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Ballet Festival '03 - LA BAYADERE, Feb. 21

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Mariinsky Theater – St. Petersburg, Russia

February 21, 2003

Kirov-Mariinsky Ballet

LA BAYADERE (revival of 1900 production)

Nikiya – Diana Vishnyova

Gamzatti – Elvira Tarasova

Solor – Andrian Fadeyev

High Brahmin – Vladimir Ponomaryov

The city of St. Petersburg bathed itself in the sunshine of an early spring day to welcome attendees to the opening of the third annual Mariinsky International Ballet Festival. Anticipation was high as the standing-room-only audience poured into the aquamarine-colored theater that can be considered the world’s grandest temple of ballet.

The festival commenced in spectacular fashion with Marius Petipa’s four-act (and four hour) ballet, La Bayadere, in the 1900 version, restaged in May 2002 by Sergei Vikharev.

As the love struck temple dancer, Nikiya, Diana Vishnyova was exquisite, both physically and emotionally. Her portrayal strikes the perfect balance between goddess-like, ideal technique and raw, earthy emotion.

Vishnyova is the Callas of the Dance! I could hear her legs ‘sing’ in the initial pas de deux ‘adagio’ of the Shades Scene, to the accompaniment of a weeping violin. Similarly, her jetes during Solor’s initial Dream Scene were imbued with emotion, via perfect musical timing and thrust. (I have never witnessed ‘emotional jetes’ before!) This is a carefully thought-out portrayal rich in detail. For example, her complex characterization of Nikiya showed sparks of love for the High Brahmin during the Ritual of Fire, that I’ve never noticed in other ballerinas. Then during the Act II/sc. Ii death scene, after having been bitten by the asp, and being offered an antidote by the High Brahmin, Vishnyova’s Nikiya does not do the usual mechanical tossing of the vial; instead, she takes her time gazing at Solor and allows her hands to slowly open, with the effect that the vial evaporates from her hands. Natural – no histrionics. Technically, this ballerina is at her peak. The ‘Shades scene’ solo with the scarf featured silken-smooth pirouettes in both directions. In the coda of that scene, Vishnyova whipped-off a fiery string of pique turns (choosing to revert to the Soviet choreography, rather than the 1900 steps danced by Pavlenko and Zakharova in this production). Was Vishnyova perfect? No – I wish that she would not thrust out her torso in an inelegant arch and, instead, revert to the straight slim line that made her May 1995 Vaganova Academy graduation performance of Nikiya so memorable for me.

Elvira Tarasova’s portrayal of the haughty Indian princess, Gamzatti, is one of the great delights of the Mariinsky stage. This is a mostly-mimed role with a major classical-dance segment near the end of the ballet. Tarasova both sparkled in the classical dancing – the Act 4 pas d’action – and was crystal-clear in her mime. Her famous solo (the 1947 Petr Gusev version) was danced cleanly and the 32 fouettes in the coda were spot-on, eliciting ‘bravos’ from the appreciative audience.

Tonight’s Solor, Andrian Fadeyev, is a dancer of noble bearing who possesses a fine technique. His manege of double tours en l’air around the stage in the Shades scene was high and powerful, if not as effortless as those of a Baryshnikov or Kolb. To his credit, Fadeyev has transformed himself into a larger – more muscular – dancer, making him more effective in the princely roles. His partnering was steady , his presence made more impact than in years past. He is a blonde Nordic prince – the Pride of Russia!

The spirit of Felix Kchessinsky lives on in Vladimir Ponomaryov. What more can I say about his portrayal of the High Brahmin that I haven’t written elsewhere? I wish I had an extra pair of eyes so that I could lock my gaze on his silent presence, in the periphery of the stage, whenever other soloists are acting…he is riveting in the nuances of his gestures. As Nikiya dances her sad solo with the vina (lute), his subtle movements tell the whole story. After his argument with Gamzatti’s father, the weight of his steps across the stage could cause a tidal wave on the Neva.

Beautiful Elena Bazhenova erases all memories of matronly portrayals of Aya. This is one glamorous sneaky servant!

Recent-graduate & Vaganova Prix silver medalist, Yevgenia Obratsova, was charming as Manu, the girl who balances a water-jug on her head.

Galina Rakhmanova and Islom Baimuratov personified the sheer ‘Joy of Dance’ as the lead couple in the rousing Infernal Dance (a.k.a. ‘Tom-Tom Dance’) of Act II. As a drum-tossing soloist in the same dance, Vasily Scherbakov was a bit too classically restrained… a Bluebird with a drum?

The three solo shades in Act III were quite good, with the first of these, Irina Golub, as the stand-out, with a final diagonal of rising-and-falling First Arabesques, in which the lifted leg never wavered, remaining perfectly still and parallel to the stage. Brava! As the 2nd shade, Viktoria Teryoshkina displayed long and secure balances…and she had no choice but to do so, given the morbid, uneven tempo of the conductor. [she did everything but remain suspended in the air with her cabrioles, as she waited for the beat!] Third shade, the recently-promoted Xenia Ostreikovaksya, shined in the middle section of her solo with smooth transitions from a-la-second to efface arabesques…but Michele Wiles of ABT remains my benchmark for the difficult first section of this solo (the developes into pirouettes).

The corps de ballet ladies were sheer perfection in the Kingdom of the Shades scene – 32 beautiful Victorian Gibson-Girl shades moving as one. I was equally impressed by the corps in other scenes, e.g., the melancholic way in which the ‘fan girls’ sit down as Nikiya begins her lamenting solo with the vina. This is what makes the Kirov corps so great – they don’t ‘just-sit-down’ because the soloist is dancing and the spotlight is not on them; rather, each and every person on the stage remains in character and mirrors the mood of what is happening by the footlights.

Last but not least, some words of praise for the children of the Vaganova Academy in the Lotus Dance in Act IV. The future of the Mariinsky Ballet is ensured, in the nascent artistry and beauty of these children! The smallest girls may be only 10 or 11 years old but, already, they display the aristocratic elegance and deportment of any Mariinsky corps lady…the swan necks, elegantly-held arms & hands, use of eyes, gorgeous feet, musicality, ultra-femininity…and nary a ‘Look Ma - I’m Dancing!’ grin among them.

The Mariinsky Theater Orchestra played richly despite hesitant conducting from Mikhail Sinkevich.

This production has settled nicely since I attended its premiere during last summer’s White Nights Festival, and subsequent performances during the July 2002 Metropolitan Opera tour. The original 1900 sets – marvelously painted flats found in the theater’s attic a couple of years ago – are now better lit so that they do not look so faded. The elephant is grander (with more feathers) than in May 2002 but the overstuffed tiger is still a hoot! A sure sign that the Golden Idol solo will never return is the fact that ‘he’ is now but a plaster statue carried across the stage on a canopied pillow by four bearers. On the other hand, a huge improvement on the May 2002 premiere of this production is the more effective final scene, with a properly-collapsing temple, lightning and dry-ice mist, leading to an emotional Apotheosis as Nikiya’s shade retrieves the soul of her beloved and bears him to heaven.

Bayadere will be repeated on Sunday, February 23, with different principal casting, including Bolshoi principal and superstar Nikolai Tsiskaridze, who was sat a couple of rows in front of me at this performance, soaking in the details of this glorious production.

- Jeannie Szoradi

St. Petersburg, Russia

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p.s. - It was a lot of fun to spot VIPs in the audience...not just Tsiskaridze..also a number of world-class figure skaters, including European champ pair skater Oksana Totmianina, who won the Mariinsky Fashion Parade, hands-down, with a bright-red spaghetti-strapped gown that fit her like a glove! It was also great to see many of the foreign guest artists already here, e.g., the POB dancers Letestu & Martinez, choreographer Pierre Lacotte, and Royal Ballet star Alina Cojocaru...whose Giselle is highly anticipated at this festival. Heck, this is so much fun!!! :)

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