February 27, 2016
The gala format of short excerpts, typically pas de deux, is not one of my favorites; extracting sections from longer ballets leaves them hanging without context and makes it more difficult both for the artists and the audience to connect to the work. So it was disappointing to learn that the legendary Mariinsky Ballet chose that format for an entire run at BAM last week.
The purported tribute to Maya Plisetskaya, a world-class ballerina associated more with the Bolshoi than the Mariinsky that passed away last year, provided the thinnest unifying theme for the string of pas de deux on offer. A perplexing slide show with no clear narrative or connection began the evening: several pictures of Plisetskaya, alternating with… pictures of Galina Ulanova, another legendary Russian ballerina who died in 1998, whom Plisetskaya replaced as a leading dancer at the Bolshoi in 1960.
No matter, the tribute should be in the dancing. Fortunately, the Mariinsky principals are an exquisite breed, and the biggest pleasure came from two apparently “supporting” principals: Valeria Martinuk and Ekaterina Osmolkina, who managed to shine in spite of the short and sometimes cumbersome excerpts. Osmolinka was gorgeous in both the adagio from The Fountain of Bakhchisaral and as Juliet in the balcony pas – she is soft and tender with floating jumps and lovely use of the head. Martinuk and her partner Maxim Zyusin were rays of sunshine in the adagio from Act III of Shurale, sandwiched between other incredibly stiff and histrionic excerpts that bordered on parody. Maria Shirinkina was a demur Giselle, and Vladimir Shklyarov gave us the only male dancing of the evening in a clean, buoyant (if not overly passionate) Albrecht variation.
The evening was built around Uliana Lopatkina, who is possibly the longest-limbed, creature gracing any stage today. This can be an advantage or disadvantage: in the Carmen excerpt (made famous by Plisetskaya) she was rather stiff and looked forced in her dancing and posturing – no sexy curves anywhere. But in the pas de deux from Melody, when she is constantly lifted, holding a scarf aloft, she was liquid and stunning. And in Fokine’s Dying Swan – a signature role from Pavlova to Plisetskaya, to her – she gave an understated, graceful portrayal with little urgency that somehow felt incomplete: not much flapping, and dying well before the last note.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Nicole Duffy Robertson