Mariinsky in Carmen and Symphony in C

Carmen/Symphony in C
Mariinsky Ballet
July 16 and 17, 2011

Ballet season officially ended for me tonight with a double bill of the Mariinsky Ballet in Carmen and Symphony in C. I also attended last night's performance which had the same program but a different cast. This has been by far the busiest spring season of ballet I've ever attended, with me going 3 or 4 times a week, and I've made great new friends. It's been tiring but exhilarating, as today I rushed from a Mets game to the ballet and scarfed down dinner at the Lincoln Center plaza before rushing inside to the ballet.

The Mariinsky opened both last night and tonight with Alberto Alonso's Carmen. The music is from Bizet's opera, but reorchestrated and arranged by Rodin Schedrin, aka Mr. Maya Plisetskaya. This piece was a favorite vehicle for an aging Alicia Alonso and Maya Plisetskaya. Last night's performance starred Diana Vishneva, Yuri Smekalov, and Yevgeny Ivanchenko. Tonight it had Uliana Lopatkina, Daniil Korsuntsev, and Yevgeny Ivanchenko. Vishneva and Lopatkina are two of the greatest female ballerinas on the planet right now, but even they couldn't save this mess of a ballet. It's choreographically almost completely empty, with one move repeated over and over -- Carmen does a grand battement, kicks her leg over Don Jose's shoulder, and Don Jose drags her across the stage. Sometimes Don Jose will act as a pole for Carmen the stripper/ballerina to rotate around. Wash, rinse, repeat, fifty minutes later, still the same move. I suppose this became a favorite vehicle of Alonso and Plisetskaya when things like Odette/Odile were beyond their means, but it was a shame seeing Vishneva and Lopatkina wasted in such trash.

Of the two ballerinas, I'd say Lopatkina had a little more of the brittle "Carmen" hardness, and better looking legs, than Vishneva. Lopatkina enhanced the look of her legs by dancing without tights, while Vishneva wore the thick pink ballet tights. Lopatkina is taller, with a more austere line, and is capable of using her long legs as knives. Vishneva is more petite, more "girlish" figure, and her kittenish Carmen didn't quite work. In Bizet's opera, Don Jose is a huge, complex character who often steals the show from the Carmen. But in this ballet, he's nothing more than a pole for Carmen to lean on, except for a bizarre moment near the end of the ballet when he prances onstage in a hot pink polka dotted silk shirt (see above picture). The dignified and elegant Yevgeny Ivanchenko looked absolutely mortified (the way some dancers do when they're stuck dancing really bad ballets) prancing and preening aimlessly in the ridiculous role of the Toreador. I'd really rather erase Carmen from my memory.

The real reason I attended both performances was of course to see Balanchine's masterpiece Symphony in C. I had only seen the "Bizet" done at the New York City Ballet and was interested in seeing another company's take. Could the Mariinsky dancers really nail the sharp attack and relentless energy of Balanchine? Well, no, they couldn't, but nevertheless it was still an excellent attempt, and there were some wonderful performances. I thought that overall tonight's performance was better than last night's. It had more snap, more attack, more go-for-broke energy. The soloists tonight were also superior to last night's soloists.

Part of the joy of seeing the Mariinsky in Symphony in C was their beautiful corps de ballet. The Mariinsky's production follows the original costume design, with the corps in white, and all the soloists wearing colored tutus. But the corps looked beautiful -- lines all straight, arms completely synchronized, glittering in their white tutus and tiaras. Lovely port de bras. That being said, they definitely had times when they were completely out of sync with the orchestra. Last night, in the fourth movement, it seemed as if they were always either a phrase behind or ahead of the orchestra -- never exactly on the beat. Tonight it was better, but the quickness and sharpness of attack that I look for in Balanchine just doesn't come naturally to a corps that dances an endless diet of Swan Lake and La Bayadere. Still, one had to admire the lovely images they made.

In the first movement, last night it was Alina Somova and Andrian Fadeev. Somova is a weird dancer -- famous for her "ear-whacking" beyond-180 degree extensions, but strangely stiff in the spine, tense in the shoulders and arms, and weakly turned out. Her arabesques lack control, so when she throws her leg to over 180 degrees, it looks floppy, and there's no sense of a deliberate movement upwards. Her feet are another issue -- it's jarring to see a principal in a world class company forget to point her toes when doing beats with her legs, or in passe/releve, but that's Somova. She also does a lot of what my friend called "chin dancing." Tonight, Viktoria Tereshkina took Alina Somova's place. Tereshkina is the opposite of Somova -- her body is taut and lean, and technically it seems there's nothing she can't do. The sissones which looked wild with Somova were solid and sharp tonight with Tereshkina. In fact, there's a "just-the-steps" quality to Tereshkina that I bet Mr. B would have loved. But there's still something about Tereshkina that prevents me from loving her. Don't know what it is -- maybe it's that she's strangely too perfect to the point of seeming slightly hard-boiled and sterile. Fadeev is I believe retiring but you could never tell from the way he's dancing. He has such an elegant line and bearing.

Last night's adagio movement was danced by Uliana Lopatkina and Daniil Korsuntsev, tonight it was Ekaterina Kondaurova and Yevgeny Ivanchenko. Everyone loves the second movement of Symphony in C, and this choreography is pretty fool-proof. I thought of the two females, I marginally preferred Kondaurova to Lopatkina. Lopatkina took the adagio at a much slower pace, but at times seemed so concentrated in showing off the great control she had over her entire body, as she moved at such a glacial pace. Kondaurova took the adagio at a slightly brisker pace, and her body line is not as beautiful as Lopatkina's from a purely aesthetic viewpoint. But Kondaurova's phrasing was softer than Lopatkina's, and more natural. Both ladies are extremely flexible, and both tried the famous knee-touching arabesque penchee that was popularized when Suzanne Farrell used to do the second movement. Korsuntsev and Ivanchenko were both excellent partners who provided great support to their ballerinas.

The thrilling third movement is probably the only movement in Symphony in C where the male has a prominent virtuoso role. The movement requires two strong allegro dancers. Edward Villela used to specialize in the third movement. Both nights at the Mariinsky the third movement was danced by Evgenia Obraztsova and Vladimir Shklyarov. Balanchine has the third movement couple mirror their movements. I thought in this sense they were mismatched because Shklyarov is a much more powerful dancer than Obraztsova. Those slender thighs and beautiful feet of Shklyarov hide a surprising amount of power -- he has great elevation and ballon. Shklyarov stormed onstage and did a series of double air turns that just flew, while Obraztsova seemed unable to keep up with her high-energy partner. Don't get me wrong, Obraztsova is a charming dancer, but this movement needs a dynamo like Ashley Bouder to make it work. Shklyarov on the other hand was the most at home with the Balanchine style, and really added so much vitality to the performance. 

The fourth movement is supposed to be one of the most thrilling, exhilarating finales in all of ballet. With the Mariinsky, the problems with corps de ballet had keeping up with the orchestra, and some of the problems the soloists had in timing their entrances and exits made the finale perhaps less of a stand-up-and-cheer occasion than it should have been. The fourth movement soloists, Maria Shirinkina and Alexander Timofeev, seemed most lost with the Balanchine style. Both good dancers, but just not at home in Balanchine as of now. Also, when all the soloists run back onstage, all of them seemed very uncomfortable with the Balanchine method of pirouettes, which is snappy and unprepared. They all go with the Russian method of conspicuous stops and preparations. Still, Symphony in C in even a less than perfect performance is a mood lifter, a beautiful and happy ballet that leaves the audience smiling and cheering. You could see that the Mariinsky dancers (or most of them) were trying very hard to master the style, and so you had to give them an A for effort. And sometimes, even the NYCB has trouble giving Mr. B's masterpiece the performance it deserves.

Yesterday for the first time this season I did the "stage door" thing with my friend. We figured that since just about everyone was dancing, we'd get a chance to meet the whole Mariinsky company. My friend and I both agreed that if anything, we really really hoped to have our picture taken with Vladimir Sklyarov. And while we got our programs signed by just about everyone (Diana Vishneva, Uliana Lopatina, Daniil Korsuntsev, Andrian Fadeev, Evgenia Obraztsova, Maria Shirinkina), when we saw Shklyarov come out we both started squealing like complete fangirls. He is so cute in person offstage, and so stylish too in his designer jeans and LV bag. Long story short, I think we would have been crushed had he been rude or abrupt, but he was as nice and sweet as his stage persona would suggest. He must have been exhausted after dancing three times in less than a week, but he still seemed genuinely happy to greet his fans. So ... here's the picture. He and his girlfriend Maria Shirinkina were so cute together. Is he not the most adorable man on the planet?

Me and the cutie pie
Yay! I love ballet. That is all.


  1. Ivy, you look transported in that photo!

  2. Well if you're standing next to such a cutie-pie, you'd be transported to heaven too!

  3. CAN I captured your picture a little?
    I need a man's picture in the last.
    not commercial exploitation.


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