Serenade, Apollo, Symphony in C

Mariinsky Theatre II, Saint Petersburg, Russia; July 23, 2014

Catherine Pawlick

Kristina Shapran in 'Apollo'.  Photo © N.Razina

Kristina Shapran in ‘Apollo’.
Photo © N.Razina

In honor of what would have been the year of George Balanchine’s 110th birthday, the Mariinsky Ballet performed three of his works on July 23, christening the year-old Mariinsky II stage with works from this neoclassical master.

“Serenade”, the enrapturing, genius of a work created by Balanchine in 1934, has not yet appeared on the stage of the Mariinsky II. Indeed, it has been months, if not years since it was last danced on the historical Mariinsky stage: the ballet opened the 2008-2009 season and then promptly disappeared from the repertoire. Its renewal this month featured an entirely new generation of dancers from that which appeared in 2008.

Here, Oksana Skorik, the much debated rising star, led the way with partner Xander Parish in the leading roles. Regardless of which camp one supports, Skorik has developed considerably since her start with the company and since the company’s 2012 USA tour, where she was thrown into a series of “Swan Lake” opening nights with little preparation. What is unarguable is that she is blessed with a sharply arched arabesque, an enviable, well-proportioned physique, and exquisite lines. Mr. Parish managed to elicit several smiles from her during their pas de deux, and in those moments one caught a glimpse of a consummate professional. Those rare rays of sunshine turned their duet into a connected, soulful dance. Equally stately was Viktoria Brilyova in her debut in the initial solo sections and later the Dark Angel interlude with Andrey Ermakov. Her sweeping entrance was decorated with proud carriage and crystal execution. Nadezhda Gonchar proved a steely powerhouse in the numerous sauté-fouettés in her sections.

“Apollo” followed, with its bright abstraction, led by Vladimir Shklyarov as the impeccable, powerful and yet boyish Sun god. Kristina Shapran, who just last week left the Mikhailovsky for the Mariinsky, and who began her career with Moscow’s Stanislavsky troupe, debuted as Terpsichore; Alisa Sodoleva debuted as Calliope. Renata Shakirova, still an eighth year student at the Vaganova Academy, was granted the opportunity to perform as Polyhymnia, the muse of mime.

In Shapran we saw an iconic picture of Terpsichore. Endowed with a textbook Vaganova physique – ultra slender, with beautiful arches and raven hair – she embodied purity of dance, the essence of this role, in every movement. Simplicity and exactitude reigned in her lines, as if she was modeling what dance itself should be. Sodoleva is a stunning beauty with equally exquisite lines – her legs are endless, coltish, and she emits an aura of rich elegance and depth. In contrast to Shapran’s simple youth and purity, her gestures were expansive – she is longer – and lush. The two share much in common in terms of physical perfection, and yet they differ enough to lend a gentle contrast to these roles. Shakirova is a different type of dancer, smaller, a powerhouse of the Kurgapkina type, not particularly feminine, but voluptuous nonetheless, strong, and sure. As the final three measures of haunting chords filled the hall and the three muses found the arabesque poses that formed the ‘sun’s rays’ around Shkylarov, it was clear that there is no one better for the roles of these goddesses.

Ulyana Lopatkina in 'Symphony in C'.  Photo © N Razina

Ulyana Lopatkina in ‘Symphony in C’.
Photo © N Razina

“Symphony in C” is both an ideal beginning and a perfect ending to any evening for its multiple layers of choreographic complexity. The seemingly all-star cast for this performance was nearly perfect. A princely Alexander Sergeyev saved the First Movement as its debonaire cavalier with pristine turns, impeccable partnering and an aura of nobility. His partner Alina Somova, in contrast, infused it with a jazz club feel, her relevés decorated with ‘teasing’ look, perhaps appropriate for Rubies, but an approach that felt misplaced here.

Relief came in the Second Movement, which Uliana Lopatkina has raised to iconic proportions. Her performance turned the dance into one seamless line of movement, unfettered with stops and starts, even and cool like a quiet stream. Her silent, regal nature suggested a swan encircled by emeralds (the color of this movement’s costumes); her slow fouettés melted into arabesques, and port de bras to 5th position appeared as if a flower in bloom. As the violin strings were plucked, so did her feet step en pointe, visually emphasizing the musical notes. The entranced audience remained soundless throughout until the final pose, when applause erupted.

The Third Movement is a light-hearted playground, and who better to fill it with panache than Nadezhda Batoeva and Kimin Kim, two of the company’s authorities in all that is petit or grand allegro. With the highest of energies and the greatest of grins, these two firecrackers literally exploded on stage, suggesting an ideal onstage partnership for similar roles. Batoeva performs even the most difficult choreography with ease and energy to spare. Kim cannot be challenged enough, no matter what the jump or turn combination.

Crowning the ballet, the Fourth Movement featured David Zaleyev’s debut alongside Anastasia Nikitina. Zaleyev, the Polunin of the Vaganova-Mariinsky complex, is nonetheless a talent that cannot be denied. With feet that beg to be tendu-ed, and a body meant to attack the dance, he’s at ease in the most difficult combinations – not unlike Kimin Kim – and has a bright career ahead of him.

In the finale, Lopatkina and Batoeva managed the final speed sequence musically, with clean lines. The final pose, with nearly the full company on stage, demonstrated what Balanchine had in mind when he created this emblematic work.