Ekaterina Kondaurova’s Odette/Odile: A marvel of emotion

Tokyo Bunka Kaikan, Tokyo
December 4, 2015 (Tereshkina/Kim/Yermakov)
December 6, 2015 (Kondaurova/Askerov/Yermakov)

Joy Wang X.Y

Much of ballet is conjured from the insubstance of myth; fables made lurid and true by its wild contradictions: beauty versus feralness, wiildneress versus nobility, the ballerina and her carnal-creature dualism. Art is illusion and Swan Lake is in many ways a monument to that. It is also a monument to Russian ballet and so always, the Mariinsky brings Swan Lake to Japan. Fittingly then it was Swan Lake that did the honors of closing its two week engagement. And even more fittingly it was Ekaterina Kondaurova’s courageous performance of Odette-Odile that ended a run of both tremendous highs and the occasional low.

Swan Lake, is where the tessitura of Viktoria Tereshkina’s dance lies and it shows in the refinement of her style, the surety of her command, the brilliance of her technique. She seems to have solved every technical problem-her variations are works of art in their own right- but as of now she has yet to unlock the biggest mystery of them all-the heart. Having seen her give fine performances in the past (and because she is such an immensely gifted artist) you want her to go even further, to be great. But no Swan Queen touches the sublime unless they touch the heart first. It is hard to know why because though the aerially brilliant Kimin Kim is an erratic partner – the overheads lifts look perilous – he is ,at least, a responsive one. His overtures, however, don’t quite elicit a response until it is a little too late.

Ironically, nowhere else does Tereshkina look quite so fragile as when in the rare moments that the tall, imposing Andrei Yermakov hoists her aloft. Yermakov’s Rothbart gives in neither to bird-like mannerisms nor to pantomime evil. Instead he lords over his kingdom with a supremely dignified economy of means-his virile presence immediately involving. When he reveals Odile’s deception there are no histrionics only an entitled, mirthful sense of triumph. There were moments during Sunday’s performance when he simply stared Timur Askerov’s Siegfried down and you wonder why in the world didn’t Kondaurova run of with him instead; a king to her queen.

Next to Kristina Shapran’s Juliet (and her ability to shape musical phrases into sustained drama disguised what was evident on Sunday – his tendency to rush through steps and dramatic moments) Askerov looked interested, potentially interesting even ardent. But though his dancing as Siegfred remained clean, his landings blissfully clean, his acting likewise seemed scrubbed of much sense of dramatic engagement. It’s a strange sight when Rothbart’s death draws a blank, vacant response from his vanquisher; Askerov stared at the struggling Yermakov, who made the most of the moment, as if waiting for his next cue. Probably, he thinks Siegfred a less rewarding role.

Kondaurova, however, is a marvel of emotion. As of late her jumps are weaker, her balances can be unpredictable, in the second act coda a double turn becomes a single; her black swan could sizzle more technically; the fouettés are a struggle, the contrast in dynamics are sometimes lost. But oh, the lush pride of her dance juxtaposed against her searing emotional vulnerability: she nuzzles, she gazes longingly, she leans lovingly on his shoulder (and to be fair, both Askerov and Yermakov partner her with great care), all of which makes her a creature of intriguing oppositions. At once unknowable, enigmatic and yet wholly human her Odile manages to be both a malignant predator and a sensual, glamorous woman. In Act Four, she alone conveys a sense of dialogue, of being in secret communion with her sisterhood of swans. All of a sudden you begin to see Odette not solely as a vision, a projection of someone else’s desire but as a creature; a woman with a past, a history, a story to tell and a story you believe in.

When faced with performances like these, it is hard to know what to take note of: Tereshkina’s unerring technical strength or her emotional detachment, Kondaurova’s erratic technique or her remarkable beauty. Yet, dance is ultimately more than the accumulation of skill and no matter how much you admire a performance (or a performer) if it fails to move you than it fails to move you. The heart, as all performers know, does not lie.

Injury is a cruel thing and Kondaurova has paid the price in technique. But technique she will get back; what she now has in artistry is priceless. Priceless too is the Mariinsky ensemble who remain as poetic as ever. The company like the country it hails from is not unfamiliar with turbulence and it has, in recent years, undergone many changes. It seemed only appropriate then that the Mariinsky came to Japan armed with a roster of new names, some, in particular Kristina Shapran, Kimin Kim, Nadezhda Batoeva (so very fine in the Pas De Trois) more convincing than others, but the Mariinsky remains the Mariinsky. And we can only hope that it will always stay that way.