Despite the recent unrest in Ukraine – and the tragic deaths during clashes between Ukrainian and Russian supporters on May 2nd here – most of the city of Odessa was quiet as presidential elections approached. The greatest emotion to pour forth in the city came from the stage of the charming Opera and Ballet Theatre.

Dmytro Sharay and Oleksandra Vorobyova © Oleg Vladimirsky
Dmytro Sharay and Oleksandra Vorobyova
© Oleg Vladimirsky
It is strategically situated at the head of Risheljevska Street and just a stone’s throw from the 192 Potemkin Steps that overlook the busy harbour on the Black Sea and which were made famous in Sergei Eisenstein’s 1929 silent film, Battleship Potemkin. This pale yellow baroque and rococo style building was designed in 1884 by Ferdinand Fellner and Hermann Helmer, two Viennese architects who also created theatres in Vienna, Budapest, Dresden and other European cities – this one in Odessa is reputed to be their best. Seating around 1,555, in a white, red and gold auditorium, this little gem played host recently to a fine performance of the Romantic ballet, Giselle in front of an excited audience of folk who looked as though they had been bussed in from the countryside (and not the expected groups of cruise ship passengers who normally would be filling the theatre. Since the troubles, cruise lines have cancelled all stops in and near Crimea for the foreseeable future, a move that is sorely crippling tourism in cities such as Odessa).

For the past five years, former Bolshoi Ballet principal, Yuri Vasuchenko, has directed the company and he has brought out style, strong mime and good technique in his dancers, as this performance was to prove.

Oleksandra Vorobyova © Oleg Vladimirsky
Oleksandra Vorobyova
© Oleg Vladimirsky

Pony-tailed Igor Chernetsky conducted the orchestra with animated enthusiasm and the curtain lifted on a subdued woodland setting with a lake in the background. Earl Albrecht (sic) raced in, cape billowing, and, after one quick backwards glance towards Giselle’s wooden house, entered his own secret hideaway, just before Hans strode in with a bunch of hand-picked wild flowers for the young peasant girl.

Dmytro Sharay, a blond and slim young man took the role of Albrecht, showing fine high jumps, soft landings and elegant leaps. In the first act, he lacked somewhat a dramatic content but redeemed himself in Act 2 where he brought out more emotion, showing his remorse, his desire for forgiveness and his undying love for the ill-fated Giselle. This role was danced by a pretty young ballerina named Oleksandra Vorobyova, who offered a buoyant and joyful peasant – one who stood out as being very different from the other local girls in her blue bodied white tarlatan, while they wore dull grape-purple and striped dresses. Her first moments on stage clearly stamped her characterization of a young girl infatuated by the seemingly, dedicated attentions of a handsome young man from another village. Her glances and feigned shyness appeared natural, and her dancing was bouncy with the joys of anticipation. Later Vorobyova was to prove herself a delicate and lyrical ballerina with steady balances and smooth, gentle phrasings in her dancing.

Odessa Ballet
Odessa Ballet

Hans, more earth-bound than Albrecht, was well acted by Mykhailo Perfilov and in the first act his mimed actions showed how he was affected at the loss of Giselle to this other man. The hunting scene saw plush and elegant costumes and the peasants' dances, though sometimes a bit ragged in their uniformity, showed animated dancing. The pas deux couple (the usherette could only offer surnames, Vorankin and Ivanishina), presented a confident young girl with good stretched jetes and strong pirouettes, while the boy, not always landing well, produced some good jumps and careful partnering. The acting of the corps was rather wooden – clockwork arm lifting of acknowledgement when Giselle danced, and group shock at her sudden death. However, it was Act 2 that brought the production to a higher level. And it was Myrthe, the Queen of the Wilis (Alina Khilko) who was most impressive. Entering the stage with miniscule bourées, she glided with commanding and serene presence as though on roller-blades. She swirled in silky and silent movement through the heavy fog and darkness of the graveyard by the edge of the lake and her highly commendable penches and balances were without wobbles.

Oleksandra Vorobyova © Kirill Stoyanov
Oleksandra Vorobyova
© Kirill Stoyanov

Sharay developed in many ways in this act in his performance of Albrecht. His technique showed a polished classical line and he presented more feeling, greater freedom in his dancing, while his emotions were far more visible and clearly defined. Vorobyova’s dancing also stepped up a gear and she performed with fluid, graceful and musical movements. She danced all the technically challenging solos with excellent style and was light and delicate in her airborne upward jumps and floating returns to earth. The couple complimented each other well and their final moment together was a real tear-jerker for the Odessa audience. Albrecht is holding her hands in his. Suddenly he realizes that Giselle has slipped away from his grasp. He leaps up to search for her and, as the curtain falls, he is seen scattering lilies on the pathway in memory of her. There was a hushed silence before the country crowd started on their loud, slow, appreciative clapping.

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