Published: October 7, 2005 (Issue # 1111)
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. Pages: