Published: October 7, 2005 (Issue # 1111)
Kevin Ng / For The St. Petersburg Times
Mariinsky Ballet star Andrei Merkuriyev relaxing between engagements at a hotel in Nagoya. The dancer is a frequent visitor to Japan.
NAGOYA, Japan — Mariinsky dancers are very popular with Japanese audiences. So perhaps Nagoya, Japan’s fourth largest city, is not such an unlikely venue as it may seem to meet one of the finest male dancers of the Mariinsky Ballet — first soloist Andrei Merkuriyev, who was guesting in late September with the Michiko Matsumoto Ballet, a 50-strong ballet company with a 47-year-old history in the city.
Nagoya hosted this year’s World Expo, whose theme is “Love The Earth”, which attracted over 22 million visitors in six months.
The Michiko Matsumoto Ballet performed in the Aichi Arts Center on the penultimate day of the Expo. And the company fittingly chose a programme in keeping with the Expo’s spirit of global cooperation. It picked a well-known Russian ballet “The Fountain of Bakhchisarai” created for the Mariinsky Ballet (then called Kirov Ballet) in 1934 by Rostislav Zakharov, and cast some of the leading roles for St. Petersburg dancers.
Merkuriyev was cast in the second male leading role of Vaslav, the fiance of the beautiful Polish maiden Maria, who is killed by the Khan Ghirei at the end of Act 1 when trying to protect Maria from the invading Tartars. He made his debut in this role at the Mariinsky Theater as recently as July. It seems a long way to fly just to dance in Act 1 of this four-act ballet.
But Merkuriyev wasn’t the only St. Petersburg guest for these two performances. There were two other dancers from the Mussorgsky Theatre — Misha Venshikov who played Maria’s father, and Vladimir Tsal who was in the ensemble. Another dancer was Ilya Zabotin from the Peterhof Ballet.
The St. Petersburg connection didn’t end here. Maria was danced by the company’s ballerina, Sayumi Yato, who is a former dancer of the Mussorgsky Ballet who returned to Japan last year. Yato and Merkuriyev were colleagues when Merkuriyev was a member of the Mussorgsky Ballet before joining the Mariinsky Theater in 2001.
Was this Merkuriyev’s first guesting with this company? I asked him when we met on his free day after his performance on the previous night. Merkuriyev was in a happy and relaxed mood.
“I first guested with them in 1998, and I danced ‘Swan Lake’ with Sayumi. I am a frequent visitor to Japan. I was on the Mariinsky tour in 2003, and next year the Mariinsky will return to tour Japan.” Merkuriyev was also in Japan with the Mussorgsky Ballet prior to joining the Mariinsky Theater.
Merkuriyev flew to Nagoya in mid-September immediately after his month-long holiday.
“I had a fabulous time in Barcelona.” A lot has happened to Merkuriyev in the past six months. In April he won the prestigious Golden Mask Award for best male dancer. Immediately afterwards he joined the Mariinsky Ballet on its tour to Wales, where he made an impressive debut as Romeo. In May he danced the young Drosselmeyer in the premiere of “The Magic Nut” at the Mariinsky Theater.
In late July he delighted London audiences at Covent Garden in a number of roles during the Mariinsky tour — “The Prodigal Son,” Romeo, and in the Forsythe program where he was striking as the lead male dancer in “In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated.”
In early August, he participated in a gala in Dartford in Kent. I was delighted to see him shine again as the Prince in Ratmansky’s version of “Cinderella” which was actually created on him.
Merkuriyev is one of the finest and most popular male dancers in the Mariinsky Theatre and performs often. He particularly excels in dramatic roles. One of his best roles is Des Grieux in the English choreographer Kenneth MacMillan’s ballet “Manon.”
In recent years, he has formed an excellent partnership with soloist Natalia Sologub who is at present pregnant and on maternity leave.
Merkuriyev, unable to dance with one of his favourite regular partners, is nevertheless philosophical and looks forward to the challenges of dancing with other ballerinas.
“I like dancing with Yevgenia Obraztsova too, in particular.” Obraztsova, the Mariinsky’s beautiful 21-year-old dancer who is in the film “Russian Dolls” was his Juliet when he made his debut in Wales.
Merkuriyev was extremely busy on that Sunday when we met in my hotel, as it was his last day in Japan before flying back to St. Petersburg the next morning. After our interview, he was going to visit Chacott, a ballet-wear shop.
“And I am also looking to buy a DVD player this afternoon.”
He added, “I hope that different choreographers will choose to work with me and be satisfied with my dancing.”
Merkuriyev’s dancing will no doubt continue to delight audiences all over the world beyond Japan and St. Petersburg.
Andrei Merkuriyev appears at the Mariinsky Theater in “La Sylphide” on Oct. 26 and “The Nutcracker” on Oct. 29.