening of luxurious, intriguing, complex visual beauty on the stage...coupled with divine orchestral accompaniment to the baton of Valery Gergiev!

The casting was a huge secret until the last minute. Even two days ago, when the posters went up announcing that the title role would be danced by one 'Ekaterina Kondaurova' and nobody knew who-the-heck was Ekaterina Kondaurova -- actually a little pupil from the Vaganova Academy -- balletomanes were scratching their heads wondering what was up. In the end Kondaurova danced only a couple of scenes as the infant princess...the TOTALLY UNANNOUNCED Natalia Sologub, in fact, danced the adult Princess Pirlipat. This made for an interesting juxtaposition with the heroine of the next ballet, Masha in 'The Nutcracker,'as Sologub was dancing THAT role, too. Sologub was her brilliant, elastic-limb, free-form dancing self, in both roles & was wildly cheered at the end of the evening!

Andrei Merkuriev was a high-flying, likeable Nutcracker Prince in both ballets. Anton Adasinski was the most complex (devious, yet piteable) Drosselmeyer on record! There are many, many divertissement dancing passages in both ballets, giving demisoloists and character dancers of the Kirov ample opportunity to show-their-stuff. 'Pirlipat'includes some national dances by foreign guests to the Pirlipat court (or whatever it is called!)....Spaniards, Turks, Cossaks, Hungarians. All a tribute to Petipa's sort of ballet, which always included national dances.

The main stage set of 'Pirlipat'' is a gorgeous trellised garden with Faberge egg motifs...baby Pirlipat's birth is depicted with her emergence from an aqua-colored Faberge egg! There is a Torture Garden for execution of rats...what sets the story of the rats hating the humans into motion...I'll cover all of this in my main review.

The music is GORGEOUS, I am happy to report. The audience breathed a collective sigh of relief as the overture commenced with dreamy-sounding harps. :) Every main character has a leitmotif. Many of these tunes remind me of similar music in Aram Khachaturian's 'Gayane'...same sort of southern-Russian/Caucasus feel. Lots of violins; lots of solo oboe or clarinet. I am going to RUN to buy the CD when it comes out, it is that good. The very rare electronic beeps & pops happen when something bad happens on stage, e.g., Pirlipat turned into a monster-doll by the Rat Queen.

LOTS of celebrities -- ballet world and otherwise -- in audience. A delighted-looking Boris Eifman and his wife were sitting a couple of boxes from me. (This is HIS sort of ballet, LOL! Lots of sexy innuendos...plus first-class choreography...in my very humble opinion. :) )

The only negative note last night: the length of the entire event. Curtain time was SUPPOSED to be 6pm - one full hour earlier than usual, at the Mariinsky. Yet we ended the night around 11 pm...one 45-minute ballet, followed by a two-act 'Nutcracker. 'How on earth was the night stretched, you may ask? Here's how:

6 pm - curtain time...but...doors to auditorium opened at 5:50 pm

6:30 pm - 'Pirlipat' ballet really begins

7:15 pm - Pirlipat ends; intermission one begins

8:45 pm - intermission 1 ends (1.5 hours!!); 'Nutcracker Act I begins

9:30 pm - Nut Act I ends; intermission 2 begins

10:05 pm - intermission 2 ends; Nut Act II begins

10:45 - Nutcracker Act 2 ends..the ballet ends...standing ovation/ applause madness begins

11 pm - curtain calls in front of the blue curtain begin & folks commence to leave theater.

Perhaps the sponsors had a cocktail party between the two ballets? (I don't blame them...but I could have gone back to my flat to rest & eat for a while, had we been told...I did not have dinner, thinking we'd be out by 9:30 pmish...) Also, it was rumored that the at least one member of the Putin family was in attendance, incognito (as they often do at Moscow & StPete theaters... they are secretely snuck into a box as lights dim, so as not to cause fuss and necessitate extra security. ha-ha..there were cops with walkie-talkies all over the place but we weren't supposed to notice! Again, this is OK and I am really happy to see that the leader of a nation loves the arts...but still...my tummy was growling by 11 pm, as I managed to eat only one salmon hors d óeuvre and a glass of orange juice at one intermission...long, long lines!)

Bigger review to follow, next week.

BUT IT WAS A HUGE, TOTAL SUCCESS as a ballet - not just a pageant of luxury, which it also is. I hope that Washington, DC gets to see the complete 'Tale of the Nutcracker Prince' next December & not just the Tchaikovsky acts.

- Jeannie Szoradi

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No, I did not fall through the ice!!!! I was swamped through the final weekend of the festival. So....here is the very quick take on the final three performances of the Festival:

Friday, Feb. 28: McMillan's MANON

One of the most disappointing performances, all around, due to (a) Vladimir Malkhov not showing up (no reason cited...); (B) being replaced at the eleventh hour by an unprepared Ilya Kuznetson (who I've seen dance DesGrieux in much finer fashion than the sad display here); and © the grotesque and totally-unemotional Svetlana Zakharova in title role. The vivacity of the corps de ballet made me stay-on beyond the first intermission, through to the end.

Saturday, March 1: SWAN LAKE & Maria Kowroski's Odette/Odile

KOWROSKI WAS GORGEOUS, SPECTACULAR and Yes, Virginia - she won the audience with 32 fouetees!!! Seriously, it was one of the great joys of the festival to witness Kowroski's magnificent interpretation, with her eloquent arms & hands, strong technique, and -- best of all -- intelligent dramatic interpretation. She seemed truly in love with her Siegfried, Danila Kursentsov. The Act I pas de trois was memorable.. Anton Korsakov, Irina Golub, and, especially, Irina Zhelonkina in the first female solo. The Cygnets were picture-perfect in synchronization. Nobody beats the Kirov-Marrinsky's national dances in Act III. I adored the Spanish Dance, with Galina Rakhmanova as the most fiery of the back-bending females...and the unequaled Mazurka.

Sunday, March 2: FINAL GALA in honor of Nureyev

A weird evening...almost as long and bizarrely-paced as Thursday night's 'Pirlipat' world premiere.

First it was NDT in Jiri Kilyan's modern dance 'Bella Figura' with its bare-breasted dancers, sparse scenery, manipulation of black drapes.....one wonders WHAT exactly comprised the 'offensive' stage setting that was held-up in Russian customs, as the only 'setting' are two coffin-like plexiglass boxes, each with a nude mannequin

...OK, I'm not prudish but is this really the wisest dance to feature on what is billed as a star-studded gala with well-heeled expatriates paying $100-plus a ticket for a night at the Kirov-Mariinsky Theater. Applause was bare & polite from the parterre...wildly cheering from the local dance connoisseurs in the cheap seats.

Then came the first intermission of 45-plus minutes, followed by a classical divertissement by guest stars...BUT, WAIT! First we had to sit through half of the British-TV Nureyev video -- the one that commences by showing RN on his Mediterranean island -- plus a film of the Aussie 'Don Q pdd'...with 'locals' in the audience snickering at the exccentricities of Aussie ballerin Lucette Aldous' tomboyish interpretation. FInally, we saw live dancers, of which the most remarkable & wildly cheered were the Royal Ballet's Alina Cojocary & Johann Kobborg in 'Flower FEstival in GEnzano pdd' and 'Romeo & Juliet pdd' (McMillan version). Also memorable was Manuel Legris in Robbins' 'Suite of Dances' -- so musically sensitive & gracious! -- and some sizzling excerpts from Petit's 'Carmen/ by Diana Vishnyova and Legris.

Then another 45 minute intermission before the final, magnificent Raymonda Act III, in the Konstantin Sergeyev version, led with high style by Agnes Letestu & Jean-Guillaume Bart.

All in all, a lovely ten days of ballet in this Northern Palmyra!

- Jeannie Szoradi

St. Petersburg, Russia

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Thanks for the reports -- I was especially eager to hear about Kowroski. I don't think 32 fouettees ought to be a sine qua non of the role, but I'm still impressed that she did them successfully. When I saw Kowroski dance Odette/Odile at NYCB, she was stunningly beautiful and moving, but did pique turns in place of fouettees and seemed barely able to hold on to them. One could see in other ways that it was a performance that might 'mature' over time (though still fulfilling as what it was).

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Me, too, Jeannie --

I can't tell you how thrilling it is to get a first-hand report like htis....

Thank you again and again for sitting up at your computer typing up your letter t o the world....

But DO get your rest! HOw was the ice-fishing? Did you catch anything? What kind of fish llurk under frozen ice? Not sturgeon? Did you eat it? How do you cook it? (Sorry, thinking about Nutcracker always makes me hungry)

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I didn't see "Pirlipat", so I have nothing to say.

But I saw Kowrosky and I have absolutely another opinion. Actually, it's included all appearance of guest stars in St. Petersburg's (first I wrote Russians, but changed) classical ballets. Tsiskaridze in "Bayadere", Letestu and Bart in "Raymonda", Kowrosky in "Swan Lake" were hopeless and looked as foreign bodies comparing to Mariinsky corps de ballet.

It was a big surprise for me with Kowrosky, the ballerina, which I like very much. Weak pas de bourres, "hooked-shape" arms, terrible white tutu with exposed, excuse me, buttocks, artificial acting with no much difference between Odette and Odile. We had some applaudes after white adagio, but much less after variation and complete silence after coda.

Manuel Legris made my day in the gala dancing in Rolan Petit's "Carmen' with Vishneva. The right person in the right place made this old choreography fresh, like it was made yesterday. Compare to his elegance, Visneva was incredible vulgar, which made a great match and worked very well for this duet.

From another hand, Legris didn't save Robbins "Other dances", which looked dated in this evening, the same as MacMillan "Romeo".

The last act of "Raymonda" looks like a very good piece for such events, of course, with good soloists. I said already I don't like Letestu and Bart in Nureev's version of variations.

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Andrei, thank you for this -- and all of your other comments on the Festival. You have a unique perspective, and I'm very glad to read it! I can see that "Carmen" from your description -- yes, vulgarity and elegance would work very well. I have to say, I'm not surprised by your account of Kowroski's performance. She's trained in a very different style.

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Guest nicolas

I agree with Andrey: this year's guest stars looked like foreign bodies on the stage.

Tsiskaridze in La Bayadere looked funny, it was impossible to believe anything with his acting (see Jeannie's reports). He probably is a fine dancer, but I felt absolutely no dramatic intensity in comparison with Fadeev/Vishnyova's performance on the opening night.

I found the closing gala concert far less interesting than two years ago. The foreign stars didn't impress, didn't bring a new breath, a new point of view (unlike the Cubans, or Stiefel, or Malakhov, or even Letestu and Martinez last year).

Act. I - NDT

Interesting, well performed but one full act and 45 minutes is too long to show this. And I'm not sure I want to see topless girls when I go to Mariinsky.

Act. II - Divertissement

I saw Suites first time. I wondered what is the point of seeing Legris running around and waving hands. Maybe it's not my type of ballet.

Cojocaru with Kobborg was a delight in both parts (Flower Festival and R&J). She is light as a feather and gracious. It reminded me the 1st time I saw Zakharova. I read mostly negative critics about their Giselle, I'll re-read them. I regret now that I didn't see it.

Good performance of Bakhti by Ruzimatov and Sologub, but something was missing (maybe Vishnyova?).

Carmen by Vishneva and Legris: I wish they had shown the whole ballet. Andrey is right : Legris has actually a new (for us!), fresh approach. By the way, Roland Petit said in an interview last month that the Mariinsky destroys his work (has anyone read it?) - but I still see "Carmen" and "Le Jeune Homme et la Mort" there with more pleasure than Pique Dame at the Bolshoy (where there is actually no pleasure).

The best surprise was to see Zelensky again, in Corsar PDD with Zakharova. We hope to see him more! I also can't forget Careno in the same role in 2001 (but then Irma Nioradze was not at her best - she was excellent and moving in Manon on Feb. 16th) or Matvienko as Ali in the full ballet last year (I guess Jan. 2002).

Act. III - Raymonda

Letestu has a kind of cold technical perfection; her performance is more like a maths demonstration than playing a role. She's impressive but hadn't the grace and seduction of the choryphees (Serebryakova, Dubrovina, Selina, Tereshkina...). Bart seemed happy to be here but could't warm up the atmosphere because Letestu was an iceberg. She had absolutely nothing to bring onto our stage this year.

I loved her last year in Swan Lake: totally different interpretation (well, again, actually rather mathematics than interpretation) and she was stunning in the Gala Concert, but she didn't fit at all in Raymonda where sensitivity is most important.

The whole evening was disappointing (with only the highlights of Cojocaru/Kobborg who showed new blood and Zelensky/Zakharova) and short.

Again, in 2001 there were 5 acts - till 23:45, and most of the audience could have sitted 5 more hours watching the Cubans (Careno in Corsar, Acosta in Acteon), Zelensky and Makhalina in "Le Jeune Homme et la Mort", Rasta and his Bumblebee... This was a Festival.

This year I saw what could be an OK New Year's evening concert.

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Thanks for all those reviews!

Did Legris dance "Suite of dances" or "Other dances"? "Suite of dances" sounds more likely to me, as it is a solo while "Other dances" is a duo... I didn't like much that work when I saw it for the first time at the Paris Opera around 1996, by Patrick Dupond, but when I saw it again with Manuel Legris I liked it much more, and for me it's one of this best roles (but perhaps not very well suited for such a gala).

Letestu and Bart might not be a very well suited pair: physically it's OK, but when I saw them together there often was very little connection between them and it was a bit too cold.

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Excuse me, Estelle, Legris did "Suite od dances" with Oxana Moroz sitting on the stage and playing cello solo.

Nicolas, I didn't see the last year gala, but the program of this one looked to me very well balanced. Not too long, not too short, with different styles between numbers, but dancers were with equal abilities.

I forgot to mention Igor Zelensky. It was his first appearance after two surgery operations on his back. He didn't make any lifts in pas de deux and I saw how careful he was in everything he was doing. But he still has his enormous forceless jump and I wish him fast recovery.

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Welcome, Nicolas, and thank you for posting! I hope to be reading you often.

"Suite of Dances" was done for Baryshnikov towards the end of his classical career and was very suited to his (dancing) personality. I'm a great admirer of Legris, but his approach is so different, perhaps this lost something in the translation?

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We had Suite of Dances a year or so ago at San Francisco Ballet, with Vadim Solomakha alternating with someone else (MAYBE?? it was Yuri Possokhov, maybe not -- I can't remember-- but that's the point; they couldn't make it work. Vadim did have a lovely softness and elevation, more I'm sure than Baryshnikov did, who was nearing 50 when Robbins made it... )

It’s a LONG solo, and it has many resting places in it, which Robbins stuffed with the little jokey gestures and steps that Twyla Tharp made up when she invented the "hoofer Baryshnikov" -- little shoulder shrugs and other "cool" gestures that make a gimmick out of his stardom, as if to say, "well, it's me you want to see, isn't it? Do you also want to see me dance? PLEASE!” They belong very much to the 80's, when there was a fashion for extreme narcissism. A very popular comedian's most famous line was "Hello, I'm Chevy Chase, and you're not." This hideous attitude is still all over the place in MTV videos, and in the commercials for cheap beer you see on American Saturday night TV; it pervaded the culture for a while, finally went a little out of fashion, but it survives in the "Baryshnikov by Tharp" stuff that Robbins used in making htis dance.

I wonder WHAT Legris, who's enormously likeable (but then, so was Baryshnikov) could do with this....

"Other Dances," on hte other hand, is a very fine work indeed; Robbins made it for Baryshnikov and Makarova, in the same vein as Dance s at a Gathering -- lots of cracoviens and flexed feet and character porte de bras, a wonderful move where hte ballerina turns in her arabesque leg, flexes her foot, and then cuts the ground out from under herself with it......

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This is what "St.Petersburg Times" wrote about "Princess Pirlipat":

"... Hoffmannesque sketches and drawings for the ballet make it clear that the artist was already suggesting the dancer's movements. With "Princess Pirlipat," this has become more obvious; the 45-minute work was more of a puppet show or, at best, a pantomime than a ballet…......

Unfortunately, working with Shemyakin is not good for Simonov. "Princess Pirlipat" seemed - ironically - foreign to the Mariinsky's stage, looking like a guest performance that had chosen the wrong venue. Maybe the major problem with Shemyakin's theatrical experiments is that his ambition won't let him consider producing a puppet show or a cartoon, even if it brought him an Oscar. Shemyakin needs the fame of the Mariinsky and its artistic director, Valery Gergiev, and just being a set designer is not enough. Perhaps his next step would be to stage a comic opera".

See the full text on: http://www.sptimesrussia.com/archive/times...ures/a_8858.htm

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As relative new comers to the world of ballet my wife and I took the opportunity to expand our knowledge and experience by attending the last five evenings of the Mariinsky Festival. Ten days later we are still full of excitment over the ballet performers we were able to see and the whole ballet experience in such a historical setting. We have enjoyed the opportunity to read the opinions of others on this forum and compare them to our thoughts. While we found some favorites it was the overall impact of seeing so much, so good, in such a conentrated time that took our breath away.

We took advantage of arangements by the Astoria Hotel (a festival sponsor) that included a private backstage tour of the theater and the gathering after the Gala on Sunday night. There we were able to congratulate Maria Kowroski on her Swan Lake performance, learn from Ulyana Lopatkina that she hoped to be dancing again by late spring and speak to Boris Eiffmann about the performand by his group in Boston this weekend.

St. Petersburg is a wonderful city with less snow and more sun than New England at this time of year. We would encourage others to consider attending next years Festival.

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