Mariinsky Theatre, Saint Petersburg, Russia; August 1, 2014
On the heels of Novikova’s standard-setting “Giselle” just a week ago with Xander Parish, Veronika Part from American Ballet Theatre visited her previous employer, the Mariinsky, for her world debut in the ballet alongside Evgeny Ivanchenko.
It is difficult to embody a more perfect Giselle than Novikova, who retains the low Romantic port de bras, epitomizes the reserved peasant girl, and emits a magnetism towards Albrecht that is felt to the back of the house, energy that is easy for her partner to feed off of. By the same token, Parish infuses his Albrecht with equal intensity – the result is an evenly balanced energy that colors both main characters. But when Part pairs with Ivanchenko, that energy is sadly misbalanced or at times one-sided.
Part is one of the most beautiful ballerinas on the world stage today. Tall, with an impossibly tiny waist and lush, articulate feet, she emits a sense of grandeur and elegance befitting a queen, and seems well-suited for “Paquita”, or even “Swan Lake”. It’s difficult to imagine her as the peasant girl, then, because her offstage persona is the antithesis thereof. Perhaps the issue of typecasting comes into play. Part’s technique cannot be faulted, and her beauty is unquestionable. She believed in Ivanchenko’s Albrecht, in his love for her. But the role, at least in Act I, did not quite fit her as it might.
The remnants of twelve years in America are visible in Part’s technique. In Act I, she infused the dance with deep articulation of her gorgeously pliable arches. The Vaganova method historically teaches a different approach to pointework, with less roll-through, and the contrast is palpable here. Her feet themselves were expressive. Her port de bras are now decidedly American in their abandon; but absent were the delicate Vaganova finger positions that mark the Russian style in such lovely fashion. Refinement in the pantomime sections was also missing: where a nod or gesture could have been emphasized, they remained small. Missing too was that sense of quiet depth, the magical draw. Her rendition was appropriate, but one wanted more. Gone, then, it seems, are most technical traces of her Russian roots. Yet she adhered to the Romantic style with low arabesques throughout, a tasteful decision.
In Act II, her Giselle was more human than ethereal, with warmth transcending the otherworld rather than coolness seeping from it. That’s not a problem, as long as there’s no expectation of the ghostly phantom who breezes through. It was similar to the difference between Odette the Swan and Odette the ‘temporarily human princess.’ Here, it felt as if Giselle had transformed from a sylph back into a flesh-and-bone human in sylph’s clothing, rising, literally, from the grave, in order to save Albrecht. Technically speaking, Act II went smoothly apart from two partnering glitches, one in the penché promenade and another when Ivanchenko tried to set Part down from one of the overhead lifts. This may be relegated to lack of rehearsal time together, as Part arrived not long ago from New York, and to Ivanchenko’s overload lately, as he fills in for an injured Korsuntsev, Part’s advertised partner.
Sofia Ivanova-Skoblikova’s light jump and sunny disposition decorated the Peasant Pas de Deux with Aleksey Popov, whose cleanly landed double tours punctuated his variation. Her solo displayed excellent musicality, and Popov’s timing allowed him a quadruple pirouette with a breath in relevé before he finished.
In sum, Veronika’s Part debut in “Giselle” offered a Western alternative to the Mariinsky approach, and reflects her years spent abroad. Should the administration at ABT wish to grant her a go at home, they would not be displeased.