After employing established talent in previous Swan Lake performances at BAM, the Mariinsky Ballet turned to youth Thursday night with First Soloist Oksana Skorik (age 25) and Second Soloist Xandar Parish (age 28) as leads. It was an exciting and energetic evening watching this young pair; they are somewhat of a work in process, but what a work it is.
Oksana has faced difficulties in her short career as described by Luke Jennings of The Guardian:
The story of 25-year-old Oksana Skorik, first soloist of the Mariinsky Ballet, is not an entirely happy one. The day after her fifth birthday, her mother sent her away from their home in Kharkov, Ukraine, to the notoriously tough Perm ballet school in Russia. She would stay there as a boarder, seeing her mother only intermittently, for the next 13 years. Possibly as a consequence of her treatment at the school – a 2008 documentary film directed by David Kinsella(A Beautiful Tragedy) shows teachers insulting and intimidating Skorik and her fellow students – she developed an eating disorder, which she has since overcome.
The YouTube video from the documentary of her teacher constantly berating and shouting at her and other students is disgusting (“Your legs are like a missile carrier! Like when a plane flies on a bombing raid!!” “You idiot, you haven’t done it right once! Not Once!”). Oksana joined the Mariinsky in 2007 has risen steadily since, much to the chagrin of some Russian ballet fans who believe she was promoted at the expense of more deserving dancers. Some commentary on the web is vicious including a compilation of pirate videos on YouTube of her not so greatest moments on stage.
I can’t weigh in on the debate of her rapid ascent at Mariinksy, but she gave a fine performance Thursday, particularly as Odette. She possesses great extension and a remarkably supple back that allows her to strike amazing poses in her swan character. Her pose in Act IV with her greatly arched back as she was stretched out on the floor was memorable. In Scene II, her shoulders, arms, and subtle wrist/finger movements were well timed, with every movement having a purpose, flowing with the beautiful Tchaikovsky score. Her Odile was outgoing and confident, as she energetically smiled to the packed house, although at times not enough effort was expended in her mission to seduce the Prince.
Xander Parish is from Yorkshire England, the first British dancer in the Mariinsky Ballet. He trained at The Royal Ballet school and was a member of the company in the Corps from 2005-2010 when he left for the Mariinsky. The Yorkshire Post has an interesting article on how the boy who dreamed of playing cricket for Yorkshire ended up a dancer in Russia.
Xander plays young Prince Siegfried well; he is handsome and, unlike some dancers in the role, is actually young. He has a great ballet body, nice long legs, turnout, and greatly arched feet. Oksana and Xander made a compelling pair from the moment that Xander discovered the frail, anxious swan. The pas de deux went well with Oksana navigating the difficult attitude turn section. I noted that her extension is great, but she never overdid it in a circus-like manner. She performed rapid-fire single fouettés in her turn section.
Xander is a natural jumper, with high leaps to a soft plie. With his proportioned body, it is easy to watch his grand jetes and lofty double tours. Turning is not his strength though as he stumbled a bit in his pirouette section.
The supporting cast Thursday was on the mark, working out some of the kinks from the previous week. The Joker Yaroslav Baybordin was entertaining with numerous leaps, particularly stylized sauté de basques and turns, all solidly done. Rothbard Yuri Smekalov has great stage presence, timing, and technique. All eyes were on him when he was on stage. I also enjoyed the pas de trios in Act I with Yekaterina Ivannikova, Nadezhda Batoeva, and Ernest Latypov (thanks to FauxPas at BalletAlert for the dancer names). Ernest is very tall with long legs, great beats, grand jetes, and double tour diagonal. I agree with FauxPas that he could do a great Blue Bird in Sleeping Beauty. The Corps were in synch Thursday, dancing as one, beautifully done.
The historic Russian Mariinsky had a non-Russian flavor Thursday. In addition to Englishman Xander, the orchestra was conducted by New Jersey born Gavriel Heine (check out NJ.com for how Gavriel went from New Jersey to Russia). I liked his tempo more than Valery Gergiev, who conducted last Thursday. Gergiev’s tempo seemed rushed at times, causing the dancers to hurry through some steps (by the way, Gergiev has an outstanding curtain call photo from last Thursday on his Facebook page. Check it out).