Monthly Archive: February 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…)