DanceView Times, international edition
Daria Pavlenko triumphs at Covent Garden
The Royal Ballet opened its 2003-2004 season - the first under the autonomous directorship of Monica Mason - with a revival of Natalia Makarova’s production of La Bayadère. As the first full-length version of Marius Petipa’s timeless chef-d’oeuvre seen in the West, this Bayadère, complete with Makarova’s conjectural reconstruction of the 4th Act, acquired a certain status of historical significance. First performed by American Ballet Theatre in 1980, the Royal Ballet acquired La Bayadère in 1989 and has now danced it almost 80 times at the Royal Opera House.
However, time has moved on. The Kirov Ballet has since then showed its authoritative Bayadère to the world and recently came up with an ambitious historic reconstruction of Petipa’s own staging from 1900, revealing hitherto unsuspected choreographic and dramatic aspects. In 1992 Rudolf Nureyev, with a final stroke of genius, mounted his magnificent production for the Paris Opera Ballet, a version which still stands as a model update of the ballet.
It is inevitable that Makarova’s production appears unshaded, especially when placed beside these versions. Small-scaled, almost completely omitting the element of pageantry and ceremonial, quick-paced to the point of becoming theatrically insignificant, and handicapped by an irritating arrangement of the score (Lanchbery’s orchestration is an exemplary disfigurement of Minkus’ self-evident music), this is La Bayadère ‘à petit spectacle’, which places now more than ever the load of carrying it through on the talent of the dancers, in particular the leading trio of soloists and the corps de ballet.
The decision to invite Daria Pavlenko of the Kirov Ballet to dance Nikiya in this new run at Covent Garden was in this respect a blessed one. Pavlenko, all aristocratic understatement and heart-beating musicality, not only developed into one of the foremost interpreters of the great classics in St. Petersburg, she has proven as none else at the Mariinsky at this moment to have the full measure of this ballet and its heroine. She created the role in Sergei Vikharev’s restoration of the 1900 version, premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre in May 2002, and has also danced Nikiya (as well as Gamzatti) in the older, still performed Soviet-era production.
These performances presented Pavlenko’s debut with the Royal Ballet; she had been invited for two evenings (October 21 and 31) to replace Darcey Bussell on maternity leave. Taking a three-week break from the Kirov’s current USA tour, Pavlenko arrived mid-October in London to rehearse the role with Natalia Makarova herself and with her assistant Olga Evreinov. Her Solor was Italian guest star Roberto Bolle, while the role of her rival Gamzatti was danced by the Royal Ballet’s Zenaida Yanowsky.
Pavlenko’s Nikiya at Covent Garden basically didn’t differ from her reading in the Mariinsky productions. True, at times she seemed just too grand in scale for Makarova’s compact-sized transcription. The dramatic interplay with the Royal Ballet artists wasn’t always that happy either as if both parties were speaking a different language. Her first encounter with Alastair Marriott’s High Brahmin (who all but managed to mess up the crucial moment of Nikiya’s unveiling) looked bizarre because of his ceaseless hectic attempts at dramatic realism, which is now definitely a recurrent flaw of the Royal Ballet in the 19th century classics, but totally alien to Mariinsky artists. On the other hand, the diluted mime confrontation between Nikiya and Gamzatti in the 2nd scene of the 1st Act of Makarova’s production is almost a shorthand version of the corresponding Mariinsky mise-en-scène. Although Pavlenko and Yanowsky are fine actresses, the scene never really caught fire.
Where Pavlenko reigned supreme and more than succeeded in giving the ballet the impulse it demands, was in the dancing sections. The short moment before and during the actual meeting with Solor, her moving lament at the betrothal of Gamzatti and Solor, the Shades Act, and even her brief appearances as avenging spirit in the final scene were uncommonly sublime moments by the beauty of Pavlenko’s line, the eloquence of her torso and arms, the clarity of her delivery, and her sure-fire talent to invest each step with the right dynamic. The adagios with Roberto Bolle, especially in the Shades scene, were the choreographic and emotional pinnacle of her performance. Pavlenko possesses this rare gift to instil the adagios with a classical serenity, which creates a mesmerizing atmosphere of stillness and calm, leaving one unaware of time and completely unconscious of the physical effort behind the dancingI couldn’t think of a better illustration for the spiritual significance of this ballet that Makarova attempted to recreate. In this respect Pavlenko was really the prima ballerina of the corps de ballet, and the true goddess in Solor’s imagination.
The ubiquitous and overrated Roberto Bolle was adequate, if nothing more, as Solor. He wasn’t always the most secure of partners either, and more performances would undoubtedly result in a more convincing rapport than was created in the course of these two. Zenaida Yanowsky, tall and imposing, was a remarkable Gamzatti, albeit more subtle in her acting than in her dancing. The corps de ballet did well in the Shades scene, but the solo shades (Mara Galeazzi, Helen Crawford, Isabel McMeekan) were in need of more rehearsing. Ivan Putrov, the Royal’s Kiev-trained young principal, danced an exciting Bronze Idol.
The musicians of the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House sounded for most of the evening as if they wanted to play something else and even the presence of Mariinsky conductor Valery Ovsyanikov, usually a great asset for the ballet performances in Covent Garden, wasn’t enough to change their minds.
Pavlenko’s performances with the Royal Ballet received favourable comments from the critics, while the London audiences who remembered her appearances on this same stage with the Kirov Ballet only a couple of months earlier, among others in La Bayadère and Swan Lake, were clearly conquered by her luminous reading. They are by any means a momentous step in the career of this promising young ballerina and one hopes will be the harbinger of more invitations to London.
Daria Pavlenko in the Kirov Ballet's production of the Kingdom of the Shades scene. Photo: Marc Haegeman.
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