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About the Change

Remembering... Galina Mezentseva

An appreciation of a much admired Mariinsky/Kirov dancer

by Elena, St. Petersburg
and translated by Fedora

© Ukladnikov

recent Kirov reviews

Fedora reviews

Part I   ~   It was the favorite ballerina of mine. Now, from a distance of passed years, I try to understand why. Her technique was not as spectacular as that of Tatyana Terekhova’s, nor was she as beautiful as Altynai Assylmuratova... Her dance was not stylistically perfect as that of Gariella Komleva’s or Irina Kolpakova's, nor did she radiate good nature the way Lyubov Kunakova did.

Galina Mezentseva was not like any other dancer – so perhaps it’s precisely creativity that lies in the heart of her magic. She always infused the traditional art with her very own, unique nuances, but she never crossed boundaries of academic perfection. In addition Galina was a remarkable tragedienne.

I saw her for the first time during the telecast of Swan Lake. Mezentseva seemed to me extraordinary thin (may be too much so), and at the same time she was so very different from what I had ever seen before. Then, I considered Maya Plisetskaya to be the role model of Odette-Odile. Couldn’t help it, as the TV on a regular basis kept broadcasting performances from the Bolshoi Theatre, Swan Lake in particular.

Then there was Moscow International Ballet Competition (1977) where Mezentseva and Terekhova were awarded silver medals, while Nina Semizorova from Kiev and Alla Mikhalchenko from Moscow shared the gold. Later on, in the late 80’s to be precise, the press exposed causes for such travesty and I learnt all about the unfair atmosphere which dominated that as well as all other Moscow Ballet Competitions. Leningrad dancers were simply passed over for gold, after M.Baryshnikov, the winner of the 1st Ballet Competition in 1969, fled the country.

At the end it mattered not what place Mezentseva was awarded at the competition. Soon after, she and B. Petrunin proved themselves again by winning gold at the International Ballet Competition in Tokyo (1980). It was certainly a pleasant surprise both for the ballerina as well as for her admirers. Yet on stage, what matters the most is the artist, the personality, and not the rank.

Galina Mezentseva as Odette in Swan Lake
© Yulia Larionova

I saw Swan Lake with Mezentseva and Zaklinsky shortly after the Moscow competition. It was a matinee performance, organized by the theatre during the work week, primarily for the benefit of students who were on break. My God, what a way to greet a ballerina! Ovations followed her every appearance. Not every detail remains in my memory with unquestionable clarity, yet I do recall a very special festive atmosphere which permeated her every performance. She was nothing like Plisetskaya – no wavy arms and such. Instead her arms quivered with nervous energy.

I attended Galina Mezentseva Swan Lakes in the course of her entire career. Not once she remained the same, but each time she brought something different into her performance. Her Odette was very proud, independent, not too trusting towards Ziegfried. She was a true queen. Yet there were performances when her Odette became touching and tender, more so than before. Perhaps it had to do with having different partners. But more likely it had to do with the ballerina’s inner state. Her Odile did not just fascinated Siegfried, she bewitched him. I do not remember a single malicious Odile of Mezentseva.

There is a recording of Swan Lake (circa 1986), where Mezentseva is paired with Zaklinsky-Ziegfied and Aliev-Rothbart. This recording followed the injury that occurred during the rehearsal of Asyat (as reworked by Vinogradov from The Mountain Girl circa 1968). Mezentseva injured her achilles tendon - a very serious injury for a ballet dancer. I used to read that it greatly diminishes one’s jump. And that the injury doesn’t completely go away, even following successful treatment. Backstage rumors had it that the incident had been triggered by Vinogradov’s insistence on her dancing in his ballet even after the ballerina complained feeling quite ill that day. Vinogradov summoned her to the director’s office – guess there wasn’t any other way to make her perform. The cracking of the tendon that echoed in the studio, horrified everyone.

It took the ballerina quite some time to get back to form. She even danced The Hero in a Tiger Skin in the course of 1984-85 season (the ballet was built mostly on demi-pointe technique, flexibility and dramatic ability). But it was Mezentseva's appearance in Swan Lake that remained theatre-goers' dream. At last, I plucked up my courage to attend the first post-injury performance.

Galina Mezentseva in La Bayadere
© Ukladnikov

People poured into the Mariinsky Theatre. I was curious if she had replaced the fouette turns (not exactly her strong point even before the injury) with tours chaines. Yes, she was somewhat off the center, but she did it... all 32 of them! At the same time I noticed something new in her dance, a certain restraint bordering on being cautious, that had not been there before… Most certainly, one could understand the reasons for such a change.

Shortly after, the Mariinsky started to record ballet performances. It is believed that the French wanted to see Altynai Assylmouratova in the lead role of the recording of Swan Lake – she was very popular in Paris. Altynai had just started dancing lead roles and was not entirely “strong in the legs”, so to speak. So Vinogradov preferred to make the recording with Mezentseva. People were wondering if this decision of Vinogradov to replace the budding popular ballerina with the dancer who had recently recovered from the injury, was dictated by his fear of Assylmouratova's possible defection to the West following successful recording.

So Swan Lake was recorded with Mezentseva and Zaklinsky. Zaklinsky was Asylmuratova’s husband, so it is reasonable to assume that he would have preferred to be paired with his wife. One could see his displeasure especially during curtain calls. I don’t like this recording, even though that some balletomanes tend to reach for it every time they get disappointed in one performance or another.

I don’t like this recording because Galina had been so much better other times. Those who saw the rushes of ir (the ballet was recorded an act at a time, but also once in its entirety – all together four times), say that the dancers were often interrupted by the camera crew and the film director – they seemed to be always fixing something. Regardless, I am happy that we have it.

I loved the duet of Mezentseva and Zaklinsky. In fact it was my very favorite. They matched each other physically and their lifts were effortless. They looked lovely in Giselle (I believe there is a recording of it as well, circa 1982 or thereabout). They were spectacular in the second act. I liked them in The Sleeping Beauty, even though the role didn’t seem to fit Mezentseva too much.

Galina Mezentseva in Giselle
© Yulia Larionova

Traditionally the role of Aurora was performed by a more petit dancer (Kolpakova was rightfully considered to be the etalon). Well, Mezentseva was different. But she possessed the refinement of a true princess and could eloquently portray gamma of emotions like the approaching doom in the first act, melancholy in the second and endless stream of happiness in the third.

One of my friends, who herself was an admirer of Komleva, used to say just before the second act with Mezentseva: “Now we will see true sufferings!”. As a matter of fact, she was spectacular in the Rose Adagio of the first act – she extended her hand to the cavalier in such a regal manner and without rushing anything. It was hard to find fault with her. Regardless there were those who did – such was the fate of Mezentseva in her native theatre.

~End of Part 1~

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