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Five nights at the Mariinsky

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I recently went to St. Petersburg for the first time. While there, I was able to see the first five Mariinsky performances of the 2014-25 season: Swan Lake (on three evenings), La Sylphide, and Ratmansky's Cinderella. Getting these tickets, and using them, was a thrill! I am going to use this thread to share my thoughts on each work I saw.
First: Swan Lake with Skorik and Yevgeny Ivanchenko, in the historic theater.
Before going to Russia, I read many of this forum's threads about Skorik, her past blunders, and the controversy about her rapid rise within the Mariinsky. So when I learned of the casting for this performance, I was a little disappointed. However, seeing her was pleasantly surprising. The performance was not flawless, but I liked a lot of what she did. Her Odile had some good moments, but in general I preferred her Odette.
In my notes during the first intermission, I wrote down that she moves "like a willow branch," while maintaining beautiful classical lines. To me this created a feeling of elegance, which was accentuated by the fact that she's so tall and slim, with beautifully arched feet. I used to think that Odette is best portrayed by a petite dancer. My thinking was that it's easier for a small person to seem vulnerable. I had already been starting to not believe that anymore, and in my eyes Skorik offered further evidence that Odette doesn't need to be small. I felt this way especially when she sank onto the ground before the prince came to collect her for their central pdd in Act I Scene II. Both her descent and her position on the ground were exquisite. She looked fragile, like she could blow away.
Act I had some other high points: Her developpes to the left and right were exceptionally high, but not too high. I was impressed by how easy and natural she made it look. Also during this scene, there were several times with the prince when she seemed to almost melt onto him, again, moving with her whole body. This "melting" quality made her portrayal one of more sensual ones I can recall having seen.
One small thing I didn't like had to do with her arabesques. When she was in arabesque, in profile to the audience, with one leg and one arm behind her, it sometimes seemed that her arm and leg were on the same horizontal level, or close to it. It might just be my preference, but to me this position looks better when the arm is a few inches higher than the leg, so you can better appreciate the lines of each.
In Act II, I thought she did a respectable job, though I didn't love this part. One of the first things I noticed was that her hands in this scene looked very hard somehow. Also, during her solo, I thought she had a few moments coming out of the pirouettes where she looked ever-so-slightly unsteady. I could be mistaken, but it looked like she wasn't quite vertical during the pirouettes, and that may have caused a little awkwardness coming out of them. However, everything else was fine, and her fouettes were strong -- very fast, a mix of singles, doubles, and triples. So this act had some good parts, but in general I thought her Odette was more cohesive and made more of an overall strong impression.
Beautiful as it was, as I was leaving the theater, I wondered whether the performance could have been more emotionally engaging. I've seen Odettes who drew me in more. However, in my view, one factor that makes it hard to judge is that Skorik is so infamous (in my mind, anyway) that it's hard to look at her and think you're watching Odette. Or at least, for me, I was always very aware that I was watching this controversial dancer. It's sort of like when you see a movie with a really big star. You're always so aware that it's Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise, or whomever, and that can keep you from seeing the character. But anyway, I found more to like than I was expecting to, and I would be curious to see her again.
At this point, I will take a step back and offer a few thoughts on the rest of the cast:
Ivanchenko was good. He seemed very solid, very regal in his interpretation, and throughout the evening I thought he partnered her well. They seemed to have good chemistry. There were a couple of little odd things in Act II, but I don't know if they were his fault or just general opening-night staging snafus. One example: when the image of Odette appears at the back of the stage (before he knows), he was looking right at it, and then he turned away quickly. It looked like a mistake. Another odd thing was that after Odile's fouettes, he did a great job with the jete en menage (split jumps in a circle), but somehow he ended up on what I believe was the wrong side of the stage (downstage right). The result was that when Odile does that quick series of steps from upstage right to downstage left, she was not moving toward him. (On the next two evenings, Siegfried did end up where I'd expected, so I guess either it was a staging difference on the Skorik/Ivanchenko night, or the other possibility is that Ivanchenko's leaps just covered a lot more distance than the other Siegfrieds'. The leaps did look good!)
Regarding other notable cast members: I really enjoyed the pas de trois, especially Nadezhda Batoeva. I liked all the character dances, especially the Hungarian dance, which featured Anastasia Zaklinskaya and Boris Zhurilov. Andrei Yermakov was phenomenal throughout the evening as Rothbart, particularly in Act III, where he cut through the air with high, sharp leaps. He is probably the best Rothbart I've seen. Gregory Popov was strong as the jester. I could be wrong, but it looked to me like he had a painted-on smile and didn't do much real smiling, which to me read more "joker" than "jester." But that's preferable to an over-the-top goofy jester, IMO, and his turns were terrific.
In general, I thought the costumes, the sets, and the attention to narrative detail were fantastic. I loved everything about the opening scene. The company seemed to easily create the feeling of a glamorous outdoor party, right down to the dimming of the lights as evening fell. The costumes, the set, and the overall atmosphere were all exactly right. I loved Act II for many of the same reasons -- this too felt like a lush, privileged court scene. I really liked the costumes of the women who danced with the fans (and their dancing!). And I loved many of other details as well, such as the way Rothbart flips his black-and-red cape just as you hear the first stirring beats of the Spanish-dance music.
A few details I didn't like: I didn't really need the projection of actual swans on the backdrop, just prior to Odette's Act I appearance and just after her exit. These images may help tell the story, but the technique was a bit too literal for me. I also thought the swan tutus seemed long and floppy. (I guess this might be a Russian style. I also noticed this type of tutu at the Mikhailovsky, in other works.) Another thing I didn't like related to costumes and styling: the combination of Odile's headdress and Skorik's tightly pulled-back hair was very unflattering to her. Something should be adjusted there.
Finally, I didn't love a lot of details about Act III. I was a little sad that they omitted one of my favorite parts of the score and choreography (which in other interpretations, including Nureyev's, occurs right before Odette's entrance). From a narrative perspective, I didn't quite understand why the black swans seemed to be dancing harmoniously with the white swans. Also, in general I prefer interpretations that have Siegfried and Odette alone on the stage at the very end, rather than surrounded by swans. I think it has greater dramatic impact. Lastly, I thought the act, at about 20 minutes long, seemed shorter than what I'm used to. The shortness may have been accentuated by the long (and IMO unnecessary) intermission right before.
However, these are small complaints. In general, it was a great evening!! I left the theater feeling satisfied and excited to do a little comparison the following night.

Next: Esina and Parish.

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Thank you, Drew. The corps was great, but I didn't have too much to say about them because I was sitting very close (2nd row stalls), and for me it's easier to appreciate the swans when I sit farther back. I was in the same seat every night, and I now wish I'd picked one night to sit in the balcony for just that reason (to appreciate the corps). However, I have to also admit that when it comes to assessing whether a corps is moving together perfectly, I don't have a finely tuned eye for that. (Of course, that might be because I always sit in the front! Maybe I should force myself to do balconies for a year. : )

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Thank you, sasark, for sharing such detailed impressions of the Mariinsky "Swan Lake" you saw. It's great to read a nuanced description of a controversial ballerina like Skorik. We're lucky you've joined the Ballet Alert! visitors to the Mariinsky.

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You don't have to sit way up in the balcony to see the full effect of the corps. The Stalls boxes and dress circle boxes (formerly called the Belle Etage, I believe, but I notice on the website that they now call them different names more in line with "American" tiers) are terrific for seeing the corps completely. And you are not so far away that you can still enjoy the acting and facial expressions.

What I think makes people love the Mariinsky corps is that they are uniform like POB or other companies, BUT the flowing arms which are impossible to have exactly matched even when every arm moves in the same direction at once make them seem warm and human. So you realize they are all moving in unison, but the flowing upper bodies give a warmth to the uniformity that other companies can not match. To me POB looks too stiff and mechanical almost like robots in comparison. This is my own personal interpretation for the high esteem in which the Mariinsky corps is held. It is like taking many flowers in a row and moving them and the wind will blow their petals in one direction but the petals will undulate just ever so slightly differently. This for me is the magic of the Mariinsky corps and it comes from the Vaganova training they all have (or most of them have had). To me Mariinsky dancers are like creatures of nature (not human) that amaze and delight, and often you can spend the entire night paying closer attention to the corps and how lovely they move.

Btw, unlike you I LOVE when the blue curtains separate on Act 1 Scene 2 with that gorgeous music and the swans (which look to me like actual models and not projections) floating on the lake. The beautiful lighting and those curtains opening to a scene from "nature" is for me breath-taking added to the feeling of, "Here comes Odette soon.....". I consider the Mariinsky's production to be the most beautiful in the world, because it has such an amazing mood to it. Your description of the pros of the production are how I feel too.

I await your other reviews. Kolegova is one of my favorites (one of the most feminine and physically beautiful Odettes ever), so I am hoping you enjoyed her in your third Swan Lake. She gets criticized for her lack of emotion from very well-known critics, but I think it is a St. Petersburg style of acting (very subtle) that is simply different. When you see her over and over you see how amazing she is but very subtle (never overacting) and a very gentle, elegant Odette. Her Odette is a thing of great beauty and people will go years hoping to see similar beauty in an Odette and won't find it. Her Odile used to be her weaker moment, but her Odile has grown a lot (spicier than it used to be) judging from her YouTube videos of the very performance I believe you saw.

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From a narrative perspective, I didn't quite understand why the black swans seemed to be dancing harmoniously with the white swans.

Glad to know I am not the only one who finds that a bit odd. Visually striking, yes. Conceptually logical...not so much.

ps: very much enjoyed your review style and I look forward to more in the future!

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Here is my "history" with Olga Esina: I twice tried to see her at her home theater in Vienna, which is pretty close to where I live. Both times I was disappointed with last-minute casting changes. Afterward, I read some mixed reviews of her, so I thought "Well, maybe it's not such a tragedy I missed her." I also figured that, given where I live, I'm bound to catch her in Vienna sooner or later. So when I learned she would be my second Mariinsky O/O, I wasn't too excited. I couldn't help but think it would be better to see a regular Mariinsky dancer whom I wouldn't be able to see here at home.

Well, my misgivings were cast aside as quickly as Siegfried's crossbow! You know how it is when you see something that's not just beautiful, but beautiful in a way that intrigues you? That's how this was. As for why, it probably didn't hurt that Esina had loads of stage presence and moved with incredible grace. Also, to my eye, her positions were all very classic and wonderful to look at. But what I found really striking was the tone of her interpretation, which seemed to me more conflicted than that of most Odettes. I felt I could see relief in her body each time she moved away from Siegfried (Xander Parish). Then of course, I could also see her being drawn to him. This dichotomy was really engaging. I suppose all Odettes are a little bit conflicted, or at least, they're initially reluctant. But I felt Esina explored this facet of the character in a way I haven't seen before. Near the end of Act I, there are a series of steps where Odette is at the center of the stage. She does a jump straight up into the air (an entrechat, I think?), then a series of steps backward through passe position. This sequence repeats a few times. The music at this point is what I would describe as a bit feverish. When Esina performed this sequence, I felt that Odette was caught in a frenzy of emotion, both good and bad. I'd never really thought before about what these steps mean, but that's how it struck me this time.

A few technical notes: At the very start of Act I Scene II, I felt she was moving just a bit fast. However, she settled into what I would call the right tempo after a few minutes. Also, since I had just seen Skorik the night before, I couldn't help but notice that Esina's developpes were not quite as high. Don't get me wrong; they were high! But maybe just a little lower than Skorik's. I'm sure if I hadn't seen these two dancers on back-to-back nights, I would have just called Esina's developpes beautiful and high, but I can't help comparing!

I remember not wanting Act I to end, but Act II was fantastic!! At the very start, I again felt she was moving just a shade too fast but, again, the extra speed melted away after a minute or two. She then relaxed into a smooth, compelling Odile. I quite liked the tone she struck: Nothing was overstated, but she was gloriously confident and appeared to relish every moment of the performance (Odile's performance, that is -- the deception). Her fouettes were good: mostly singles, solidly delivered. But the thing I loved most about this act came after that. It was a moment in the choreography that I don't recall noticing before. It's after Odile does a quick series of steps from upstage right to downstage left, toward where the prince is standing, mesmerized by her. Esina ended this sequence with a balance. I don't know if most dancers usually balance here -- if they do, it hasn't stuck in my memory -- but Esina held it long enough for me to appreciate her perfect position, her absolute steadiness, and her oneness with this character. As she held the balance, her smile at the prince grew deeper and more knowing, until I felt that somehow this was a key moment in the arc of the story. And though we all know how the story ends, I actually felt there was suspense in that moment. What would she do next? What would he do? In this way, she took a small moment and made it not only beautiful to look at but infused it with import.

So I left the theater an Esina fan. I loved that she was technically and artistically strong as both Odette and Odile. But even more than that, she made me think about the work in a new way, and I love when a dancer can do that.

As for Parish, I liked him quite a bit in this role. His turns in Act I Scene I were particularly smooth and light. Throughout the evening, he partnered her well, and he seemed properly dazzled by both Odette and Odile. I'll also add that he has the stereotypical "tall, dark, and handsome" fairy-tale-prince looks, and to me that made it easy to imagine that he might be vain, or that he would betray her. But he was also convincingly impassioned during the Act III confrontation with Rothbart.

As for the rest of the cast, the evening had many of the same principal performers as the previous evening, though not all. One addition was Ilya Zhivoi, who was fantastic as the jester! His turns in Act I were amazing. I also thought he seemed in character, playing it a bit quirky, but fortunately without overdoing it or being annoying. The pas de trois was again excellent, though I missed Nadezhda Batoeva here. She was also one of the two swans and was fine there, but I had especially liked her in the pas de trois the previous night. Andrei Yermakov again received well-deserved bravos as Rothbart, and I enjoyed all of the (mostly) same performers in the national dances.

I forgot to say in my first installment, but the four little and four big swans were portrayed by the same dancers on all three evenings. On Esina's night (and, well, every night), I was a little distracted by the fact that one of the little swans moved her head back and forth much more noticeably than the other three, during the sequence near the end when they're bobbing their heads a little. But otherwise, the little and big swans were all quite nice and did a great job helping concoct the dreaminess of the lakeside scene. The little swans were Anastasia Asaben, Yevgenia Yemelyanova, Anastasia Sogrina, and Anna Lavrinenko. The big swans were Viktoria Brilyova, Yekaterina Chebykina, Diana Smirnova, and Yuliana Chereshkevich.

next: Kolegova and Timur Askerov.

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What a vivid and moving review, sasark! I was picturing everything as I read your words, and was, for more than a moment, transported to the Mariinsky. You described certain moments so particularly that I will look for them the next time I see Swan Lake, probably with Veronika Part, if not before.

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I also thank you very much, sasark, for your very fine Mariinsky and Bolshoi reviews. I'm very glad that you've liked so much of what you've seen.

I've been to several of Olga Esina's Swan Lakes and thoroughly enjoyed them. The one that she did at the Festival last year was a gem. As Odette in Act I she seemed to stop time and then dance within a suspension. Her lovely and lively airiness has always been a delight.

Xander is a treat to watch. He and Kimin Kim are star personalities with different but exceptional talent.

Oxana Skorik is also one of my favorites.

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Thank you, angelica and Buddy!

Buddy, I would love to see Esina multiple times, as you have. The Vienna company will do Swan Lake in the spring. I love the idea of seeing her there -- they use the Nureyev staging, and I think it would be exciting to see whether the different staging brings out any differences in her interpretation. Unfortunately, going to the ballet in Vienna is very expensive, and often the good seats disappear during the reservation period, which is before they let you select specific seats from the floor plan (my preference) and long before they have announced casting (which can of course change anyway). But I am sure I'll see her there eventually!

Thank you also for the tip on Kimin Kim!

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I went into my third Swan Lake feeling a little sad, because it was the last SL of my trip. However, I was also excited because I'd heard really positive things about Kolegova's Odette.

However, while I enjoyed the evening overall, I think that either Kolegova was having an off-night, or perhaps she is just not a dancer who resonates for me, at least not in these roles. In my view, she was too disengaged during Act I. Her Odile may have been a little better, but I didn't love that either. Still, there were some things to admire in her work and in the work of the rest of the cast.

Before I continue, I will add a word in Kolegova's defense, which is that on her evening there was a *ton* of flash photography. It was bad on every night I was there, but on her night it was really pronounced. The flashes were especially annoying during her entrances, but they were going off and on the whole night. If all those flashes prevented her from doing her best work, it would be totally understandable.

Anyway, back to the performance. One of the first things that struck me during Act I Scene II was that to me she seemed a little checked out. In my notes from the first intermission, that is the first thing I wrote down -- that she looked bored and seemed "like a blank." The only exception I noticed was during the segment where she was gesturing for the prince to stay away. She seemed more engaged here, but then she took it too far -- that is, for me, she was much too stagey with these gestures.

Regarding her technique, I have mixed feelings. Many of her positions were quite beautiful. She has a delicacy about her, and I can see how that quality could and probably does win her a lot of admirers. However, I also felt that there were times when her form seemed off. An example was during her developpes to the left and right. To me, these extensions were way too high, and she had the added problem of placing her leg too much in front of her, as opposed to the side. One time her leg blocked my view of her arm, another time of her face. I'll add that I was sitting almost exactly in the center, so it's not like I was way off to the side with an odd view.

In Act II, I felt I was seeing more of a character, but this part didn't completely work for me either. She was grinning and confident, but her interpretation didn't strike me as very sophisticated. For example, more than once, she gave Siegfried a "talk to the hand" gesture that might have worked once but seemed gimmicky when repeated.

From a technical perspective, during this act I again had mixed feelings. During the solo, her steps were executed crisply and well. However, to me, this part seemed a bit disjointed -- more like a series of steps than a dance. Also during this act, she again showed her ability to do a near-180 extension, this time keeping her leg more to the side. But while I admire her strength, I still felt the position looked distorted. As for her fouettes, they started out great. She had less traveling than either Skorik or Esina (who weren't bad in that regard, but not perfect). However, unfortunately Kolegova stepped out of the last revolution awkwardly and a little early, landing in a sort of turned-in second position. She recovered quickly, but obviously the magic of that sequence was lost a little.

I don't want to go off on too much of a tangent, but I will now describe a joint cast effort that I thought was the highlight of Act II. I attribute its success mainly to different staging and to Timur Askerov's Siegfried, but since Kolegova was part of it, I think it makes sense to describe it now. The different staging was that, this time, while Odile is weaving her web, Siegfried sees Odette's image very clearly against the backdrop and becomes confused. Rothbart makes a dismissive gesture and directs Siegfried toward Odile. None of that happened the first two nights. This small difference made me see the following events differently. Suddenly, when Siegfried next looked at Odile, it seemed that she was very obviously mimicking Odette's movements from Act I. I've felt something similar in other productions, including one where Rothbart actually coaches Odile on how to flap her arms like Odette. But this staging was nicer because it was more subtle. You're empathizing with Siegfried, who's thinking of Odette, and suddenly you just *see* Odile differently, without it being spelled out for you. After that, the prince's dancing had a completely different feeling. This time, his turns and leaps, all beautifully executed, seemed to express elation and his belief that "Yes, I've found her." Then when he learned the truth, you could definitely feel the bite.

But anyway, back to just Kolegova: In Act III, I again felt it was a mixed bag. On the upside, I was once more struck by this quality of delicacy she has. She had several moments where I thought, "that's really beautiful." Some of her positions made me think of the fine-point pens I draw with. I love these pens precisely because they can create wonderfully delicate lines. When I think back to certain of Kolegova's positions -- including one where Siegfried holds her by the waist and she, with one leg in passé position, bends backward toward the audience -- I am reminded of drawing with these pens. There was often a fineness and a beauty to her lines that was really very special. Unfortunately, in my eyes, her interpretation was again off: Several times during this act, she looked really happy. In my view, that is the wrong tone for most of Act III.

So Kolegova wasn't my favorite O/O. I would see her again, but I think I might prefer to next see her in something other than Swan Lake.

I have said a little about Askerov, but I will add now that I thought he was consistently good. If I have a criticism it's that maybe Ivanchenko and Parish did a better job with some of the small details of the performance. For example, in Act II, when Askerov walks past the row of women holding fans, to me it seemed he was just going through the motions of the scene and not really showing conflict at being asked to consider these women. Also, in the confrontation with Rothbart, it didn't look quite as real as the other Siegfrieds when he tore Rothbart's wing off. However, in general, I liked Askerov, and as I've said, his work in the heart of Act II was really very nice.

I left this performance feeling even more impressed than I previously had been with Yermakov. In addition to his other qualities -- great leaps, technique, and stage presence -- over the course of the three evenings he had to adapt to three different casts, each of which had its own distinct point of view. From what I could see, he did that seamlessly.

The evening featured one debut -- Yaroslav Bailbordin as the jester. He struggled with the turns in Act I (a lot of traveling) but was otherwise fine.

Most of the other performers were the same as I'd had on previous evenings. I was pleased that the pas de trois again included Nadezhda Batoeva, a new favorite of mine. I would love to return to St. Petersburg to see her in a bigger role.

This concludes the Swan Lake portion of my report. I'll just add that Swan Lake is my favorite ballet, and it was incredible being able to see it three times at the Mariinsky!

Next: La Sylphide with Oleysa Novikova and Alexei Popov.

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I love Kolegova's dancing! I have seen her many times at Mariinsky Theatre, and I do think she is a lovely Odette and bewitching Odile. She has to be the most beautiful ballerina in the company - her face is just exquisite and she is also very feminine looking. I think she has a great all-round technique, with especially nice ballon and exquisite feet and she also has lovely arms. I know when I saw her Swan Lake, I found her Odette very touching - I think she is one of the best Odette-Odiles in the company!

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Before going to St. Petersburg, I had seen only one production of La Sylphide. That performance, by the Hungarian National Ballet, featured technically strong dancers but still left me a bit cold. I thought the Sylph had come across as a very odd character, possibly a little crazy, and I didn't like James at all.

Seeing it at the Mariinsky was totally different. Oleysa Novikova was a charming Sylph, and Alexei Popov did what I wouldn't have thought possible -- brought to life a James I could feel sorry for.

The performance started out strong, though not perfectly. In the opening scene, I thought Novikova seemed just a tiny bit trembly during her balances. This happened just a few times, and then it went away. I also wasn't overwhelmed by her leaps. I thought they were pretty good, but I'd recently watched the DVD of her Don Quixote, and I thought those leaps were more impressive. Still, these are pretty small points, and I could find no other faults in the performance. Throughout the evening, she was consistently pleasant to watch -- always light, musical, and likable. She finished everything cleanly, and there was a lot of warmth in her dancing.

Nevertheless, in my eyes the evening really belonged to Popov, who impressed me with both his clean technique and the earnest quality he brought to the role. I also felt he had a distinctive style. I don't think he's a large person, but there is a largeness in his movements -- his jumps are high, his leaps are long, and his port de bras is grand and resonant. His solo after entering the Sylph's realm was fantastic. There was such joy in these leaps and turns, you could forget about James's betrayal of his fiancé and enjoy his temporary happiness. Another moment where he was very good was the group dance scene near the end of Act I. Everyone in this scene was strong, but he really stood out, again, with great energy and grand, sweeping arms that really drew my attention and held it. My only complaint is that, at this point, he is supposed to be feeling distracted by the Sylph, but if he was truly distracted, possibly there should have been more evidence of it while he was dancing. He did wander away from the dance whenever he saw the Sylph, but each time he returned, he seemed 100% engaged. Of course, that made the dance great to watch! But maybe it wasn't perfect for the narrative. I don't know how you solve that, but it's a small point I wondered about.

In terms of the tricks that simulate the Sylph's magic, I thought the theater did a pretty good but not great job. When she pops into the fireplace and shoots up out of view, that was great. Later, when James is alone in the dark cabin and she appears in the window, at first I loved this. She came in from outside by opening the window covering -- I think it was like a door -- and behind her was a brilliant mint-green sky with wispy clouds rolling past. This rectangle of color, with the Sylph standing inside it, contrasted sharply with the dark, earthly interior of James's cottage. Given the odd color of the sky, I thought the view out the window was meant to represent the Sylph's magical realm. However, after that, every time the regular townspeople opened the door, you could see the same brilliant green-blue sky, so I guess that's just how it looks in Scotland. Somehow this was a bit of a letdown. Anyway, my last comment on "Sylph magic" is that when she levitates near the window and drifts down to the floor, the ride was unfortunately a little bumpy! On the journey down, Novikova kept her hand on the wall in a way that looked to me a bit nervous (totally understandably!).

Igor Kolb was hilarious as Madge. The scene where he tells the girls' fortunes was awesome, even though I didn't understand all of the miming. My only complaint is that, over the course of the evening, he might have been a little too funny overall. I don't know if Madge should actually be menacing, but since she is the last thing you see as the curtain falls, it might be better if you could associate her with something other than levity. Or maybe there is some other way the performance should end. As a side note, I don't know if it's typical for a principal with the company to do a character role like this, but I think it's kind of cool.

Maria Adzhamova was fine as Effie, but I couldn't help being distracted by her incredibly ugly costume. She wasn't alone; all of the townswomen were wearing unattractive garments. Also, because the colors of the dresses were very bright, the outfits looked new, which also seemed wrong. If I were the costume designer, I would have gone with something more attractive, in muted colors, so as not to compete with the brightness of the sylphs' dresses.

Yuri Smekalov was good as Gurn, though perhaps not as slyly hilarious (when mimicking the Sylph's dancing) as the Gurn I saw in Budapest.

The sylphs were all good. I couldn't pick one who stood out -- all did a nice job. Interestingly, the program credits both "artists of the Ballet Company and extras" for the peasants, sylphs, and witches.

So, overall I was really pleasantly surprised. I wasn't sure how I felt about this work but, thanks to the Mariinsky, I appreciate it now.

Next: Cinderella with Yekaterina Osmolkina and Igor Kolb.

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I was puzzled by one thing you said...I think the outside world you see through the window is the sylph's "magical realm" -- that is, her forest is not exactly a special supernatural place just for sylphs, and her sky is not a different sky from that of Effie and Gurn and James -- but she inhabits her "realm" in ways the humans cannot, is connected to it in ways they aren't. That's what makes it "magical."

I think it speaks well to the Mariinsky's corps that you couldn't choose a sylph who "stood out"...

Very enjoyable reading about these performances. Thanks for taking the time to describe them in such detail.

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hi Drew,

Thanks so much for your comments. With my remarks about the sylph's magical realm, I guess I wasn't sure how it was supposed to work. When I read in the program that she shows James her "magic kingdom" (in Act II), I interpreted it to mean a special place that he couldn't have reached on his own -- a slightly different reality or plane. I knew it was connected to the earthly world, because I think you see Gurn and Effie later from where James is. Still, I was thinking of it as a reality that you couldn't reach without a sylph. For that reason, when she opened the window, I thought it was a C.S. Lewis "through the wardrobe" moment (though I knew they were not going to go through the window), and when other people opened doors and windows, I was expecting just regular sky. However, it's possible my expectations were colored by watching too many seasons of "Fringe" and similar shows. : ) Regardless of how one interprets the idea of a magical realm, it was a very beautiful moment when she opened the window and stood there against the vividly colored sky.


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I love the fortune telling scene in La Sylphide! The reactions of the girls to their varying fortunes are so funny! Igor Kolb is doing more and more of these character roles now that he is no longer so young, although he still dances the Prince in Cinderella, and also is performing Albrecht with Novikova as Giselle later in November. I saw his Carabosse recently, which was superbly acted and menacing as well as glamorous. He also was a truly sinister and weird Shurale. This month he is to make his debut as Tybalt, which I think will be perfect for him. I really applaud him for his excellence in all these character, demi character and more "acting" type roles that he is performing as his career progresses. So many male dancers continue dancing princes when they are really not able to do so any longer, yet they have much to give the company in terms of experience and acting and stagecraft. I think he is a great example of this.

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I love the fortune telling scene in La Sylphide! The reactions of the girls to their varying fortunes are so funny! Igor Kolb is doing more and more of these character roles now that he is no longer so young, although he still dances the Prince in Cinderella, and also is performing Albrecht with Novikova as Giselle later in November. I saw his Carabosse recently, which was superbly acted and menacing as well as glamorous. He also was a truly sinister and weird Shurale. This month he is to make his debut as Tybalt, which I think will be perfect for him. I really applaud him for his excellence in all these character, demi character and more "acting" type roles that he is performing as his career progresses. So many male dancers continue dancing princes when they are really not able to do so any longer, yet they have much to give the company in terms of experience and acting and stagecraft. I think he is a great example of this.

Thanks for the additional insights, MadameP! I'd love to see him in Shurale -- I have been curious about that work, but they weren't performing it when I was there. Maybe next time. : )

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On my last night in St. Petersburg, I saw Ratmansky's Cinderella, which I had mixed reactions to. On one hand, all of the dancing was excellent, and the work has some charming moments. On the other, the humor in the piece was way too goofy for me. I also thought some parts of it didn't make a lot of sense, and others just weren't very interesting. Still, I'm glad I saw it.

When the curtains rose, to a scene of hairdressers in silhouette working on the stepsisters and stepmother, I had a good feeling. There was some real wit in this scene. The music is teasing and fun, and the scene gives you something interesting to look at (the agile hairdressers working away), while leaving quite a lot to the imagination, as you can't really see the stepsisters or stepmother. I wish it had stayed that way. I could find no fault in any of the performers (the stepsisters were Xenia Dubrovina and Yekaterina Ivannikova; the stepmother Daria Pavlenko), but the brand of humor that the production was aiming at through them just wasn't my style at all. In the remainder of Act I and throughout the piece, the stepsisters and stepmother spend a lot of time looking "ugly" and dancing "badly." I realize that it probably takes a lot of skill to be able to dance "badly," but to me these scenes were just not entertaining. The possible exception is the earliest of these scenes, when dance instructors come to work with the stepsisters. The instructors (Yuri Smekalov and Alisa Sodoleva) are funny, and the scene is mildly amusing, as you see the teachers react to the stepsisters' attempts at grace. But a little of this sort of thing goes a long way. That one scene was all I needed, and yet there was much more to come, and in later scenes, the spotlight doesn't include the dance instructors, who helped make the scene watchable. I'll add that as I watched these "bad dancing" scenes, I had a vague recollection of a "Cinderella" I saw at the Boston Ballet years ago. I can't remember which version it was, but I remember that I was weary of the stepsisters early in that production as well. Maybe there is just something about these characters that brings out choreographers' inner urge to go hokey (or maybe I am unusual for having that reaction to them). In any event, I'd love to see a production that goes in another direction with these characters -- maybe just makes them evil instead of ridiculous.

I found the scenes of Cinderella herself much more entertaining. Yekaterina Osmolkina was very good in this role. She's graceful and lyrical, a bit waifish, and very likable. I wouldn't say she was perfect -- I remember thinking her leaps were not quite as good as Novikova's the night before in La Sylphide. Also, there were a few times where she had developpes, and I thought it appeared she was leaning in to her leg too much (although the choreography moved very quickly, and I could be mistaken). Still, in general, I thought she was very good, and she had an endearing way about her, as she danced in rags around her minimalist, cold home, which included a towering set of communist-era-style metal platforms.

In this act, we also see some characters who represent the four seasons. They have interesting costumes and styling -- especially blue-skinned, white-haired winter -- but why they were there was a mystery to me, even after reading the program. (After arriving home, I learned from the interwebs that these characters, an invention of a previous ballet of Cinderella, possibly the original one, were supposed to be helping prepare Cinderella for the ball. However, I'm not sure how anyone would guess that based on this work alone.)

When the moment of truth came, I was excited to see how Cinderella would transform. My favorite part of the Cinderella story is the ball and the dresses that all of the guests wear, especially Cinderella. On my bookcase are a lot of old fairy-tale compilations, and I love seeing what different illustrators do with the transformation and ball scenes. Unfortunately, IMO this production stumbled on both counts. The fairy godmother in this piece is a "fairy-tramp," a beggar lady who never, that I recall, seems very magical. As more evidence that magic was in short supply, Cinderella's new dress looked like a boring, knee-length shift nightgown. I actually thought she might be underdressed, but when the scene shifted to the ball, I saw there was no need to worry. There was nothing about the ball-scene sets or costumes that suggested an elegant palace event. The women were all wearing long, straight, simply designed evening dresses that, from my seat, appeared to be made of a knit or jersey. To me, these garments read more "dinner cruise" than "glamorous ball." And then the kicker, these women "couldn't dance" either! As it turns out, part of the story, in this telling, is that these women at the ball can't really dance, so that is part of how Cinderella will become a sensation. So to prepare for that plot twist, there's yet more "humor" around people not being able to dance. And of course, this includes plenty more of the stepsisters' and stepmother's poor dancing.

Thankfully, Igor Kolb and Osmolkina arrive to save this scene. Kolb (the prince) appears first, and when he burst into the lukewarm gathering, the energy and quality of the scene shot up several degrees. Through a combination of his choreography and what I took to be his naturally elegant bearing, he elevated the party so that I finally believed it could be a palace ball. He played the prince with an almost manic energy, yet there was something regal about him too. This worked very well. I believed that he could be a prince, and I also believed that he could be an eccentric prince who would defy societal norms.

I loved the moment where they first see each other. He sees her first, through a crowd, and moves toward her slowly. You hear a loud tone from the orchestra and, as if in response to it, Cinderella turns very slowly to look directly at him, as the other players drift off of the stage. It's a nice moment. Their work together here and throughout the rest of the ballet was really quite good. They had great chemistry and energy during their pdd in the ballroom and one that follows later in a garden. In one sequence, I found some of the choreography a little odd -- it had her pulling both legs up to her chest during a lift. (If she had put her arms around her legs and there had been a swimming pool in front of her, it would have looked like the cannonball position.) However, in general, I liked these pdds. In one of the them, there is a nice sequence that has her moving toward the audience, ahead of him. He is following a minute or two behind and mirroring each of her movements. This sequence gives her a leadership role, and it's notable also for its energy -- it presents their romance not as something delicate or quiet, but joyful and exuberant.

Osmolkina also does a nice job in the scene where Cinderella impresses the crowd with her dancing. First she does a very simple step that all of the attendees have not been able to do. Then, with the prince's urging, she enlarges on the step and does a series of more-impressive sequences. Osmolkina is charming and self-effacing in this scene, as if to suggest, "Oh you don't want to see me, do you?" But then of course, she's wonderful. I do wish that there had been more of a showstopping centerpiece to this scene -- not necessarily 32 fouettes, but something a bit more memorable than what was there. Still, she did a good job, and I also liked their exit from this scene. He does a jete en menage and basically grabs her (again, sort of manically) and pulls her urgently off the stage. I believe this exit segues into a charming scene in a garden, where they have their second pdd.

Of course, the midnight hour has to strike, and the handling of this was, for me, another example of this work's goofiness. As midnight approaches, you hear the orchestra making ominous tick-tock sounds. A structure that looks a giant clock descends and occupies the center of the stage. If that's not enough of a hint, the fairy-tramp show up, pulls out a pocket watch, and presents it meaningfully to the audience, while she taps in time to the tick-tock of the orchestra and grins significantly at the audience. Not exactly subtle, but if the target audience is children, maybe it's appropriate.

In Act III, the scene where the prince searches the kingdom for Cinderella, I was distracted by the fact that the slipper he wants women to try on is not a ballet slipper but a regular shoe. I realize that ballet is metaphor -- we're not supposed to think that Cinderella was really en pointe in the ball, or en pointe when she was cleaning for her stepmother. But it's still distracting to see a regular shoe. It made me wonder, in a world without metaphor, in the world of the characters, what kind of dancing was Cinderella impressing people with at the ball? The foxtrot? The Charleston? Or maybe the dancing was a metaphor for her impressing people with her lovely personality. Anyway, my point is that using a different type of shoe breaks the metaphor and its illusions. I was also confused by the scene where the prince runs into a group of women who apparently were prostitutes. I wasn't quite sure why they were there, or what the point of the scene was, except that maybe when you're looking for the love of your life, you have to put up with a lot.

Finally, the prince is reunited with Cinderella, and again, their chemistry elevates the work. I actually found their reunion very touching. Then they have another winning pdd before strolling away together under a starry sky. The whimsy and simplicity of that scene was a relief after so much that had seemed extraneous and overdone.

So overall, I'm glad I went. Osmolkina and Kolb definitely made it worthwhile, but I probably wouldn't rush to see this work again.

Of the five performances I saw, Cinderella was the only one staged at the Mariinksy 2. The new theater was OK, but I preferred the old theater. The Mariinsky 2 auditorium looked a little like a university lecture hall to me. I was also surprised that the orchestra seating in front wasn't more steeply raked; I would guess that the second row is only about a centimeter more elevated than the first row. I always thought that new theaters generally do a better job with sight lines, but I would be careful buying tickets here again. I did think that the lounge areas were pretty, with high ceilings, long dangling lights that look a bit like clusters of grapes, and floor-to-ceiling glass walls. When you're walking to the theater in the dark, these lights are especially pretty from outside. They look like Christmas ornaments in the night.

I realize now that I never said much about the old theater. As many readers of this forum already know first-hand, the historic theater is pretty stunning, with a painted ceiling, gilt-edged balconies, and sage-colored accents. The rake in the orchestra seating was better than in the Mariinsky 2. Of course, like any old theater, it has its quirks. The bathrooms could stand improvement, and the stairways are a little confusing. Once or twice, as I was trying to go downstairs from the upper-level lounge area to my orchestra-level seat, staff members told me I was going down the wrong steps. It turns out one staircase leads to the main lobby and street exit (but the doors from that area to the actual theater are sometimes closed and locked); another staircase leads to the orchestra seating. When the bells are sounding to mark the end of intermission, it's a little stressful, but luckily I usually remembered which was the right staircase.

My last bit of advice to visitors to the Mariinsky is: if you are someone who likes to be in a quiet audience, you need to bring your patience. At all five performances I attended, there was a lot of talking, sometimes pretty loud, during all parts of the performances. There were also a lot of people pulling out their gadgets and lighting up their rows so they could check their email or send texts, small children fidgeting and demanding attention from their parents, people noisily seating themselves after the auditorium doors had closed, and *tons* of flash photography. It's especially distracting when the photographer is someone right next to you who's fiddling with lenses and lighting up the area to configure the camera (and of course, that usually happens during key scenes in the ballet!). Maybe I've just been lucky at other theaters, but I've never attended the ballet anyplace where the audiences seemed so badly behaved. I guess it's a testament to the Mariinsky dancers that they draw so many people who perhaps are attending their first ballet and aren't really sure about the etiquette. Fortunately, the performances are so strong, that usually holds your attention and helps you block out everything else.

This concludes my report. Thanks to everyone who gave me tips about seat selection and other logistics of visiting St. Petersburg. It was an incredible trip and I hope I can return sometime soon.

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