The Mariinsky Ballet
The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
January 28, 2014
by Alexandra Tomalonis
copyright 2014 by Alexandra Tomalonis
Washington gave the Mariinsky Ballet a very enthusiastic welcome Tuesday night, as the company opened its week-long run of “Swan Lake.” The production, by the company’s former artistic director (and great Siegfried) Konstantin Sergeyev back in 1950 still looks amazingly fresh. There were changes made to the Petipa-Ivanov 1895 original early in the 20th century, and various dancers added this or dropped that, but it was Sergeyev who pruned the mime and made “Swan Lake” more like a symphonic ballet than a collection of scenes, as the original libretto suggests was the case.
There’s a tiny new change that I don’t remember seeing the last time the company brought this ballet: the omission of one of the few remaining mime fragments, the Princess Mother’s reminder to the Prince that he has come of age and must marry. This was once probably a full conversation; it had been reduced to about two gestures [“You must marry.” “I don’t want to.”] and without it, Siegfried’s role disappears. There’s no opportunity for him to be introspective, much less exhibit the fabled melancholy. The first act is now merely about a birthday party and the gift of a crossbow (over which much is made). After presenting the crossbow, the Princess Mother departs, as do the guests, and the Prince, left alone, goes off to kill swans (again, no drama; he doesn’t dismiss them so he can be alone; they just prance away). Three seconds gone, and the ballet loses its point.
This may explain why Vladimir Shklyarov, one of the most promising of the company’s young men, was a bit of a cipher. He danced well, especially in the Black Swan pas de deux, but was rather blank elsewhere. It didn’t help that Alina Somova’s Odette was a collection of exquisite poses, without any visible emotion, and there seemed little connection between the two. Somova is a beautiful dancer – tall and proud, with beautiful lines – but still seems to approach her role from the outside in. If one took photographs every ten seconds during the White Swan pas de deux, one would have a collection of the most beautiful dance photos ever; her lines are absolutely gorgeous. But the pas de deux was stretched out to what seemed like thrice its length, and the drama seeped out as it progressed. The swans themselves were also a bit off, not yet quite melded into a corps (perhaps it’s a touring corps, not used to dancing with each other?)
Somova’s Odile was much more alive, happily evil without being a caricature. Her dancing in the Black Swan pas de deux was vivid, although she came to grief in the fouettées, trying for tricks (doubles, triples) that sometimes came off, and sometimes did not. But the dancing was free, not calculated, and that, plus Shklyarov’s beautiful, jumps, as high as a swan in flight, brought down the house.
The first act’s pas de trois was a bit rocky as well, with the dancers trying for tricks (here, near-splits), but there was much fine dancing throughout the evening. The opening waltz for the courtiers was as fresh as the production, beautifully musical and clearly, softly danced. This has to be the most beautiful collection of feet, both male and female, in ballet. Vladislav Shumakov was an audience favorite as the Joker (the Jester in other productions), providing the technical fireworks and being the watchful eye that keeps the scene together. The character dances in the ballroom act were very spirited. The ballet came alive with the Hungarian dance (Xenia Dubrovina and Boris Zhurilov, dancing like stars and relishing every movement); suddenly, we were really at a ball. Andrei Yermakov’s Rothbart was commanding and very well-danced. In this production, Rothbart is a dancing rather than mime role, but Yermakov made his part in the drama very clear.
All in all, a mixed bag. Alexey Repnikov conducted the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra and, when they weren’t slowing things down, the music boiled, providing almost all the drama the ballet needed. The sets are lovely; Igor Ivanov’s lake scene has to be one of the most beautiful in ballet. The lake is a clear, rich blue -- peaceful, but with a sense of mystery. The ballet continues its run through Sunday, and surely the dancing will match that lake by weeks’ end.
Photos are by Valentin BaranovskyAlina Somova and Vladimir Shklyarov