Leaps and bounds
International dance stars descend on the city for the annual Mariinsky Ballet Festival.
Published: March 21, 2012 (Issue # 1700)
Diana Vishneva will dance March 30 in an evening of one-act ballets.
Dance talent from the Bolshoi Theater, London’s Royal Ballet, New York City Ballet, the Wiener Staatsoper, Het Nationale Ballet and the Béjart Ballet Lausanne will join the Mariinsky Theater’s top soloists at the 12th International Mariinsky Ballet Festival.
The festivities kick off March 22 with a revival of Roland Petit’s poignant 1946 masterpiece “Le Jeune Homme et la Mort.”
The event, launched by the Mariinsky’s artistic director Valery Gergiev in 2001 as a counterweight to the maestro’s other brainchild, the “Stars of the White Nights” festival that runs every year from mid-May through mid-July, assembles a pantheon of ballet stars from the world’s finest ballet companies. While operatic and symphonic programs reign at the “Stars of the White Nights” festival, making some balletomanes feel hard done by, the spring event is a sweet consolation.
The festival celebrates choreographic diversity, with ballets choreographed by Marius Petipa, August Bournonville, George Balanchine, Roland Petit, Maurice Béjart, Angelin Preljocaj and Alexei Ratmansky fused in its programs.
“Le Jeune Homme et la Mort,” which originally brought Roland Petit to European fame, was influenced by Jean Cocteau, who learned the story from the legendary impresario Sergei Diaghilev and then inspired Petit to turn the plot into a ballet. Since the ballet’s world premiere in 1946, the title roles have remained among the most desired in the ballet repertoire. Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov both performed the part of the young man to great acclaim.
The Mariinsky Theater first staged the ballet for Farukh Ruzimatov and Ulyana Lopatkina in the late 1990s, but the production did not last, as Petit was critical of the company’s rendition of his work. This time, Lopatkina will partner Mariinsky soloist Vladimir Shklyarov.
The same evening will see a performance of George Balanchine’s ballet “The Prodigal Son” set to music by Sergei Prokofiev, and originally created for Diaghilev’s Saisons Russes in 1929, when it was performed by Teresa Reichlen and Daniel Ulbricht, soloists with the New York City Ballet.
The festival offers rare opportunities to see Western ballet stars in classical Russian ballets as well as in their signature roles in works by foreign choreographers.
Covent Garden’s Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg, who made their debut at the Mariinsky during the ballet festival in 2003, have since become regulars at the festival and have attended it almost every year since then.
This year, Cojocaru will appear alongside Kobborg in Bournonville’s “La Sylphide” on March 25 in a not-to-be-missed performance.
Covent Garden’s Johan Kobborg will perform in ‘La Sylphide.’
Cojocaru, a 30-year-old dancer with a low-key manner and a Thumbelina-like appearance, who often says that she feels her life has much in common with the story of Cinderella, is one of the festival’s most eye-catching names. The Bucharest-born ballerina is often described as the world’s most moving dancer, thrilling audiences with her vibrant portrayals of emotionally fragile heroines.
Born into a family of market-stall holders, Cojocaru expressed an early interest in gymnastics, but quickly switched her attention to dance. At the age of nine, she was invited to the Kiev Ballet School, where she studied for seven years. In 1997, Cojocaru’s career took its first rapid leap forward when the dancer, then 16, won the prestigious Prix de Lausanne, and subsequently undertook a six-month scholarship at the Royal Ballet as part of the prize. When the course finished, she had two drastically different options open to her: Stay with the Royal Ballet — in the corps de ballet — or return to the Kiev Opera and Ballet Theater as a principal dancer. It was a difficult choice, and the gap between standards of living in the U.K. and in Ukraine notwithstanding, Cojocaru returned to Kiev to dance an array of top roles — including Cinderella — in a single season.
By the end of the 1998-1999 season, she felt it was time for a change, and moved to London to join Covent Garden’s corps de ballet. The speed of Cojocaru’s rise to the top in London — she made the transition from corps-de-ballet member to first soloist in just one season — shocked even the dancer herself.
She is now famous for her lead roles in Kenneth MacMillan’s “Manon” and “Romeo and Juliet” as well as Marius Petipa classics such as “Giselle” and “Don Quixote.”
Representing the Bolshoi Theater, Svetlana Zakharova and Alexander Volchkov will join Anastasia Matvienko to form the love triangle in “La Bayadère” on March 24.
The festival will reach its apogee with performances by the world-renowned Bejart Ballet Lausanne on March 27 and 28. The company, founded by the late legendary 20th-century choreographer Maurice Béjart, is now directed by Gil Roman. The ballet troupe will bring four of the ballet-master’s works to St. Petersburg, including “Boléro,” “Ce que l’amour me dit,” “Cantate 51” and the pas de deux of Hélène and Euphorion from the ballet “Notre Faust,” as well as Roman’s ballet “Là où sont les oiseaux.”
The visit by the Béjart Ballet Lausanne will be accompanied by an exhibition of unique photographs by Valentin Baranovsky. The display will showcase images of Béjart himself, dancer Jorge Donn and artists of the Kirov Ballet Company when the choreographer first visited Leningrad in the late 1980s.
Viktoria Tereshkina and Alexander Sergeyev will appear in Angelin Preljocaj’s ballet “Le Parc” (March 26); Diana Vishneva will take to the stage in a ballet evening featuring “Errand into the Maze” by Martha Graham, “Subject to Change” by Paul Lightfoot and “Pierrot Lunaire” by Alexei Ratmansky (March 30); and Lopatkina and Andrei Yermakov will perform Ratmansky’s ballet “Anna Karenina” on March 31.
The festival ends on April 1 with a gala performance featuring the festival’s guest stars.
For a full program, visit www.mariinsky.ru