Mariinsky Season Opening
Saint Petersburg, Russia
30 September 2016
Eschewing the former tradition of opening the now eleven-month Mariinsky season with Swan Lake, the ballet portion of the theatre introduced its 234th season with the mixed bill Fokine program, a set of works never truly exhausted for their timeliness.
Beginning with the soulful undertones of Chopiniana, known in the West as Les Sylphides, the curtain opened to the well-known tableau of carefully positioned sylphs and the first chords of Chopin’s ethereal score, immediately transporting the viewers to another world both visually and audibly.
That the Mariinsky is a collection of graduates selected from all across Russia who have passed through the Vaganova Academy’s rigorous eight-year training program is most evident in classical works like this. Visually speaking, the lines of the corps de ballet members match each other uniformly, a conscious architectural choice for the stage: body sizes, arm length, head position, even eyelashes are placed with precision in order to achieve one goal — harmonious beauty. And achieve it they did, filling the opening night stage with splendor.
Fokine’s concept of starting the ballet with a tableau, as if the viewer is gazing at a 19th century painting that then comes to life, is a unique optical effect that lends depth to the subject matter. Here we are not just witnessing abstract dance; we are entering a world of fantasy and fairytale. Fokine created this ballet in 1907, but the work in fact alludes to the Romanticism of the mid-1800s, personified by Maria Taglioni in La Sylphide. A rather late creation for a “ballet blanc”, Chopiniana nevertheless embodies the illusion and fantasy of a world that counters realism in every way — beautiful young maidens endowed with ethereal powers of flight, and a young man who chases after them. It also encompasses the technical style of dance present on ballet stages in that era.
Svetlana Ivanova, increasingly cast in soloist roles in her final seasons before pension, reprised the Eleventh Waltz, a section that requires precision pointework and challenging tour-jetés that end in fluid, yet firm plié arabesques. Ivanova’s fragility pairs perfectly with the nuances of Romanticism, her feather-light jumps and tiny bourrées accented perfectly with the épaulement of the era, as if she had herself just emerged from a Hermitage painting. Ksenia Ostreikovskaya likewise imbued the Prelude with both mystery and bright-eyed innocence, no less accurate than her fellow sylph.
Now a routine fixture on the Mariinsky stage in leading roles (he will debut in Le Parc later this month), British dancer Xander Parish reprised the role of the Youth with a lovely measure of verve and refinement; his lines in airborne jumps have always been exquisite, but he has now perfected transitional steps and the detailed side of partnership, components that lend greater polish to his overall delivery. That sylphs appear truly weightless in his arms is only further testament to the care he gives to the dance. His partner in the Mazurka, Ekaterina Osmolkina, met his warmth with equal energy, and eased through the coda’s steps with joy.
Shifting into the fairytale of Firebird, Tatiana Tkachenko danced a sprightly, evocative Firebird alongside Alexander Romanchikov, the simple yet noble Ivan Tsarevich. Tkachenko’s expressive pantomime and indefatigable jumps carried the ballet forward until the final destruction of veteran Vladimir Ponomarev’s evil Kashchei the Immortal. Although Firebird is geared more for a childhood audience (the Kashchei’s servants look and move like the dead arising from a swamp), the final scenes of the Slavic fairytale presents a happy ending as Ivan Tsarevich marries the most beautiful Princess of Great Beauty, and the remaining princesses also each find true love.
The opulent sultriness of Scheherezade’s harem scenes served as an appropriate backdrop for the entrance of Vladimir Shklyarov as the Slave alongside Viktoria Tereshkina’s Zobeide. Shklyarov, now officially on sabbatical from the Mariinsky, has accepted a one-year contract with the Bavarian State National Ballet, while retaining his place on the roster and the right to guest at the Mariinsky in the meantime. And so the “guest” principal opened the season on his (previously) home stage as the stealthy Slave, imbibing every step and gaze with electricity and attack. His hunger for Tereshkina’s Zobeide was palpable in his constant attention towards her. In turn, Tereshkina acted the role of a cunning princess, at times engaging in a push-pull game with him during their duet. The transformation of these two classical dancers into Eastern lovers serves as a reminder of the professionalism and versatility at the top of the Mariinsky’s roster – even if those individuals, increasingly, are seeking opportunities elsewhere.
Alexander Titov conducted.