Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema – The Sleeping Beauty

The Sleeping Beauty has all the requisite elements of a classic fairy tale. A princess, a king, a queen, suitors to the princess, good fairy, bad fairy, magic, a prince who wakes the princess up with a kiss! And in the ballet, a hand-full of characters from other fairy tales come to celebrate the wedding of the said prince and princess.

Despite all the right elements, it never really became my favourite ballet. However, in recent years I started to realise that this was probably because there have been surprisingly few performances of The Sleeping Beauty I truly enjoyed. There were, of course, a few really wonderful productions. I grew up watching the video of an amazing production by the Kirov Ballet (today’s Mariinsky Ballet) with Irina Kolpakova, Sergey Berezhnoi and Lubov Kunakova. I saw a video of Margot Fonteyn as Princess Aurora and I was also fortunate to get the chance to see the great Ludmila Semenyaka in The Sleeping Beauty on stage. In comparison to those, most productions I saw since seemed dull and colourless.

For a long time I thought it was because I had got somewhat bored of the ballet having watched it countless times on our old fashioned laser discs. But more recently I started to notice that it was due to the fact that the so well-known and loved music of the Sleeping Beauty is deceptively difficult to dance to. The third act grand pas de deux of Aurora and Prince Desire particularly so. It is not “difficult” as such in terms of time signature or change in tempo, buy there is a very clear rhythm depicted under the fluid beautiful melodies. The difficulty for the dancers is that they need to embody  both rhythm and melody in order to look at ease and brilliant at the same time.

Bolshoi Ballet’s live transmission of this ballet to cinemas around the world was a very pleasant surprise. Olga Smirnova and Semyon Chudin both have a brilliant musicality that makes them look as though they are creating music by their own bodies. Their technique is flawless but neither show off in any vulgar way. Smirnova was an innocent and shy Aurora who was excited at her party, a translucent and dreamy vision, and a radiant and happy bride. Chudin was noble and yet determined to save the beautiful vision he saw, and a very secure partner who in turn knows how to make his partner look at her most beautiful.

Yulia Stepanova did not really live up to expectations. She did not manage to portray the essence of the graceful yet regal Lilac Fairy. Alexei Loparevich’s Carabosse was also disappointing. He seemed a little like a comic dame. It was a complete contrast too the former Kirov (today’s Mariinsky) Ballet dancer, Vladimir Lopukhov, whose Carabosse was portrayed as a bitter old woman who had nothing left but her magical power.

Artemy Belyakov, who danced the roles of Bluebird and one of the suitors, had caught my eye a while back. He rapidly became one of my favourite Bolshoi dancers, especially after I saw his Evil Genius in Yuri Grigorovich’s Swan Lake when Bolshoi Ballet was performing in London last Summer. He was given this big role within three years of graduating from the Bolshoi Ballet School (Ilya Kuznetsov’s class) and is proving to be a well rounded dancer with a true panache. With his strong and high jumps that make him look as though he is hanging in the air for a moment every time he leaves the floor, his steady pirouettes and sense of control that makes things look so effortless, I dare say he is on his way up to the rank of a principal dancer.

37179c042794acdbe7114a80a9352793

Artemy Belyakov as the Evil Genius in Yuri Grigorovich’s Swan Lake. (Photo: Bolshoi Ballet)

Yuri Grigorovich first staged this current version in 2011. He has cut a fair bit of the music to make the ballet – that usually has three acts and a prologue – into a two-act ballet. Although it is noticeable that some of the music has been shortened or omitted, the cuts do not seem to affect the flow of the story and certainly keep the audience’s fidgeting  to a minimum. To my delight, he kept the Prince’s entrance solo which the legendary former Bolshoi star Vladimir Vasiliev danced at Asaf Messerer’s 80th birthday tribute in 1982. It makes the character of the prince a lot more solid and vivid.

All in all, Smirnova, Chudin and Belyakov restored my love for fairy tales, and made me fall in love with the Sleeping Beauty all over again.

Review by David Bellan for Yuka Kodama Ballet Group Annual Show 2013

David Bellan, the dance critic for the Oxford Times gave his permission to publish what he wrote for the Oxford Times on our page.

This is about the Yuka Kodama Ballet Group annual show in 2013. We put on our own version of La Fille Mal Gardee and a short suite Shared Dream, which music was composed specially for the group.

 

YUKA KODAMA BALLET GROUP         WYCHWOOD SCHOOL

 

31.05.13             Review by David Bellan

 

 

This is a highly trained amateur group who put on a show that was a pleasure to watch. They’re based in Oxford, and trained by Yuka Kodama-Pomfret, a former Japanese dancer who has appeared in all the big classics, but has long been based in the UK.

The first work of the evening, “Shared Dreams” is a new piece by Kodama, set to a specially commissioned piano suite by Hiroaki Tokunaga. The music is at times percussive, at times quite light-hearted, and proved a good introduction to the varying talents of the company.

Shared Dreams Photography by Susan Taylor

Shared Dreams
Photography by Susan Taylor

Shared Dreams Photographs by Susan Taylor

Shared Dreams
Photographs by Susan Taylor

Shared Dreams Photographs by Susan Taylor

Shared Dreams
Photographs by Susan Taylor

 

 

 

 

 

 

La Fille Mal Gardee Photographs by Susan Taylor

La Fille Mal Gardee
Photographs by Susan Taylor

“La Fille Mal Gardee”, best known in this country for the famed Ashton version with it’s popular clog dance, was a hit. Kodama tells a sunny story of love and frustration among country folk. Lison loves Colin, but her mother wants her to marry Jean, a rich miller’s son . Jade Shelton makes a lovely Lison, dancing well and putting her feelings over clearly in a performance of comedy and charm. She was partnered by Charlie Byers who last year was so unexpectedly impressive in “Le Corsaire,” after only two years of dance training. Byers had damaged his foot, but bravely came on as a warm and likeable Colin, but without his planned big solos. Kevin Stead

La Fille Mal Gardee Photographs by Susan Taylor

La Fille Mal Gardee
Photographs by Susan Taylor

had never danced until last January, but gave a remarkably assured and amusing performance in drag as Madame Rigotte, Lison’s mother. David Hanvidge danced the dim but likeable Jean with a mixture of misplaced self-confidence and a lot of physical comedy, as he tottered about intending to show off his

La Fille Mal Gardee Photographs by Susan Taylor

La Fille Mal Gardee
Photographs by Susan Taylor

dancing. A nice touch in Kodama’s version is that, after losing Lison to Colin, Jean gets a girl of his own. Tiny Isona Kakuchi sparkled while playing a boy, Jean’s little brother Firmin, egging Jean on to success, but also concerned that he will mess it up. Young though he is, Firmin is a cool hand at chatting up the girls, including Dona-Maria Sandu, who produced some classy solos throughout the evening.

 

 

La Fille Mal Gardee Photographs by Susan Taylor

La Fille Mal Gardee
Photographs by Susan Taylor

La Fille Mal Gardee Photographs by Susan Taylor

La Fille Mal Gardee
Photographs by Susan Taylor

La Fille Mal Gardee Photographs by Susan Taylor

La Fille Mal Gardee
Photographs by Susan Taylor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spartacus – Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema

20th October 2013, via live feed to the cinema from the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow.

Vladimir Vasiliev

Vladimir Vasiliev

Vladimir Vasiliev, the former principal of the Bolshoi Ballet and the creator of the role of Spartacus when this Grigorovich ballet premiered in 1968, was interviewed during one of the intervals.   Vasiliev was and still is my hero.  Even at the age of 73, standing on a corner of the historic stage of the Bolshoi Theatre being interviewed, Vasiliev commanded the attention of the audience, captivating them with his charisma.  He talked with excitement, as though it was only yesterday, of being the character and said that he lived the life of Spartacus whenever he danced the role on stage.  His Spartacus was so passionate and tragic and so extremely powerful.

Vladimir Vasiliev and Maris Liepa

Vladimir Vasiliev and Maris Liepa

Tonight’s male leads, Mikhail Lobukhin and Vladislav Lantratov did exactly what Vasiliev spoke of; they lived the lives of Spartacus and Crassus for the three hours they were on the stage. Lobukhin and Lantratov were very different from Vladimir Vasiliev and Maris Liepa, who were in the premiere cast of this iconic piece and remain my favourite Spartacus and Crassus, yet they managed to create their own Spartacus and Crassus whilst staying very faithful to the original intention: Spartacus so passionate and energetic and Crassus powerful, noble, arrogant yet charismatic. I was rather glad that neither Lobukhin nor Lantratov appeared to be trying to emulate anyone else’s portrayal of Spartacus or Crassus.

The fact that there are so many wonderful forerunners from which they can and do learn is a priceless asset for the dancers in the Bolshoi company. I have long wondered, however, seeing just how many of its former stars are coaching at the Bolshoi Ballet, whether or not this flow of experience might actually restrict new personalities from emerging. Being coached by such charismatic and talented former dancers, on the one hand, is an opportunity any dancer would do anything to get, but could younger dancers resist copying the great dancers of the former generations? It does seem though, that as well as having been fantastic and charismatic performers, they are influential but inspirational guides who are keen to let the younger dancers explore their own paths and discover their own roles.

Mikhail Lobukhin as Spartacus with Marianna Ryzhkina

Mikhail Lobukhin as Spartacus with Marianna Ryzhkina

Lobukhin, who was trained at the Vaganova Academy, joined the Bolshoi Ballet three years ago. I had not been overly impressed with his Tybalt in Grigorovich’s Romeo and Juliet, and the only other role I have seen him perform was a young agricultural student in Alexei Ratmansky’s The Bright Stream. I was a little worried that I might be disappointed with him dancing Spartacus, but I shouldn’t have been. His Spartacus was passionate, loving and very moving. In certain ways he was more delicate than some other iconic Spartacus’ I have seen, but this added sensitivity did not diminish the powerfulness of the performance.

Vladislav Lantratov as Crassus and Svetlana Zakharova as Aegina

Vladislav Lantratov as Crassus and Svetlana Zakharova as Aegina

Vlad Lantratov was recently promoted to the rank of principal dancer and he lived up to his title very well. Having so far seen him mainly in more gentle and sincere types of role, I was pleasantly surprised that he managed so convincingly to grasp the somewhat manic and arrogant atmosphere of Crassus.

The two male leads have very clear-cut technique and beautiful control, which they both used in order to convey their characters and their emotions. Technique in itself was not the goal for either of them.

Svetlana Zakharova as Aegina Photo by Marc Haegemen

Svetlana Zakharova as Aegina
Photo by Marc Haegemen

The same thing could be said about Svetlana Zakharova, who danced the role of Aegina. She was glamorous, confident and beautifully provocative. She also appeared to be enjoying herself. I liked her more in this role than many others I have seen her dance so far; it seems to have freed her in some way that much of the classical repertoire does not seem to.

Whereas those three dancers seemed to move from their hearts and it was the emotion they conveyed that I felt before thinking about their technique, Anna Nikulina disappointed me in the role of Phrygia, Spartacus’ wife. She looked as though she was just going over a well rehearsed set of movements without knowing why she was doing what she did. This was very unfortunate as the concluding scene of the ballet is Phrygia’s lament over her husband’s death. It used to reduce me to tears when I watched Ekaterina Maximova or Ludmila Semenyaka perform this scene. This time, not only did Nikulina not bring tears to my eyes, she made me miss all the other wonderful dancers who have danced this role.

Ekaterina Maximova as Phrygia

Ekaterina Maximova as Phrygia

Grigorovich’s choreography along with Aram Khachaturian’s music makes it impossible not to be swept up in the emotion of this ballet. The dancers, from the leads to the corps de ballet, all seem to have felt it today.  As a whole, it was a fantastic production that showed off what the Bolshoi Ballet is all about. Phrygia is a difficult role. Of the four leads she has the most subtle character, but it can be easier to dance a stronger character. Nikulina still may develop into a mature dancer who can do justice to the part of Phrygia.

There was one small change to the choreography as I remembered it; for me this small change made a rather big difference to the experience. A masked Spartacus is dragged out in front of Crassus and his party to fight a fellow gladiator. After a very tense few minutes, the opponent gladiator (wonderfully danced by Denis Savin, whom I would love to see more of as he is a very dramatic and able dancer) is stabbed and dies. In the older productions (as far as I know), when Spartacus removes the opponent’s mask, his eyes are wide open and Spartacus very tenderly closes them. In tonight’s production, his eyes were already closed, although I must admit Savin looked very vulnerable. I always assumed that Spartacus knew this other gladiator personally and that this is the moment he seems to make the decision of rebelling against Crassus and what he embodies: the Roman Empire.

Tabac Rouge – Exposition dans le hall du Theatre Vidy-Lausanne

I was totally speechless when I came out of the theatre. I found it very difficult to talk to my friends who were with me then. Once I regained some kind of power of speech, which took a while and seemed to invoke quite a bit of worrying on my friends’ side, they asked me whether I liked it. I said yes, but immediately started wondering whether that was the right word to describe it. Would I say I liked an experience that felt like being grabbed by my shirt front and shaken around before having my face slapped? But did I dislike it? No, that was not the right word either. There were many moments that made me uncomfortable and yet it did not make me want to get up or not want to watch it again.

sortir.ch

sortir.ch

I had been spending the weekend in Lausanne watching the semi-final and final of the prestigious ballet competition for young dancers. The night before we left, a friend of mine who was putting me up took me and another friend to see a sort of physical theatre. It was choreographed by James Thiérrée who happens to be Charlie Chaplin’s grandson. Apparently he grew up in a circus and his choreography is full of acrobatic moves.

sortir.ch

sortir.ch

When the audience was admitted to the auditorium, the stage looked as though it had not been set properly. At the back of the stage was a large structure of what looked like pipes running both horizontally and vertically with mirrors behind. This structure, which I took to be a back drop, was actually on a very strong set of casters and could glide around the stage and the whole panel itself  could revolve about its horizontal axis. There were no wings and the lighting rig was hanging down low. I had been wondering what would then happen, when a young man came onto the stage and from that moment on I was mesmerised.

On the little programme they gave out, there was no synopsis. New as I was to this kind of theatre, I was made slightly uneasy by not knowing what the plot was supposed to be. This, apparently, was the intention of Thiérrée. I was given a rare chance to meet one of the cast members, Noémie Ettlin, after the performance and the first thing I asked about was the plot. To this question she replied, “I can tell you the specific story that the choreographer told us (performers), but he doesn’t want the audience to know precisely what it is. He wants them to interpret it themselves”.  This was a new idea for me. And what an idea it was! Thiérrée wants the audience members to dig into their own hearts and find out their own answers. This is probably why it touched me so deeply.

Noémie told us a few things, nevertheless. The old man who was the centre of the piece was a tyrant and the rest of the cast (two men and seven girls) were a small society that represents his inner self. And this unit is rebelling against his system. The scaffolding with the mirror at the back represents the master of the old man, i.e. not the reality but the images. At the end the girls gradually dismantle the scaffolding and the mirrors and the whole frame detaches itself from the base and lifts off.

All the way through the piece, which was just over an hour long, the scaffolding was used as a part of the performance. It felt as though it was a part of the cast. It glided along and span around, the whole of the panel swung like that of the mirror of a dresser. On the one side, the mirror was covered by what looked like pipes but on the other side was just mirror that looked slightly tarnished. This panel would then tilt and sometimes it adopted such an angle that the performers were reflected so the audience could see two sides of them. At one point it was even set at an angle so that the audience itself was reflected, drawing us into the whole drama, as though to ask us to look into our own heart. It also felt like the side that was covered by the pipes was the caged feeling of the man, whereas the mirror only side was representing freedom from all his agony. However, the mirror was still tarnished (“it was difficult for the set designer to make it look old and used”, said Noémie).

Photo: Mario Del Curto

Photo: Mario Del Curto

Most, if not all, of the props they used were on casters. Chairs, sewing machine, a large desk, armchair (which seemed to be the comfort zone for the man)… there was even a large structure full of cables that trapped some of the girls. This piece was full of the imagery of being trapped and trying to escape from it. When the mirrors were finally dismantled and lifted off, it felt as though the man was finally free of his inner struggle and had come to terms with himself;  a kind of enlightenment in which he had learned to like himself, or at least accept himself as he was, at long last.

Another aspect that struck me was the sound effects. First I thought it was a little on the loud side, but later decided that I had found it a little much as I already had the beginnings of a headache when I arrived at the theatre. They used music, but also a lot of sound effects including shuffling of paper and heartbeats, all very loud. I forgot my headache very soon. Some of the sound effects were a little uncomfortably loud; but with hindsight, it would not have had the same effect had it been quieter, especially for sounds such as the heartbeat. When the heartbeat was so loud, it stopped me thinking and trying to analyse what it all meant. Then I felt the discomfort of the man being trapped. As the heartbeat subsided, I could breathe normally again and so could the man. It brought me and the man together and I felt as though I was not just watching the performance but was forced to look deep into my own heart.

Aside from all this, there was a somewhat cooler part of me as a dancer watching and admiring the level of control that all the performers had over their own bodies. One was a contortionist who could do things such as run while she was in a bridge position, and another a man who was both extremely agile and strong. But what amazed me more than anything was just how much energy every one of them was putting into the performance. They were doing sixteen performances over a three week period and we watched the thirteenth performance. How do they keep up that much energy? Every single movement that was made looked as though it was coming from the deepest part of their inner selves. Without such energy, this piece would never work. It would end up looking like a pretentious arty thing that no-one understands.

I could carry on trying to describe more about this, but this is a piece to be watched; not to be analysed or recounted. If you ever have a chance to see it, don’t miss it. I cannot promise you a warm fuzzy feeling afterwards, but this is guaranteed to touch you. Whether you like it or not is a different matter. Neither can I guarantee that you will understand what is going on. As Noémie so aptly said, “he (Thiérrée) likes mystery”. And I am happy for it to stay that way. Maybe it is the Japanese in me, but I am happy for the mystery to stay a mystery in some cases and this is definitely one of them.

Prix de Lausanne 2013

On 1st and 2nd February 2013, I managed to realise one of my old dreams.

Ever since I became serious about ballet, I dreamed of going to Lausanne to take part in this prestigious competition. As you can imagine, this did not come true as I was neither a genius nor born into a very rich family. So my dream of “going to take part in Prix de Lausanne” changed into “going to see Prix de Lausanne” fairly early on.

This year, one of my dancers who is from Lausanne offered me accommodation during the weekend of Prix de Lausanne finals!

The Prix de Lausanne started back in 1973 and is a competition giving young non-professional dancers, aged between fifteen and eighteen years, the chance to win a scholarship to study at any ballet school they choose for a year. For those young dancers whose country does not have a state ballet school, this is a fantastic opportunity. There have been many wonderful dancers who won scholarships in this competition and went on to become world- leading principal dancers: Miyako Yoshida, Tetsuya Kumakawa, Carlos Acosta, Darcey Bussell, Alina Cojocaru and many more.

swissinfo.ch

swissinfo.ch

The competition takes place over six days at the Théâtre de Beaulieu and during the first four days the candidates are given opportunities to take classes by world- renowned teachers and receive coaching from leading coaches. The jury observe the course of classes and it counts towards their final scores.

These days candidates are to apply by submitting an audition DVD. Around 80 of the applicants are invited to take part in this week long event and of those approximately 20 dancers will be chosen to participate in the final.

Candidates are to dance a solo from the classical repertoire and a contemporary solo (they have to choose one each from lists of choices).

This year, there were seventy-five semi-finalists all together: thirty-five 15-16 year-olds and forty 17-18 year-olds. Out of the seventy-five, twenty made it to the final.

Prix de Lausanne

Adhonay Silva
Prix de Lausanne

There were sixteen boys and four girls, which is quite an unusual ratio. It is good to see so many strong boys. The first prize went to a boy named Adhonay Silva from Brazil. He is only fifteen years old and yet his technique is already very well established and secure. And yet I could see that he made an improvement since the semi final. He was very charming and brought smiles to my face. He also had the rare quality to make what he did look easy. He was a worthy winner and I do hope to see him one day on a world stage. He also won the audience prize. Audience members are given a ballot paper and were asked to vote whom they liked best.  I am not at all surprised he won this prize as well.

In total eight scholarship prizes were given and although all eight winners are given equally full scholarship to a ballet school or company of their choice, they are given in reverse order and the last one, the one to win the first scholarship prize is considered to be the best one in the competition.

Aside from Adhonay Silva, there were a few that made an impression on me.

Prix de Lausanne

Li Wentao
Prix de Lausanne

Li Wentao, a seventeen-year-old from China who won the second prize, danced the Prince’s solo from the Sleeping Beauty and I was very impressed by his musicality. It is a very musically difficult solo but he performed it very confidently and smoothly.

Prix de Lausanne

Masaya Yamamoto
Prix de Lausanne

The eighteen-year-old Masaya Yamamoto (third place) was a very light and precise dancer. His contemporary was also excellent.  I could watch him knowing that he wasn’t going to fall over.

Prix de Lausanne

Gong Zunyuan
Prix de Lausanne

Gong Zunyuan, seventeen, who did not manage to get a scholarship was very light and his fantastic jumps excited the audience. His pirouettes needed a little more control, but it would be interesting to see how he does from here. His contemporary was also very good.

Prix de Lausanne

Kaho Yanagisawa
Prix de Lausanne

One disappointment was the fact that Kaho Yanagisawa, fifteen, did not get a scholarship. She had such strong technique that she danced so effortlessly. She also had lovely presence on stage. She made an impressively huge improvement in her contemporary between the semi-final and the final. I was convinced that she would at least receive the Prix Niveau Professionnel, but I had not realised that it was abolished in 1998. This was a cash prize which used to go to the candidates who were considered to have reached the level of professional dancers. I really hope that some great opportunity will open up for her in the near future.

There are several prizes the Prix de Lausanne committee abolished over the years. The aforementioned Prix Niveau Professionnel is one. The Médaille d’Or was last awarded in 1995 and was abolished in 2001. This was a very special prize that was not given out every year and was only awarded to exceptional talent: Tetsuya Kumakawa and Carlos Acosta are both past winners. The Prix Espèces was a cash prize which used to be given if a student of a state ballet school won the competition. The Prix Espoir was the scholarship prize for under fifteens but was abolished in 2002. The Prix de la meilleure chorégraphie personnel (changed to Prix d’encouragement à la chorégraphi in 1983) was given to those who choreographed their own free variation (this was abolished in 2005 to enable the judges to assess the dancers’ abilities without being confused by various choreography).

I usually do not like competitions for ballet. I feel that ballet is an art form and yet competitions make dancers want to jump higher, lift their legs higher, and turn more times. Although I love seeing people with strong technique, I feel very strongly that in ballet technique should never be the aim of the performance. Truly wonderful dancers do use their strong technique, but make it look effortless and use it to express something more. At the Prix de Lausanne, the judges look for potential. In addition to the competitive performances, they watch classes over the first few days and  take what they see there into account. Also, for those who did not make it through to the final round, there is a chance to have a special class and talk to the directors of various companies and schools and they may be fortunate enough to be offered more chances. Most of the candidates say that they have learned so much through the course of a week and they all seem to enjoy themselves and make friends with young dancers from other countries. I admire all the people who make this event happen and hope it will remain the inspiration to young generations of dancers for a long time to come.

I have encountered one big problem after having been to see the semi-final and final of the Prix de Lausanne. Now that one dream has come true, a new one has emerged… I would so much love to go and see the course of the entire week!

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?

Pharaoh’s Daughter – Bolshoi Ballet Live Transmission

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.

jr_bolshoi_skvortsov_jump_500

John Ross ©

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.

Lantratov in Don Quixote, from Wikipedia

Lantratov in Don Quixote, from Wikipedia

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.

Kaptsova in The Nutcracker (londondance.com)

Kaptsova in The Nutcracker (londondance.com)

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.

I Zaharkin ©

I Zaharkin ©

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).

Photograph by Mikhall Logvinov

Photograph by Mikhall Logvinov

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!