The Mariinsky’s “Fountain of Bakchisarei” – June 2024

“The Fountain of Bakchisarai”, referred to as a “choreographic poem” in four sections based on the work by Alexander Pushkin with a prologue and epilogue and created by Rostislav Zakharov in 1934, is a quintessentially Russian ballet in its philosophical leanings which juxtaposes the refined civilization of Slavic (in this case Polish) Europe with the barbaric practices of the Tatars. Yet overall themes of greed and grief underscore the moral obligation to temper desires and adhere to strictures that preserve life and love.

 

On the eve of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, the Mariinsky’s historical stage welcomed a full house to a rare all-star cast. Olesya Novikova, the lately appointed prima ballerina, danced Maria alongside fellow prima Viktoria Tereshkina as Zarema. Alexander Sergeev danced the dashing Vatslav, and Danila Korsuntsev, now a pedagogue and coach inside the theatre, has shifted to a handful of acting roles on stage, and he played a stern, distraught Girei, the head of the Tatar harem.

Parallels between “Bayadère” and “Fountain” have been drawn, as one literary “expert” claimed that the two heroines are in combat in both ballets, and that the choreographic structures in Act I can be linked to Glinka’s “Life for a Tsar”, which also contains a Krakovyak followed by a mazurka. But these are echoes at best, and not copies. The music and choreography differ in the latter, and in the former, the libretto differs: the fight is one-sided, as Maria wants nothing other than release from the harem, and shows no interest in Girei.

On 3 June, Olesya Novikova entered the stage as the very vision of feminine purity, clothed in Maria’s gauzy white “princess” tutu, etching flawless arabesques that seemed to depict the music itself.

Despite some non-intuitive choreography – the sissone croisé into a relèvé pirouette with almost no torque stands out in their duet – Novikova’s lyrical movements fill every musical phrase with emotion. She decorated cabrioles and arabesques with airy port de bras and extended a developpé in second so exquisitely that it was surprising how something so simple could offer such beauty.

Alongside her, the irrepressible Sergeev , as sprightly powerhouse of passion, easily etched the image of a handsome prince (or count) approaching her with unwavering ardor. Their interplay suggested the playfulness in the initial stages of romance until the dream of a happy future is tarnished by the onslaught of the Tatars. In the battle, all Polish noblemen are slain by a handful of Tatars, leaving just Maria and Vatslav alive. There is hope that, alone with his sword, Vatslav may manage to protect Maria from death, until an additional crowd of Tatars appears. Everyone freezes as the audience too realizes the inevitable: he is outnumbered and slain.

Korsuntsev’s Girei is less a murderous conqueror, guilty though he is, than a man controlled by his desires. No one can stop his thirst for conquest, and that includes the conquest of women. But he hasn’t yet figured out that love cannot be acquired. Korsuntsev’s acting talents revealed the frustration, anger, vengeance, and even grief of his character. In attempting to possess two women, he loses both and contemplates suicide himself.

As Nurali, Maxim Izmeztiev is following in the footsteps of Grigory Popov, who for almost two decades  led such roles. Nurali requires endless energy, an unusual ability for gymnastic type jumps, a menacing gaze and strong acting ability. Like Popov, Izmeztiev has these traits and proves to be a promising dancer in such roles.

Both Daler Ruzimatov – yes, the son of the famous Farukh – and Anton Osetrov danced the two “Youths” among the group of noblemen at the palace, each with the height and lines of princes. Nikolai Naumov and Alexander Kurkov were their older counterparts, adorned with mustaches and swords, adding spicy accents with shoulder movements to the Act I mazurka and the solo section that followed. Their partners – Anastasia Nikitina, Anastasia Plotnikova, Lea Tomasson and Alexandra Dementieva – lovely in white gloves and fur-trimmed hats, balanced the dancing sections with delicate beauty.

Last but certainly not least, the brilliantly emotive Viktoria Tereshkina as Zarema, wrought with angst over the lost of Girei’s attentions, enraged over the presence of her new competitor (Maria), and finally consumed by rage that leads to her murdering Maria and being killed as punishment for the deed, embodied the very essence of the harem’s leading lady. Tereshkina’s unvarying vigor – her character almost doesn’t stop moving—matched the ultimate in dramatic presentations. There is a reason both she and Novikova are primas: their technique and acting abilities appear flawless throughout the evening, setting the bar as close to perfection as could be for roles such as these.

The Petersburg summer ballet season is well underway, and this particular performance ignited the desire to see even more.


Photos by Mikhail Vilchuk and Natasha Razina, courtesy of the Mariinsky Theatre Press Office.