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Ballet Festival '03 - GISELLE - Feb. 24

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Mariinsky Theater – St. Petersburg, Russia

February 24, 2003

Kirov-Mariinsky Ballet


Giselle – Alina Cojocaru (Royal Ballet, London)

Albrecht – Johan Kobborg (Royal Ballet, London)

Hans – Islom Baimuratov

Myrta, Queen of the Willis – Tatyana Amosova

Following two less-than-stellar evenings, the 3rd Mariinsky International Ballet Festival was back on-track last night, with a performance of Perrot/Coralli’s ‘Giselle’ that ranks among the very finest I have seen in thirty-some years of regular ballet-going around the world.

Any fears that guest artists cannot assimilate into the Kirov-Mariinsky Ballet were happily dispelled with the stellar performances of the Royal Ballet pair – the petite Romanian beauty, Alina Cojocaru, in the title role; and Denmark’s handsome & fleet-footed Johan Kobborg as Albrecht. I am not exaggerating when I write that the audience went absolutely wild with appreciation for them, yelling ‘bravo’ many times, throughout the performance, then according them rare multiple-curtain-calls after the ballet. I have no doubt that this pair will be invited back to dance in Russia many times, as they have precisely the qualities of understated elegance, facial beauty, clear miming abilities and divine technique that the ‘locals’ adore.

People in the upper galleries were already yelling ‘bravo’ soon after Cojocaru emerged from the tiny cottage and danced her first sequence of steps (including the ballottes) with Kobborg. The audience was bursting to give them a sustained applause even then! The evening just built-up from there. Whoever said that the Mariinsky audience is cold? Simply, they know ballet and they have definite preferences in ‘types’ of dancers. For their ‘types,’ the applause & yelling are generous. Cojocaru & Kobborg scored the Big One last night!!

OK, now that I have described the emotions in the theater, on to the details.

Alina Cojocaru is an exquisite dancer of porcelain-like delicacy. Gorgeous youthful face, pale complexion, dark hair, frail arms and tapering fingers, rounded instep on beautiful feet – quite simply, THE perfect look for a Giselle, in my opinion! And what technique. (It is for nothing that she won a top prize in the 1997 Moscow Int’l Ballet Competition and Prix de Lausanne.) Her sobresaut jumps, during her Act II pas de deux solo, were the airiest I’ve ever seen…and elicited audible sighs among the audience in the midst of the sequence!!! (I loved this audience!) Cojocaru’s acting emphasizes the sweetness and innocence of the little peasant girl who is in love for the first time. Her interpretation is intelligent, understated, rich in original detail; for example, during the Act I peasant dance with her friends, this Giselle goes over to Albrecht and shyly asks him to join them in the dance…he doesn’t know (he is really a nobleman in disguise, after all)…so Cojocaru’s Giselle mimes ‘Oh, don’t be afraid; let me teach you how to do this step…’ Past Giselles seem to simply go over to Albrecht, grab his hand, and he already knows the steps. Similarly, I loved Cojocaru’s diagonal of ‘blowing kisses’ to Albrecht, in which each handing of a kiss was unique & not a mechanical ‘Blow kiss – extend arm/blow kiss-extend arm’ that we usually see. And Kobborg was just as subtly playful (non-mechanical) as she.

Cojocaru’s Act I solo was beautifully rendered; creamy-smooth pirouettes with just the tiniest hesitation after one of the double-attitude turns, followed by a charming diagonal on pointe broken by some dancey steps in the middle (she did not do the entire diagonal on pointe, as Russians are used to, but it did not matter).

The mad scene was understated, yet emotional, bringing tears to many viewers eyes. Again, there were many unique touches to Cojocaru’s rendition; for example, during the sequence when she runs around the stage and seems to be ‘feeling the walls’ around her, she runs into & THROUGH a group of villagers. The final run & collapse into the arms of Albrecht brought loud gasps from the audience, in the risky manner that Cojocaru flung herself onto him, extended her arm upward, then collapsed onto the floor in the hardest, most convincing manner I have ever seem. Audience members around me thought that she had hurt herself..she went BOOM onto the floor.

In the Act II moonlit-graveside scene of the Willis, Cojocaru’s Giselle was truly a ghost, with some of the most feathery-light pas de bourees on pointe I’ve seen. Every second of the famous pas de deux was exquisite because Cojocaru is so light, in addition to being in command of her technique. Kobborg was able to lift her as if she were a feather, in face-down/parallel-to-floor positions, with nary a sign of strain. At the end of the adagio of the pas de deux, during the low-lifts across the stage, it seems as if Kobborg was barely lifting Cojocaru but, rather, as if she were propelling herself. I could go on & on. It was one of those magical performances. I’ve seen so many fine Giselle – Alonso, Makarova, Kent, Ferri, Vishnyova, Assylmuratova, Khabibulina (at Maly) – but, IMO, Alina Cojocaru tops them all, considering both Acts I and II.

Johan Kobborg was no less triumphant. This elegant dancer has fulfilled the early promise that many of us saw in him, when he won the 1994 Grand Prix – not just a gold medal! – at the Jackson Int’l Ballet Competition. Besides his subtle acting (the flirtations with Giselle) & loving partnering, I will always remember last night’s incredible series of high entrechats-huit during the coda of the Act II pas de deux. My God – they went on forever – each leap seemed higher & higher than the last one – the audience went bonkers halfway through those entrechats!

To have these fabulous star performances framed by the Kirov-Mariinsky corps de ballet was the icing on the cake. The Wilis moved as one – the finest corps de ballet on earth.

The Act Peasant Pas de Deux was cutely rendered by Elena Sheshina and Vasily Sherbakov, who, himself, displayed some amazing ballon in his second solo.

Islom Baimuratov was menacing and cut a fine figure as Hans, the poor huntsman who is also wooing Giselle.

Alexandra Gronskaya is a beautiful and haughty Batilda, the noblewoman who is the true fiancé of Albrecht (although she is about one foot taller than Johan Kobborg…so Kobborg should have stuck with Giselle all the way!).

In Act II, Tatyana Amosova, a blonde amazon, certainly had the look of Myrta – Queen of the Willis – if not quite the technique (lowish jumps). (Alas, I have memories of Tatyana Terekhova of earlier Kirov days, and Martine Van Hamel of ABT in this role, both of whom could jump like the devil.) However, I was most impressed with the amplitude in the dancing of Ekaterina Osmolkina and Xenia Ostreikovskaya as, respectively, Moyna and Zulma.

All in all, it was a magical night, one that sets the bar high for the six remaining evenings of this festival.

And, good heavens, I must get to London to see more of the Cojocaru/Kobborg. They are everything that I dream of in ballet dancers…the ultimate!!

Jeannie Szoradi

St. Petersburg, Russia

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I have a favor to ask someone who might be registered on the ballet.co.uk site.

Could you please post a link to this review? I think that our friends in Great Britain would be very happy and proud to read how their Royal Ballet principals danced, and were received, in St. Petersburg. Unfortunatley, I've been away from ballet.co.uk for quite some time & have forgotten my password, etc.

Thank you!

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Thanks, Jeannie. Great to hear Cojocaru and Kobborg were doing so well at the Mariinsky. "Giselle" is definitely one of their finest achievements and a massive hit in London.

Cojocaru in her interview for DanceView expressed her doubts as to how she would fit in the Kirov, where the ballerinas are all so tall - well at least she seems to have conquered the audience :mad:.

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I'm agree with Jeannie's review. This couple remind me of Grisi and Perrot themself. (O.K. I'm not so old, but I can guess :). Light, innocent girl and mature, technically incomparable men. Even physical futures of both couples the same.

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