"Carmen Suite," "Symphony in C"
The Mariinsky Ballet
Lincoln Center Festival 2011
The Metropolitan Opera House
New York, New York
July 16, 2011 evening
By Carol Pardo
Copyright ©2011 by Carol Pardo
Between Prosper Mérimée’s Carmen, one of the hottest heroines in ballet or any other art, and the cumulative power, from snowball to cannonball, of Balanchine’s "Symphony in C," the final program of the Mariinsky’s week-long engagement could—and should—have blown the roof off the Metropolitan Opera House. Instead, the company’s farewell to New York was unexpectedly subdued.
It didn’t start out that way. Alberto Alonso’s "Carmen Suite"opens with its heroine alone on stage. At that first moment, Ulyana Lopatkina was both a ballerina claiming the her territory, grand and implacable, and a headstrong gypsy, daring anyone to mess with her. The character’s sexual allure was concentrated in the dancer’s long, strong, beautifully shaped legs, raw (no tights), which she unleashed with all the precision of custom-made scalpels. This Carmen was so cool she was radioactive. Lopatkina has the experience and the phrasing to make what could be a clichéd shrug of the shoulders into a combination of "come hither" and "I don’t care what you think." That simultaneous contradiction is part of what makes the character Carmen so interesting, but it was the combination of character and ballerina that made the opening solo riveting.
But Lopatkina couldn’t keep it up, by herself, for the remaining forty minutes of the ballet. She needed help from her choreographer and from the men in Carmen’s life. It was not forthcoming. "Carmen Suite" is most evocative as a string of vignettes based on Bizet’s opera. When Alonso has to convey narrative information, as in Carmen’s death scene, it is all but impossible to follow the action. He also overpopulates his ballet: there are three men milling around when all we really need are two, Don José and Escamillo, here called José and the Torero. There is also a fate figure, a woman in black from head to toe, who spends most of her time running around on pointe with her arms held like something on a Texas Longhorn’s helmet. I admired the exactitude of her port de bras, but the character is superfluous. So too are the three tobacco workers whose occupation is revealed in the program, not on stage. José and the Torero are weakly drawn, the former recessive, the latter limp, only showing some macho swagger in his final pose, much too late in the game. Whether this is the choreographer’s intention, or the choice of the dancers, Daniil Korsuntsev and Yevgeny Ivanchenko, respectively, the result is the same: Carmen has no one to play off. The tensions of this ménage a trois dissolve, and "Carmen Suite" which might have been a good twenty-minute long ballerina vehicle, goes up in smoke.
The ballet was the final installment of this engagement’s Rodion Shchedrin festival. Although its score, all percussion and strings, was not as grating as it might have been, with the exception of "The March of the Toreadors" by the xylophone section, it was a relief to hear Bizet straight as the curtain opened on Balanchine’s "Symphony in C."
And "Symphony in C" with port de bras and épaulement, pure and clean, and so often relegated to the back burner in performances of Balanchine. The corps dancers who announced the advent of the principals in the second movement seemed to witness the opening of the gates of heaven. The details of arm movements in the corps and the resulting patterns, particularly in the finale, have never registered so clearly. But perhaps the price was too high. This was Balanchine without speed, daring, or immediacy, consequently without joy. In the first movement, Viktoria Tereshkina was so decorous, so polite, that her work made no cumulative impression. (It didn’t help that some steps were omitted too.) In the second adagio movement, Yekaterina Kondaurova gave a performance that looked totally premeditated, stiff, self-conscious, removed. What was the matter with now? Kondaurova even ended stiffly, stretched out to the side like a plank. Gone was the final disorienting spiral, ending across her partner’s thigh, eyes shaded against the moonlight. Both women had a dodgy relationship to the music, through no fault of anyone in the pit. Things picked up with the casting with first soloist Yevgenia Obraztsova in the third movement. She can jump and her jumps actually had their cues in Bizet’s score. Only the stiffness of her head was out of place. Her partner was Vladimir Shklyarov who had just charmed all New York in "The Little Humpbacked Horse." Here, he was trying too hard. Some steps lacked clear shapes some turns continued after the musical phrase had ended. Leading the final movement, second soloists Maria Shirinkina and Alexei Timofeyev danced for joy and heard the music. Even so, the finale, which should come hurtling across the footlights, was too timid and too self-conscious, its power throttled, still waiting to be unleashed as the curtain came down, leaving disappointment in its wake.