To put it mildly, this is quite a spectacular production.
Somehow it's fitting that on a day that the Dow plunged 315 points to close its worst week of 2014, ABT was at the exchange to ring the closing bell and celebrate its Nutcracker. Perhaps it was just a coincidence. Perhaps not.
But there will be celebration today when we watch Sarah Lane and Joe Gorak in performance at BAM and tomorrow when the glorious Stella Abrera debuts as Clara opposite Alex Hammoudi. What we really need, though, is some champagne-glass-smashing good news in the way of promotions for these two women who have long deserved it.
OMG, the Mariinsky has added yet another performance to its BAM visit. Another Cinderella has been added for January 20th. Maybe we will really get to see Pavlenko in the leading role. Wouldn't that be terrific? Pavlenko ...
NYCB is eating up a lot of Haglund's credit line this Nutcracker season. The December 27th performance will feature Lauren King opposite Jared Angle, and the December 28th matinee includes debuts of Ashly Isaacs and Taylor Stanley as Sugarplum and her Cavalier. We wouldn't miss either for the world.
Kiev: The Kiev State Ballet School has refused to accept money raised by Moscow`s Bolshoi Theatre after it emerged the star dancer at a charity gala had supported the annexation of Crimea.
At the Bolshoi last Sunday, some of the world`s leading dancers from Russia, Ukraine and France put on a dazzling performance to raise money for renovations at the Kiev ballet school.
The show was organised by prima ballerina Svetlana Zakharova, who was born in Ukraine and trained at the school, which she said was in dire need of repair.
. . .
"The Ukrainian artists who participated in the concert appear to not be aware that the Russian dancer S. Zakharova signed a letter supporting the politics of (Russian President) Vladimir Putin in Crimea," wrote the school`s director Ivan Doroshenko in a letter published on the Ministry of Culture`s website on Saturday.
"Otherwise, they would never have agreed to take part in this provocative farce."
. . .
"The money raised during this concert is not comparable to the thousands of dead, the hundreds of thousands of square kilometres of territory, the tens of billions of hryvnias that Ukraine has lost," said Doroshenko, referring to the bloody conflict in the east of the country where the government has been fighting Russia-backed separatists for the past eight months.
"Needless to say, the choreography school of Kiev renounces the `help` of Svetlana Zakharova," he concluded, while accepting that the school was still in need of help for rebuilding work.
The hotly anticipated new Starz series Flesh and Bone starring Ben Daniels, Irina Dvorovenko, and Sascha Radetsky among others has been converted into a "limited series" with a final ending from its original ongoing series status. Oh dear. One reader of the announcement/article in Deadline Hollywood commented, "that’s the nicest “you’re cancelled before you even get on the air” statement I’ve ever heard of...."
Maybe the silver lining in all this is that Ethan Stiefel, the consultant and choreographer, is now free to tackle a great big new job.
This Sunday, October 26th, the season's first live cinema presentation of the Bolshoi Ballet will be transmitted from one end of Balletdom to the other. Grigorovich's famous Legend of Love will star Sveltlana Zakharova and Denis Rodkin. It's a long one – 3 hours 45 minutes – but will surely have all the very entertaining little extras that come at intermission. Go here to find your local movie houses where the cinemacast will be shown.
World Ballet Day coming at you in a few hours
Beginning tonight at 7PM Pacific Daylight Time U.S. (10PM Eastern Daylight Time U.S.), the San Francisco Ballet will begin broadcasting the whole 20 hour shebang on its YouTube channel. What a terrific thing to do for all of us, and we thank San Francisco Ballet very much.
Why not stop by to watch San Francisco Ballet's livestream and afterward send them $5 or $10 with your thanks on their special Kickstarter page. Even if everyone who watches the livestream only sends $1, it will amount to a tidy sum. (Just ask Hillary or POTUS.) Drop a buck or few in the basket.
Here's the schedule:
The Australian Ballet Tue, Sep 30, 7pm (PDT),10pm (EDT)
The Bolshoi Ballet Tue Sep 30, 11pm (PDT), Wed 2am (EDT)
The Royal Ballet Wed Oct 1, 3am (PDT), 6am (EDT)
The National Ballet of Canada Wed Oct 1, 7am (PDT),10am (EDT)
San Francisco Ballet Wed Oct 1, 11am (PDT), 1pm (EDT
Every year in early November, the level of cranky among NYCers increases as about 50,000 really, really, really skinny people descend on the city to run in the New York City Marathon. Thousands of the elite level professional runners make the MB Fashion Week models look like fatties. They make most of the city’s professional ballet dancers look like they could slim down. There’s nothing like a bunch of extra skinnies thrown into a general population already obsessed with weight to ratchet up appearance anxiety.
It’s gets worse, though. You see, these skinnies always seem to be eating. Eating eating eating. Not lettuce and protein shakes, but pasta – pasta heaped with pesto and tomato sauce and plates of potatoes. No "slim-down" diuretics for these folks - nosiree, each one is hydrated enough for five non-runners and has skin that is as clear as a Maldives lagoon.
Then they start running. Running like the average person can only dream about. Running at a high level of physical efficiency with a degree of commitment that is alien to the average person’s understanding.
Of late, the same ones almost always win. African runners with narrow frames, long legs, short torsos, and steely delicate musculature cross the finish line first. They’re usually from Kenya, sometimes Ethiopia.
Every year as Haglund watches the race from some street in Manhattan or Brooklyn, he ponders what it would be like if the Kenyan and Ethiopian ladies would have brought their narrow frames, long legs, short torsos, and steely delicate musculature into a ballet studio at an early age instead of opting to do what their cultures encourage everybody to do: long distance running.
Take a look at these ladies who are running in an Olympic marathon. They are so in tune with one another that they could be four cygnets in Swan Lake. Look at Edna Kiplagat’s legs and shoulders on the far left, and imagine that body in a tutu after a little tutoring in turn-out. If only ….
It’s easy to spot perfect African American ballet bodies on most any street in New York on any given day. You recognize them instantly: naturally lean with narrow frames, light bones, impossibly long legs supporting tiny hips, swan necks. They are mixed in with the ordinary bodies and the many overweight bodies, but they are there. In Haglund’s neighborhood, they may be hanging out on a 9th Avenue corner after school arguing about the latest Beyonce/Jay Z melodrama or trying to buy cigarettes at the 7 Brothers Deli along with their potato chips, pizza, and soda or hanging out around the basketball court on 47th Street. They’re doing what kids of every color everywhere in the city are doing, and they’re not doing ballet. But their black bodies are well-suited for it.
No ballet company in this city can truthfully claim that it has to settle for dumpy bodies just to diversify the culture. And no ballet company should sit on its hands while an ambitious, modestly talented dancer tries to advance her own career by falsely claiming that objections to her lack of classical aptitude are race-based and by distributing sexually provocative images of her bare tits to her minor-aged fan base over the internet.
In Russia, mothers recognize when their young daughters have bodies that might succeed in ballet and they seek out schools. The art form, its aesthetic, and the basic physical requirements are commonly understood within the culture where ballet, opera, and classical music are sources of great national pride. You may recall Veronika Part explaining to David Letterman that when she was born into a family that had no previous dancers, someone looked at her infant legs and pronounced her a future ballerina. There is an awareness within the general population of the aesthetic and an acceptance that children studying ballet is an honorable endeavor. And the preprofessional deselection process starts early with the application of requirements that few can meet.
Here is a chart that spells it out in black and while. (Click on the image to enlarge and clarify.) The Moscow State Academy of Choreography, also known as the Bolshoi Ballet’s official school, employs the following height/weight requirements for Russian students on its website – where this week, incidentally, the school's website is celebrating Montana native and third year student Julian Mackay's achievement at the Istanbul Ballet Festival.
A girl who is 160 cm ( 5’2-1/2”) should weigh 39.6 kilograms (87 lbs). A girl who is 174 cm (5’7”) must weigh 49.8 kilograms (109.79 lbs). There is a tolerance of +/- 1 kilogram. Any girl who weighs over 50 kilograms (110 lbs) is not permitted to participate in Pas de Deux class but is required to attend as an observer. The requirements for boys appear just below those for the girls.
For students from foreign countries, the weight requirements are even more strict. The first chart is from the Academy’s website; the lower chart is the Google translation to English. (Click on each image to enlarge and clarify.) Note that according to the chart in the above illustration, the 5’7” Russian girl could weigh up to 109.79 pounds, but according to the chart below, a 5’7” foreign female student may not weigh more than 103.6 lbs (47 kilograms).
Foreign student requirements (Google translation to English)
There are also 15 pages that detail the medical conditions, congenital conditions, and acquired conditions that make any student unfit for the academy's preprofessional curriculum. Those standards are designed not just to get thin students, but to get students who are natural ectomorphs with narrow frames who are free of physical issues that might impede intense instruction and who may ultimately achieve the exquisite lines that are highly valued in the art form. Such people are present in every culture, and they are who the Bolshoi's feeder-school wants to train.
It’s a different story in America. A little girl is more likely to be enrolled in ballet class to stave off obesity or as a substitute for rigorous sports, to address deportment issues, or as a place to stash the kid after school. Not always but oftentimes, kids end up in their first ballet classes because of negative factors - factors that have nothing to do with the parents valuing the art form – not positive factors. And because schools rely on tuition and not government support, every body – no matter how unsuited to the profession – is welcomed into the ballet class, encouraged to come back, and told they are wonderful so that the flow of money continues.
The result is a vastly different pool of potential aspiring dancers for this country’s professional training programs. You see a wider range of bodies trying to enter classical ballet as a vocation with minds convinced at an early age that if they can whack their ears with a foot or do an inverted leg split, then it shouldn’t matter whether their bodies can achieve classical line. There is quick and easy denial that there exist traits that are bona fide qualifications for succeeding in the ballet profession just like there are traits required for succeeding in the NBA - most notably being tall. And as time passes, the NBA players get taller and taller. In ballet, the legs lengthen, the bodies become leaner and stronger, and the ability to approach classical perfection takes a step closer to reality.
In the past couple of decades, ballet has discovered a treasure trove of great ballet bodies in Japan, China, and Korea where the most common physiques in the cultures are ones that are lean without being attenuated, have necks like swans, excellent physical coordination, and high mental discipline. These dancers are joining American companies in large numbers and also routinely knocking off the white, black, and Latino dancers at competitions to take home the gold. Is it unfair?
The truth is that there are plenty of beautiful bodies of all colors who meet the current aesthetic of professional ballet. The effort by Misty Copeland to convince everyone that her inabilities to achieve that aesthetic and the expected technical level are a function of racism is a load of waste, and the willingness of American Ballet Theatre to let that story run debases the organization and the art form.
Ballet doesn’t need a role model who describes in her book in great detail ordering a muffin from her deli in the morning and then in later pages claims that she doesn’t eat flour and sugar. Ballet doesn’t need a role model who distributes sexually provocative photos to minors. Ballet doesn’t need a role model who makes false claims of racism. Ballet doesn’t need a role model who trashes her own mother in order to make her story more colorful and marketable.
In her book, Misty derided Swan Lake for having a so-called “white act” that she sought to twist into a for-white-people-only act. What will she claim about Act III, the Black Swan Act, when in a few weeks she adds her name to the few major black ballerinas who have already danced the role? That the 32 fouettes are a white thing; so she doesn’t need to do them? Maybe she and ABT are counting on the friendly Aussie audience not to notice and especially not to notice the more competent ballerinas who are not starring in Swan Lake in order to make room for Misty. What an embarrassment to this nation ABT has become.
When the Bolshoi Ballet last brought Spartacus to the Metropolitan Opera House in July 2005, they draped Lincoln Center with billboard-sized hanging posters that were fierce red, evil black, and conquering gold. There was no mistaking who was in town.
During that same month, insurgents were continuing to rise up in Iraq and had just invaded the London transit system killing scores of innocents in retaliation for Britain’s presence in Afghanistan and Iraq. Insurgents thousands of miles away had us all thinking about our own safety.
Skip forward to 2014 – the Bolshoi Ballet brought no big red hanging posters to Lincoln Center with their Spartacus. Instead, a modest sidewalk poster outside the theater featured the company's one American, a tall cool blond in a cool blue scene from Swan Lake. For this visit, it may have been a little risky to highlight any current connection of Russia to insurgents when the townspeople were unlikely to be empathetic. It isn’t very pretty what a town without pity can do, wailed Gene Pitney.
But Saturday night, Yuri Grigorovich’s production had us rooting for both the Thracian gladiator and the Roman Republic, because each side danced just as magnificently as the other and they frequently did the same steps. Most often in ballets that we see in New York, we are accustomed to the women boring us with repetitive steps, such as the ubiquitous tombe, pas de bourree, glissade (or worse, petit temps de fleche), saut de chat in Balanchine’s work. In Spartacus, the major corps work was not performed by leaf-light ladies in pink tights who adorned the stage perimeter but by sweaty, handsome hunks with raging testosterone who were holding sharp weapons. It was hard not to pay close attention to what they were doing – over and over again.
Denis Rodkin, fairly new to the title role, gave a superb, intensely dramatic, utterly convincing performance. His "chain dance" during Act I conveyed the magnitude of his despair and desperation so well that Haglund completely forgot that he was watching a ballet rather than listening to someone’s story. At the end of Act I when Rodkin's Spartacus incited revolt among his warriors and they all marched to the front edge of the stage with their fists and weapons raised – right then and there – Haglund was ready to sign up with the insurgency. Just slap a Callaway hybrid sword with graphite shaft in his palm and he’d help chase Crassus down hole after hole. Dare we say, there were not many in the audience who wouldn’t have followed Rodkin wherever he wanted to lead them.
Not like the well-known squatty Spartacuses (early Vasiliev and current Vasiliev) or the impossibly virile, meaty Spartacus of Irek Mukhamedov, Rodkin possesses the lean elegance and broad shoulders of an NFL wide receiver. His high flying, space devouring grand jetes suggested that he would give Jerry Rice (pre-DWTS) a run for his money.
Rodkin stunned with his partnering power and passion. Haglund had seen a brief video clip of his debut in the role last year during which the dramatic, strength-sapping one-arm lift was carefully steadied with the second arm. In Saturday’s performance, however, caution was replaced with steely resolve and Superman strength. His power came from the lightening fast, efficient coordination that has been a trademark of Bolshoi lifts since the early Grigorovich days. When Crassus’ army finally caught this Spartacus and dispatched him, the swords hurt us all. This was a Spartacus as gripping as those seen here nine years earlier in the Bolshoi’s incredible performances at the Met Opera House.
Maria Vinogradova’s Phrygia, also newly minted a year ago, is a dancer of expansive, exquisite harmony and beauty. Who thought that an elbow and wrist broken over the top of the head could convey such sadness and passion? While the repetitiveness of some of the men’s choreography brought boredom, Haglund never got tired of watching this Phrygia’s high developpe battements a la second that fell forward into deep battement attitudes with the back leg. Her bourrees in her Act III solo matched the lightness and sweetness of the flute’s notes while her generous port de bras opened up to reveal the passion in her heart. What a beauty and what sincerity in her character.
Vladislav Lantratov as Crassus had fabulous moments of fierce dancing but wasn’t always convincing as a ruthless Roman. That may have contributed to the conflicting loyalties one felt when watching this cast. Both Spartacus and Crassus had characteristics that we liked and feared. It was thrilling to watch from a safe distance as they faced off dramatically, and yet, we didn’t want to see either one lose. When dancing with his Aegina, Ekaterina Krysanova, Lantratov’s Crassus turned into a puppy, eager to receive what Aegina offered instead of taking it from her as one would expect an ego-driven Crassus to do. But his dancing was superb with especially admirable grand jetes in which the torso was straight and high off the legs.
Ekaterina Krysanova was a seductive and entitled Aegina who just needed to show more ruthless feminine ambition. Her portrayal was more Rubies tall girl than Roman courtesan, although the personality types do overlap in places. One couldn’t quibble with her dancing, however. Extraordinary length, flexibility, and physical power were on display.
What a surprise it was to see that the New York State Theater stage could accommodate a Bolshoi production of Spartacus – maybe not as impressively as the Met stage, but there was plenty of room for the dancers to power through this remarkable production. There is nothing schlocky about this Spartacus - a description that some tend to throw around. It is a huge undertaking of a grand story that requires a sustainable high level of physical and dramatic energy that few companies can muster. It is a thrilling ballet. Here’s hoping that the Bolshoi brings it to us again soon, but accompanied by Marco Spada and some more recent acquisitions.
The H.H. Pump Bump Award, a Gladiator sandal with protective shin guard, is bestowed upon Denis Rodkin (who one confused but very excited audience member kept referring to as Dennis Rodman) for his gripping portrayal of Spartacus.
Tuesday night’s Playbill cover looked more like an issue of the quarterly publication, Ballet Review, with its classic black and white photo of Maria Alexandrova as Kitri. Here the emphatic beauty of the exact performance moment and the linear harmony within the artist’s life-filled pose were exclaimed without the overpowering and distracting effects of the red in Kitri’s dress. This is an artist who we have held in high esteem for a long time, the Bolshoi's photo conveyed. Alexandrova, who is in her 17th year with the Bolshoi, is one of three current principals who hold the honorary title People's Artist of Russia - the others being Anna Antonicheva and Sveltlana Zakharova.
Even though Alexandrova’s grand allegro was not as exceptional as it would have been had the dancer been given several more months of recovery from her major Achilles injury, her overall performance was more than enjoyable for its sassy, comedic, feminine interpretation of Kitri and the masterful use of music that included some stunning arabesque balances. She has been dancing the role of Kitri for 14 years, and yet, the freshness and joy of her interpretation were apparent. It’s been a while since Haglund has seen a Bolshoi Ballet performance of Don Quixote that didn’t rely on circus ponyism – and what a relief it was.
Alexandrova’s Basilio, Vladislav Lantratov, has been dancing the role for about three years. He comes by Romantic grace and form naturally whereas being a spunky barber is more of a challenge. He was a strong and reliable partner for Alexandrova, and his masterful skill in several one-armed lifts was impressive. What made Haglund sit up straight, however, was a two-handed overhead lift followed by a fish dive in which Kitri switched direction 180 degrees as Lantratov tossed her into the perfect fish position. She was facing left in the air over his head, and suddenly she was facing right over his knee. With no safety net. Oh, probably Alexandrova’s own fouette coordination had something to do with the spectacular effect of the move, but let’s give this one to Lantratov.
Olga Smirnova as Queen of the Dryads was quite the beautiful example of Vaganova schooling in her upper body, but didn’t convey the Bolshoi tradition. The difference between her approach and Alexandrova’s Bolshoi authenticity could not have been made more clear than when the Dryad Queen tried to follow Kitri down a diagonal of arabesques during Act II. Each dancer was individually lovely, but together they were like mixing vodka with red wine – each immensely enjoyable in a glass, but not as a cocktail. One could imagine Olga’s Dryad Queen following the Mariinsky's Tereshkina down Kitri's diagonal, but here, she looked out of place – beautifully out of place, though. No doubt about it.
Denis Rodkin and Oxana Sharova smoldered as Espada and Mercedes – the fierceness of his dancing and character were unlike any of the hot but gentlemanly Espadas who we customarily see in this town. Sharova, of the youthful lumbar vertebrae and dazzling smile, easily found the sultriness in those dramatic backbends.
The character artists always carry the Bolshoi Ballet’s Don Quixote as much as the principal dancers. Alexander Petukhov as Sancho Panza, Denis Savin as Gamache, and Alexei Loparevich as Don Quixote have long been associated with their roles and were as superb as expected. Kristina Karasyova as the Gypsy created her own dramatic and compelling story ballet in a few short moments. She told us her own fortune, or rather her own misfortune, with extraordinary passion and sweeping Graham-like floor work.
The choreography for Cupid was more minor than one would have liked, but it was well-danced by Yulia Lunkina. The soloists in the Act III Grand Pas, Maria Vonogradova and Ana Turazashvili, each displayed beautiful length and grace in their variations and when dancing together.
The H.H. Pump Bump Award is bestowed upon Maria Alexandrova with our thanks for making the trip to New York even though she probably shouldn’t have been taxing her Achilles tendon in Don Quixote quite yet. We’ve had a special Lanvin Kitri flat custom-made for her since we think it's inadvisable for her to flaunt around in stilettos for a few more months.
Perhaps we can wonder whether the all-Grigorovich content for the Bolshoi Ballet’s current tour was arranged during the post-Filin trauma when Grigorovich supporters (a.k.a. anti-Filin, anti-progressives) saw a potential opportunity for restructuring influence. In January of 2013 when Filin was attacked, the 2014 tour to New York had not yet been announced. After it was announced in June of 2013, it was several more months before a Lincoln Center venue was pinned. The Bolshoi tours for which plans were likely already firmly settled at the time of the attack seemed to include more recent stagings: Le Corsaire & Bright Stream for the May 2013 tour to Brisbane; Flames of Paris and Jewels were part of the July 2013 London tour; Lost Illusions went to Paris in January 2014. But instead of getting a more recently staged selection that might even have included Marco Spada or Onegin, New York received only the Grigorovich vision of the Bolshoi Ballet.
Not only were we allowed only the Grigorovich vision of the Bolshoi, but that vision and its grandness were boxed into a shallow-staged venue like a family of five squeezed into a 300 sq. ft. Moscow apartment. The result was that with regard to Swan Lake, we didn’t get to see the bolshoi in the Bolshoi Ballet. Haglund fears that the production of Spartacus, which he has always admired, will fair even more poorly due to the lack of space. Whether it is a Grigorovich production or not, it’s not fair to squeeze the Bolshoi Ballet onto a stage designed for streamlined Balanchine repertoire. It’s not fair to the artists, and it’s not fair to the audience. If the Lincoln Center Festival cannot come to terms with the Met Opera House, which is the only performing space in this city that will accommodate huge ballets, then it should not present them.
On a stage where Balanchine portrayed ballet as woman, Grigorovich portrayed ballet as man with women incidental to Swan Lake’s themes and sketched plot. That said, the man who ran the show last night, Semyon Chudin, was a superb Prince Siegfried who pulled off his responsibility with humility, well-rounded artistry, and fabulous technique. A recent Bolshoi acquisition who was schooled at the Novosibirsk Choreographic College, not the Bolshoi school, and has eight years of performing experience with Seoul’s Universal Ballet and the Zurich Ballet, Chudin is one finely polished dancer. As noted previously, he is not the most handsome dancer in the Bolshoi, but he seems to be its best.
With feet that are wide like tiger paws, Chudin launched grand jetes with animal grace and power and landed them silently. His leg lines were strong and made a clear statement whether split in the air or standing flat in tendu. The clarity of his batterie was quite beautiful. Every step was like a word spoken eloquently without being over-articulated just for the sake of articulation. Chudin was a skilled partner who had his hands full in this performance, and seemed to have the ability to accurately gage the sometimes-erratic Olga Smirnova, who danced Odette/Odile. Upon entering the stage, he found an almost immediate connection with the audience which he held throughout the performance and made you feel like you were in the story with him. He made you care. His chemistry with Olga was superb. The love and the trust each had for the other was palpable.
Olga danced her heart out. You could not help but love her even though some of her choices drew winces. There was the turned-in leg in extensions a la second. During the section of the Black Swan PdD when she launched a big saute fouette that was supported by Prince Siegfried, Olga’s extended arabesque leg and hip were so wide open that they looked like they were in second position, not arabesque. Her swan arms were propelled by her shoulders not from her back, and frequently those shoulders were plastered up against her ears. How can a former top student at the Vaganova Academy not have great swan arms? Nor does she seem to be able to spot her head correctly and efficiently in supported pirouettes. And yet, she was beautiful in so many ways, in particular, how she conveyed Odette’s torment with her face. Given the fact that Odette had no mime with which to convey her situation, the face action was very helpful. One can only imagine what Olga might do if given a little authentic Mariinsky mime. Haglund’s recurring thought throughout the evening was that the world may have lost a miraculous artist because Olga decided to go to the Bolshoi instead of to the Mariinsky for finishing.
Olga’s Odile was far superior to her Odette. Where her intensity and sometimes overly-mannered approach did not always befit Odette, it worked beautifully in Odile. Her flashing eyes and perfectly beautiful smile seduced the audience as well as Siegfried. The Odile variation that began with backwards chugs in arabesque in a circle was quite likable and immediately suggested that the character was of a dangerous nature. Backwards is often a dead giveaway of evilness. Witches ride broomsticks and goats backwards, and sometimes their feet are backwards. If you play certain Beatles’ records backwards, they reveal a clear and convincing Satan connection. And of course, vengeful Wilis are initiated by making them spin around backwards. The proof is there; you just have to look for it.
Olga whipped off her fast single fouettes in the Odile variation with good confidence and only a moderate amount of traveling forward. Her pirouettes and pique turns in her variations were a little workman-like but she got the job done and did it in character. Her grand jetes were okay, but not spectacular.
The Evil Genius, Artemy Belyakov, was excellent. He really epitomized what Haglund expects a Bolshoi dancer to be. He gave a huge theatrical performance with big technical chops to back it up. The same goes for Alexander Smoliyaninov, whose character, The Fool, did much to energize some of the rather dull ensemble work that was on the stage around him. All of the Brides (Ana Turazashvili, Yulia Lunkina, especially Anna Tikhomirova, Maria Vonogradova, Yanina Parienko) danced their variations beautifully. The Four Swans (Daria Gurevich, Svetlana Pavlova, Margarita Shrainer, Anna Voronkova) were the most perfectly matched set Haglund had ever seen – physically, stylistically, and technically.
While the production itself will never be a favorite of Haglund’s, it’s not really so bad that anyone needs to act like they’ve been personally offended. Sometimes there is a very fine line between respect for tradition and laboring under a stronghold. Grigorovich is responsible for a huge part of the Bolshoi’s legendary greatness that came into being because of many of the personal characteristics that his successors now chafe against. Even Ratmansky still salutes him with a Grigorovich lift in his Nutcracker for ABT - which by the way, could only be done properly by Jared Matthews. Haglund will miss seeing that in December.
Considering that the Bolshoi dancers successfully mounted these Swan Lakes while dancing literally on half the depth of the stage while the scenery took up the other half, and that the stage when empty was far smaller than that to which they are accustomed, they deserved the big applause and standing ovation that they received yesterday. It was a job well done.
A word about the scenery and costumes: Haglund thought most were quite interesting and beautiful in a gothic sort of way. A curtain hung from the ceiling in the middle of the stage with an image of Swan Lake. Rather than being the beautiful lake that we are accustomed to seeing in most all other productions, this lake was darkly beautiful. It looked dangerous but tempting. It obscured the flock of swans but also made for a beautiful image. The costume designs gave a metallic impression without being shiny. The use of variants of gray and metal hues throughout the bolder colors was pleasing. All of it would have looked much more impressive on an adequately sized stage.
The H.H. Pump Bump Award, a tiger paw stiletto boot of great style and power, is bestowed upon Semyon Chudin for his Prince Siegfried.
Three ABT Coppelias and a NYCB rep program equal one crowded weekend calendar. Check back here on Sunday for a blog post unless something earth shattering happens that keeps Haglund up all night blogging. These Coppelias had better be worth missing The Four Temperaments – especially with Sara Mearns debuting in Sanguinic on Saturday.
Joseph Phillips will dance Prince Siegfried in the State Primorsky Opera and Ballet's production of Swan Lake tonight and tomorrow opposite the lovely Irina Sapozhnikova.
It is looking more and more promising that Maria Alexandrova has recovered from her Achilles injury and will indeed dance her scheduled Don Q when the Bolshoi arrives in NYC in July. The July casting for the company's run in Saratoga Springs has just been announced, and Maria will dance Don Q twice – on July 29th and August 1st.
Haglund is very excited to see Joe Gorak as the Prince in the upcoming ABT production of Cinderella with Xiomara Reyes in the title role. Having watched Xiomara skillfully guide Herman Cornejo through his first performances of Albrecht, Sascha Radetsky through his first performances as the Prince in Kudelka's Cinderella, and Cory Stearns through his first performances as Oberon in The Dream, Haglund is sure that Gorak will be in good hands for this major, major debut. We all will be cheering before things get really and literally ugly during Giselle Week when there will be so much to complain about, particularly on Wednesday afternoon. And it appears that 45-year-old Julie Kent has her cougar claws firmly into the flesh of Marcelo Gomes and intends to "dance" Cinderella for the first time. Do you think that anyone will notice when the steps go blurring by - or are so slow that they could freeze on a hot June day? And Julie will be monopolizing yet another Giselle, for Pete's sake. True, we always get a lovely Act II if there is a strong guy who can drag her around, but to be perfectly frank, Julie's Act I has always died long before Giselle's heart gave out. Meanwhile, Stella Abrera, the consummate classicist who should be dancing both Giselle and Cinderella, is the only soloist without a leading role this season.
On the road in Wash. DC
ABT’s Tuesday night performance at the Kennedy Center was dedicated to the memory of former principal dancer Ivan Nagy who expired earlier this year. Nagy was one of the greatest partners in ABT’s history, and is remembered for his unapologetically Romantic performances opposite Cynthia Gregory, Natalia Makarova, Gelsey Kirkland, and others.
There were some lovely, lovely moments in ABT’s opening night performance of Les Sylphides. Stella Abrera, Joseph Gorak, Hee Seo, and Sarah Lane were the principal cast. Adrienne Schulte and Cassandra Trenary led the corps de ballet. But let’s get the main complaints out of the way first.
Shoe noise: Totally unacceptable in Les Sylphides where few steps require the support of stiff, clunky shoe boxes. When Hee Seo landed her little assembles upstage, it sounded like she was wearing metal horse shoes. The corps’ feet looked and sounded like they were wearing shoes prepared for Don Quixote, not a little bit of Romantic bourreeing around. How is it that the Mariinsky and NYCB corps can perform on the Kennedy Center stage with minimal or no noise, but ABT can’t? How is it that the Paris Opera Ballet and NYCB can perform noiselessly on the Koch Theater stage but ABT can’t? Unfortunately, on this first night, the corps seemed to approach Les Syphides like a draw by numbers assignment. Not its best night.
The orchestra: Just like last year, when the brass players made such a mess of Bizet’s Symphony in C, they again mutilated a performance — this time Les Sylphides. Are they maybe playing badly in retaliation for not getting all the paid rehearsal time that they want or are they really so poor that they can’t muster basic Chopin? B.a.s.i.c. C.h.o.p.i.n.
Stella Abrera's ebullient Sylph seemed like a throw-back to the days of Nina Ananiashvili. When she leaned in to whisper into the Poet's ear, there was a suggestion of mischief in her eyes. A little bit of La Sylphide in Les Sylphides? Perhaps - but it worked wonderfully. In her Mazurka solo, Stella gave us wispy Romantic shapes in her grand jetes, not over-split competition jumps. She swept through her half-circles of releves with confidence and security without being showy. Her fast little walking bourrees floated forward like cirrus clouds pushed by the winds. Hers was an individual, fully thought-out, and beautifully danced interpretation –– a welcome change from the generic and clumsy performances that we saw others do last fall.
Joseph Gorak’s Poet will soon be one for the ages. Velvet smooth in 75% of his landings, scrupulous arabesque lines, effortless and expansive tour jetes, contemplative on the verge of moody — he sometimes bore a resemblance to Patrick Bissell. His partnering of Stella - their first matchup - seemed to go very well and there was a good rapport between them.
Sarah Lane’s Waltz solo was kissable - so full of joy, sparkle, and warmth. She had a bit of mischief in her as well. Sarah was not out-danced by anybody and continues to be (along with Stella and Yuriko) criminally under-appreciated by ABT.
Hee Seo had more pretty, ethereal moments than during her performances last fall. It’s a shame that her noisy shoes marred so much of her work which really should have required a minimum of block support.
Marcelo Gomes’ Aftereffect to Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence immediately followed Les Sylphides. It looks like he has been working on it, but the piece still resembled a fairly forgettable plate of Forsythe, Kylian, and Welch cliches. There was no chest beating, but there were plenty of bare chests, and an unexplained clenched fist. Sterling Baca stepped in for Thomas Forster as the first soloist. It possibly could have been Baca's first solo since joining the company, and his technique held together very well under the pressure and scrutiny. Calvin Royal looked like a million dollars. So, we have learned from the past few seasons that Royal is a gifted contemporary and demi-character dancer. May we please see him in a “classical" something-or-other? Swan Lake PdT perhaps? Or Theme and Variations opposite Stella Abrera?
Haglund couldn’t stay for The Dream; he’ll catch that at the Met, probably. The Met casting could undergo a shake-up soon. Everyone knows that Cory Stearns is injured, and believe it or not, we are sorry about that. But everyone knows and has known for quite a while. It’s dishonest for ABT not to announce his replacements so that tickets can be exchanged, purchased, or torn up, as may be the reaction. Hopefully Jared Matthews will get the call and not some stinking guest artist.
In the cinema
Pierre Lacotte's comic ballet, Marco Spada, to music by Daniel-Francois-Esprit Auber and as performed by the Bolshoi Ballet in a recent cinema-cast presentation, is the cat's pajamas.
As the Bolshoi proved, we’re all a little bit French and c’est si bon. Tamping down the tendency for bold, in your face but sometimes sluggish Bolshoi bravura, Lacotte had everyone in this company moving at lighting speed with crystal clarity and French elegance. Oodles and oodles of superbly musical choreography for the corps de ballet framed oodles and oodles of superbly musical choreography for the soloists and principals. It all looked like such fun to dance.
Lacotte dearly loves and respects the language of classical ballet and proved with this new production that there is no “need to update” it with street dance nonsense in order to make it “more accessible” for the masses. The language remains rich; and when the vocabulary is chosen by someone as articulate and musical as Lacotte, the art form wins on its own strengths. Lacotte is Haglund’s new ballet hero, and Pierre is totally forgiven for that little snippy remark about one of Haglund’s favorite NYCB ballerinas that was recorded a few years ago by Frederick Wiseman.
The principals in this performance - David Hallberg, Evgenia Obraztsova, Semyon Chudin, Olga Smirnova, and Igor Tsvirko - were extraordinary in most every way. Lacotte's costume and set designs were extravagant without encumbering his choreography.
Semyon Chudin proved to be the real dancing star of the show. He's not the most attractive man in the Bolshoi company, but he seems to be its best dancer. With feet like bear paws that carry his perfectly proportioned limbs, he is a marvel.
David Hallberg's performance, although incredible by any reasonable standard, wasn't as perfect as we have seen in the past. Landings from tours assemble were a little sketchy and pirouettes weren't as calm and collected as those of his that we remember. His partnering of Obraztsova was sometimes a little off in supported pirouettes. But the main disappointment was with his acting. It just didn't convince, and it seemed to be 110% tongue-in-check while still managing at times to be awkward. When he looked at his daughter, played by Obraztsova, it was as though he was looking at a chair. But Lacotte had the tall guy moving his feet at POB speed with POB clarity, and that was a real treat to see.
Obraztsova was a complete joy in every way and was a good sport when Hallberg didn't quite get the partnering right.
Smirnova was a pleasant surprise from an acting standpoint. She really came across well to the cameras and danced up a storm without any sense of tension or reservation that we have observed previously. One of her PdDs required her partner to promenade her around while her leg was in a developpe a la second. Unfortunately, we then saw that same unattractive turned in and misalligned position that has been seen in her Kingdom of the Shades PdD. Did Smirnova really get through the eight year curriculum at the Vaganova Academy without having to squeeze her po-po when executing developpes a la second? Hard to believe.
The remarkable Bolshoi press person, Katerina Novikova, may have mentioned that the Bolshoi has Marco Spada locked up for the next eight years. So, let's hope that they tour it next year to the U.S., because it is fabulous. Lacotte has done a splendid job. Marco Spada in its early opera form had a scattered narrative, and this ballet is no different. Lacotte could have rewritten the story or added his own chapters in order to "make it more accessible" to the 21st century audience and critics who need their hands held, but he didn't. Good on him.
The captured cinema presentation of the Bolshoi Ballet's March 30th performance of Marco Spada, featuring David Hallberg, Evgenia Obraztsova, Olga Smirnova and Semyon Chudin, will be shown in NYC at the Village East Cinema on Saturday, April 12th at noon with a repeat on Tuesday, April 15th at 7pm. Immediately before the showing on Saturday, Joan Acocella and David Vaughan will offer some introductory information about the production.
The hats are to die for:
Photo: Alexander Mudrats
Many cinemas in the U.S. will receive the transmission live on March 30 or delayed on April 1st. Here is a link to the complete U.S. listing with dates for first and second screenings.
The venue at Village East Cinema in NYC is equal to or better than the Big Cinemas Manhattan on East 59th Street where we used to see these cinema-casts. One has the sense of actually sitting in a theater similar to City Center as opposed to a movie house. The house staff is very polite. The concession stand person even apologized to Haglund for having to charge $4 for a small bottle of water.
The last presentation at Village East Cinema was the Bolshoi's Lost Illusions which turned out to be quite a spectacular event. Haglund found this work of Alexei Ratmansky's to be some of his best and most enjoyable to date. However, the music was so unappealing (except for a few piano solos) that this balletomane will never sit through it again. Ever.
During an intermission, the brilliant-should-get-an-Oscar-for-something-or-other Katerina Novikova asked the composer, Leonid Desyatnikov, if writing for ballet was any different than writing for anything else, e.g., for film score or concert orchestra. Desyantnikov replied it was not with the exception of creating a regular rhythm. That may be a clue as to why his music did not help this ballet along.
Less than optimal choices of music have made appreciating Ratmansky's work difficult several times. The musical selections for On the Dnieper, The Tempest, Shostakovich Trilogy, and even Seven Sonatas, have been successful when played on the concert stage but less so when supporting the visual structure and dramatic/emotional peaks and valleys of a ballet. Some of these musical choices have dragged down the ballets considerably.
But let's get back to cinema ballet – The Royal Ballet's presentation of The Sleeping Beauty seen recently at AMC's Empire Cinema on 42nd Street was a royal treat. The production, which uses the 1946 designs by Oliver Messel, wasn't quite as imaginative as the one which Anthony Dowell supervised years ago. The costumes and scenery were beautiful but seemed like creations that could pop up in any number of big ballets. Dowell's, on the other hand, created splendor with a tad of gothic influence including a huge staircase from which Aurora descended. The staircase is now gone. Aurora simply appears from the back of a crowded stage. It felt very unspecial. When it's your own 16th birthday party, you really should make a splashy entrance.
Sarah Lamb was a beautiful Aurora with long, eloquent limbs and the serenity of a Grace Kelly. The cinema-cast cameras had us sitting on the stage most of the time; so, we saw every adjustment and imperfection that would have flown by unnoticed if we had been sitting in the house. But she was quite the beauty with a sense of modesty that made her elegance all the more attractive. Those who have declared the Royal Ballet style dead and buried should take another look at Sarah Lamb, who, by the way, hails from Boston. No mannerisms, no excesses, no pointy elbows, lovely slight curves in the wrists and hands that made the balletic line sing, body high/arms low, beautiful use of head positions, no compromises in the hips, no winging of anything – Sarah Lamb is a clear example of the Royal Ballet's careful attention to detail and company style.
Steven McCrae as Prince Floribund was attentive and conveyed his difficulty dealing with his at-the-crossroads-of-my-life decision. His jumps were grand, his form was identifiably English, but his performance didn't rise to the overall level of his partner's. Haglund kept wondering what Thiago Soares would have looked like opposite Sarah Lamb. Maybe that's because, these days, Thiago and Marianela hang out with Haglund at the bus stop each morning in Hell's Kitchen:
BIG Cinemas, which is part of the huge Indian conglomerate Reliance MediaWorks and had leased the cinema at 239 E. 59th Street in Manhattan to showcase its Bollywood films, walked out of Manhattan last week with less than 48 hours notice to Emerging Pictures/Ballet in Cinema thereby jeopardizing all of the presentations of the Bolshoi Ballet which it had agreed to carry.
Emails furnished to H.H. show that EP was informed last Wednesday afternoon (1/22) by BIG Cinemas that their tech equipment and satellite had to be off the roof and out of the E. 59th St. building before Friday (1/24) because building access would then be restricted.
How small of BIG.
Within a few days, EP and Pathé Live located the alternative venue, Village East Cinema, and inked the deal that will insure our continued enjoyment of the Bolshoi's broadcasts. For that, we are all most grateful.
And voilà, tickets are now available to purchase on Village East Cinema's website. Choose March 1st or March 6th.
The Village East Cinema on 2nd Avenue at East 12th Street in Manhattan will present a captured transmission of Lost Illusions on Saturday, March 1st at 12pm and on Thursday, March 6th at 7pm. Tickets are not on sale yet. You'll have to keep checking their website. Right now, Village East is selling tickets for screenings through 2/18.
Pathé Live reported to us this afternoon that they are very close to naming the new NYC cinema and dates for the presentation of Alexei Ratmansky's Lost Illusions performed by the Bolshoi Ballet. An announcement could possibly come as soon as tomorrow.
Manhattan won't get the live transmission this Sunday, but will see it shortly thereafter. Pathé Live is hopeful about being able to show the Bolshoi's Marco Spada as a live transmission in Manhattan on March 30th. They confirmed that they have assumed the role of U.S. distributor of the Bolshoi series and plan to show live presentations of future productions on their schedule in the New York City area. The wheels are rolling.
Meanwhile, Lehman Stages in the Bronx is set to present captured transmissions of Jewels on February 23rd, Lost Illusions on March 2nd, Marco Spada on April 27th. All showings are at 2pm. Here's the link.
This Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/BolshoiBalletintheUS?ref=hl is a good place to get the most updated information on future cinema streams.