Matinee, 5 November 2006, Chicago: Pavlenko, Sarafanov
Sarafanov appeared on stage, and I didn't know what to think. Only a few inches taller than the jester, and a few inches shorter than several of the woman dancing, with blond hair, wide boyish eyes, and undeveloped musculature, I thought I was looking at a twelve-year-old boy who had managed to wander on-stage in a prince costume. (Ballet recital pictures with boys dressed up in tights and jackets flashed through my mind.) "Oh, dear," was my reaction. Yet Sarafanov surprised me: he embraced his youthful (child-like) looks and turned in a performance that was consistent with an innocent teenage boy falling in love for the very first time. If at times it reminded me more of Romeo than the noble Siegfried, he still provided a gripping sense of drama. His full smile when he bounded on to stage seemed to indicate that he knew the audience was thinking, "this isn't what we were expecting," and he seemed determined to overcome our hesitations about his ability to convincingly pull-off the mature drama of this role by fully throwing himself into the action. Truly, his mime, his emotions, were so clearly articulated throughout in his physical expression and gesture that he had me thoroughly convinced. His large face and eyes are able to express a good deal of confusion (and hormonal urge), and one got the strong sense that he was lost once the subject of picking a princess came up (but not lost in the way that some modern productions of "Swan Lake" can make Siegfried look as if he's unsure whether or not he likes women at all).
Pavlenko appears, and I was surprised by how small she is. She has huge eyes in an expressive face, and the expression of her eyes can be seen to the back row of the orchestra section (where I was sitting). She conveyed the sense of trembling with fear at the appearance of Siegfried so clearly, like a wild creature, that one could watch true growth in her trust of him - when she leaned into his chest in arabesque, or wrapped his arms around hers over her chest, one saw love and devotion that surpassed what Siegfried deserved - one knew this was going to end badly. Sarafanov had problems partnering her at times: the overhead lifts had to be eliminated, and he had trouble keeping her squared up in supported pirouettes. But I also loved how Pavlenko's willingness to take those big chances - to go off balance. There were technical quibbles with what she didL slightly turned in legs in turns, incorrectly angled working leg in fouettes, but as befits a ballerina, none of these mattered, and showing her weaknesses showed us her heart. Critic Laura Jacobs has written that it's a ballerina's technical flaws and how she compensates for them that show up who she is, and this is true of Pavlenko. And their first parting: Pavlenko leaned slightly in her upper body to Siegfriend once, then again, letting her fingertips stretch towards him, before facing straight ahead and turning back into a swan.
Her Odile was shy at first, convincingly like Odette, occasionally seeking guidance from von Rothbart to know how the seduction is going. The sense of evil grew in her performance. Her fouettes started off so fast, and at times so off-balance, that the orchestra was having difficulty playing that quickly: she slowed down the speed, and one saw that it really was a manifestation of control. She ended with her head thrown back, and she gave the most delicious and evil laugh when Siegfried realized his mistake.
In Act IV was all the forgiveness one could hope for. Even with dreams crushed, she is ever-devoted to Siegfried, thankful even for the love he has given her and faith that he restored in her. She crumples to the floor in tragedy, then is awakened and looks like a young child awakened on Christmas morn, to a whole new life with disbelief and elation. Theirs will be a happy kingdom, one can tell.