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Kirov at the Mariinsky--Pavlenko and Zakharova in Swan Lake

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This is not exactly recent but I wanted to post it anyway. I went to St. Petersburg for New Year’s, and though not much was going on there during the first week of January (balletwise or otherwise), I did catch two casts of Swan Lake (Pavlenko/Kolb and Zakharova/Korsuntsov. The third cast in this run was Gumerova/someone, but it was on the day before I had to leave, so I decided to pack instead)

I have to say that ever since this summer, when Zakharova replaced Pavlenko in “Swan Lake” at the Met (something I am still peeved about), it’s been an idée fixe of mine to see Pavlenko in the role. To say that she did not disappoint would be a major understatement.

To my mind, her Odette might need a little rethinking but it was certainly the most original and unorthodox interpretation I’ve seen to date. Clearly, she had put a lot of thought into the role. It was a very intelligent, I almost want to say intellectual, performance. No rubber arms here. Her Odette was like an abyss, completely devoid of any feeling, or beyond it rather. There was no fear, only a muted sort of grief, and as Seigfried approached her, she didn’t tremble (though perhaps he should have). The drama and the warmth so inherent in her dancing were subdued as much as possible. Completely inward looking--she didn’t once lift her eyes from the floor in the adagio and act 4 (it didn’t help that Kolb, much as I like him, needs an urgent personality injection), and it seemed to me that to her mind, a part and parcel of the whole swan slash maiden deal is that Rothbart is in control of Odette’s femininity and, dare I say it, sexuality (yes, I know;)). Because once "evil" had its wing ripped off and did an appropriate amount writhing about (and it was evil indeed—Ivan Popov’s Rothbart got so into character that he apparently tried to kill Pavlenko in the final act by nearly dropping her on the head, not once, not twice, but three times!!!), Daria gave us a triumphant smile of full-blooded womanhood awakened in the final tableau. All this was and is a month later completely fascinating, but unfortunately when the music is not given its due, the dancing itself is not all that interesting to watch. Pavlenko has such an unfailing dramatic instinct, I was surprised that this time she didn’t make the most of the choreography, and decided to sacrifice some of the singing quality in the movement to characterization. Still it was highly gratifying to see a dancer make actual artistic choices and carry them out (very successfully and bravely, I might add).

As for her Odile… Stunning is the word that seems to be used most frequently to describe Pavlenko, and that’s exactly what she was—absolutely stunning. It was a truly astounding, mesmerizing, and incredible performance. Every movement was imbued with meaning and drama, but there was nothing extraneous in the performance—you couldn’t take anything away from it, nor could you wish for anything more either. There were no tricks, no balances held past the point at which the music would support them, no doubles or triples in the fouettes (though they were taken at a break neck speed, and moved not an inch), no wrists flicks;), and her tutu didn’t flip over her head once! Her Odile was not only a complete opposite and complement to her Odette (and I don’t think I've ever seen THAT shown as well Pavlenko did), she is not just a flirt or femme fatale, she was like a happening in nature-- it looked like a completely spontaneous performance—the music, the dance, the seduction pouring out of her body. I was utterly enthralled by her, and would like at this point to steal Robert Gottlieb’s line, and say “What an artist!” Who said that there are no ballerinas? Pavlenko is a ballerina and an actress of the highest caliber. On top of it all, her dancing is supremely classical. There is a plastique, a three-dimensionality, and a sculptural effect to her movement that looks back to Osipenko and Sizova, there is a magnetic stage presence, and a rare artistic intelligence, which is what ultimately makes a performance like that possible. Why she is still only a soloist (a second soloist at that) is beyond my comprehension.

Kolb was very nice though blank, and like all the Kirov men he takes the first act variation at a snail or at best a turtle pace.

Irina Zhelonkina was beautiful in the pas de trois, showing off her Kirov training to wonderful effect. Nadezhda Gonchar showed that she can can-can with the best of them, and Vasiliy Scherbakov, the only man on the stage who looked like he actually enjoyed what he was doing, performed his variation in a heroic Spartacus-like manner. (He did it again with the Zakharova/Korsuntsov cast, but this time he was poetic and wistful. In both performances, he showed far more charisma and presence then either of the princes)

Ksenia Ostreikovskaya, who was a company workhorse during the Met season, is the company workhorse at home. She was a demi in the first act, a bride in the third, and one of the two “large” swans in the fourth. What I like about her is that she dances everything in character, and that even in a minor part, she does it with absolute commitment. You should have seen the “who the hell does he think he is?!” sneer she gave the prince when he passed her over as a prospective wife! And sitting on the bench with the rest of the would be wives, she stared at Pavlenko with such a deadly look in her eyes (the “who the hell is she?!” look) that it sent chills through my spine (I don’t know if it was acting, but it was mighty scary).

The audience was as frigid as the temperature outside (and that was, oh, about –25 degrees). They were just comatose, and if not dead already, they must have thought that it would kill them to show the dancers a minimum amount of respect, if not appreciation. I have never seen such a rude (cameras flashing every second, talking amongst themselves), cold audience. The only person who was called out for a solo bow (twice) was Zavalishin—the Jester (and Pavlenko once, after the fouettes). There were no curtain calls.

La Zakharova.

The January 8th performance was dedicated to Ulanova and so Vaziev, Kurgapkina, and Vasiliev came out in front of the curtain and gave a short improvised speech about her merits as a dancer, friend, colleague, etc. Vasiliev said something to the effect that today’s artists have a spiritual obligation to Ulanova and must try to be worthy of what she was like on the stage. Well, they did try. Act 2 was nicely done. Zakharova controlled herself as well as could be expected, she was elegant and vulnerable, though perhaps more studied than musical. Except for a couple of genuinely beautiful moments when that gorgeous leg unfurled not quite skyward, it was generally speaking a bit of a dance-by-numbers performance. For all her astonishing physical gifts, she seems to do that quite a bit. By the time act 3 rolled around, Ulanova had clearly left the building. A pasted on smile, the leg as baseball bat, the underside of the tutu flashing at every turn. The audience seemed to approve in their small way, but I was a little bored. She was just going from one trick to the next trick, there was no phrasing or shaping at all, and whatever it was that she was doing didn’t seem to be directed at anyone in particular, least of all the prince (not that he would have noticed anyway)

Tatiana Tkachenko who was such a phenomenal Street Dancer at the Met, was lovely in the pas de trois. Beautiful arms and head, a regal bearing of the upper body, and an amazing batterie. In the entrechat six (it seemed more like dix to me), her feet looked like hummingbird wings beating in the air.

Korsuntsov (who, according to the program, was the prince of the evening) had a gaze completely devoid of any human feeling and the aforementioned gaze did not blink or change throughout the course of the ballet. I would have liked to see Scherbakov do the role. He might not be as pretty, but at least he was THERE.

Can’t say enough good things about the Kirov corps. Each and every one of the women in it deserves the highest accolades for maintaining the purity of style and for the care with which they perform. They were a tremendous joy and a privilege to watch, especially in their own home.

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Thank you for the wonderful reviews, Roma!

I, too, am taken aback by certain audiences, on certain nights.

I adore Pavlenko, too...but I have noticed a particular coolness from 'local' audiences towards her. Ditto, of all people, the delightful Ayupova -- my God, I'll never forget a 'Raymonda' that she danced in 1995 which was barely applauded. I felt like clobbering the people around me & screaming 'Applaud, you idiots!'!:mad:

Yet they scream to the rafters whenever Vishnyova dances. Or a 'Farouk Night' back when he was at his apogee.

Zakharova is an interesting case. She seems applauded & cheered more by the folks in parterre (usually 90% foreign 'cause parterre costs a lot) than in the upper ryads....where I usually sit, in what I call 'Babushka Row'...uppermost tier, sides. Those babushki are the toughest critics; it's quite an experience to be seated among them.

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This striking difference in reception of Pavlenko and Zakharova by the Mariinsky audience reminds me of that person who went all the way from Italy to St. Petersburg to see the scheduled debut of Diana Vishneva in “Raymonda”. However, Vishneva didn’t make it and eventually it was Pavlenko who danced. The remark was then that Pavlenko’s performance as Raymonda was utterly disappointing because "this dancer was much too classical....” :mad:

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Thanks Roma, for sharing your experiences and joy with us. Your vivid account on Pavlenko's Odette/Odile was so very powerful that I have a feeling I will be haunted by that until I actually saw her in the role with my own eyes!

On Pavlenko I have had this impressions on her that she's very intelligent and strongly individual character ever since I read her interview in a Japanese dance magazine a few years ago. Interestingly in the interview she commented something like (asked by the interviewer which one you feel more closer to yourself, Odette/Odile?): Most of the time it's easier to create the role of Odile as, put it bluntly, it's a role of a vamp! Odette, on the other hand, is more difficult to tuckle - it's delicate, feminine, romantic and more complex....

She also commented that she did dance in Swan Lake about six times by then - it was September 2000 issue of the magazine. That makes me wonder why her appearance in the ballet escaped London audience in Kirov's 2000/2001 visit?? Well maybe next time....

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Zakharova fans will have noted that she is scheduled to guest again (last year she danced "Sleeping Beauty") with the Opera di Roma for the run of "Swan Lakes" (choreography by Galina Samsova), March 25-April 4 next. Her partner is the Mariinsky's Evgeny Ivanchenko.

More on: http://www.operaroma.it/CALENDAR/20002009/003cal01.htm


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