La Bayadere – Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema

“I have seen a proper ballet!” was the thought that came to my mind as I was walking out of the cinema last Sunday. Not that I hadn’t before, but it really satisfied my hunger for a good ballet production.

I often say that a ballet company’s level is reflected by how good the corps de ballet is. The corps today was simply fantastic! By the time all thirty-two girls arrived in their positions after the famous (infamous for dancers!) sequence of arabesques down several ramps and across the stage, the audience gave them a hearty applause, and did they deserve it! The very first dancer to appear on stage has to do a whopping forty-six set sequence of arabesques! None of the thirty-two very long legged dancers showed wobbles or mistakes. Their timing was impeccable. At one point, all thirty-two were balancing very still in fifth position en pointe and in perfect synchronicity moved their arms upwards very slowly. It was as if they were one dancer superimposed multiple times.

It can be very frustrating for young dancers who want to join big prestigious companies such as Bolshoi Ballet, Mariinksy Ballet and Paris Opera Ballet, but as a member of the audience, I can see why these companies are very reluctant to accept outsiders. Such impressive and consistent lines are brought out only by the same education and the same exact style in the way they dance; the dancers’ physiques which are second to none are also due to the same education.

It was not only the corps de ballet that maintained the very high standard of the Bolshoi.

Vladislav Lantratov, who was recently promoted to the rank of Leading Soloist, danced the part of Solor very confidently. His technique was very secure, his manner caring and dignified and he made a strong partner. He was cast opposite two of the top principal dancers, Svetlana Zakharova and Maria Alexandrova, and did not look at all fazed. I very much like this dancer and am looking forward to seeing more of him in due course.

Lantratov also showed his emotional turmoil very effectively during his pas de deux with Gamzatti (Alexandrova). Many dancers dance this pas de deux without showing the slightest sign of remorse and that does not make me feel sympathetic towards them. When the Rajah told Solor that he is to wed his daughter Gamzatti in the first act, Lantratov showed every sign of refusing despite the obligation he was under. But on seeing Gamzatti, he was thrown by her beauty and the expression he showed at that moment was excellent. One could see that he was torn between his true love and a new beautiful woman for whose father he felt a strong obligation to serve and be faithful.

Photo Marc Haegeman

Photo Marc Haegeman

Maria Alexandrova was the very best Gamzatti I have seen! Her technique was very strong and clear-cut, but more than anything, her interpretation of the role of Gamzatti touched me. She was not a cold-hearted woman who wants to eliminate her rival regardless of the method. She was like an innocent little child who has never been denied anything in her life. Gamzatti also is in love with Solor and cannot understand why Nikiya does not give up Solor when she asks her to. She is so true to her own heart. In this production, it was very clearly her father, the Rajah who ordered the flower basket with a venomous snake, and Gamzatti gets clearly very distressed at the sight of Nikiya’s agony.

In the Paris Opera Ballet’s version by Nureyev, it is Gamzatti who orders Nikiya be killed and when Nikiya accuses her of the plot, she quite coldly admits it. Although in other productions such as those of the Royal Ballet (Makarova) and the Mariinsky, Gamzatti does not quite admit that it was she who planned the kill, in neither production does she deny her involvement. I always thought this was very odd. Why would she, if she was so cold and calculating as to order Nikiya to be killed, not lie to Solor about it?

Photo by Irina Lepnyova

Photo by Irina Lepnyova

Alexandrova’s Gamzatti was not cruel or calculating. She just followed her heart. She truly wanted Solor and was so excited and smitten with him. She looked at him so trustingly and was so full of joy during the pas de deux that it made a fantastic contrast with Lantratov’s Solor.

Anton Savichev who was Magedaveya, the Fakir, was light and precise with his jumps and looked as good as he could in loincloth and long wig. Anastasia Stashkevich danced the first solo in the Kingdom of Shades with very strong technique that made the audience gasp. Anna Antropova, Vitaly Biktimirov and Igor Tsvirko were passionate and exciting in the Dance with Drum and it was a shame it was such a short dance. They brought a smile to my face and made me want to dance again.

Accompanying such a high standard of dancing was the beautiful scenery. In the first act, the scene is at a temple in the middle of a jungle. The sacred fire burns in the middle which casts a warm orange glow around it but the rest of the stage is lit by blue lights. There was a body of water at the back which seemed to reflect the moonlight and the blue light moved as though the surface of the water was rippling slightly. It was very atmospheric and the water theme worked so well as a contrast to the fire. In the last act, the Kingdom of Shades, the dancers come down four rather steep ramps so although it is no doubt hard for the dancers, the audience gets to see a very impressive descent of the shades from the mountain.

I was also rather relieved to see that the costumes of the shades were quite simple white ones. Traditionally they have a white veil attached to their hair with the end attached to their wrists but no other headdress. However, in some recent productions, costumes have started to become more and more elaborate with lots of glitter and extra head gear, of course with even more glitter. For many ballets I find them perfectly fitting and pretty. For the “white ballets”, however, I would rather they did not use any glitter at all. When I look at thirty-two swans lined up in the second act of Swan Lake, the wilis in the second act of Giselle, the sylphs in Chopiniana (as Les Sylphides is called in Russia)  – and of course the shades in the Kingdom of Shades scene in La Bayadere – I find glitter and extra decoration more of a distraction than anything else.  Overly decorated and glittering costumes break the sense of unity of the Corps.

The Bolshoi Ballet and Mariinsky have always had very simple white tutus with the minimum of decoration for their white ballets. It might just be their statement of how much confidence they have in their dancers and how little need they feel to cover anything up. They just want to show off their dancers above all else.  And why spoil perfection?

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For A Beautiful Ballet Bun

I started doing my own hair for ballet when I was about eight years old and I have never really wanted anyone else to do my hair for ballet. It just felt wrong when anyone else did it; it felt as though my bun would disintegrate as soon as I started dancing. So I have not let anyone touch my hair since then and instead went out of my way to learn how to make my bun secure and, at the same time, look pretty and interesting and not silly.

Here is a sure way to make a pretty ballet bun.

You will need to get hold of the following:

  • strong thick elastic (ideally a string or two rather than a band – if you are using elastic bands, choose thick ones);
  • hair net ( bun size with elastic on the outer rim rather than one that covers the whole head, and take time to find a strong thick one rather than a very fine one – the latter will tear very easily and will not help in maintaining the bun securely);
  • hair pins (strong U-shaped ones) and slides;
  • hair brush;
  • and comb.

First, you will have to make a very good ponytail. This could take a little while to get used to. Brush your hair back well. I used to make sure not to wash my hair the night before my big show because freshly washed hair can be a little too slippery. You can use hair gel or mousse, but I always found a little bit of water quite useful. Dab your hands in water and push your hair back before brushing it into a ponytail. Once you have your hair in a ponytail position in your hand, run a comb under water and comb all your hair nicely and straight towards the ponytail, taking care to make sure the bit below the ponytail (hair from the nape up towards the ponytail) is not sagging. This can easily be achieved by bending forward when combing to get a little help from gravity. Ignore any of the hair that is too short to reach the ponytail; you can sort it out later.

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

Once you have all your hair in your hand, use a string of strong elastic to tie up the ponytail. Using an elastic band works too, but it sometimes is not quite the right size; this can mean that the base of your ponytail is a little too lose to make it perfectly secure or it can cause the hair under the base to be a bit slack. If you are using an elastic band, put it over one hand and use that hand to squeeze the base of the ponytail so that the hair is pulled against the skull and then, keeping hold of your hair, use the free hand to pull the band over the ponytail, twist it and run the loop back over the ponytail and repeat the procedure until there is no elastic left. If the elastic is not tight enough, or your hair is rather thick, use another band to wind tightly around over the first elastic band.

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

If you have thick hair, like I do, tie the top half of your hair (from ear-line above) into a ponytail and tie it, and then gather the bottom half up and tie it over the top half’s ponytail.

Once the base of the ponytail is secure, comb the hair towards the base to create a smooth effect. If there are little bumps, just comb them as close as you can towards the base which will be covered by the bun anyway. You can use water again, or hair gel, mousse or spray here to make your hair smooth and silky looking.

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

Now, get the bun-size hair net ready, and twist your ponytail lightly with one hand and then wind the hair around the tied base of your ponytail. Do not pile it up but wind it outwards so the bun does not stick out from the skull too much. Then without putting any hair pins in, put on the bun-size hair net and let go of the hair. Your hair will spring back and fill the net. Give it a little shake and twiddle it until the net is filled evenly.

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

 

Using a U-shaped pin, catch some hair in the bun near (but not quite on) the edge, about a centimetre in, and push the pin straight towards the scalp, scoop a little hair that is already flatly squeezed against the skull and then twist the pin by 90 degrees towards the elastic and push through into the elastic that is tying your ponytail.  Repeat several times. It’s easier to shape the bun prettily if you push the pins from four sides in sequence, i.e. one from right, the second from left, third from top, fourth from bottom and then fill in the gaps as much as necessary. Check that the bun is not too soft (it won’t be very secure if it is too soft) and that the shape is even and fairly flat. I used to have a silly ritual and had to pat it twice every time I did my bun!

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

Using hair slides, pin up any stray hair nicely and neatly. If it is for a show, use a liberal amount of hair spray to make sure your hair won’t start fraying as you dance.

Thus far this is the very basic ballet bun.

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

You can accessorize a bun with U-shaped pins with little flowers or beads at the end, pin a silk/fabric flower on the side (the kind with an elastic band is quite useful as it is so easy to put on and make very secure) or ribbons.

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

DSC01816 - Copy

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

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©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you would like something a little different, the following are a few things you could try:

1. Once you have made a ponytail, take a part of your hair (preferably the longest bit) and braid it. Make the rest of your hair into a bun leaving the thin braid out (at top or side if you are using ribbons or flowers, etc., bottom if using no other accessories) and then wind the braid around your bun and pin it down – you will need fairly long hair for this.

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

2. Before putting your hair into a ponytail, use something pointy and thin – some combs, especially ones the hair dressers use,  have this at the end of the handle – and separate the hair from the top of your head down to the level of your ears into two parts and braid each part. You can either then put the two braids into your ponytail and make the bun or, after having made a bun with the unbraided part of the hair, wind the braids across and up around the top of the bun and pin them down.

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

3. Separate your hair into two in the middle and put them into two ponytails just above the ears. Braid them neatly and then pull them across over the head a little like an Alice band, and pin them down using slides. You can put little ribbons at the base above the ears or use some decorated pins. This is (or at least was until fairly recently) the hairstyle for the younger students at the White Lodge (Royal Ballet Junior School).

4. Plait your hair into a French plait and make a bun at the nape.

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

DSC01826 - Copy

©Yuka Kodama-Pomfret

5. Separate your hair in the middle and make two French plaits and cross the hair across to the other side, push the end under the plaits and secure with pins. You can use small flowers and jeweled pins all over to make it glamorous. I used this hair style when I danced a fairy of spring with lots of small flowers all over and left some little curls around my forehead. It worked really well.

There is also a special hair style typical for Romantic Ballet, but this will be for another entry…

Hair style for ballet classes should be neat buns. This is not just because it looks nicer, but because you do not want your hair to get in the way when you are turning or jumping.  Make sure your hair is neat and pretty so that you feel pretty! It is very important you feel beautiful!! You are creating beauty through ballet!