Yearly Archive: 2024

A Grand Spectacle

“La Fille du Pharaon”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
February 16, 2024

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. M.Mishina (Ramze), E.Kokoreva (Aspicia), and ensemble; “La Fille du Pharaon” by P.Lacotte, Bolshoi Ballet 2024 © Bolshoi Ballet / D.Yusupov The Bolshoi Ballet’s La Fille du Pharaon is about an Egyptian pipe dream—and it felt like a dream indeed. I was already impressed in 2019 when I watched it for the first time. Five years later, the cultural landscape has changed so much that its magnificence seems surreal. It highlights the extent to which the paths of Western and Russian cultures have diverged. While European culture finds itself on shaky grounds, the Bolshoi stands firm as a rock. The critics who argue that Pierre Lacotte’s recreation of Marius Petipa’s La Fille du Pharaon (1862) is like unearthing a dusty ballet mummy are wrong. True, the piece’s libretto (which is based on Theophile Gautier’s 1857 Le Roman de la Momie and was edited by Lacotte) is flimsy. Hearty drags on an opium pipe transport a traveling Englishman and his servant to the pyramids during the reign of a mighty pharaoh. This pharaoh has a daughter who instantly falls in love with the Englishman. After some adventurous trouble (including the dispatch of a lion, a last-minute escape, a nearly murderous assault, a suicide attempt, and the hero’s near execution), the lovers are happily united. But – alas! Upon awakening, it turns out that it had all been nothing but a dream. It’s a well-trod and thoroughly implausible plot. But who cares given the superabundance of (French style) 2. E.Kokoreva (Aspicia), M.Mishina (Ramze), and ensemble; “La Fille du Pharaon” by P.Lacotte, Bolshoi Ballet 2024 © Bolshoi Ballet / D.Yusupov dance that Lacotte incorporated? It was dancing of a complexity that only the Bolshoi can deliver. That’s why he recreated this ballet in 2000 just for them. It deepens the company’s roots in the legacy; it has the vibes of the Imperial Russian Ballet and the glorious ballerinas who excelled in the leading role, Kschessinska and Pavlova among them. Lacotte’s recreation of the splendid set design (a lush oasis, a gargantuan Egyptian palace hall, a fisherman’s hut, the realm of Neptune at the bottom of the Nile, and the courtyard of the palace) and the no less magnificent costumes recall the 19th century’s fascination for the ancient Orient’s exoticism.

The evening’s cast was stellar. As the pharaoh’s daughter, Aspicia, Elizaveta Kokoreva sailed effortlessly through a seemingly never-ending array of pas de deux, turning each one into a marvel. After having watched her on stage several times, I started to believe that she was sent from heaven. However, I didn’t know the other leading dancer, Dmitry Smilevsky. He played the Englishman, Lord Wilson, who turns into the Egyptian Taor in his dream. Similar to Kokoreva, Smilevsky graduated from the Moscow State Academy of Choreography in 2019 and joined the Bolshoi in the same year.
3. E.Kokoreva (Aspicia) and ensemble, “La Fille du Pharaon” by P.Lacotte, Bolshoi Ballet 2024 © Bolshoi Ballet / D.Yusupov 4. A.Loparevich (Pharaoh), “La Fille du Pharaon” by P.Lacotte, Bolshoi Ballet 2024 © Bolshoi Ballet / D.Yusupov There, he soared through the ranks like a rocket. Last year, the company’s artistic director, Makhar Vaziev, doubled down, promoting Smilevsky to first soloist and – soon after – to principal. That suggests that Smilevsky is brilliant—and that’s exactly how his Taor was. I didn’t spot the slightest flaw. He is a freshly promoted young dancer who already delivers top-notch quality. Where might that lead?

Unlike Petipa, Lacotte gave almost all supporting characters a chance to dance. Georgy Gusev turned some merry rounds as Lord Wilson’s, and respectively Taor’s, servant, Passiphonte. As Ramze, Aspicia’s Nubian slave, Maria Mishina chaperoned her mistress and also a group of children. Her complicity helped the lovers to elope. Another slave (Anton Savichev) played a rather inglorious role in the escape and came to an ill end.

Olga Marchenkova and Egor Gerashchenko portrayed the hospitable fishermen who welcome the refugees. Unfortunately, their hut turned out to not be the safest place to hide. The King of Nubia (Yuri Ostrovsky), struck to the core by Aspicia’s refusal to marry him, found her there with his dagger ready in hand. His treachery later cost him the friendship of the pharaoh (Alexey 5. D.Smilevsky (Taor) and E.Kokoreva (Aspicia), “La Fille du Pharaon” by P.Lacotte, Bolshoi Ballet 2024 © Bolshoi Ballet / D.Yusupov Loparevich). Aspicia saved herself with a plucky jump into the Nile, at the bottom of which she was greeted by the River God (Nikita Kapustin) and his court, including representatives of other major rivers. The castanets that Kristina Petrova clattered during her solo marked her as Spain’s Guadalquivir; the pings of a triangle accompanied the solo of the river Congo (Angelina Vlashinets), while the Russian Neva (Antonina Chapkina) flew gently like a reverie. Alexey Matrakhov played the bouncy monkey who was eager for oranges. Of the other animals on stage, the white horse that pulled the pharaoh’s chariot behaved professionally, the (stuffed) lion was quickly captured, and the venomous snake was kind enough to stay in its basket.

Pavel Klinichev and the Bolshoi Orchestra ensured that Cesare Pugni’s score and the performance on stage merged marvelously.
6. D.Smilevsky (Taor), E.Kokoreva (Aspicia), and ensemble; “La Fille du Pharaon” by P.Lacotte, Bolshoi Ballet 2024 © Bolshoi Ballet / D.Yusupov

Links: Website of the Bolshoi Theatre
“La Fille du Pharaon” – Rehearsal
“La Fille du Pharaon” – Revival
Homage to Pierre Lacotte
Photos: 1. Maria Mishina (Ramze), Elizaveta Kokoreva (Aspicia), and ensemble; La Fille du Pharaon” by Pierre Lacotte, Bolshoi Ballet 2024
2. Elizaveta Kokoreva (Aspicia), Maria Mishina (Ramze), and ensemble; La Fille du Pharaon” by Pierre Lacotte, Bolshoi Ballet 2024
3. Elizaveta Kokoreva (Aspicia) and ensemble, La Fille du Pharaon” by Pierre Lacotte, Bolshoi Ballet 2024
4. Alexey Loparevich (Pharaoh), La Fille du Pharaon” by Pierre Lacotte, Bolshoi Ballet 2024
5. Dmitry Smilevsky (Taor) and Elizaveta Kokoreva (Aspicia), La Fille du Pharaon” by Pierre Lacotte, Bolshoi Ballet 2024
6. Dmitry Smilevsky (Taor), Elizaveta Kokoreva (Aspicia), and ensemble; La Fille du Pharaon” by Pierre Lacotte, Bolshoi Ballet 2024
all photos © Bolshoi Ballet / Damir Yusupov
Editing: Kayla Kauffman

 

How to Warm an Audience

Don Quixote”
Ballet of the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre
Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre
Moscow, Russia

February 15, 2024

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Limenko (Kitri) and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by R.Nureyev, Stanislavsky Ballet 2024 © K.Zhitkova Moscow’s ballet audience is well-versed and demanding. The crowd that filled the Stanislavsky Theatre last Thursday to watch Don Quixote gave the quirky Don Quixote (Nikita Kirillov) and his gluttonous squire, Sancho Panza (Konstantin Semenov), a friendly but reserved welcome. The company’s former artistic director, Laurent Hilaire, added the production to the repertoire in 2019, and Hilaire’s successor, Maxim Sevagin, has kept it since 2022. As a former etoile of the Paris Opera Ballet who danced under Rudolf Nureyev’s directorate, Hilaire chose to introduce the Russian audience to Nureyev’s version of Don Quixote. Its set and costume design replicates Nicholas Georgiadis’s originals for the Paris Opera premiere.

Back at the bustling market square, the exuberance of the Spanish youth gradually spread through the rows. The legs of the toreadors sliced the air like knife edges; their leader, Espada (Evgeny Zhukov), missed no chance to parade his oomph; the sultry show of Olga Sizykh’s street dancer heated the air so much that the men began to brawl over the women – but the arrival of Don Quixote (on top of his armored old nag Rocinante) chilled passions. (more…)

Reassuring

“Chopiniana”/“Grand Pas from the Ballet Paquita
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre (Historic Stage)
Moscow, Russia
February 14, 2024

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

 1. A.Denisova, “Chopiniana” by M.Fokine, Bolshoi Ballet 2024 © Bolshoi Ballet / D.Yusupov The musicians of the Bolshoi Orchestra are on their toes. After acknowledging the welcoming applause, conductor, Pavel Klinichev, raised his baton in the same instant that he turned around to face them. The vigorous bars that he prompted belonged to a Polonaise by Chopin. It opened Mikhail Fokine’s romantic Chopiniana (1908), which the Bolshoi Ballet revived in November 2022. It’s the first part of a double bill the second piece of which – the Grand Pas from Petipa’s Paquita – has been a landmark of classical dance since its creation in 1881.

There’s no need to discuss how Fokine’s choreography was performed. The Bolshoi is a guarantor of sublime performances. Indeed, the unity of the corps was nothing less than staggering; every step was measured yet effortless like an outpouring of natural decency. Perfect proportions soothed the eye. As the leading sylphs, Anastasia Stashkevich, Elizaveta Kruteleva, and Anastasia Denisova paid great attention to detail, adding the right tinge of buoyancy, melancholy, or playfulness to their solos. Vyacheslav Lopatin’s poet combined sensitivity and decisiveness. His clean and – at times mighty – jumps earned applause. Alyona Pikalova’s set design – an arch of gnarled treetops opening onto a sunny water meadow – invited the mind to dream.
I’ve watched several companies dance Chopiniana, but no performance was as complete as the Bolshoi’s. Perhaps due to experiencing messy times in my home country of Germany (and in the West in general), the refined order and serenity of Chopiniana felt especially comforting. It seemed like the epitome of civilization. (more…)

Prix de Lausanne 2024

“Rising Stars”
Théâtre de Beaulieu
Lausanne, Switzerland
February 04, 2024 (livestream)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Finalists, Prix de Lausanne 2024 © G.BatardonYear after year, the organization team of the Prix de Lausanne has done a great job offering its online audience insight into the competition. This year, the one-week event concluded with a newly launched Rising Stars gala, which presented the finalists and three new choreographies. It was also streamed live. (more…)

Spoiled

“Timekeepers” (“For Hedy”/”Rhapsodies”/”Les Noces”)
Ballet Zurich
Opernhaus Zurich
Zurich, Switzerland
January 20, 2024

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. S.Williams, “For Hedy” by M.Tankard, Ballet Zurich 2024 © G.BatardonThe Ballet Zurich’s new triple bill Timekeepers is a testament to a wind of change that has swept through the company since Cathy Marston took the reins as artistic director last August. Twenty new faces joined the company, and many others left to follow the previous artistic director, Christian Spuck, to the State Ballet Berlin. I was told that, despite initial hesitation, the Ballet attracts large audiences to its performances. The premiere of Timekeepers was indeed very well attended. Its program combined two world premieres – Meryl Tankard’s For Hedy and Mthuthuzeli November’s Rhapsodies – with Bronislava Nijinska’s Les Noces (1923). Each of the three pieces comprises music that premiered almost exactly one-hundred years ago.

The Australian Tankard took on the challenge to choreograph George Antheil’s composition Ballet Mécanique, a medley of noises made by mechanical instruments, such as electric bells, propellers, a siren, and sixteen self-playing pianos (or pianolas). It couldn’t be realized in 1926, as synchronizing so many pianolas turned out to be impossible back then. (more…)

An Empty Packaging

“Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève” (“Noetic”/“VÏA”)
Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève
Forum Ludwigsburg
Ludwigsburg, Germany
January 12, 2024

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ensemble, “Noetic” by S.L.Cherkaoui, Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève 2024 © G.BatardonNothing in last weekend’s tour of the Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève reflected the name of the company. It did not present ballet, and the two pieces that they performed did not represent in any way the significance that the theater claims. The first – Noetic (2014) – was choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, former artistic director of the Royal Ballet of Flanders, who has held the same position at the Grand Théâtre de Genève, Switzerland, since 2022. VÏA is a 2023 creation, which the Morocco-born Fouad Boussouf choreographed for the company.

Noetic (from the Greek noēsis, meaning inner wisdom, direct knowing, intuition, or implicit understanding) opened promisingly as Shogo Yoshii silently stepped behind his Japanese Taiko drums and hammered out a forceful staccato. It called the dancers – ten men and ten women, one of whom was clad like the men – into the light-gray box that the stage had been turned into. As they assembled in groups of three, standing motionless back to back, they reminded me of the triple formations of German federal police when securing the train station against traveling football fans. Noetic’s dancers weren’t uniformed though. (more…)

Additional Thoughts

“Coppélia”
Ballet Company of Teatro alla Scala
Teatro alla Scala
Milan, Italy
December 17, 2023 (online broadcast)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. T.Andrijashenko (Franz) and L.Di Pasquale (Coppélia), “Coppélia” by A.Ratmansky, Teatro alla Scala 2023, photo by Brescia and Amisano © Teatro alla ScalaAlexei Ratmansky’s latest piece is a new version of Coppélia for the Ballet Company of Teatro alla Scala. A recording of its premiere on December 17th can be watched on Medici TV. In her review on December 18th, the New York Times dance critic, Roslyn Sulcas, praised the “wealth and detail of nuance” that Ratmansky brought alive. “He has infused [Coppélia] with new life,” she wrote, “as if a carapace of formulaic presentation and interpretation has been cracked open.”

She’s right, it’s an ambitious production in many respects – an asset for the company. At times though, Ratmansky’s wealth of detail feels like a continuous bombardment, as if he is overeager in combining an abundance of steps with plenty of flourish and excessive acting. His unconventional, fresh approach suffers from his striving for exceptionalism. And though I understand that as many dancers as possible should be involved, I’d have preferred a less crowded village square to better show off the pas de deux of the leading couple – Nicoletta Manni (Swanilda) and Timofej Andrijashenko (Franz). (more…)

A Showpiece

“A Swan Lake”
Semperoper Ballet
Semperoper
Dresden, Germany
December 17, 2023 (online since December 28, 2023)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ensemble, “A Swan Lake” by J.Inger, Semperoper Ballet 2023 © Semperoper Dresden/N.MacKayDo not expect the Semperoper Ballet’s new A Swan Lake to be the well-known classical swan story. True, it’s still danced to Tchaikovsky’s score, but it eschews the greatest part of its traditional personage. Vladimir Begichev’s original libretto of Swan Lake (1877) wasn’t what the Swedish choreographer Johan Inger had in mind. He took inspiration from the German author Johann Karl August Musäus’s folk tale The Stolen Veil (1784), which is considered to be one of several possible sources that Begichev used.

For those familiar with a traditional Swan Lake, a few names of the characters, Inger included, ring a bell. One of them is Benno, the original Prince Siegfried’s friend. Dresden’s version has no Prince Siegfried, and Benno is the lover of Queen Zoe, the unhappy spouse of King Zeno. Thanks to a magic veil, she’s able to transform into a swan and fly to a faraway lake. There, she takes a rejuvenating bath once a year and lives out her secret love affair with Benno. Zeno, however, finds out about it and, tearing up the veil, puts an end to further escapes for Queen Zoe. Act II features Zoe twenty years later. (more…)

Rekindled

“Shifting Symmetries” (“Concertante”/”Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet”)
Vienna State Ballet
Vienna State Opera
Vienna, Austria
December 23, 2023, (online: December 27, 2023)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ensemble, “Concertante” by H.van Manen, Vienna State Ballet 2023 © Vienna State Ballet/A.Taylor The Vienna State Ballet’s newest triple bill combines pieces by Hans van Manen, William Forsythe, and George Balanchine. As Forsythe doesn’t allow video streaming of his works, his In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated wasn’t part of the online broadcast on December 27th (which showed a recording of the premiere on December 23rd).
I’ve often been unhappy about the Viennese performances, but what’s to expect when the choreographies given to them are mediocre? This time though, a meaty dance-diet was on the menu, and the company rose splendidly to the occasion.

Concertante (1994) has the punchy elegance that van Manen is known for. It’s sophisticated (but without frills) and so densely energetic that my eyes stayed glued on the dancers. Van Manen doesn’t choreograph pretty steps. His dancers prance cooly and strongly, throw challenging glances, and are forcefully present on stage. (more…)