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The Idle Woman

Sergei Polunin

★★★★½

(directed by Steven Cantor, 2016)

Classical ballet has always been a foreign country to me. Until Thursday, I hadn’t even heard of Sergei Polunin. But then I read a review of his current show at Sadler’s Wells which, in turn, led me to YouTube and his video Take Me to Church. Even on an iPhone screen, it took my breath away. I’m always alert to the beauty of the human form, and I admire dancing in which we see the body pushed to its limits, at the point where grace and power blend into a singular alchemy of expression. This four-minute piece, danced by a lone young man in ripped leggings in shafts of sunlight, was a ravishing spectacle of exactly that. What was the story behind this raw and emotional performance? Fortunately, this newly-released documentary was on hand to tell me more.

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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.

Ratmansky’s Swan Lake

Alexei Ratmansky‘s Swan Lake was always going to contain moments which stood out. Swan Lake is perhaps the ballet one comes to know best as a ballet fan, and is perhaps the text most in people’s minds when they think “Ballet”. Any changes to the text or story will stand out, diverging from one’s favoured version or favourite moments. One watches these revisions for those moments of surprise, and to enjoy a work successfully and consistently executed with artistic integrity and vision. (Perhaps secretly we hope to see that really “it was better in the old days” too?)

The work was indeed consistently executed by the leads and corps of Zurich ballet, to a good standard –  of whom more later – however the text drew attention to itself, and not altogether to the benefit of the full dramatic picture.

Evolution tends towards gradual modification for continued success (if not full “survival of the fittest”) and in art no less is true. In the course of a theatre artwork’s life there might have been a paring down or amplification of drama, a change of artistic cadence, dramatic tension, or other alterations which bring either beauty or narrative clarity to the piece. Ideally both. Not all artworks are untouchable, and ballet since the mid-Nineteenth century has been palimpsest rather than Authorised Version. (One imputes authority to where one wishes to set store by it.)

With Swan Lake, no less is true. Any choreographic adjustments to fit those intents will have been inherited by us – around one hundred and ten years remove from the first (revival?) performance of the work. Revisions since 1895 may have been due to personal presence of any dancer (“I’ll just do a penché arabesque here, Mr Petipa? or perhaps a bourée here?”) and may too have been to the betterment of drama. What we are used to, is let’s face it, a text which feels standard, and which works well and is largely recognisable from Birmingham in the UK, to London, to New York or Paris or Milan. The story and process of the ballet don’t vary too much.

What does this revised, reconstructed work lose and gain? It loses more than it gains.

It clutters the crucial Act I Scene II pas de deux with many Swan Maidens, and I could not help thinking of The Trocks’ Benno (Andrei Cozlac), who (Trocks-style) catches Odette in those famous trust falls I so enjoy, which here are thus absent. What should be intimate and loving here feels instead like eavesdropping. With an audience on-stage, the romance becomes public and our private thoughts on love – as a private pairing – grumble slightly. The mind cannot quite countenance a display of undying love unfolding with Siegfried’s mate and Odette’s girlfriends in tow.

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Kapitonova and Jones as Odette and Siegfried.

It also seems the 19th century predilection was not to dispose of dancers by filtering them into the wings to leave the stage clear for feats of balletic grace, but to use them as living frames, on three sides of the stage. In Act I, left, rear, right of stage was full of lines of bobbing heads, fifth position arms going up and down, changing postures of boys and girls while the Pas de Trois capered away. Admittedly this in fact links well with Ivanov’s same use of Swan Maidens in the white acts, and it is to Ratmansky’s credit to have through-composed this use of corps de ballet throughout. I imagine in an era before film that these pictures of a full stage in synchronisation were vivid and impressive. To modern eyes, and perhaps purposefully (or successfully?) so, they seem quaint.

A little more fatally, Ratmansky’s rehabilitation of Sergeyev’s notated version means that Siegfried’s character reverts back to a supporting role, rather as he would have been at the time the ballet was written.  Hints of his interior world – whether through acting or dancing, are noticeably absent, and this absence was keenly felt. As such his hope when finding revelation of Odette that his subconscious prayers have been answered, seemed less moving and the romance as a whole felt distant.

For those who are interested, herewith a catalogue of specific changes:

The maypole and stools from the now defunct Royal Ballet Swan Lake (they share the same reference text) were present, but the use of stools rather limited. If anything these variances from our known productions show how much was not recorded in the Sergeyev Collection’s archives. Clapping here was loud and rumbustious and streamers dropped from the maypole charmingly. The villager boys did little almost mincing bourees and “running on the spot” reminiscent of the famous four cygnet routine later on.

Odette’s evasive pirouettes timed to Tchaikovsky’s music were not in evidence. Instead at those moments, she stood like a 1920s silent movie star, hand on brow, one hand outstretched as it to say “oh no! away!”.

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Fay Wray or, Odette vs. Siegfried

 

 

This was storytelling which stressed human feelings: Odette as woman, not chimera. It was lighter in poetic ambition, knowing itself to be a fairytale and as such it seemed to be asking for our indulgence. No longer was Odette a swooning naif, an ethereal creature doomed by cosmic forces, punished by cruel magic. She was just a princess. It felt odd.

The Swan Maidens have poinytails and little headpieces. Their tutus are older fashioned and there’s white feathers all over. This device makes them seem – as with Odette – more woman, than otherworldly creature. Their hair flops around. There’s little ghostly serenity, they’re more like Busby Berkeley than beautiful birds.

Odette doesn’t transform into a swan at the end of Act I, Scene II, and flutter her arms in lush Vaganova wings facing or away from the audience. She is borne away by Rothbart, abducted as if a slave in a harem.

Siegfried doesn’t “discover” Odette before the Pas De Deux, nor lean over and unfurl her wings. She just walks on-stage from the wings.

Odile’s variation breaks not with Odile appearing to confront/kiss Siegfried but with her grasping his knee and doing a deep arabesque. She ended the variation with curious brises and a chain of echappés. The act also contained a male variation for Siegfried I had not seen before.

Sets seemed oddly clean cut and austere, almost too modern and out-of-place. Jérôme Kaplan’s costumes were, happily, lovely.

There was, as one can see, much I noticed absent. And yet, some joys too*.

Of the dancers, the standard was high. Viktorina Kapitonova‘s feet were pinprick sharp at the end her white act variation, tempi swift. Her Odile was a striking contrast to her Odette. Alexander Jones was a gallant partner, but if only he had been given more space to, yes, emote!

Noteworthy was Giulla Tonelli‘s dancing in pas de trois. There were assemblies of steps which demanded speedy precision. Some of these were new to me, and she sailed through them with charm. So too Yen Han tackled the writing with appetite.

The Neapolitan (Meiri Maeda, Wei Chen, Lou Spichtig, Christopher Parker, Giulla Tonelli,   Surimu Fukushi, Marie Varlet, Shlomi Miara) started rather leaden, but this was misdirection. Ratmansky’s revision allowed for a thrilling, breakneck accelerando under Rossen Milanov‘s baton, the dancers keeping up with no problem.

The final Act was perhaps Ratmansky’s investment bearing best fruit. Odette is framed by her maidens, as if a stone in jewelled lozenge setting. The picture of arms and sorrow beautiful.

The “storm building” music was absent, Siegfried ran on-stage without any musical build-up. This anticipation and subsequent poetic music of his entrance  is for me one of the best moment in the whole ballet and I regretted it was not here.

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Odette framed by her maidens. (C) needed.

Yet after this, the drama went from slow bubbling brook to a surging torrent. The doomed lovers embraced to a cymbal crash, and Odette resolved to die. The tug of love and desperation was definitely tear-jerking and I have not seen this tragic deliberation done so powerfully before. I was truly caught in the reality of their fairytale fate. Those moments redeemed the whole show. It was as if here Ratmansky was free to give a modern voice to the work, and if it was really as the ballet was danced in the Nineteenth century, then sensibilities don’t change, and the heart is constant, from city to city, and time is nothing. The poets know this.Here, Ivanov’s poetry sang.

 

Ratmansky’s Sleeping Beauty  succeeded, I think, because it is a happy story and because it is not a narrative ballet throughout. Swan Lake cleaves to a traditional form of drama as lesson and journey (or just plain story) whereas Sleeping Beauty knows itself to be (in the kindest, most gorgeous sense,) beautiful frippery. Beauty bore the revisions better by wearing them more lightly.They weighed this Lake down a little.

Swan Lake matters, and Ratmansky respects it. He may have undertaken this ballet with the intent to do full justice to Sergeyev, Petipa, Ivanov. I just think that “historically consistent” may not be as enjoyable to modern eyes. As a reconstruction  it has merits: as a proclamation of aesthetic dissent (in its demands for lower legs, less acrobatics, more demure dancing) the same. As a project wholesale its rewards were for me, mixed.

 

 

NOTE:

  • And a disappointment. For all this ceaseless chasing of the mimetically Nineteenth Century, that there was shown a video Odette boureeing in pain, when Siegfried swears love to Odile. Such a shame.

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.

 

 

Opera tickets, going cheap

Interesting thoughts below, in summary, your opera and ballet tickets are actually cheap….

 

 

 

Here’s a couple of pie charts for you, showing the income and expenditure of the Royal Opera House in 2014: The sector to which I’d like to draw our attention is “Box office recei…

Source: Opera tickets, going cheap

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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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…….

Twitter Roundup

A Swan Lake sublime

Swan Lake – Birmingham Royal Ballet – Mathews, Lawrence, Dingman – Jan 28 2016, The Mayflower, Southampton.

 

John Keats and Russian myth don’t seem at first sight to be related but seeing Delia Mathews and Brandon Lawrence dance together was an event underlining the idea that sometimes truth is really beauty, and beauty truth. In the hands of these strong dance communicators there was here beauty, and so too truth, recognisable as great art.  The Swans may (and to pun, slightly) like Keats ancient vase, be mute, but thanks to Marius Petipa and Birmingham Royal Ballet’s fine body of dancers, they sing in other ways.
The Greeks may not have quite romanticised the Swan as the Germans and Russians did in the 19th Century (Leda is a close comparator, even though Zeus is in his potencies rather more mighty than Rothbart, who is of a more rural, domestic, druidic type of evil) but they surely understood the power of Terpsichore, the Muse of dance, whom they held to be sacred, and the line from her to Petipa and Ivanov is, despite the distance of millennia, traceable at least in shared ideals. Why else do we watch dance, and stories in-dance in particular if not to be edified, or even moved?

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Corsaires ahoy! (Le Corsaire, Jan 23, 24 2016)

 

 

Bounding out of the wings like some kind of piratical dervish, Isaac Hernández‘s Conrad looked like he was truly skimming the surface of the stage as he leapt and turned. He also looked constrained by the size of the Coliseum’s stage, a creature needing to stretch but instead caged.

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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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