A Very Mariinsky Weekend, Part Two

Uliana Lopatkina and Andrei Ermakov in La Rose Malade

The Mariinsky's stint at BAM ended tonight in a program that might have been called "Back to the USSR." The whole series of performances was billed a "Tribute to Maya Plisetskaya" but unlike the Ballet Russes gala Friday this performance consisted almost completely of excerpts from Soviet ballets. It was also more heavily centered on Uliana Lopatkina, who performed 6 out of the ten excerpts, and that's not even counting the inevitable Dying Swan encore.

When you watched these excerpts from Fountains of Bakhchisarai, Legend of Love, Shurale, Lavrovsky's Romeo and Juliet, one can see both how Russian ballet is tied to its Soviet past but also how it's evolved and moved on. Clips of Maya Plisetskaya or Galina Ulanova in these dram-ballets, indicate that charisma and energy often trumped taste and classical form. The great critic Edwin Denby upon first seeing the Bolshoi in 1959 had this to say: "You keep seeing open mouths, hunched shoulders, jutted chins, arms turned inside out at the socket and avidly reaching; you keep seeing elbows bent stiff or stretched stiff, hands crooked at the waist, impatient arms, agitated hands, bobbing heads."

Denby's vivid (if harsh) assessment is confirmed from various video clips of that era. Watch this clip of Ulanova and Plisetskaya in Fountains of Bakhchisarai. Plisetskaya's raw power is undeniable. So are her open mouth, hunched shoulders, jutted chin, arms turned inside out at the socket, impatient arms, agitated hands, and bobbing head.

In contrast, the excerpts tonight were performed with legs and feet perfectly turned out, hands and fingers carefully tapered just so, rigid and proud necks, shoulders, and heads. Lopatkina in the huge upside down lifts of the Legend of Love duet positioned herself to emphasize the sculptural stillness of the position, rather than the superhuman strength required to achieve that pose. Part of this is the classic Bolshoi vs. Mariinsky distinction, but I also think ballet has evolved and dancers simply can't recreate the style of Soviet dram-ballet.

Let's start with the familiar -- even Lopatkina's gorgeous legs couldn't save the atrocity that is Alberto Alonso's Carmen Suite. Andrei Ermakov pranced around onstage in a polka-dotted blouse while Lopatkina sashayed around him. We only saw 10 minutes of this, but I have seen the 45 minute enchilada and it's excruciating. Ekaterina Osmolkina's soft lyrical style and supple back were lovely in the Romeo and Juliet balcony duet. Her husband Maxim Zuzin is really not at her level. Vladimir Shklyarov and Maria Shirinkina again performed the Giselle pas de deux, except this time she did the opening developpé and he didn't fall out of a double assemblé. Shirinkina's Giselle is not a powerhouse a la Natalia Osipova. But the fluidity of her arms, her quick (and low to the ground) entrechats and her airy jumps made me wish to see her full-length Giselle. And I know Lopatkina has been dancing La Rose Malade as a gala number for ages but no matter how many times I've seen it I marvel at the quiet dignity she brings to the piece.

The more adventurous side of the evening were from ballets rarely seen outside Russia. We got two scenes from Fountains of Bakchisarai -- the rather watery, generic adagio, and the much meatier Act III finale. I wish the finale could have been performed with some basic props and scenery because much of the action and blocking did not make much sense without any scenery. Nevertheless Maria Shirinkina was absolutely lovely and lyrical in the "Galina Ulanova" role, and Uliana Lopatkina burned up the stage as the vengeful Zarema. She was cast against type but made for a convincingly jealous harem mistress.

Lopatkina in "Little Humpbacked Horse"
Lopatkina was draped in a veil and lifted on Ermakov's shoulders for about five minutes in a sweet little excerpt called Melody. Asaf Messerer set this duet (whose choreography sort of resembles Ashton's Meditation pas de deux) to Gluck's Elysian fields music. The "melody" was heavenly, the choreography was trite. An excerpt from Leonid Yakobsen's Shurale (Valeria Martynuk and Maxim Zuzin) however was a delight -- the excerpt was so brief but the charming folk-like number made me long to see the entire ballet. The Legend of Love excerpt reminded me of everything I hate about Grigorivich ballets -- the bombastic music, the choreography that seems to consist of one overhead lift after another (and when all options have been exhausted, just turn the lady upside down!), the sheer ugliness of most of his moves.

The final number, to Ratmansky's Little Humpbacked Horse was the only nod to the 21st century. But it was absolutely the highlight of the evening. The partnership between Shklyarov and Lopatkina (so infrequent) was beautiful -- she was again cast against type as the playful, toimboyish Tsar Maiden and he repeated an excerpt (where Ivan repeated messes up his variations until he wows the crowd with a perfect series of turns a la seconde) from the ballet that made NY audiences fall in love with him. I almost cried watching them together -- you not only saw two great dancers, but wondered at the partnership that might have been.

The final moments of the evening were maybe the most touching -- the dancers bowed as Lopatkina quickly changed to do one more Dying Swan. This might have been barebones suitcase ballet, but Loptakina's devotion to her art and her generosity to her audiences reminds me of Anna Pavlova's famous last words: "Get my Swan costume ready."

Final curtain call


  1. OMG this is Ivanchenko with Lopatkina on the photo from Legend of Love.
    In excerpt from LHBN Shklyarov didn't do the trick he used to do - a series of split jumps, he did pirouettes instead, that;s a pity. LHBH is the only ballet he can partner Lopatkina in, because there are no high lifts. BTW she apparently prefers Zuzin as her partner in this judging by number of performances they did together)))) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EnirUvZCi3w

    1. Thanks for your correction. I've uploaded a different picture.

  2. Thanks for the review, a pleasure to read as always.

    Interestingly enough, Shklyarov mentions in an interview here (http://tieba.baidu.com/p/3492852455) that he suggested LHH to lopatkina
    'Actually this time it was me who initiated the collaboration with Lopatkina, I feel that for her this is a very interesting thing, it is different from what she normally dances, she would have a new feeling. I have infinite respect for her, her persistence, her tenacity and her loyalty/integrity towards ballet are things i need to learn from her, but regrettably because of height we don't often get to work together in classical pieces. To dance with her is a dream, I feel very fortunate.'


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