The Mariinsky closed out their tour with a limp triple bill of Chopin. Chopiniana/Les Sylphides premiered at the Mariinsky over 100 years ago and had maybe the most legendary "first cast" of all time -- Anna Pavlova, Vaslav Nijinsky, and Tamara Karsavina. Anna Pavlova and Vaslav Nijinsky were renowned for their elevation and lightness. The leading couple today (Timur Askerov and Oksana Skorik) are the opposite of light and effervescent. Askerov has clumsy posture with hunched shoulders and sloppy arms. Skorik is one of those really tall, crane necked, scary looking Russian ballerinas -- she's a dead ringer for Maleficent. But she also has really hard, tough landings. Yana Selina and Anna Lavrinenko were exquisite -- beautiful, with those rippling Vaganova arms and airy jumps. The corps was wonderful, but the pianist was not -- she totally ignored all the markings and decided to make the polonaise, waltz, mazurka, nocturne all sound like a dirge. This is a Mariinsky trademark. They should have done better.
Benjamin Millepied's Without was next. It's one of those color-coded couple ballets. For the first 15 minutes I thought well, this is nice, pleasant, sort of derivative but at least it's pretty. The choreography is a lot of swoony duets with a few goofy moves thrown in the mix. Unfortunately the ballet went on for about 50 minutes. I thought it ended several times before it actually ended -- the lights dimmed, the audience applauded ... and the music started up again, and the swoony duets began again. It was endless. This was the ballet where the Mariinsky's rather rigid casting system was up-ended and we got to see some of their other dancers. Kristina Shapran and Andrei Yermakov were very lovely as the blue couple, as were Yana Selina and Filip Stepin (purple couple). The other couples were: Anastasia Matvienko/Konstantin Zverev (red couple), Tatiana Tiliguzova/Ernest Latpov (orange couple, in one of the ballet's few humorous moments), and Margarita Frolova/Xander Parish (green couple).
Jerome Robbins' In the Night closed out the program and it at least had the advantage of being brief and well cast. It's A- Robbins, but A- Robbins is better than A+ Millepied. The young couple (Anastasia Matvienko and Vladimir Shklyarov) were ardent and adorable. A bit like Romeo and Juliet. The middle aged couple (Ekaterina Kondaurova and Yevgeny Ivanchenko) were a bit stolid, formal, but that is how it's supposed to be. Kondaurova still seems stiff in the lower body, like she's working through an injury. Uliana Lopatkina and Andrei Yermakov were the older, passionate/tempestuous couple. Lopatkina was of course her usual extravagant, poetic self. Maybe no ballerina can be so unchanging at yet compelling in everything she dances. She didn't quite nail the occasional humor of the choreography but it was still a wonderful performance. Yermakov has really princely lines and looks. Why was he dancing Rothbart all week?
The afternoon wasn't a total loss though: during intermission in the lobby I saw the great Mikhail Baryshnikov, now old and decidedly gray. He was going incognito (black trenchcoat, sunglasses), but he gave away his dancer background when he started talking animatedly with a small group. He was apparently objecting to Timur Askerov's port de bras and demonstrated this, and then pulled his arms up in a proud fifth (probably to demonstrate how he thought it should be done). And all of a sudden, you saw Misha Baryshnikov, superstar again.
In other news, the New York City Ballet started its Winter Season with an all-Balanchine program and threw several debuts into the mix: Erica Pereira as the Russian Girl in Serenade, Megan LeCrone in the pas de trois of Agon, Ashley Bouder in First Movement of Symphony in C, Lauren Lovette in Third Movement, and Brittany Pollack in Final Movement. Robert Fairchild who's about to become a Broadway star in American in Paris was cast in the smallish role of the male in Serenade. The debutantes all acquitted themselves with professionalism (if not exact mastery yet) but that's the NYCB way -- there's no sure things. Just put on your big girl tutu and dance. Perhaps no other company is as unsentimental.