Giselle with Maria Shirinkina and Vladimir Shklyarov
St. Petersburg, Mariinsky Theatre
20 April 2013
There’s a big change in Teatralny Ploshard in St Petersburg today – a spanking new theatre, apparently now the world’s most expensive theatre/concert hall. Built as a second home for the Mariinsky Opera, Ballet and Orchestra, the New Theatre – or Mariinsky 2 – with its concrete and glass ‘shopping mall’ blandness sharply contrasts with the stunning architecture of the old Russian capital. It occupies a whole city block and will be connected to the Mariinsky across a small canal when challenges with the glass bridge are solved. The theatre was officially opened at a glittering gala on May 2nd with all the glitterati and wealthy of Russia attending, including President Putin.
Happily for me, the performance of Giselle by the Mariinsky Ballet was staged in the 153-year-old historic theatre, resplendent with its gold and powder blue auditorium and many sparkling chandeliers. A last minute request to attend the performance found me in the director’s box almost on the stage itself, so every nuance of the ballet was scrutinized at close quarters – and I can report that the Mariinsky Ballet looked in fine shape.
This delightful production is as close to the original as possible and, on this occasion, there was the added excitement that the two principals, Maria Shirinkina and Vladimir Shklyarov, husband and wife, were performing the ballet together for the first time. (They each have danced it with different partners, and have danced together in other full-length works. But this was ‘very special’, as the lady next to me kept telling me.)
Maria Shirinkina graduated from Perm Academy in 2006 and immediately joined the Mariinsky Ballet. Tatiana Terekhova, one of the Kirov’s great ballerinas, is her coach and has drawn out her pupil’s grace and lyricism, along with a commanding dramatic sense. Shirinkin is a will-o-the-wisp, small and dainty with long expressive limbs and a photogenic face with huge dark eyes that reveal her every emotion. Her acting in Act 1 showed a Giselle besotted with Albrecht, her body positively tingling in anticipation of seeing him, only to crumple like a deflating balloon when she can’t find him. She later delights in showing her beau off to her friends and proudly watches him dance for them. Her eyes never leave him – he is the centre of her being. Later, in the re-enactment of ‘he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not’ petal plucking of her ‘mad scene’, she first nods a tentative ‘yes’, followed by violent shakes of ‘no, no, no’, so vehement that her heart palpitates, and she rushes off in her confusion, with eyes flashing in every direction, looking for something or someone familiar. In her last moments, she slides through Albrecht’s grasp like slippery silk.
The boyishly handsome Vladimir Shklyarov has a grin that would win any young girl’s heart – and old ones too! He is good at everything too – high jumps, accurate fast tight turns, neat footwork, cabrioles that send the top leg soaring – and he was a convincing actor as a caring, and later remorseful, young lover. His interpretation of Albrecht conveys a life stifled with courtly demands, and the contrasting freedom and excitement he encounters when able to escape to the pleasures of the countryside, and especially to the young girl he loves. Despite his desire to be absorbed into rustic life incognito, his position as a count is so instilled in him, that just a firm nod to his sword bearer (Wilfred in most productions), who tries to stop him from knocking at Giselle’s door, sends the servant scurrying off. And later, his stance and glare is enough to despatch Hans (Hilarion), though those actions arouse the suspicions of the love-struck woodsman, and prove both his and Albrecht’s downfall. There was clearly no great love between the young count and Bathilde – an arranged marriage, no doubt – as when they faced each other in the woodland clearing, her expression was one of, ’Tut! Tut! Breaking another young girl’s heart then?’ And she left quickly when she saw the turmoil his deception had inflicted on poor Giselle.
In Act II – very atmospheric with fog swirling below a milky moon – Myrthe, (Daria Vasnetsova) crossed the stage with tiny roller-smooth bourees that sent her gossamer wings a-quivering. She then produced beautiful deep, controlled penches before sailing through the air on a wire to reappear and summons the doomed young maidens from their graves. And what Wilis! It was hats off to all 24 of them. Their lines were exemplary; their heads, arms, fingers, leg levels uniform. Their feet were silent – even being that close to the stage – and they floated in unison in their eerie ghostliness. A truly impressive sight.
Vladimir Shklyarov performing in Giselle, 2008.
Giselle emerged straight up from her tomb when summoned by Myrthe and her initial spins were high velocity and on the spot. Throughout Act II, Shirinkina was delicate, poised and graceful, offering steady high extensions and balanced control. She was truly ethereal – her soft, light technique, together with her floating tulle tarlatan, made it appear that she hardly touched the ground. Shklyarov, elegantly demonstrating his beautiful line with arabesques that stretched from fingertips to pointed toes, partnered Shirinkina with tenderness. In their last moment together, he holds her hand to his face with gratitude and love for what she has done for him, but she silently slips away. When he pulls forward his hand that had enclosed hers, he sees it empty and races in distress to her grave hoping to catch one more glimpse of her. A heart-stopping moment.
The whole company performed well and there were some good performances from other dancers. Ilya Kuznetsov, a favourite from past tours, was one of the best Hilarion/ Hans I’ve seen, and he proved himself a fine dramatic actor as well as a strong character dancer. He reveals his love for Giselle by bringing her a bunch of wild flowers (rather than a dead bird for supper as in most productions) and hangs it on her windowsill. Later, after he has seen her with Albrecht, he sits on the bench by the cottage and holds the flowers that she hasn’t noticed. His body is wracked with sadness at the acknowledgment of losing his dream. Then, determinedly, he sets out to find who this rival really is. In the confrontation that followed, Kuznetsov’s eyes blazed with anger as he proved the falsity of the count’s disguise. In Act II when facing Myrthe, those same wide-opened eyes, (a foot from my seat!) pleaded for mercy from the fate that awaited him.
Valeria Martynyuk and Filipp Stepin danced the Act 1 peasant pas de deux with style and accuracy. She is a frisky little dancer, crossing the stage in strong, far-reaching jetes and finishing all her steps with a flourish. He is tall and well mannered, with impressive double tours and nicely pointed feet. And I was delighted to see that excellent dram-actor, Vladimir Ponomarev, on stage, albeit only for a few minutes, as the Duke. Once again, as in his countless other roles seen on tours here to the UK, his whole being signified his character precisely.