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'The Fountain of Bachchisarai'

by Catherine Pawlick

28 March 2009 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg, Russia

All of the mystery and jewels of the Far East came to life onstage at the Mariinsky Theatre on Saturday, when a small cast of talented dancers filled the stage to perform “The Fountain of Bachchisarai” while the bulk of the troupe continues its tour in Taipei this week.

Among the special treats were Yuri Smekalov in his debut as the Crimean Han Girei. Smekalov danced a menacing character, brutal in force but overcome with love for the beautiful Maria who he’d stolen from her former (and now deceased -- by Girei’s own hand) fiancé, Vatslav, who was danced with nobility and lean grace by Ilya Kuznetsov.

Maria, the focus of the ballet, was danced delicately by the lovely Maya Dumchenko. Glowing in her diaphanous white costume, Dumchenko’s careful movements suggested an ideal of femininity and beauty that every man desires. The epitome of classical Russian technique, Dumchenko’s form is always faultless, but here she added an additional dramatic element that attests to her true acting talents. In the pas de deux with Kuznetsov, she was a weightless princess, floating in each lift. Kuznetsov, for his part, did not skimp in the bravura element of his split-leg tour-jetés or larger leaps. As always, he appeared hungry to devour the stage even on a day when he would perform again in the evening as Hans in  “Giselle.”

One arguably tragic figure in “Fountain” is Zarema, the wife of the Han, who lives in a harem with hundreds of other woman awaiting her husband’s return, not unlike “Scheherezade.”  Ekaterina Kondaurova evoked a proud Zarema who knows her station, and is, surprisingly, eager to greet her husband upon his return from plundering the castle and stealing Maria from her home and family. In her solo work, Kondaurova’s emotive concern was palpable – here was a woman vying for her husband’s affections, shunned by him, and confused as to why this odd change of events has occurred. She blames the newcomer Maria, naturally, and the conflict leads Zarema to stab the newcomer during a jealous rage. Nevermind that Maria does nothing but pine for her murdered fiancée and family, and strum her harp, the only vestige that remains of her former life.

For those unfamiliar with the libretto, a brief synopsis of the story’s conclusion: saddled with despair, the Han retreats even further away from his wife. Zarema commits suicide. In the end, the Han is alone staring at the fountain: it seems that stealing other men’s women, burning castles, and killing men hasn’t done him much good.

As the two Youths, Maxim Zuizin and Sergei Popov danced an impressive duo with swords in the first act. Likewise, Valeria Martiniouk was endearing and sprite in the dance with the little bells. Yulia Slivkina and Karen Iohannsen carried the mazurka in the first act with flair. As Girei’s Second Wife, Ti En Ru portrayed haughty jealousy with commendable aplomb.

Billed as a “choreographic poem in four acts”, “The Fountain of Bachchisarai” is an intriguing tragedy with plenty of opportunity to test the dancers’ acting skills. While not full of classical dancing, it is nevertheless an entertaining production that Western audiences would appreciate. Svetlana Filippovich conducted the Mariinsky Orchestra for this performance.


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