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.

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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.

Maya Plisetskaya, One of the Greatest Ballerina Dies at Age 89

Splisetskaya dancing Dying SwanMaya Plisetskaya, my idol and inspiration, died of a heart attack on 2nd May, 2015 at her home in Munich, Germany.

She was born in 1925 in Moscow and trained at the Bolshoi Academy, joined the Bolshoi Ballet and quickly climbed the ladder to the rank of a principal dancer.

This article is not dedicated to talking about the details of her life though. There is an interesting obituary by Sophia Kishokovsky on NY Times that gives a good overview of her life and career: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/03/arts/dance/maya-plisetskaya-ballerina-who-embodied-bolshoi-dies-at-89.html?smprod=nytcore-iphone&smid=nytcore-iphone-share&_r=0

Plisetskaya was one of the first dancers I have ever seen, and certainly had the greatest impact on my life. Through her I learned that technique should be merely a means of expression rather than the goal, and so many other things besides.

A while ago I wrote an article about Plisetskaya and how meeting her affected my life. Please click on the link to read it.

https://kodamaballet.wordpress.com/2012/10/18/maya-plisetskaya/

“May she rest in peace” somehow does not suit her. She will keep on dancing forever in my heart and in that of many others.

Vlad Lantratov to Principal

Only nine months ago, I wrote a short entry about Vladislav Lantratov having been promoted to Leading Soloist of the Bolshoi Ballet (https://kodamaballet.wordpress.com/2012/12/20/vladislav-lantratov-promoted/), and predicted that he would before long make it to the rank of a Principal Dancer. Well, he has done it! It was announced on 24th September 2013 that he is promoted to Principal Dancer.

Vladislav Lantratov ©D&D Art Production

Vladislav Lantratov
©D&D Art Production

Lantratov joined the Bolshoi Ballet upon graduating from the Bolshoi Ballet’s school, the Moscow Choreographic Academy, in 2006.  His first promotion, to Soloist, was in September 2010. He was promoted again to First Soloist in September 2011 and then up to Leading Soloist in December 2012.

preview_Bayadere-29-photo-by-Elena-Fetisova

Lantratov and Zakharova in La Bayadere

I noticed him for the first time when I went to see a live transmission of Pharaoh’s Daughter from the Bolshoi Theatre in December 2012. See the archived blog for the full review  (https://kodamaballet.wordpress.com/2012/12/06/pharaohs-daughter-bloshoi-ballet-live-transmission/). In that production he was dancing the role of a Fisherman; interesting but not a very big role. However, he caught my eye and impressed me. Since then I have been keen for more opportunities to watch him dance. I saw him dance the lead opposite two top ballerinas, Maria Alexandrova and Svetlana Zakharova, in La Bayadere in January 2013, shortly after he was promoted to a leading soloist (https://kodamaballet.wordpress.com/2013/01/31/la-bayadere-bolshoi-ballet-in-cinema/) . This performance deepened my conviction that he would climb the ladder of the ranks in the Bolshoi Ballet fairly quickly.

Lantratov and Alexandrova in the Flames of Paris

Lantratov and Alexandrova in the Flames of Paris

When Bolshoi Ballet came to London this summer, I ordered a ticket for a specific performance in order to see Lantratov and Alexandrova in the Flames of Paris, but due to Alexandrova’s injury earlier in the tour, the casting was changed and I did not get to see him dance on stage. Although the couple who danced in their place (Ivan Vasiliev and Ekaterina Krysanova) was an absolute delight, I was still disappointed at not being able to see the originally cast couple. The Bolshoi Ballet is broadcasting a fair few of their performances to cinemas around the world again this season. I am already looking forward to seeing them, and with luck Lantratov will dance the lead in one or two of the performances that they broadcast!

Lantratov and Smirnova in Onegin

Lantratov and Smirnova in Onegin

If you are lucky enough to be in Moscow, his next lead role seems to be the title role of Cranko’s Onegin with Olga Smirnova, who was also promoted to Leading Soloist yesterday. Lantratov appears to be dancing the role of the Evil Genius in Grigorovich’s Swan Lake as I write this article right now.

Lantratov as the Evil Genius and Svetlana Lunkina as Odile

Lantratov as the Evil Genius and Svetlana Lunkina as Odile

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?

Vladislav Lantratov Promoted

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Copyright © 2002—2012 Benois Centre

Vladislav Lantratov, whom I mentioned in the review of Pharaoh’s Daughter, was promoted from First Soloist to Leading Soloist of the Bolshoi Ballet on 14th December 2012.

Lantratov joined the Bolshoi Ballet straight from the Moscow Choreographic Academy – the Bolshoi Ballet’s own school –   upon graduating in 2006 (he was in the class taught by Ilya Kuznetsov).  He was given a fair few soloists roles from early on and took a principal role in The Bright Stream in 2009. He was promoted to soloist on 23rd September 2010 and was promoted again to First Soloist in September 2011.

He has noticeable stage presence, a very clear-cut technique and dances with apparent ease. His coach is Mikhail Lavrovsky and I can certainly see similarities in their light and yet strong styles.

With Bolshoi Ballet’s live streaming to cinemas in UK, we will hopefully have more chances to watch him in the future.

I am very much looking forward to seeing more of him and how he handles a variety of roles. I am curious to see how much further he improves; at this rate of progress he would appear to have what it takes to make it up the final step through the ranks of the Bolshoi to Principal Dancer.

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.

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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!

Maya Plisetskaya

When I was only about two or three years old, my father had an 8mm film of the famous Russian ballerina, Maya Plisetskaya. It was a compilation of Plisetskaya dancing Dying Swan, Bach’s Prelude, Raymonda pas de deux and the Carmen Suite.

Oh, she was simply the perfect embodiment of a ballerina for this little girl who had fallen in love with ballet when she was only two and performed her own Swan Lake to the family in the living room. I begged my father to play the film ever so often. I could not get enough of her beautiful arm movements in the Dying Swan, her graceful lightness in the Prelude where her partner was wearing black and nearly invisible against the dark background, her crystal clear footwork in Raymonda, and her explosive technique in Carmen Suite.  But above all, it was her charisma that made me fall in love with her ballet.  I could not take my eyes off her, however little she might have been doing. I spent hours in front of our bathroom mirror trying to copy her arms and facial expressions. My mother still laughs about the time her three-year-old daughter copied Plisetskaya’s seductive move in the Carmen Suite!

There are people who command the audience’ s attention and will not let go of it once they have it. Plisetskaya is definitely one of those charismatic people. Whether you like them or not, you cannot take your eyes off them. There are many talented dancers all over the world, but truly charismatic dancers are rather rare.

I was so very lucky to have seen Plisetskaya perform live. She was certainly getting on a little bit by then; she was way over fifty when I saw her for the first time! But such thoughts never occurred to me then. It is only with hindsight that I think just how old she was at the time and it fills me with even more awe.

I was really privileged in that my mother valued quality and made sure that she showed me the very best dancers in the world as much as she could afford. I learned so much from watching them on stage, especially how they could command the audience and have the crowd at their feet admiring them!

Another thing I learned from them was their musicality. Really wonderful dancers are all so very musical. They never ever look as though they are dancing to music. They become one with the music. It looks as if their dance, their bodies, are making the music. They breathe the music.

Plisetskaya is one of those dancers whose movements, even down to a blink sometimes, seem as though they are the elements that make the music. She does not dance someone else’s choreography; each move she makes seems to be born from her.

Just a few years ago I went to see her eightieth birthday tribute gala. I was a little worried that she would be so old and frail and betray my image of the strong charismatic ballerina that I knew. How mistaken I was! The moment she walked onto the stage (in a pair of very high heeled shoes!) I could not take my eyes off her. She was still the same monstrously charismatic ballerina who captured my heart all those years ago. She even performed a small piece, although not on pointe, that was choreographed for her by Maurice Bejart, using two Japanese style fans, one red, one white. Oh, the movement of her arms! The musicality! Her artistry! But above all, her eyes! Those were the eyes that pierced through me when she shook my hand when I was a very little girl. Her handshake was firm. Her hand felt large and warm. She looked into my eyes and smiled. It might have been at that moment that I knew I wanted to be a dancer for sure. I went home, all the way from Tokyo to my house, which was good two hours away, without touching anything at all with my right hand lest her handshake would be dirtied. I refused to wash my hand that night and my mother had great difficulty trying to convince me that a handshake cannot be washed off. To this day, I can feel her handshake. And I feel so very proud that I am still involved in ballet even if I am no longer a dancer myself. No matter how small my part in the world of ballet might be, I am still living in the same world as this woman with such talent and such charisma.