Mariinsky Mixed Bill: Carmen Suite et Divertissements – November 2023

Winter came to Saint Petersburg early this year.  For Americans, Thanksgiving weekend, celebrated during the third weekend in November, meant streets covered with snow and temperatures that dove to -10 Celcius. But inside the warm halls of the Mariinsky’s historical theatre building, a full house on Saturday night offered a Christmas-like atmosphere with a mixed bill featuring many terpsichorean treats.

“Carmen Suite”, a specific type of ballet, is not everyone’s cup of tea. With three leading males, a corps de ballet of 8 more men, a trio of ladies, and the heroine, it contains a relatively minimal cast that nonetheless manages to pull the viewer into the world of Spanish bullfighting in less than an hour.

Veteran virtuoso Anastasia Kolegova danced Carmen, alongside Roman Belyakov as the tall, stately Jose. Kolegova’s Carmen was infused with moments of tenderness, while her impeccably flexible arches completed every line she carved in space. Her doll-like features offered a proud, spicy embodiment of the heroine more than an aggressive siren as is often rendered by leading names in this role. Belyakov managed to emit a slightly romantic longing and passion for her that in fact matched the measure of Kolegova’s own temperament. Her lush movements were infused with musical precision and personalized accents that made the role her own. Anton Osetrov performed an imposing Chief Magistrate with stern gestures and a daunting presence. For a dancer so young, he mastered the nuances of this role. Completing the trio of leading male roles, Maxim Zuizin danced the complex choreography of the Toreador with strength and accuracy.

Yet the true intrigue of the evening lay in the second part of the mixed bill: six divertissements culled from various ballets that highlighted some of the greatest dancers in the Mariinsky. Prima ballerina Oksana Skorik opened the divertissements alongside Andrey Ermakov in the Pas de Six from the rarely performed “Esmeralda”, a ballet that was in fact redacted and then preserved from the Imperial traditions by Agrippina Vaganova at the turn of the last century. Crowned with a beautiful wreath of golden leaves against a ruby-studded long black tutu, Skorik danced an elegant, staggeringly beautiful yet forelorn Esmeralda with exquisite footwork. Her solo sections: the slow set of piqué arabesque through faillés at the start, and the long series of backwards bourrées were eloquent testaments to her pristine training. The diagonal of soutenue-pas de chat in the coda suggested the verve and drive of Esmeralda’s underlying passion. Ermakov proved a reliable partner who performed his own solo with vitality and a concluding smile.

Anton Osetrov reappeared in the White Adagio from “Swan Lake” alongside the young and promising Anastasia Plotnikova. A graduate of Feton Miozzi at the Vaganova Academy, Osetrov is arguably more promising in classical roles such as this one. But that may just be due to extremely attractive stage features –he is a handsome prince with long legs and lovely proportions. Osetrov proved a reliable, unfailing partner to Plotnikova’s gentle Odette. Plotnikova’s rendition — accurate and yet lyrical– was cautious. While the couple did not have the opportunity to emit much emotion, there is room to develop that should they perform the piece, or even the entire ballet, in the future. This will be an interesting partnership to follow in the future.

The true treasure of the evening was by far the short “Babochka” [Butterfly] duet by prima ballerina Olesya Novikova alongside the viewer’s favorite, Alexander Sergeev. This delightful work by Marie Taglioni and reset by Pierre Lacotte is over in the flap of a butterfly’s wing, but unbelievably charming. Novikova donned a weightless, snow-white romantic tutu that floated through the air, wispier than any Act II Giselle costume. She radiated joy alongside the noble, brawny Sergeev. The butterfly pleads with Sergeev, and kisses him, and when lifted horizontally, her leg “battus” as if it is the beat of her heart-wings. Sergeev danced his variation with considerable flair, including a flawless tombé-coupé manège. Novikova’s brisé sequence and backwards brisés were crisp and ethereal, her step-up turns and emboîtés infused with elation and perfect épaulement. This pas de deux alone could be called the raison d’être for the evening.

Many in the house seemed drawn to Ekaterina Kondaurova’s performance of “Flashback” to the music of Arvo Part. Just back from a half-year’s injury, Kondaurova sculpted the endlessly complex arm gestures with intention alongside Roman Beylakov’s supportive presence. Sprinkled with moments of magnetic violence, their duet expressed a myriad of emotions in a short period of time to considerable applause.

Viktoria Tereshkina’s “The Dying Swan” recaptured the essence of Anna Pavlova in this famous solo, her trembling bourrées a metaphor for the potential angst of a swan’s final moments. And the final pas de deux of the evening, “Grand Pas Classique”, danced by Maria Iliushkina and Timur Askerov, proved to be virtuoso presentation of one of ballet’s most challenging duets. Iliushkina’s distinctly French accents in her footwork nonetheless led to a slightly soft — and thus confident– ending in her variation. Askerov’s petit batterie, from the series of entrechat six to the brisé volé section, likewise displayed his dazzling talent in “à terre” movement.

Just on the eve of the Nutcracker season, one hopes that the divertissements offered tonight will become a more regular feature on the Mariinsky’s playbills.

Top photo: Anton Osetrov (Photo by Mikhail Vilchuk); second and third images of Olesya Novikova and Alexander Sergeev in “Babochka” (photos by Natasha Razina); last image of Maria Iliushkina and Timur Askerov in “Grand Pas Classique” (photo by Natasha Razina). All photos courtesy of the Mariinsky Theatre Press Office.