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Echoes from Graz

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The Kirov-Mariinsky Ballet returned to Graz, Austria for 2 weeks of pure balletic joy. (Hats off for the ultra smooth and professional organisation by Rieder Promotions). On July 9th we had a remarkable debut when 19-year old Olesya Novikova replaced the indisposed Ekaterina Osmolkina as Kitri in Don Quixote. Plucked out of the corps Novikova showed great promise under extra difficult circumstances. Pretty, well-proportioned and with dancing that has speed as well as dynamics, Novikova is a name to look out for. She was partnered by Farukh Ruzimatov, who wasn't always a great help, but charmed nonetheless by his mature and virile stage presence.

With the company in good spirits, some outstanding secondary roles (classy Islom Baimuradov as Espada, soubrette Evgenia Obraztsova as Amor, grand Natalia Sologub as Queen of the Dryads) and an inspired Mariinsky Orchestra under Boris Gruzin, this Don Q was fun from beginning to end.

More goodies to come...

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On July 11th we had a sweeping performance of Lavrovsky's Romeo and Juliet, led by Zhanna Ayupova and Andrian Fadeyev. Ayupova has always been one of the better Mariinsky Juliet's in recent times and in spite of her age she remains dramatically totally credible, developing the character with ease and without any hint of mannerisms. The beauty of her line, the simplicity of her dancing looked ideal for Lavrovsky's heroine. Yet it was Fadeyev who probably made the strongest impression, with his beautifully polished dancing and convincing rapport with Ayupova. It was definitely one of his best performances I have seen him dance.

Colourful Ilya Kuznetsov was as usual completely over the top as Tybalt, while Islom Baimuradov cut a convincing Benvolio and Vladimir Shishov gave Paris nobility and grandeur. Only Vassily Sherbakov as Mercutio was something of a letdown, not really catching the funny, carefree side of the character.

The whole ballet, including the music emphatically brought by Alexander Titov, had a sense of freshness and energy which had the Graz audience (the theatre was again fully packed) enthralled from start to end.

The Kirov season in Graz which has been a notable success, with virtually every evening sold out, is finishing with one more performance of Jewels tonight and Swan Lake on Monday. Jewels is brightened up by the presence of guest star Nikolai Tsiskaridze in Rubies.

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I have to recover a minute from the thought of Nikolai Tsiskaridze in "Rubies" -- I can imagine his personality would be delightful in that role, but he's just so, well, BIG!! And it's hard to imagine him dancing like a New York gang leader :devil:

Thank you for these, Marc -- good to hear that ballet is selling out somewhere!

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Tsiskaridze already danced Rubies here on July 10 with Nioradze and Pavlenko. Let's say his performance was not as unbridled and extravagant as we saw him earlier with the Kirov in 2001, maybe because here in Graz he was limited by the smaller stage, or maybe his ballerinas were a better match, whatever. It was a good fun performance, with some great interplay with Nioradze. And having Pavlenko as the second ballerina is not such a bad deal either.

Also, a rewarding performance of Svetlana Zakharova and Danila Korsuntsev in Diamonds that same night. The adagio was well done (not minding the usual eccentricities of course), although to my mind she still lacked the grandeur and majesty to pull off the polonaise.

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Both Nikolai Tsiskaridze and Svetlana Zakharova took two days off from the Graz tour to travel to Bolzano where they both received their "Danza&Danza" magazine prizes in the "Etoile" category for 2002. At the opening gala concert on the 12 July Zakharova danced "The Dying Swan" and Tsiskaridze - "Narcissus".

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That's right, they went to Bolzano (which I didn't see), and Tsiskaridze performed in Graz again, the evening of his return: just a short rehearsal with Nioradze a few hours before curtain up and there he went again. Their performance was enjoyable as the first, but it were Sofia Gumerova and Igor Kolb who were the winning couple in Diamonds. A very lyrical take on Diamonds with a surprisingly inspired Gumerova and a Kolb all polished gallantry and virile grace. Emeralds was led by Ayupova and Baranov; always great to have Ayupova, yet Baranov is a bore. This Emeralds presented us also one of the new child-protegees, Daria Sukhorukova, tall, spindly, crooked arms, indifferent face, jerkily moving, in short: shocking. Her sicilienne was at best an unprepared school performance. Having her in Chopiniana as is announced for London must be any balletomane's nightmare.

It's a fact that most of the dancers here are already extremely tired and wonder how they will survive the London tour till August 9th. After Graz, part of the group flies to Ravenna and then from Italy directly onwards to London.

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O Marc, aren't you too harsh on Viktor Baranov? I would agree that he is not a terribly exciting dancer but he has that noble manner and strength that makes perfect partners. Actually, as a partner he is really excellent. I remember how once, after seeing him and Irina Zhelonkina dancing Chopin's Waltz No.7, I said to Irina that I have not seen such weightless lifts since Ulanova's performances (truly, she was flowing up like a light cloud), Irina said: "It's not me. It's him. I can do it only with Viktor".

No, Alexandra, unfortunately, I did not go to Bolzano but I have seen Zakharova and Tsiskaridze performing those pieces more than once. Tsiskaridze's Narcissus is remarkable, last time I saw him dancing it in Albert Hall on the 7th and 8th of May.

By the way, although Svetlana and Nikolai belong to two different companies, they are making now a very good partnership. I saw them dancing together for the first time at Nureyev Gala in La Scala on the 19th of December last year - it was an Act 2 pas de deux from "Giselle". Since then they danced "Sheherazade" at St.Petersburg and "Giselle" and "The Shades" at the Bolshoi... Hopefully, they will dance the full "La Bayadere" next season.

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Mark, thanks for alerting us Londoners on Sukhorukova - it appears this season will see quite a few debuts some of which may turn controversial? Well we'll see...

About the state the dancers are in right now - it's very worrying, as you wrote. Out of curiosity I've asked for casting info. from Ravenna Festival the other day, and to my horror I found many a name discussed in this thread to appear as soloists. They are: Golub; Gumerova; Pavlenko; Sheshina; Sologub; Zhelonkina; Fadeev; Ivanov; Kolb; Korsakov; Merkuriev; Sarafanov.

Looks like at least Zakharova has been given off but for the rest of the dancers - I just want to wish them well......

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I can't leave this topic without spending a few words on the final Kirov-Mariinsky performance in Graz: Swan Lake on July 14th as danced by Daria Pavlenko and Igor Kolb. For me this was the crowning achievement of the whole week, dwarfing everything which preceded it, and frankly I can’t remember seeing anything coming near in overall feeling of satisfaction in the last years of Kirov watching.

Pavlenko was truly amazing and a performance like this proves she is one of the greatest Kirov ballerinas of this moment: a beauty of plastique, a sensitivity of style, a profundity and sincerity of emotion, an intelligence of approach, a musicality which showed you the score in movement, it was a performance which had it all (and a lot more), keeping me on the edge of my seat all the way through. It’s hard to say which Swan looked best, Odette or Odile: they were so sharply different, they looked like two different dancers, yet both equally convincing. What linked them was the spontaneity, the natural flow of movement, the complete absence of tricks and fake glitter, and something which became really rare, the joy of dancing.

Pavlenko was ideally matched by an equally inspired Igor Kolb, cutting a living and breathing Siegfried, partnering well and complementing his ballerina in her joy of dancing. There was a formidable Ilya Kuznetsov (about the only one in the company who manages to make Rothbart look a serious character), an outstanding, very classical pas de trois with Natalia Sologub, Yulia Kassenkova and Vassily Scherbakov, a fast-turning jester rom Andrei Ivanov, and some great national dances as only the Mariinsky can perform them. It had the packed opera house in rapture.

I don’t think I’m too harsh on Baranov, coda. I have heard all these ballerinas rave about his partnering abilities, too. Fine for them, but not enough for us in my opinion. There is more to male dancing than being a reliable support for the ballerina.

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