Friday, March 21, 2008

Mariinsky Theater Ballet Festival

This year’s Mariinsky Theater Ballet Festival, running through Sunday, has proved very meager indeed compared with the rich and diverse fare offered by the seven previous festivals.

Six of the ten performances are “Swan Lake.”

This would be understandable for an overseas tour due to limited rehearsal time. But surely in its home theater, the Mariinsky Ballet should be more than capable of presenting a different program almost every night, as in previous years.

This safe and predictable programming is justifiable if the Mariinsky can still dance this Petipa 1895 classic “Swan Lake” with all its legendary greatness. But can it?

After the first two performances last weekend, the answer is yes and no. Yes, the Mariinsky’s corps de ballet is still the greatest in the world and surpasses any other ballet company’s in terms of upper-body uniformity. But it must be mentioned that the Mariinsky corps was greater still a decade or two ago, and the present one cannot yet attain that peak. And yes, the Mariinsky’s character dancers are still unsurpassed in the national dances of Act III. But then again, there was even more grandeur and stylishness in these national dances in the past.

The choreographic text of this 1950 Konstantin Sergeyev production is not as authentic as the London Royal Ballet’s current 1986 production by Anthony Dowell.

Still, any production of “Swan Lake” needs to be illuminated by a true classical ballerina, such as the Mariinsky star Diana Vishneva, much acclaimed in New York lately, who danced the opening “Swan Lake.” Vishneva, a supremely musical dancer, danced the white swan duet immaculately as if in one long phrase. Vishneva’s pure and pellucid dancing achieved a rare state of sanctity, as if bestowing a spiritual blessing. Her sublime performance in this “white” act was a revelation. Her black swan was also gloriously danced. Igor Kolb strongly partnered Vishneva and gave a performance full of dramatic depth and virtuosic power.

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