ballet

A Love Supreme: Swan Lake – Bolshoi Ballet (Smirnova, Chudin) – August 9 2016

Performances of this quality come along but rarely. One might say that with the Bolshoi, that the likelihood of such a night is higher of course, but that’s no guarantee. Certainly Svetlana Zakharova’s turn as Odette Odile left me a little cold. Not so here. Even in a production which essentially traduces – or at least significantly alters- Tchaikovsky and Peptipa/Ivanov’s intent in favour of Grigorvich’s interpolations and reworkings, the show worked.

It even seemed to go beyond those traducements, those alterations and interpolations, thanks to two heartfelt performances from both lead dancers.

Semyon Chudin (Siegfried) revealed himself to be a dancer of  generous musicality and poise. Gorgeous legato lines flowed through him when the libretto permitted, and when the writing called for the register of tours, jumps, tricks so often on display in ballet, Chudin proved their equal. Lyrical moments were never just steps, but illustrated and given life-breath and force. This was dance which meant something to Chudin, and which meant something to us as a result.

Near the end of the whole evening, as Odette and Siegfried are caught up in a whirling maelstrom of swan maidens, each trying to find the other, the choreography calls for Siegfried to search for Odette, suffering, as he knows he has wronged her.

In one simple movement, a yearning, reaching hand struck outwards; Chudin’s head went back a little, and we saw anguish writ on his face. The movement – that arcing hand, coupled with feet which then drew him back to his doomed love, was in its action, called upon by the libretto and learned by rehearsal, but in its expression, it lived, and spoke volumes. It was a moment of pure, right beauty, and it took my breath away. As to technique, I balked at nothing, a few heavy landings into arabesque excepted, all was plush, lyrically phrased with unhurried ease. The struggle in Scene II when Siefried gives chase to Odette has felt a bit like a pitter-patter around a gatepost from other Bolshoi boys. Chudin stretched, lunged and spun in desperation. Drama was never far from the fore.

Olga Smirnova was everything I want an Odette to be. Olga Smirnova was, frankly, a marvel. Her swan-princess was humane, loving, tender. It seems some dancers shy away from this interpretation, favouring a cool reserve, a lack of eye contact which attempts to speak of regal coyness. But in ballet – or certainly in Swan Lake, love looks with the eyes. Love cannot blossom when gazes are too coy. We must believe in that intimate interchange of glances for the ballet to come alive. A tilt of Smirnova’s head said “I too am lost, like you.” A glance from her suggested that trust began, from whence love might quickly follow. And love, I felt, did. To believe in the story there must be that love.

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Olga Smironva and Semyon Chudin as Odette and Siegfried in Bolshoi Swan Lake.

My favourite moments, those caught falls in the Scene II Pas de Deux, the loving embraces in that same dance, all were presaged by a simple look. Odette asking, Siegfried saying ‘yes’, and Odette knowing, finally, the prospect of release, safety, love.

And if not love, then all is just dancing, however glorious that is. With the Bolshoi, “just dancing” means glory, guts, grit. Couple Bolshoi technique and training with vibrant central performances, and you have a night to celebrate. Couple all that with these two stellar dancers and it is a night to treasure.

Purists may look at Smirnova’s fouettes and find them comparatively poor, compared with her compatriots and with her own fine dancing. There was, as with Stepanova, no triples or doubles or as with Krysanova, no arms rising en couronne, then placed haughtily on hips after every few turns. There was, as with Zakharova, no long limbed, tornado-esque whipping of the leg. Instead, 31 or so pretty textbook spins. Applause which was more than adequate. But we know that Swan Lake is more than fouettes. Fouettes are, like the four jerky-headed cygnets in the Act before them, something of a parlour trick. Swan Lake is everything before, and everything after the fouettes. Although a true test of the ballet dancer’s resolve and skill, and a chance for them to show off, thirty-two, or even twenty something, of those tortuous spins, is just icing. Fluff.

And happily so. Smirnova knows it, knows that the adage is her comfort zone and she basks in its leisure and comforts. Which is not to say her Odile suffers by that preference. If her Odette is vulnerable – that fantastical chimerical mix of woman and hint of unattainable Other – her Odile is sensuality itself, smirking and challenging Siegfried, and leading him to destruction. True, as Odette, her arms have a tendency to sometimes almost appear as manic flapping, but Smirnova knows that those are the moments to show Odette’s suffering outside of the demands of written steps. With Siegfried, Odette’s soul flies, but not before Odette’s body has willed physical escape.

Smirnova’s portrayal was towering. Certainly I have never witnessed something so forceful, almost supernaturally so, as when in the dying moments of that final act, she simply rose from her swan-in-repose position to pointe. It was as if, with the swelling of the music, she was not so much being lifted by the music, which would have been magic itself, but as if she was almost carrying the music, embodying it, letting it soar through her, unified. In that moment she was in all parts, heroine and victim, and she slowly rose from the floor as if freighted with quiet unassailable power. Those who think Odette weak needed only to look on that moment and see it refuted. Odette rose. She rose with adamantine resolve, adamantine – and here was the force, the punctum and the pathos, the thing that took the breath away – because cracked at the core. It was as if she was a phoenix, yet doomed to die. And yet, she knew it. The feeling of Fate taking hold was overwhelming. I will never forget those few seconds of utter nobility.

And so too, those ranks of perfectly posed swans will remain a memory of Bolshoi’s visit. There’s not room to praise other dancers, nor to compare or contrast this or that. All was good, but the night belonged to Smirnova and Chudin, and the libretto which they brought so dazzlingly to life. Theirs was a love truly supreme.

As such, they have earned my first “AlephNull” rating, for performances beyond a simple “10”. Bravi.

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Don Quixote – Bolshoi Ballet – July 26 2016, The Royal Opera House

The Bolshoi set out their stall in this barnstorming, ebullient version of Petipa’s old classic, and what a joy it was to see. In fact, Alexei Fadeyechev‘s new version, first seen at Bolshoi in January 2016, more than sets out a stall: one feels it sets it out, shows the Bolshoi’s wares (dazzling,  scintillating, beguiling) and then realises that it secretly wishes to burn down the marketplace. “They’re the best in the world!” said a lady to me. Is there a best? Opinions differ, and patriotism may play a part, but there is no doubt they came with a mission to show us how it’s done. Chutzpah carried the day. Supernumeraries, an excellent corps de ballet gave it the requisite energy, but the star turns (and there are, literally, many tour and turns) propelled the ballet into the realm of excellence.

There’s hardly a story. Boy (Basil) likes girl (Kitri) and girl likes boy (a good start!) but each can’t have each due to socio-economics (viz., being rather poor)  although Basil’s wonderful sparkly costume in the final pas de deux suggests he has come into some money, or that the magical kingdom of the dryads grants not only a visions of loveliness, but wishes too…And if not so poor, then to judge by Kitri’s father’s reaction,they are poorly matched. Don Quixote himself gets mixed up in the affair,but really, it’s not his ballet.

Certainly B + K (B: Vladislav Lantratov, K:Maria Alexandrova) have million dollar smiles – one suspects hardwired by daily Bolshoi grind, the rigours of class, ground further by the polish of experience and professional lineage, ground so much indeed that they become not a lens to see into any particular insight of soul (Don Q doesn’t quite need the dramatic register of say, an Odette,) but more a highly polished mirror bouncing the spotlight’s bright gleam, refracting that light and lighting up the stage with joy. “Eyes and teeth!” says the showbiz adage, and there were plenty here. Smiles bright, no cheesy false grins, all appeared genuine or at least expertly veneered (and I don’t mean literally cosmetically, but who knows, perhaps to get ahead, Russian dentistry may lend a helping hand to some dancers, to lend them a razzle-dazzle to set them apart from others?)

Certainly there were none of the fixed grimaces one sometimes encounters, not even in some of Kitri’s more fearsomely teeth-gnashing, toe-mashing moments, those fast “pricking” hops on point, and those travelling showpiece hops on on foot. Pirouette after pirouette was pulled off nicely (although Lantratov did seem to forget to “help” on one turn!). Those familiar thirty-two fouettes were taken at some clip, precise, powerful and focused, traversing unerringly laser-like  downstage to front and centre, ending in a perfect “ta-da!” – arms aloft in glee, Alexandrova’s happy “yep, I just killed it!” grin, our applause. The audience were all so taken in by the show they would have applauded (and did) at everything. Job well done. (Interested youtubers can see here a sense of  Ms Alexandrova’s Kitri!)

Sure, Basil wasn’t always so tidy in the air but he was just what the Don ordered, cheeky and playful. Not quite  Baryshnikov‘s jaw-dropping panache, that laugh-out-loud insouciance, but chutzpah in spades, showbizzy flourishes at landings, even an audible humongous sniff of superiority at the end of his variation – a triumphant gesture, and just what the doctor ordered. Too, his “suicide” scene was genuinely amusing, and that’s no mean feat.

As a partnership, they seemed genuinely happy to be with each other. The famous one handed presses, no-hand fishdives, flying leaps into embraces were all present if at times maybe not as utterly effortless as they could be made to look,  so technically as a pairing they were (the very very minor instance above excused) sound, but more than that there was chemistry galore. They found the core of the story, and sold it well. (In the meantime the marketplace kept burning, fanned by fantastic footwork, collective mission, and Fadeyechev’s expert direction). Little admonishments and taps of Kitri’s fan told Basil just who was boss. Coy glances, smitten stolen kisses, not so much smouldering as just plain charming.

Lincoln Center Festival 2014

Lantrantov and Alexandrova as Basil and Kitri at Lincoln Center Festival 2014

Fadyechev’s show feels, to use a friend’s thoughts, rather like an old fashioned musical from the 1950s, as if one were watching a Rodgers and Hammerstein-esque affair onstage. There was the same commitment to pure entertainment without affectation or embarrassment over the means to achieve it, the same technicolour, larger than life appearance, gorgeous to see. A lady nearby said “its very Russian”. What this means I believe is the same: that same unfeigned dedication to entertain, a presentation which doesn’t shy away from mime – here actual pantomime, comic and played right to the back of the house which might otherwise have seemed “over the top”, but instead was pitch perfect. (Consonances with the big-top and Russian circus clowning are not too distant.) As such, Denis Savin‘s Gamache was beautifully given, comically foppish and yet hard not to like.

More cynical observers may have found it all over-cooked, but watching it, it’s undeniable that each member of the company believes in what ballet can do, and that they believe it’s a valuable, vital artform. And that’s what matters. If you are going to sell as story, belief transmits to hearts. I was sold.

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Oxana Sharova as Mercedes.

So there was much fan-snapping and tambourine bashing (no “olé’!”s happily,) and real castanet clacking, not least in  Oxana Sharova‘s (Mercedes) standout solos full of  sinuous cambrés and lots of skirt waving. Townspeople and massed dances were full of vim, and their numbers of course fabulously danced.

I am delighted to report the Kingdom of the Dryads was legitimately beautiful, the more successful because a darkened stage brightens, to reveal a blue-tinged scene and ranks of statuesque beautiful dryads standing in perfect postures. A vision of another world, visited by cute-as-a-button Daria Khokhlova’s Cupid. No wonder Alexei Loparevich’s well characterised bumbling old Don Quixote appeared bewildered, enchanted by the scene.

Act II felt slower, but only in comparison with the preceding Act. I have never for instance (as in Act I) see a sheet-toss onstage before, and what a thrill to see, gasps from the audience as Sancho Panza (Roman Simachev) was hurled into the air, and then in one toss, headfirst into the waiting sheet over and over!

Everyone seemed eager to join the fun. Daria Bochkova‘s  first Grand Pas variation was full of energy and lithe joie-de-vivre, and she was just one of many soloists and corps members who impressed.  This was a wonderful night of ballet, from a company at the top of their game. Even Lulu loved it!

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LINK

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Giselles – Cuthbertson, Bonelli – April 2 2016 (plus two other casts)

This was a Giselle full of fine moments and dramatic momentum. Lauren Cuthbertson is already spectrally pale, even as a peasant girl. One quickly realised that this was perhaps the frail, congenitally fated girl of the libretto, doomed to have a sad end, sword or no sword.

Her skips at her entrance were full of life and easy in their appearance of light grace, Cutbertson throughout proving herself a gifted actress. In the “cross dance” where the villagers form a charming rotating whirl, she looked giddy with love and happiness as she sought her man. Her delight in the moment was real and joyous. Her reaction to being made Queen of the Vintage by the assembled village was a beguiling “who, me?”;  her little hops on points in her small variation before the Queen were invested with joy and almost a coy pleasure at her own abilities, and her character’s love for her two-timing Loys/Albrecht was genuine.

Albrecht himself (Frederico Bonelli) was here played as rather an entitled cad. His dismissing of his squire  (Tomas Mock) with a penny from his coinpurse encapsulating his disdain for the lower class – except when pretty, female, young, like his Giselle. He and Cuthebretson made a beautiful couple.

Her “mad scene” (so common in opera of the era) was well done, the image of a shattered life showed in her expression. When she removed her hands from her face, and her face came into sight, she resembled almost a pale porcelain doll – a bit creepy in fact. One saw that her balance of mind was truly affected, forever. Her death scene and the moments leading up to it were fantastic, her moment of expiration clear and tragic. Bonelli acted grief well. The tumult around the events was given urgency by the fine corps de ballet.

As a point of fact, I must single out the remarkable Mayara Magri for her work here. Her acting, even as “just a villager” is superb. She is a true asset to the company. In narration of Berthe’s “beware the Wilis!” narrative, I had noticed her shivering in fear, terrified (I thought it improvised, but she does it at each performance, and yet it works every time). In her “come on, let’s dance!” moments with her village beau, or in amplifying onstage events by a glance, or a smile, she is pitch perfect. The corps here shared this same well honed ability to believe in the stage events and to reinforce their believability.

I noticed now how much Peter Wright favours dry ice for stage effects, and I am grateful he has used it. In his Swan Lake it is a memorable stage picture to see Swans emerge from its serene mask. Here, atmosphere in the Gothic woods, and subtle ethereality in the entrance of the wilis. Credit must go to revival lighting of David Finn, after Jennifer Tipton‘s original.

Claire Calvert‘s Myrtha was chilly in mein, but her shoes were rather squeaky. The two Russian ladies in front of me shook their heads in censure. I think Ms Calvert is a little too petite for the role, perhaps too favouring the a terre more than jetes and the writing for this role. This comment not to the diminishment of her conviction in the role, which was never less than full.

Wilis themselves were supernaturally “as one”. Drilling from either ballet mistress Samantha Raine or just repetition of performances brought a shared precision that was a delight to see. Bennet Gartside as Hilarion was excellent, his dance to death full of desperation and appeal. One felt sorry for him almost, but myth and fairytale has a way of punishing everyone, bad guys especially.

Memorably fine was the moment Giselle made a protective cross in front of Albrecht. For proportion, as an aesthetic picture, beautiful. In its being, it was invested with a hope and love almost palpable, and clarion clear: Cuthbertson’s face uplifted in hope, Bonelli’s fixed, a challenge to Myrtha who retreated from this unity of souls. Love defeating evil: rather the epitome of Romantic art. I am moved just recalling it.

Bonelli’s subsequent entrechats were high and brisk, his panting and exertion probably real but adding to the effect. The moment the bell tolled, Wilis and Giselle looked to the sound as one. I have rarely seen the parting scene done so well. Giselle as wisp, as dream. Albrecht hoping he might retain her embrace, that she might live.

Cutherbertson produced the little “pense-à-moi” marguerite flower at the end truly from nowhere, itself a magical moment. Bonelli’s expression was one of pain at her loss, then wonderment, then redemption. A strong showing from him, from everyone.

The cheers all received at curtain were well deserved. I join them here, in celebration.

 

Bonus material!

Prior to this performance I had seen two other casts: Marianella Nuñéz and Vadim Muntagirov (March 22), and Steven McRae and Iana Salenko (March 19 matinee).

McRae and Salenko gave an effortlessly technical tour-de-force as one would expect.  I recall well McRae’s”wafting lifts” of Salenko in the Act II pas de deux, which achieved an illusion of ballon and weightlessness the other couples didn’t quite manage.  It helps that she is only five foot two or three of course. Salenko once more showed her skill for the adagio, which is not to say her skills elsewhere are minor!

I would have enjoyed a meaner Hilarion (Valentino Zuchetti) but I think Myrtha (Helen Crawford) was perhaps technically  the strongest I have seen of the three casts, and her revulsion at the pair’s love was well drawn.

Berthe was Kristen McNally, and her mime was chilling, clearly phrased and lucidly performed. I think she may have just “beaten” the other cast’s Elizabeth McGorian in the spooky stakes – and for subtle hairpin removal! I believe she may well be the company’s most gifted character artist (aside from the wonderful Gary Avis…)

I didn’t quite feel the romance there, but McRae kept the story alive and moving, his acting was especially good. It must be difficult to produce that type of grief and loss each night, and he did well.

The pas de six went by splendidly, James Hay catching the eye for his security of technique and well placed execution. His variation truly gave the appearance of effortless flight. Beautiful to watch. Matthew Ball drew the eye too, by virtue of his height, and because of his strong abilities in the brief dual male variation. Coordination from all was excellent.

The pas de six cast on March 22 was luxuriant: among them, Yuhui Choe, Francesca Hayward, Alexander Campbell, Marcelino Sambé, Yasmine Naghdi and Luca Acri. Campbell released his inner Bluebird at times, Choe and he were delightfully musical. Sambé was impressive in his jumps as ever, and Hayward dancing charmingly throughout, fascinating to watch next to Naghdi. Acri full of élan was icing on that balletic cake, rich and enjoyable fare.

And of course, Marianella Nuñéz and Vadim Muntagirov were our leads. Nuñéz has I believe cited Giselle as a dream role for her, after being celebrated as a great Myrtha. Here she was every bit the vivacious peasant girl in Act I.In the mad scene she really drew the story up a level or two, hair flying all over in a mania of pain. Her Giselle died rather loosely though. I liked Cutherbetson’s hand and arm outstretched, which Salenko shared.

Muntagirov’s “check my new threads!” mime was beautiful in itself, his puffed out chest sent his  long line flowing, and beautiful. Those same finely crafted hands were used to great effect in his Act II variation, some of the finest dancing I have seen for a long time. These classical roles really suit him. Itziar Mendziabal‘s Myrtha had a wobble to start, and was felt a bit rushed, and I wonder how happy she was with her dancing afterwards, but as with all other Myrtha’s I have seen, she definitely suited the role when acting it.

Wright’s production is a pleasure to see, and regularly graces Covent Gardens stage. There are still a few shows left at time of writing, and it is sure to return. I recommend it.

 

 

@Ballet_CBC’s The Sleeping Beauty – March 16 2016 – Chelmsford Civic Theatre

Chelmsford Ballet Company’s Sleeping Beauty is a charming affair, and whilst it may not (nor should it) have the same technical standards of for instance, the Royal Ballet, its intent is the same and it is noble: to edify, to entertain, to promote the joy of dance. This it does and does well. From all, there were smiles. From dancers, dedication was apparent, visible, inspiring. From  non- dancer to advanced skill level, this creation of dance warmed the small stage of the Chelmsford Civic Theatre.

It helped that from principal and lead roles, the dancing was game, and more than that, it was impressive. Scarlett Mann‘s Aurora was delightfully acted and strongly danced. I gather she is still young, very much in Aurora’s age-range. Her petulance at being asked by her mother to hand over the dangerous spindle was memorably done, her joy at impending matrimony lit up her face – and the stage too. I liked her sunny renversés, and was especially impressed with her use of the eyes to spot each potential placement. Each ascent of arm and leg was anticipated by that sophisticated, essential almost “spotting”, the steps given greater life as a result.

As Prince Florimund, support was ably given from Andrei Iliescu. All pirouettes were secure in his hands, and tour de promenades glowed with security and confidence. I liked Ms Mann’s light port de bras, especially in positioning for turns. In fact, she exuded confidence throughout, and even though towards the end, where I guessed she might perhaps be tiring a bit, she never gave less than everything of herself for the role, and her easy smile didn’t fade.

I had wondered if the famous Rose Adagio would have been modified to fit any skill-set the dancer had. Not too noticeably in fact. The chivalry was present and correct from all cavaliers (a gentleman in white trous noticeably fine in his reverence). The famous balances,  the high reaching feet, the slow pirouettes were all in place and well given. The grand Pas then? Was that subject to major changes? Some:  I was happy to see no fishdives, and in fact, so too I was happy not to have fouettés for fouettés sake.

Costumes were wonderfully lavish, all courtiers looked well appointed and the principals’ outfits were a delight, and would have been whatever stage they graced:  nicely sparkling, gleaming in pure white and gold. Fairy costumes were well made, with Lilac Fairy’s given good care and attention, apparent even from my balcony seat. Fairytale characters were vividly clothed and if fey, appropriately garbed. Wolf was for instance, far better costumed than the production I saw a week ago. Notable were Bluebird’s delightful “wings”, and in fact Florine’s outfit entire. If these were not hired-in clothes then, seamstresses of Chelmsford and beyond, tailors hunched over costumes nightly, I salute you! Standout too were the many pseudo-Hungarian(?) garbed corps for the final act; Carabosse’s costume and all supernumeraries, right down to the delightful little “sprites” and Carabosse’s devilish entourage.

I must also now mention here how utterly charming it was to see stage-going stars so young perform so well, and with seriousness and enjoyment. Little sprites perhaps no more than five years old lent charm and mercurial delight to Act II’s vision sequence, the choreography of which, with ranks of fairies indicating the direction for Prince to go, I thought well made and executed.  The narrative sense of this scene came through clearly. It was a nice conceit to have the Prince sit on stage and be lost in thought, only for the woodland spirits to flit around him unnoticed. The show was full of these ingenious moments serving to advance the drama, ingenious because to solve questions of what to do with dancers who aren’t all world class super-athletes, and the more so for being subtle, innovative and successful.

It was lovely to see for instance, from another well done assemblage of fairies, the individual fairy variations carefully choreographed to suit strengths. I was impressed by each. “Force” Fairy was sharply pointed and sprightly, “Canary” Fairy delightfully ebullient, and “Breadcrumb” Fairy notable for her accurate pointe-attack and upper body control.  Lilac Fairy herself had a tiny wobble very close to the start of her show, which I think affected her confidence for a bit, but she recovered well, to bring us a fairy of poise and class. Brava. Admirable performances in all ways, especially from dancers so young.

The shared enjoyment from all was palpable. At all “feats” and displays of skill, the assembled onlookers did a wonderful job of amplifying the action by interested hand gestures, “talking” to one another, a sight very fine to see.The garland dance featured a similar level of complex, en masse work which was good to see from all. Excellent lighting served to illustrate the scenes well, and I was very taken for once by the clever use of video projection to suggest Lilac Fairy’s descending enchantment. I will remember her bourrée-ing almost into eternity as the vines grew around the Kingdom for a long time. Too, the ensemble had one of the best “chaos” scenes post finger-pricking I have seen from a Sleeping Beauty production, and not because the stage at the Civic is so small but due to the director’s careful stagecraft and I am quite sure, the hard work of rehearsal.

When the Prince finally arrived at the castle and awoke the princess, dramatic tension was milked, successfully. A pause, post-kiss. No reaction. Had the spell failed? No! She awoke, and the reaction from all was excellent. The fairytale creatures variations followed, and I enjoyed Bluebird’s soft landings, his dedication to each phrase and statement. There was briefly, even a rather daring flying catch successfully executed, and a surprise to see. As with the Prince, this Bluebird was a safe pair of hands with his charge, partnering secure throughout.  There was good unity from all”gem” fairies, the Sapphire and Silver Fairies notable for their maturity of expression and technique. I very much enjoyed Wolf’s jumps and Red Riding Hood’s characterisation, and it was a great idea to include a tiny mouse into the “cat” pas de deux*.

I think back fondly on Ms Mann’s variation from the Grand Pas, the “unwinding hands” lithe and travels en pointe graceful, he r eyes again lending weight and dramatic force to the text. The matrimonial scene was suitably grand, Aurora coming back on-stage in a very long veil complete with two veil holders, and the ending pose – a long held arabesque en pointe for Aurora – was a brave choice, and winningly deployed.

I was thoroughly charmed by this show, it had a sense of real community enterprise but more than that, it was a thoroughgoing joy. The Chelmsford Ballet Company state they “are an amateur company who set professional standards for all our work”. “Amateur” is after all derived from a word for “heart” and too means to show a love of the doing and the achieving. With this Sleeping Beauty, Chelmsford Ballet achieved and achieved with heart. I applaud you all.

NOTES

*All credit to the makeup department for some fantastic cat make up!

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Sleeping Beauty – The Russian State Ballet of Siberia – March 12 2016 – Ipswich Regent

To those used to the standards of different (read: ‘better’) companies, the Russian State Ballet of Siberia’s Sleeping Beauty might not quite make the grade. Used as those viewers may be to companies who don’t need to tour as much, who enjoy facilities (as well as living arrangements!) which are constant, who regularly watch  world-leading artistic standards from world leading exponents, they might then judge the company the poorer by comparison. Wouldn’t everyone seem the poorer?

That this company brings ballet to regions and towns and cities which might know the art form only live cinema transmissions  or from  watching Youtube clips is a fact to be applauded. I saw dance students in the audience at the Regent eager to see their nascent art-form danced with maturity and attainment, by dancers used to the virtue of long training and hard work. Expectations were largely satisfied.
So of course, being a touring company who must adapt to a different theatre nearly every two or three nights, the RSBoS’s production values aren’t the highest. Dmitry Tcherbadzhi‘s backdrops look slightly psychedelic (Act II’s woodland glade so psychotropic as to suggest the dancers there had been eating certain mushrooms therein). Yes, the Doric columns on the wings were fabric, and the illusion wobbled when a dancer bashed into one, setting it rippling in distinctly un-marmoreal splendour, but this is a touring production which can’t practically tour with grand sets or accoutrements. Yes, also I thought some of the mens’ wigs looked a bit tired. (And as to the bizarre shoulder escutcheons they were sporting, the less said the better. Even the Queen (Vera Surovtseva) was sporting these great sproutages of lace and wire, distorted and grotesque, as fairy-tales themselves often work on reality). By and large though, the costumes (by Tcherbadzhi too) were actually rather nice, the peasant outfits from Act II lovely, and notable was Yaroslava Nagumanova’s skirt, a hybrid between bell and tutu, semi-structured to move from pleats the only, and looking wonderful as a result. (That it showed Ms Nagumanova’s noticeable fine standard of dancing was an added bonus. Simple chained turns had added luxury of motion and progression: tightly controlled fabric allied to tightly controlled technique.)

I enjoyed choreographer Sergei Bobrov‘s innovations in the Prologue, the blooms and whirl of fairy lifts were well done, and for audiences, little wings made it rather apparent just who we were looking at here. (He really put the ‘fairy’ in ‘fairytale’!). Not hard to miss Olesya Aldonina as Lilac Fairy though, her long line stood out – as unfortunately did her slightly dour expression at times. I like my fairies to be munificent, benevolent, and Ms Aldonina’s fairy didn’t quite seem to be feeling those things on the day.  The tempo for her variation was also noticeably slow which didn’t help matters too much, but it was not a big problem, she danced with good expression, her generous arms scooped gathering forces of goodness and she fluttered out travelling pas de bourrées of delicacy.

All fairies (Mana Kuwabara, Elena Lapina, Yana Tugaeva, Chitose Tscuhia) danced nicely, and yes, some pointing for ‘Pointy Fairy’ could have been sharper for instance, or fingers more mobile for Canary’s variation but I have memories of other dancers who have more time to study and perfect those small elements.  It became apparent here that in all the dancing one wished for a bigger stage for the dancers to relax into longer chains of turns and steps. Commonly they had only begun to do so, wen they foudn themselves out of room.

Pavel Kirchev‘s Carabosse was malevolent without appearing pantomimic and overcooked. A little more mobility in the face would have helped; some better work from the eyes, or expressions showing greater internal narrative.His mime was a bit rushed, especially the “when she grows up” section but nevertheless, it was a nicely given characterisation, though I could have done without the costume choices for his bizarre rat-ish entourage.

Act I brought the arrival of our Aurora, Anna Fedosova. She quickly showed her prowess in the allegro register, possessing a cleverness of attack and lovely light hands which made her stand out from the crowd. Her Rose Adagio saw a flower-head come loose and fall away, and featured some very close partnering work on the supports for Aurora’s balances. I would have preferred more of an open partnering here, but perhaps this closeness was to shorten the balances, and to mask support? In all elements Fedosova was secure. Her variation here was greeted with applause from our half full theatre, which tapered away and stopped, for her only to bow again and for applause to start again. Rather awkward, but how easily one forgets: each relevé, each turn, each position is effort, and even the smallest of jumps is a physical cost, which sums up to fatigue. Perhaps Ms Fedosova wanted that small chance to catch a breath.

Act III saw our introduction to the young Daniil Kostylev as Prince Désiré. Mr Kostylev seems a little too young for the role as yet (the site lists him as a member of the corps de ballet) and his Désiré was slightly anonymous. I found little investment in his variation, or sense of its narrative. He is to be commended for dancing the role, and suffered only from my opinions formed by watching others.

The vision scene was rather truncated, but Fedosova showed herself as a dream-bound Aurora very nicely. No real journeying scene was in evidence, and Lilac Fairy’s intervention to get to the castle was a bit perfunctory.The curtain fell for a scene change (backcloth change) only to rise a short time after to reveal four cavaliers holding Aurora all on bended knee. It seems not only was she doomed to sleep for ever, but without so much as a bed to do so! The awakening scene was more a case of bringing live statues to life, this Désiré had the solution to hand without thinking about it, and the wedding was a foregone conclusion, to make way for the fairytale character’s variations.

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The Russian State Ballet of Siberia in Sleeping Beauty. (Centre: Kiriil Starkov as Cattalbutte)

Mana Kuwabara’s sunniness carried over from her Violente Fairy into her Princess Florine. She had lovely landings and a birdlike delicate line which became her. Her Bluebird (Georgiy Bolsnovskiy) suffered from some “corkscrew arms”as he worked through his entrechats and the second variation would have benefited from more discipline in his arm placement. It seems hard for a tall man to show Bluebird’s lightness, hence the challenge of the role, which Bolsnoskiy clearly tackled with no reservations.

Chitose Tschcia’s White Cat was cutely done. Her tiny feet lent a touch of believability to the role and her characterisation was strong. No tails in the costume for her or her Puss-in Boots (Denis Pogorelyy) which I missed, but his very Russian shrug at is failing to capture his dream-girl brought a laugh from all.

Of Yaroslava Nagumanova I have already spoken, and of her dress too. She was stand-out in all she did. There was clarity of intent, a gift for acting and comedy, which made her a treat to watch. Alexy Balva‘s Wolf was undistinguished by having been made to wear a hat with a big protruding wolf snout on it. Easier to dance in one may think, but rather odd to see. Cinderella (Anna Adreeva)’s Prince (incorrectly listed as Kostylev again) was noble and tall, and I found myself thinking him more suited for Désiré at least in mein.

Separate, brief stumbles from Fedesova and Kostylev in the Grand Pas showed just how unforgiving their schedules must be. I didn’t really like the red glitter in Prince Desire’s hair, but celebrated the fact there were no fishdives – until the end, where one was attempted, just about passed, and then quickly resolved to avert slipping. Aurara’s ending of diagonal turns was lovely, as was the final pose at curtain call. The Regent had enjoyed a ballet not so much regal as trouper.

Musically I was satisfied. In the introduction, more majesty from the brass, more opulence from strings would have been appreciated. As it was, the Russian State Ballet of Siberia Orchestra sounded more confident than when I had heard them in Nutcracker a few weeks ago (in Norwich). One or two moments of slippage, of sections not quite in agreement with each other were apparent, conductor Alexander Yudasin‘s control of their very modest (touring) forces otherwise secure. I missed the huge gong crash of Lilac Fairy’s enchantment falling on the Kingdom. Normal cymbals didn’t quite cut it. Still, I was grateful for the live music. A few other touring companies must resort to pre-recorded music for reasons of cost, and that’s always a shame.

If you miss the ballet, or wish to see your first live, a show from the Russian State Ballet of Siberia is a good place to go.

 

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WEBSITE:

http://en.krasopera.ru/about/history/

The Russian Ballet Icons: Ave Maya – March 6 2016 – The Coliseum

Lots to enjoy in this gala which was lightly sprinkled with ballet stars from the stages of the world. The air of the Coliseum was thick with excitement, and in fact, one could have been mistaken for thinking its foyer and halls, cluttered as they were with avid fans, was instead a theatre in Moscow or Saint Petersburg, such was the representation from the Russian population of London (and doubtless elsewhere). As such outside, sleek limos, burly guards; inside, stoles, a few fancy dresses and even, in the auditorium for added Russian-gala authenticity, one or two gentlemen tossing very Russian BRAVO! and “VO! VO”s with glee and generosity (as well as volume…).*

We fans were rather treated. Fourteen couples, a gamut of dance from the 18th Century up to the present, a few showstoppers, a few snores (for me) and happily, only one real stumble. There were more fouettés and cabrioles than you could shake a stick at, and enough sequins to please even the most ardent lover of sparkle and glitter (me).

To proceed in the order of running:

There was as with last year, a video shown on the far back wall of the Coliseum stage, which was more a tribute to the largesse of the stalls perhaps rather than to Plisetskaya herself, as those in the dress circle and above (certainly in the balcony) could really only see pointeshoes and ankles, rather than her full lush line. Her face became instead lips, a smile. Shots of limousine glamour became instead knees and calves, arms clutching flowers. Thrown flowers in ovation became legs below the knee. You get the picture – or rather, we in the cheap seats didn’t. Ballet is of course about footwork, but it is about features, too – faces, smiles, laughter, despair. The parade of shots and clips of a headless Plisetskaya wasn’t quite the best start.

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Maya Plisetskaya. (Most of us saw the mouth only of the picture on the left…)

However, fine features there were, the gala a celebration of the beautiful (just about everyone,) and the bold (Kimin Kim, for example, and one Ivan Vasiliev – of whom more later,) and a range of those same emotions (smiles, laughter, despair) fully explored in mostly  digestible snippets.

 

The evening started with the Grand Pas de Deux ‘Sleeping Beauty’, danced with charm, a nice amuse bouche. There were good turns from Victor Lebedevand crisp cabrioles but the partnership with Angelina Vorontsova felt a bit scrappy. There were nice relevés from her, although some of the choreography looked a bit weird to me, a few chutzpah poses Lebedev felt a bit more Don Q than Prince D, but there again, there was a correct (and lovely to my mind,) recognition of each other, a mutual bow during the dance, ballet’s beautiful politesse asserted. I was also pleased to see there were in fact no fish-dives in evidence but the choreography in general was unfamiliar and in many ways not fitting. (I have since learned that these were Nacho Duato’s own choreographic inventions.)

Second came the Balcony Scene from McMillan’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’, with the Royal Ballet’s Frederico Bonelli and Sarah Lamb. This section is a tricky one to do on an open stage. Juliet lacks stairs to rush down, and there’s no balcony at the end to yearn from and reach for her lover’s hand. Bonelli fizzed in his turns, full of youthful verve, however the partnership didn’t quite effervesce the same. There were fine moments, Lamb’s “feel my beating heart” well telegraphed but in places her dancing felt more a case of steps, rather than invested with life. One or two moments felt a bit mannered. It here also became apparent that a gentleman in a stalls box decided to urgently answer emails on his phone, or instant message Kanye West, or play Candy Crush Saga…or just check his phone. In fact, every time he was slightly bored (which was often, it appeared,) his phone would flash on and that was that act lost to him.

Thirdly came Gusev and Petipa’s ‘The Talisman’. I had noted the delicacy of Ekaterina Osmolkina and was rather taken with her dainty dancing – until she stumbled. She quickly righted herself and recovered well. Her plush jetés in particular were lovely to watch, and she showed lovely form and shape in the large number of carried lifts, and her variation carried the same breath of delicacy and charm. As one rather expected though, Kimin Kim came blazing on stage bounding and leaping in his trademark way and obliterated what charm she established, but hey, it’s what galas are for. I am rather less taken by his line in turns, but his prowess in the air was clear.

Piped-in piano (Phillip Glass on playback) brought the fifth act (Benjamin Millepied’s ‘Together Alone’) to a start. Aurélie Dupont and Hervé Moreau danced this whirring structure of movement, the narrative a little less clear to my eye, which finds the modern (perhaps modernity wholesale…) rather inscrutable. There was here ceaseless flow, an abhorring of static poses and clear phrases. At one point the dancers seemed to end as they began: supine, Dupont pointing to a corner of the stage, and thus people applauded, more perhaps in gratitude to find the piece ending as it felt a little over-long. But ended it was not. (Can people not recognise a musical cadence which announces “not finished yet!”?) There was more twirly-whirly-ness for a minute or two and then the spotlight faded. It was nice to see Dupont, who like Rojo heads up a ballet company yet still dances, but the piece didn’t affect me greatly.

A bit of comic relief with ‘The Bright Stream’ from Bolshoi’s Ekaterina Krysanova and Andrei Merkuriev. Merkuriev knowingly applauded his partner, made impressed faces at her fouettés, denied her the nicety of acknowledging her applause, and then hustled her offstage. He wasn’t quite mercurial, he seemed a bit too old perhaps to play this cheeky young man, but more worryingly he was a tiny bit sloppy, particularly in the arms. Nevertheless I found (perhaps misplaced?) consonances with Ashton in the choreography – there was that same sunniness in address, a touch of capering in the writing for the male dancer, the same cheekiness which Ashton’s males enjoy too. Krysanova’s razor sharp fouettés impressed as they travelled toward us with laser-like intent, and both dancers earned those distinctive Russian whoops from those who cried them out.

The renunciation scene from Cranko’s ‘Onegin’ was next but it felt rather robbed of passion in isolation. Onegin (Jason Reilly) himself felt slightly anonymous. Polina Semionova‘s Tatiana showed a grief well done, but the push-me-pull-you of emotional torment and suffering in Cranko’s narrative didn’t quite develop. And how could it really, in eight or so minutes? More desperation from Reilly could have helped. (Still, I liked Semionova’s costume.)

Next up, Xander Parish and Kristina Shapran in a section from Act II, ‘Giselle’. Parish still seems so young, and with it so full of promise. Those seemingly never-ending legs signify nobility he has yet to fully attain. Giselle herself had (aptly) beautifully airy feet but didn’t quite portray the spirit-girl as she should have been. At one point though, I think Xander pulled off one of the nicest grand jetés of the night.(Certainly this section was different from his act last year!)

Russel Maliphant’s ‘Spiral Twist’ lived up to its rather uncreative name, in fact for me transcending that name to show itself as a piece of beauty. I was impressed by its innovations, its search for different statements of passage and movement, and how it achieved a poetry almost as a celebration of Being. There were many striking moments therein, the various spiral turns, whirligigs, twists and lifts never ostentatious (perhaps too transient to seem so). The lyricism of the piece stood in contrast to that which had come before it in the evening. I am old fashioned and love Petipean ballet, but the modern sometimes has an appeal to me too. Here this modernity was akin to kinetic sculpture, alive and wondrous, but again, sadly perhaps a tad too long. Lucia Lacarra and Marlon Dino danced to Max Richter’s music, which I enjoyed.

I saw ‘Bolero’ listed and imagined it to be Béjart’s famous treatment of the score, but instead Farukh Ruzimatov danced half naked in choreography which left me underwhelmed. It was perhaps the most singularly camp thing I have seen for a long time. I do not wish to denigrate Mr Ruzimatov’s abilities, which are considerable, nor his artistic intent, which is admirable, but merely to suggest that the piece was not to my liking. He is to be commended for shouting a heartfelt “YAHHH!” at one moment. The lady behind my is to be likewise commended for keeping accurate rhythmic time to the pulse of Ravel’s score, although I rather would have wished her not to have done so with her knee on the back of my chair in the small of my back, forcefully thrusting forward with each enthusiastic beat of her leg.

The way Mr Ruzimatov left the stage was perhaps worth the preceding ten minutes alone. A slow balletic walk which brought to mind The Trocks, and which closed act I.

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Daniel Simkin and Maria Kochetkova in Ave Maya: Russian Ballet Icons Gala 2016. Photo (c) John Ross, used without permission.

The opening of Part II of the evening, a section of Act II from ‘Le Corsaire’ would have made a Best in Show for me. It was said elsewhere (by Isemene Brown, I believe) that in the English National Ballet’s run of Le Corsaire, some of the male Principals treated it as an audition for an international ballet competition: the male variation lends itself to this ridiculous effervescent style, its Soviet stylings made to show Soviet supermen defying gravity (before they really did, for the first time…) Stakhanovite levels of dedication (perhaps the norm for ballet dancers?) dominating the stage. As such, plaudits to be awarded to the no-holds barred work of Daniel Simkin in particular. Splendidly macho leaps and 540 degree turns, muscular attack and an approach which said “sod it” to finesse, this was glorious, gleeful chutzpah in spades, and a cracking spectacle. In fact, it sounded like some of the brass section were watching the antics on stage, I heard quite a few wobbles from them, perhaps in response to the feats on display? Maria Kochetkova’s fouettés were taken at a tempo which was almost openly absurd, and even though her arms weren’t the most elegant in doing so, applause for her came loudly and without restraint. The bravura fireworks had achieved their intent, and I think they got the loudest ovation on the night.

If Maliphant’s ‘Twist’ showed the virtues of modern elegance, Christopher Wheeldon’s noted pas de deux from ‘After the Rain’ was the poorer for it. Which is not to say Marianela Nuñéz and Thiago Soares didn’t dance it with conviction. But I do not understand how crablike positions, writhing a bit on the floor or kicking a girl over can be seen as graceful. The famous “Titanic” type pose was particularly well done though. I was also struck my how nice Marianela’s hair was (yes, I was.) Not my favourite selection from the night but inoffensive enough I suppose.

Matthew Golding is a favourite dancer of mine (which, I gather is a minority opinion…) contentious to believe, it seems. He and Liudmilla Konovalova gave us the Act III pas de deux from Swan Lake. Konovalova was not the most mendacious Odile, nor the most outstanding I had seen. She was however, technically secure and a bright presence on-stage. Golding’s variation found wonderful musicality and phrasing (this I judged mainly on concordance of his hands with cymbal crashes, those same hands and fingers always clean in expression and consistently fine, as if a flourish themselves). All variations were well done, fouettés present and correct, Golding launching some lovely turns from second position, to Tchaikovksy’s rousing score. Fun to watch.!

Of the ‘Spartacus’ we saw I can say very little except that Mr Grigorovich’s choreography doesn’t quite inflame my passion as much as it did Maria Alexandrova and Vladislav Lantratov. Danced to a taped score, it lost some of it’s drama. Nevertheless they gave it conviction. (And here the bravos came thick and fast…)

Antonio Ruiz Soler’s ‘Three Cornered Hat’ seemed a bit out of place by virtue of not being ballet. There was great dancing from Sergio Bernal. The fun flamenco-inflected dance and cape whirling passed by a little too quickly in fact, and it was a treat to watch him.

Vadim Muntagirov and Daria Klimentová’s in ‘Moshkovsky Waltz’ was fun, and it had some thrilling throws. Memorable was the distinctive spinning fishdive. Brave Daria to do these, but as it shows in their dancing, they are a strong partnership. The trust is there, the maturity of expression, and the joie de vivre sings loudly, clearly. A real pleasure to see. Their “curtain call” was addtionally delightful. Muntagirov running onstage with Klimentová aloft, totemic yet humble in the applause she was receiving.

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Vadim Muntagirov and Daria Klimentová in the Russian Ballet Icons Gala 2016. Photo (c) John Ross, used without permission.

Tamara Rojo and Isaac Hernández were next in Albert Alonso’s Carmen Suite. Hernández pulled off a few of his deliciously speedy spins, but too few. He is a dancer of pantherine dimensions, his comfort the brazen and the large scale. The choreography seemed to hem him in somewhat. As in his star turn in Le Corsaire, he needs a stage to bask and revel in, and smaller gestures, more limpid phrasing does not become him.

And thus, a full twenty five or so minutes after scheduled/advertised end time, came the star, nay, icon almost, everyone had been waiting for. Ivan Vasiliev came striding on-stage for a star turn as Don Quixote. And turn he did. In his variations he could not quite best Simkin for intent of expression but his “helicopter turns” and barrel turns were present, and lauded. (He could flick his big toe and garner acclaim…). His chaine turns seemed the poorer when one thinks of for instance, Steven McCrae’s same, yet Vasiliev’s disposition, his eagerness to show his abilities endeared him to an audience. One precarious moment of near overbalance from Kristina Kretova was saved by willpower and experience, notable for her focus in the face of near overbalance. Brava, Kretova. Her pointe was steely, her gaze the same. This was a Kitri not so much kitten as vixen. Was it worth nearly missing my train connection home to stay and wait for Vasiliev? Probably not as it happened. But as my friend said afterwards, had I not stayed, I would never have known.

I’d encourage everyone who enjoys ballet to attend the next one of these if it rolls around. The site listed the event as sold out, yet there were empty seats everywhere here and there. There may not, as last year, have been some stars as advertised, but London was well treated to a good collection of dancers.

Overall, 8/10!

NOTE

*Those who have seen the film Bolshoi Babylon may not be too surprised to learn of the identity of one of these gentlemen…….

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Rhapsody/Two Pigeons – The Royal Ballet – McRae, Osipova; Campbell, Choe, January 20 2016

Everyone really only wants to hear Variation 18 from Rachmaninov’s famous piece, and anything additional is probably a bonus. A big bonus is to see Steven McRae leap and bound with some ridiculous over-the-top, laugh-out-loud moments of dancerly pyrotechnics. Scything scissorring jumps, his trademark chaine-tornado, McRae revelled in Ashton’s writing. There’s flash, flair and brio which is McRae’s metier, and he showed glorious definition in tours especially.

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The Nutcracker – English National Ballet -Rojo, Gouneo, Westwell – January 2 2016

Once more Eagling’s production charmed its audience. And I was – with a few minor reservations – included.

With ENB’s boss Tamara Rojo cast as Clara, the matinee seemed in sure hands. Things went a bit awry during the snowball throwing moments, a particularly bouncy and stubborn snowball just kept on returning to the stage, as if unwilling to leave the spotlight. (It was probably on loan from the Bolshoi theatre). That said, the skating clowning was the best I have seen it, but by God, falling like that every day and night must take it’s toll. Bravi to the intrepid skaters.*

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Nutcrackers Galore

Cultural institutions can become quickly established. A full Nutcracker wasn’t shown in England until 1934, and in America until 1944. Now, in traditional stagings, with swathes of snow, tutus, Chrsitmas trees and rats and that forever fey Sugar Plum Fairy, it has become integrated into the experience of Christmas for many. (Let’s leave aside any comment on commercialisation of the same!)

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Romeo and Juliet – Núñez, Soares, Underwood – The Royal Ballet – Dec 1 2015

On a second viewing, Marianela Núñez‘s Juliet comes into even clearer focus. This Juliet reveals herself as an almost post-adolescent girl, far from childish in the Nurse scenes. As such, those scenes come through with slight mixed messages. The steps and stage manner seem to ask for childlike innocence (or in some readings, a teasing of the Nurse). Núñez plays for innocence but it reads oddly. There is throughout the ballet, little progression from budding girl to mature woman:  Núñez’s Juliet is already ready to love and be loved, and she moulds the story around that trajectory of Fate.

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