What a big stage! What a big cast!
This ballet is performed with such grandeur it is staggering. As a friend of mine pointed out, it was like the opera Aida. Grand stage set, huge cast, elaborate costumes, and of course, set in ancient Egypt.
You can find a lot about this ballet on the internet, so I will just talk about what I thought of this particular production that was transmitted to cinemas around the UK.
What I like very much about the Bolshoi Ballet’s productions is the fact that they always give chances to many dancers within the company. Judging from their website, the dancers are categorised into five levels of seniority: principals, leading soloists, first soloists, soloists and corps de ballet. Currently, according to their website, there are eleven female and seven male principals, five female and four male leading soloists, five female and five male first soloists, twelve female and seven male soloists, over eighty female and over sixty male corp de ballet members. All together there are around 200 dancers at the Bolshoi Ballet company.
Ruslan Skvortsov, who danced the male lead, Lord Wilson/Taor, was, as ever, so controlled, strong and yet elegant. With his look, technique, and artistry he is becoming one of my favourite dancers of today. His technique is so strong and yet he dances with apparent ease. He has the quality of the danseur noble but he can also do a comic role superbly as he showed us in The Bright Stream a few months ago.
In the production I saw, apart from the two female and two male main characters, there were six individual solos for female dancers and two for male dancers. Of the female solos, one was danced by a leading soloist, another by a first soloist, two by soloists, and two by corp de ballet. The two male solos were danced by a first soloist and a soloist. This, however, is definitely not due to a lack of good enough dancers! The Bolshoi Ballet puts on a staggering number of productions each season which allows plenty of opportunities for lower ranking dancers to have a chance of their talent being recognised. When they are talented, dancers can be given more prominent roles regardless of their rank within the company. The Bolshoi also has enough resources of coaches to make sure that all of the dancers are well rehearsed.
Of the many soloist roles there were in the Pharaoh’s Daughter, three stuck out in particular. First of all, Vladislav Lantratov, who danced the role of a Fisherman. He is tall, good looking and has a very strong technique that allows the audience to simply enjoy his performance without worrying that he might wobble or make a mistake. It was a shame that he had such a small role. He is still very young and I am sure he is on his way up. He joined the company in 2006 straight from the school, but he already has danced many soloist and principal roles. He makes me smile when I watch him. He is another dancer who has the quality of the danseur noble. I am very much looking forward to seeing more of him in the future.
The second one was the lovely Nina Kaptsova, dancing the role of Ramze, Aspicia’s Nubian slave. Kaptsova is already a principal of the company but this is another fantastic and enjoyable thing that the Bolshoi Ballet allows: a principal dancer often dances in the secondary role. Thus, equally good dancers dance two roles of equal importance. (A very good example of this can be found in the roles of Nikiya and Gamzatti in La Bayadere. Although Nikiya is the principal role of the ballet, if the dancer dancing Gamzatti does not have enough panache to carry out her role, the whole ballet falls flat.) Kaptsova was delightful. Her technique is so secure and her footwork so clear-cut. Her pointe work was nothing but delight. I have seen her in several roles so far but she was always so charming. I am looking forward to seeing her in a principal role.
The third was Maria Vinogradova. What light jumps and what beautifully strong and yet soft pointe work! And yet, she did not seem at all as though she was working hard. Everything seemed so natural when she danced. I could not find her biography on Bolshoi Ballet’s website but she certainly is a lovely dancer.
Just as exciting as all the soloists was the corps de ballet. There were so many of them in this ballet in so many different roles. The Bolshoi Ballet’s dancers usually are graduates of the Moscow Choreographic Academy (the ballet school to Bolshoi Ballet) and although it means that the gate is very narrow to most non-Bolshoi trained dancers, it certainly has its benefits. Their corps de ballet is so unified in style of dance, physique and technical level that they are really dancing as one!
Although the original choreography of Pharaoh’s Daughter was by Marius Petipa, the version that the Bolshoi Ballet now perform was done by a French choreographer, Pierre Lacotte. He is well known for choreographing La Sylphide for Paris Opera Ballet and his wife, Ghilaine Thesmar. Lacotte said that although there was some “record” left from Petipa’s time, it was not useful enough to reconstruct the original choreography. He, therefore, created his own version trying to remain faithful to the spirit of Petipa. Lacotte found out that someone knew the solo of Ramze (Aspicia the Princess’ Nubian Slave) in the second act and used it in its original form (although he added four moor children).
The choreography had quite a distinct Lacotte style to it. However, the Bolshoi dancers seem to have taken to it very easily and they all danced Lacotte’s choreography beautifully. It was quite an interesting twist of events that Lacotte came to re-stage Pharaoh’s Daughter. While at Paris Opera, Rudolf Nureyev asked Lacotte whether he was interested in re-staging the piece and although they were both very keen, they could not find the budget then and the plan stood still until Vladimir Vasiliev, then Bolshoi Ballet’s director, asked Lacotte to come to the Bolshoi to re-stage it. It seems somewhat fitting that a French choreographer was invited to re-stage this ballet as it was initially choreographed by a French choreographer who went to Russia.
This ballet is full of fantastic dances and a lot of fun. It really shows off the Bolshoi Ballet in its full. It is a big ballet for a big (Bolshoi) Ballet!