Tchaikovsky Perm Ballet and Orchestra
The legendary Natalia Makarova, with Vladimir Shklyarov and Polina Semionova
There’s something special about seeing a Russian company dance a classic such as Swan Lake, which took the Cal Performances stage this past weekend, danced by the Russian company the Tchaikovsky Perm Ballet staged by the legendary Natalia Makarova. With a relatively unknown ballet company (unbeknownst to me, at least), the company made a smart move by scheduling in two superstars as their leads – 24 year old Polina Semionova, who joined as principal at the Berlin Staatsoper Ballet at age 18 and a music video star, and a second soloist of the Mariinsky Theatre, Vladimir Shklyarov, a replacement of the previously scheduled Denis Matvienko.
The biggest nagging thing about the show was the cramped stage, with the dancers eyeing the wires running across the front of the stage warily in the middle of their dancing, cutting tour jetes close as their feet brushed the backdrop, and preparations for jumps starting in the wings. There was only one moment in the performance where the cramped space was used to their advantage; with the swans running around in such a cramped space, it made for a beautiful packed whirlwind effect. Other than that, the movements in general felt limited, taking away from the expansiveness of the show. Despite the limitations of the stage, the company was precise, a fine display of Russian ballet training. I can’t help but to compare this company to the last company I saw here, the State Ballet of Georgia with Nina Ananshiavelli, who danced mostly Balanchine and modern works. I admire what the State Ballet of Georgia was trying to do, yet the classics are where the Russian ballet training is really displayed at its best, and the difference in the quality and ease of dancing was palpable.
Polina Semionova was a gorgeous solid presence, with her tall height and muscular arms carving through the air in time and space. She is no wispy wilting Odette, with a solidarity and earthiness and a depth of passion in her interpretation, which translated better in character as the seductress, Odile. As Odile, she grabbed Prince Siegfried with her eyes, daring him to fall in love with her. Her technique unwavered, with impossibly long balances and spinning fouettes (I swear she was doing triples, but I might be wrong). Vladimir Shkylarov used his boyish good looks to make the prince seem as young as he probably is supposed to be, yet the lack of chemistry with Polina and lack of emotional depth made it hard to be a believable character. Semionova’s solid stage presence and height overpowered his rather one-note boyish lightness, and he came across more of a moody teenager than a tortured soul. At one point in the dance in the second act when he is told to pick a princess, he looked like a a 13 year old ready to kick a trashcan. That moment actually made my seat neighbor to laugh out loud. His jumps were sky high, yet there was a lack of completion and follow through in the long time that he actually was in the air, aside from a scary moment after his tours where he almost fell and looked like he injured himself. I felt like he would have made a better Romeo than a Prince Siegfried. I couldn’t help but to feel that San Francisco Ballet dancer Tiit Helimets would have made a much better partner for Polina, with his tragic tortured quality and the solidarity to match hers. Perhaps most of my complaints have to do with the fact that he was a last minute replacement with minimal rehearsal time, and he fulfilled his role dutifully. Shkylarov will definitely be a dancer to look out for, however, and time will only bring about the emotional maturity to fill the character onstage.
Despite imperfect staging, it felt like such a treat to be able to watch superstars such as Polina Semionova locally in the Bay Area. And who can resist Swan Lake, with its tragic story and gorgeous swirling music?
As a personal preference, I found that I liked Giselle more than Swan Lake. Perhaps it’s an unfair comparison due to the staging of this particular show, and the fact that I completely fell in love with Giselle first. I don’t remember much about the last Swan Lake I saw (it was with the Royal Ballet about ten years ago), and I had on ABT’s Swan Lake on TV as I was making dinner tonight. Swan Lake is more of the quintessential ballet classic, but there’s something about Giselle that resonates more on an emotional level for me – the offense is bigger, and the forgiveness more divine. In Swan Lake, Prince Siegfried’s biggest offense (aside from falling in love with a swan) is to dance briefly with Odile and to pledge his love to her but only because she reminds him of his real love Odette, which lasts all of a pas de deux, and he does it unintentionally. In Giselle, Albrecht intentionally leads on Giselle with the full knowledge that he is already engaged. But the forgiveness in the second act, where Giselle protects her love from death, is made purer given what he did to her. Not that I’m for more broken hearts in the world, but there’s something divine and inspiring about the second act of Giselle for me.
Some more blurry pictures below – flashes from cameras started going off like crazy as soon as Makarova took the stage.