Opening of the White Nights Festival – 27 May 2024 “Giselle”

Coinciding with the birthday of the city of Saint Petersburg, the Mariinsky’s annual White Nights Festival began on 27 May with summer heat flowing through the city. A full house ushered in the start of this yearly celebration of dance, symphony, and opera delights.

Although they’ve not performed together in this ballet previously, Oksana Skorik and Nikita Korneev joined forces in the leading roles of “Giselle” on opening night. The dashingly handsome Korneev, a first soloist since 01 May this year and now regularly performing principal roles, danced an emotionally engaged Albrecht who managed to lift Skorik like a feather in Act II. The refined pantomime series from his first entrance made his social status clear: he stepped with grace, chin held high and dismissed his sword-bearer, mimed by Andrey Yakovlev, with authority. In contrast, the pedestrian gait of Roman Belyakov’s humble Hans (Hilarion, in Western versions) revealed his peasant status from his first appearance. Korneev has honed his Albrecht, but the impeccable partnering, especially in Act II, speaks of his irreproachable growing talent.

Oksana Skorik received the honor of being cast in the leading role, although in recent months she has not been given as much stage time as the audience prefers. Her light jumps and glowing smile emitted a sense of joy in Act I with immaculate technique transparent throughout both acts. Just gazing on her curled arches and high extensions – achieved with refinement and taste, never bordering on the gymnastic – is a true pleasure. Although some see her as a less emotional dancer, her Giselle is playful and jubilant in Act I. Her initial hesitancy soon gives way to warm acceptance of Korneev’s Albrecht. Midway through Act I, she welcomes their union. By Act II, forgiveness and deep love fill her every pore.

Daria Shirokova played an elegant, bright Bathilde alongside Nikolai Naumov as her stern but noble father, the Count. After requesting refreshment from Giselle’s mother (Lira Huslamova), Naumov tosses his napkin on the table carelessly in a gesture implying spoiled royalty. When Giselle touches Bathilde’s red velvet gown in awe, Shirokova is not shocked but reassuring to the young girl. These subtle nuances in pantomime added great depth to the performance.

Elena Evseeva brought her usual sunny persona to the peasant pas de deux alongside novice Yaroslov Pushkov. Stamina and endurance continue to be her strong suits: light jumps and reliable delivery accented her variation. A couple of partnering glitches will smooth out as Pushkov gains more experience.

In Skorik’s quite memorable mad scene, the first sequences seem less an indication of losing her mind than of demonstrating what she had just experienced. It’s as if we are watching her visual recollection. It isn’t until she shakes her head violently and grabs her heart that the audience receives a clear indication of her madness. That the gentry exit the stage at this point underscores a low point in the libretto: the rest is for Korneev’s Albrecht to hash out with Belyakov.

The sets for Act II immediately imply the connection between two worlds: material and spiritual. With a bright yellow full moon high overhead, the dim setting ushers in Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis. Anastasia Kolegova entered skimming the floor with utterly flawless bourrées which suggested she was gliding over ice. Her lush lines and fluid movements immediately revealed a transcendent being from another world. Unfortunately, after a piqué arabesque she injured herself and hobbled offstage. The corps de ballet performed their portions, at times to an empty stage as the music continued, before Kolegova’s replacement, Anastasia Nuikina, entered with the rosemary branch to usher in Giselle from the grave. In twenty years of viewing Mariinsky performances, this is the first time VaganovaToday has ever witnessed an onstage injury. We wish Kolegova a quick recovery, as she has torn her Achilles tendon and now will be out for quite some time.

Despite Kolegova’s injury, this opening night performance revealed top notch professionalism from all involved. The Skorik-Korneev duo proved that this partnership is one to watch, and that Korneev is a principal dancer in the making. It will be interesting to view his further progress.

Photos by Mikhail Vilchuk for the Mariinsky Theatre, courtesy of the Mariinsky Press Office.