While sitting in the midst of a mostly Russian-speaking audience at Friday night’s Don Quixote by the Mikhailovsky Ballet, it occurred to Haglund that perhaps, just perhaps, this company didn’t travel all the way from St. Petersburg for his personal enjoyment or the enjoyment of the American audience that we commonly see at ballet performances at Lincoln Center. They came for the more than 1-1/2 million Russians who live in the tri-state area. Occasionally, the local Russian population shows up at Lincoln Center for a ballet performance of an American company that features a star from back home, but never in the numbers that they do when a company arrives from St. Petersburg or Moscow. There's nothing unusual or wrong with that. Americans living around Osaka probably flocked to Nishinomiya recently to watch Robinson Cano, Evan Longoria, and the MLB All Stars play a group from the Hanshin Tigers and Yomiuri Giants in an exhibition game even though they might not routinely attend local Japanese baseball games. They were probably pretty thrilled to witness Evan Longoria hit a grand slam home run and didn’t much care that it wasn’t the World Series.
At last night's performance, audience members warmly appreciated the artists in this colorful and attractive production, but didn't go overboard the way that they sometimes can do. The evening's lead performers were younger, less experienced dancers who stepped on stage without the benefit of already having big reputations to help prop them up.
There is a facial expression that dancers sometimes can’t hide when accepting applause following a variation. The bottom half of the face has a confident smile and genuine appreciation of the audience’s response, but the eyes subtly reflect the realization that they could have done everything a lot better and a wish for the instant do-over that they never will have. They know that they had the ability to knock it out of the park like Evan Longoria, but it wasn’t their night to do it. And so it was with our young leads last night at the Mikhailovsky. Angelina Vorontsova as Kitri and Victor Lebedev as Basilio gave an okay performance that was not the best that they could give and certainly not the best that they will give in the future. It was, however, our last look at them for a while.
Ms. Vorontsova is already somewhat known – not for her dancing, but for being a protégé of the controversial Nikolai Tsiskaridze and as the girlfriend of the Bolshoi dancer convicted in connection with the attack on Sergei Filin.
Lovely, strong feet with high extensions that she forced to their maximums throughout the night, Vorontsova was clearly in her elements of vibrancy and power. That was all fine for the joyous and natural Kitri in Acts I and III, but she did not have the delicacy, maturity or purity of line to pull off Act II’s ballerina solos. And, yes, she was a little fleshy in places that tended to catch the light, particularly during the grand pas in Act III. A beautiful and very charming smile along with youthful energy took her a long way in the performance. Right now, she has good basic carpenter tools but not the craftsmanship needed to carve out a Kitri that is unique or extraordinary in any way. Her series of fouettes were done with her hands on her hips for all 32 counts but for some reason they didn’t look particularly spectacular. She was able to hold attitude poses on pointe for extra counts but they didn't hold much value and sometimes interfered with the musicality of the dancing phrases.
Basilio was a big stretch for Victor Lebedev, who is a more natural Albrecht or prince type. He isn’t yet strong enough to pull off a convincing Basilio and would have looked better opposite a ballerina with a similar lengthy physique. He did not attempt any one-armed lifts and he had some difficulty manipulating Vorontsova as she dropped from an overhead lift into a fish position. Otherwise, his partnering was smooth, particularly in the rotation of Vorontsova’s pirouettes. His own pirouettes, however, were not quite as pristine as he would have liked although a few clean double tours interspersed with pirouettes were a good sign of better things to come. His final series of turns a la second were a blaze of power and perfection without moving out of place - the kind of performance that makes you want to check back with this guy on a regular basis.
Ekaterina Borchenko danced the Queen of the Dryads by the book without making any mistakes but without making herself interesting. Espada, Mikhail Venshchikov, and the Street Dancer, Valeria Zapasnikova, were sufficiently dramatic but not particularly sultry.
A cohesive crew of soloists and demi-soloists wearing orange sherbet colored tutus in Act III, led by Anna Kuligina and Ms. Zapasnikova, were as skilled and personable in their dancing as any major company anywhere. They looked, for all intents and purposes, like the future stars of the Mikhailovsky Ballet.
Here in the land of legendary Don Q performances, it would be easy to sniff at what's not spectacular. But we won't. These very young artists, several of whom eschewed the traditional paths through the ranks of the more prestigious Bolshoi or Mariinsky to join the Mikhailovsky, have shown that while they may just be getting started, it won't be long before they are upholding Russia's ballet tradition without the aid of anybody else's stars.