Russian Companies

Weighty

“The Winter’s Tale”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
April 06, 2019 (matinee and evening performance)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

1. E. Svolkin, L. Timoshenko, O. Smirnova, and D. Savin, “The Winter's Tale” by C. Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / D. YusupovThe Bolshoi Ballet recently added Christopher Wheeldon’s “The Winter’s Tale” to their repertoire – and what a fortunate choice that was! It is a co-production of the Royal Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada, and premiered in London in 2014. It’s strange that such a strong piece of work is only now being performed by a third company.

The ballet is based on Shakespeare’s play of the same name – one of his intricately-plotted later works, which is classified as a comedy despite its intense psychological drama. The tale centers around two kings – Leontes of Sicily and Polixenes of 2. E. Svolkin, D. Savin, and O. Smirnova, “The Winter's Tale” by C. Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / D. YusupovBohemia – who have been close friends since childhood. Their friendship begins to erode when Polixenes makes a lengthy visit to Sicily, which causes Leontes to suddenly doubt his wife Hermione’s faithfulness. Believing Polixenes to be the father of Hermione’s second child, Leontes is eaten up by biting jealousy that quickly turns to out-of-control aggression. He nearly stabs Polixenes and publicly accuses his wife of adultery. His wrath is so furious that Leontes’s eldest son son, Mamillius, gets seriously ill from helplessly witnessing the violent attacks on his mother. Hermione, heavily pregnant, is placed under arrest, and she gives birth to a girl, Perdita, while in custody. Leontes’s heart hardens even more at the sight of the baby, and he orders Antigonus, the head of his household, to abandon the child on a desolate shore – later revealed to be that of Bohemia.
3. E. Svolkin, “The Winter's Tale” by C. Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / D. YusupovHermione is summoned to appear in court, but Leontes, unbelieving and practically mad, assaults her once again – and Mamillius, overwhelmed by the sight, dies on the spot. Hermione faints after seeing her son’s lifeless body and appears to be dead, finally bringing Leontes to his senses. For years he atones for the loss of his children and wife, emotionally petrified.
Time passes. Perdita, saved and raised by Bohemian shepherds, is now sixteen years old, and has fallen in love with Prince Florizel, who has fled his father Polixenes’s court to stay with the shepherds. When Polixenes tracks down his son, Florizel and Perdita flee to Sicily to escape Polixenes’s disapproval of their relationship. Eventually, all the protagonists meet at Leontes’s court, where everything sorts itself out: the kings reconcile; Perdita is recognized as Leontes’s daughter and is happily married to Florizel; joy and warmth return to the royal home. On top of this, Hermione is revealed to be still alive and reunites with her husband.

4. O. Smirnova and D. Savin, “The Winter's Tale” by C. Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / D. YusupovWheeldon pruned this complex tale into a meaty three-acter-plus-prologue, balancing the poignant drama of Sicily’s court in Acts I and III with the carefree shepherds’ life in the idyllic Bohemian countryside of Act II. Only a few minutes into the prologue, you know that Wheeldon is a talented storyteller. Just as he does in his ballet “Cinderella”, Wheeldon presents the defining moments from the childhoods of the main characters in a remarkably short amount of time. He emphasizes in a program booklet interview that the credit lies not only with him, but with his artistic team as well. Those who are familiar with Wheeldon’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” will recognize the musical handwriting of British composer and regular Wheeldon collaborator Joby Talbot, who often infuses his music with subtle and unfamiliar undercurrents that stoke anticipation. In this production, he places a five-person orchestra onstage to play folk music for the shepherds and royal tunes at the court. This is the first time Talbot has composed for an Indian bamboo cross flute (played by Natalia Bereslavtseva), a bandoneon (Artyom Kriklivy), a dulcimer (Alexander Koshevoy), and two percussion instruments (Andrey Gabelkov and Oleg Vorobiev). These fabulous musicians are complemented by the vibrant Bolshoi Orchestra, conducted by Anton Grishanin.

5. I. Tsvirko, “The Winter's Tale” by C. Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / N. Voronova 6. I. Tsvirko, “The Winter's Tale” by C. Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / N. Voronova The set and costumes are by Bob Crowley, who designed Wheeldon’s “Alice” and “An American in Paris”. Though Crowley wasn’t involved in Wheeldon’s “Cinderella”, he used a core set element of “Cinderella” in his design for this work: a huge tree. It’s broader than it is tall, and with its moss-grown stilt roots resembles a mangrove tree. Its branches are heavily decorated with talismans that are similar to the amulet placed in Perdita’s basket when she was abandoned and which is later used to identify her as Leontes’s daughter. “I saw my dad in that tree,” Wheeldon revealed in an interview, “and when the curtain goes up on this scene, the audience applauds because it’s a very beautiful image. Like if my dad is giving me applause.” Wheeldon dedicated “The Winter’s Tale” to his father, Peter, who passed away two weeks before the London premiere and never saw the piece.

7. A. Vlashinets, Y. Ostrovsky, and I. Tsvirko, “The Winter's Tale” by C. Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / N. Voronova“The Winter’s Tale” plays in two contrasting worlds: Leontes’s austere palace and the buoyant Bohemian countryside. For the latter, Crowley designed colorful, richly-patterned fabrics; for the former, he used white movable stairways and high archways with narrow passages that shift to form a hall, Hermione’s private room, and the courtroom. An armchair, Mamillius’s rocking horse, and a carpet provide some coziness. Several marble statues represent the ideals of the sophisticated wealth, but as the domestic violence rages hotter, they rather made me think of stagnation. Only at the final wedding feast was the central painting – a gray and gloomy winter scene – replaced by a Caspar David Friedrich-esque “Chalk Cliffs on Rügen” that revealed a hidden Hermione pretending to be part of a statue.

8. O. Smirnova and ensemble, “The Winter's Tale” by C. Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / D. YusupovBasil Twist, a sought-after American puppeteer, had already collaborated with Wheeldon on “Cinderella”. For this production, he was responsible for several sweeping visual effects that employ silk fabrics: memorably, creating a gigantic bear that ate poor Antigonus after he abandoned little Perdita. One of Daniel Brodie’s video designs, a sailing ship from the period, glided on Twist’s rippling sea of silk.
Natasha Katz’s lighting guided the attention cleverly while unmistakably distinguishing between Leontes’s idée fixe and reality.

For the rehearsals, six ballet masters came to Moscow, including Zenaida Yanowsky (the London premiere’s Paulina, i.e. the head of Hermione’s household), Jonathan Howells (a former Antigonus) from the Royal Ballet, and Piozr Stanczyk who performed the role of Leontes with the National Ballet of Canada.

10. K. Kretova and D. Savin, “The Winter's Tale” by C. Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / D. Yusupov9. A. Vlashinets, “The Winter's Tale” by C. Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / N. VoronovaWheeldon’s dance vocabulary is fresh, resourceful, and seems to be directly of the moment. He doesn’t use well-trodden movement vignettes, but instead makes us watch with keen eyes. I remember his statement on the challenge of expressing a flash of jealousy through movement. Wheeldon has Leontes begin with the hand: in the instant that he feels the baby kicking in his wife’s belly, Leontes’s hand suddenly writhes, spider-like, then crawls across his body to his spine. It seems then to inject a tormenting poison into his back, and in no time this poison taints his entire and innermost being. Denis Savin, the evening’s Leontes, played this change of personality with an eeriness that makes sense given his knack knack for strange characters, his strong physical stage presence, and his uncanny expressiveness. Savin’s entire performance brimmed with intensity and left no emotional depth unplumbed. I was glad to have a chance to see him perform.
11. Ensemble, “The Winter's Tale” by C. Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / D. YusupovOf Igor Tsvirko’s interpretation of Leontes at the matinee I especially remember the hot, seething fury with which he flew at Polixenes (Anton Savichev). His thorough disturbance after the deaths of Mamillius and Hermione really got to me. It was clear that he had reached the lowest point of his life.

Olga Smirnova danced Hermione alongside Savin, perfectly melding genuine warmth with aristocratic grace. The immediacy and directness of her movement made her performance hauntingly real. How many messages did Smirnova’s Hermione convey at court with merely a single look! And how aloof was she at first when reuniting with Leontes – like a statue that had to re-petrify.
13. A. Trikoz and D. Motta Soares, “The Winter's Tale” by C. Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / N. Voronova12. D. Motta Soares and A. Trikoz, “The Winter's Tale” by C. Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / N. VoronovaA bouquet to Kristina Kretova, who shouldered the two leading roles of Hermione and Paulina that day. At the matinee, her Hermione gave me goosebumps when she saw her daughter Perdita (Alexandra Trikoz) for the first time in sixteen years. Wheeldon’s Paulina is a more vital character than Shakespeare’s – in fact, she’s the ballet’s pivotal female role. She takes care of the mourning Leontes, directing his soul through its darkness, while stoically keeping the secret that Hermione is in fact alive. Fate was merciful with Leontes to give him such an emphatic, humble guide! After all, Paulina has been widowed because of him: it was Leontes who sent her husband, Antigonus (Yuri Ostrovsky), off with the baby and into the clutches of the bear.
14. D. Motta Soares, “The Winter's Tale” by C. Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / D. YusupovThe matinee’s Paulina was Angelina Vlashinets; Ostrovsky again played Antigonus. I liked how both ballerinas playing Paulina nearly hit out at Leontes when he attacked Hermione, but pulled themselves together at the last second and curtsied. However, upon seeing the queen and Mamillius dead, both Paulinas trashed their Leontes uncontrollably in fits of helpless desperation and rage.

In the evening, Erik Svolkin’s Polixenes was more flirtatious than Savichev’s at the matinee, but even if both Polixenes felt like third wheels the more Hermione’s pregnancy advanced and the more her and Leontes’s intimate togetherness deepened, one couldn’t imagine either Polixenes to cross the border of decency.
Mamillius (Kirill Travin / Lev Timoshenko) is a tough role. The boy has to witness blunt aggression without any means of escape (neither a teddy nor an armchair hideaway could protect him). My respect to both Travin and Timoshenko for their brave performances.

16. K. Kretova and I.Tsvirko, “The Winter's Tale” by C. Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / N. Voronova15. O. Smirnova and D. Savin, “The Winter's Tale” by C. Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / D. YusupovAt the matinee, Florizel (David Motta Soares) danced alongside Alexandra Trikoz’s Perdita. The blossoming of their tender, innocent romance warmed my heart. The same applies to the evening’s young lovers (Vyacheslav Lopatin & Dariya Khokhlova), a sunny couple that lived their love more openly.

17. V. Lantratov, “The Winter's Tale” by C. Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / N. VoronovaIn the supporting roles: Karim Abdullin and Egor Khromushin portrayed Father Shepherd; Igor Pugachyov and Alexey Putintsev danced his son, called Brother Clown; Maria Mishina and Bruna Catanhede Gaglianone performed the young shepherdess who loved him. In addition to the role of Mamillius, three other parts were played by children (Danila Klimenko, Viktor Uskov, and Sergey Shcherbina, with some of them doubling roles): the young Leontes, the young Polixenes, and the young Brother Clown. The corps exercised grave restraint at court and gave the shepherds’ zest for life vibrant colors. The rustic feast by the tree might have been a bigger party if attended by a few more revelers; the Bolshoi’s historic stage is vast, after all.

The only bitterness in this production emerged around the role of Florizel. Vladislav Lantratov was cast as the premiere’s Florizel, but injured himself shortly after the beginning of Act II. Motta Soares replaced him after a fifteen-minute break. I wish Lantratov a speedy recovery, but above all I wish him the patience necessary for a full recovery. He’s an outstanding artist and the Bolshoi needs him back in perfect health.

Links: Website of the Bolshoi Theatre
rehearsal  of “The Winter’s Tale” (video)
Photos: 1. Erik Svolkin (Polixenes), Lev Timoshenko (Mamillius), Olga Smirnova (Hermione), and Denis Savin (Leontes), “The Winter’s Tale” by Christopher Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / Damir Yusupov
2. Erik Svolkin (Polixenes), Denis Savin (Leontes), and Olga Smirnova (Hermione), “The Winter’s Tale” by Christopher Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / Damir Yusupov
3. Erik Svolkin (Polixenes), “The Winter’s Tale” by Christopher Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / Damir Yusupov
4. Olga Smirnova (Hermione) and Denis Savin (Leontes), “The Winter’s Tale” by Christopher Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / Damir Yusupov
5. Igor Tsvirko (Leontes), “The Winter’s Tale” by Christopher Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / Natalia Voronova
6. Igor Tsvirko (Leontes), “The Winter’s Tale” by Christopher Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / Natalia Voronova
7. Angelina Vlashinets (Paulina), Yuri Ostrovsky (Antigonus), and Igor Tsvirko (Leontes), “The Winter’s Tale” by Christopher Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / Natalia Voronova
8. Olga Smirnova (Hermione) and ensemble, “The Winter’s Tale” by Christopher Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / Damir Yusupov
9. Angelina Vlashinets (Paulina), “The Winter’s Tale” by Christopher Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / Natalia Voronova
10. Kristina Kretova (Paulina) and Denis Savin (Leontes), “The Winter’s Tale” by Christopher Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / Damir Yusupov
11. Ensemble, “The Winter’s Tale” by Christopher Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / Damir Yusupov
12. David Motta Soares (Florizel) and Alexandra Trikoz (Perdita), “The Winter’s Tale” by Christopher Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / Natalia Voronova
13. Alexandra Trikoz (Perdita) and David Motta Soares (Florizel), “The Winter’s Tale” by Christopher Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / Natalia Voronova
14. David Motta Soares (Florizel), “The Winter’s Tale” by Christopher Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / Damir Yusupov
15. Olga Smirnova (Hermione) and Denis Savin (Leontes), “The Winter’s Tale” by Christopher Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / Damir Yusupov
16. Kristina Kretova (Hermione) and Igor Tsvirko (Leontes), “The Winter’s Tale” by Christopher Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / Natalia Voronova
17. Vladislav Lantratov (Florizel), “The Winter’s Tale” by Christopher Wheeldon, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / Natalia Voronova
Editing: Jake Stepansky

In the Running

“Ekman / Goecke / Naharin”
Ballet of the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre
Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre
Moscow, Russia
March 23, 2019

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

1. E. Mikirticheva and ensemble, “Tyll” by A. Ekman, Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre 2019 © S. Avvakum No fewer than three pieces of the Stanislavsky Ballet’s repertoire were nominated for this year’s Golden Mask award: “Tyll” by Alexander Ekman, “Lonesome George” by Marco Goecke, and “Minus 16” by Ohad Naharin. On top of that, the company’s senior principal, Oksana Kardash, is nominated twice for her performances in “Tyll” and “Lonesome George”.
The Golden Mask Festival is in full swing in Moscow, presenting the most significant productions of all genres of theater from all over Russia. The winners will be announced on April 16 at an awards ceremony in the Bolshoi Theatre. (more…)

Growing With the Legacy

Coppélia”
Bolshoi Ballet

Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
March 23, 2019 (matinee)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A. Loparevich, “Coppélia” by M. Petipa and E. Cecchetti, revival and new choreographic version by S. Vikharev, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / E. FetisovaWhat would Sergei Vikharev have thought of his “Coppélia” if he had watched the matinee on March 23? For one thing, he wouldn’t appreciate my calling the work “his”, as it is Petipa’s and his assistant Cecchetti’s 1884 choreography that Vikharev, together with ballet scholar Pavel Gershenzon, meticulously revived from Nicholas Sergeiev’s notation. Vikharev’s reconstruction premiered in 2009 with the Bolshoi Ballet with an updated revival planned for 2018/19. However, fate struck in the summer of 2017 when Vikharev, only fifty-five years old, died from an adverse reaction to anesthetic during a dental treatment. As a result, the company re-staged the 2009 version. (more…)

Pipe Dreams

“La Fille du Pharaon”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
March 08, 2019 (matinee and evening performance)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

1. E. Obraztsova, “La Fille du Pharaon” by P. Lacotte, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / D. Yusupov Aspicia, the heroine in Petipa’s “La Fille du Pharaon”, was a highly coveted role among ballerinas. Carolina Rosati, an Italian ballerina whose insistence propelled the ballet to creation, danced Aspicia at the world premiere in St. Petersburg in 1862. Mathilde Kschessinska, the unofficial queen of St. Petersburg’s Imperial Theatres, claimed the role as hers at the 1898 revival – meaning that it was like a revolution when the role was given to Anna Pavlova in 1906. “La Fille du Pharaon” was Petipa’s first significant choreographic success. Pierre Lacotte’s take on the ballet for the Bolshoi Ballet in 2000 was a tribute to Petipa and to the famous ballerinas who had shared their knowledge about Aspicia with Lacotte: Lyubov Egorova, Mathilde Kschessinska, and Olga Spesivtseva.

The ballet’s rambling narrative is loosely based on Théophile Gautier’s 1857 novel “The Romance of a Mummy”. Fueled by opium, an English explorer imagines a slew of adventures with Aspicia, the daughter of an Egyptian pharaoh. Aspicia, a mummy, resurrected from her sarcophagus, goes hunting and is saved from a lion’s wrath by the heroic Egyptian Taor (the Englishman), with whom she naturally falls in love. The duo, contending with Aspicia’s forced marriage to the King of Nubia, elopes to an idyllic fishing village. There, they are met by further hazards: suicide attempts, a detour to the underwater realm of the God of the river Nile, and more. Finally, Aspicia and Taor are reunited and happily married – until at the height of the rejoicing, the Englishman awakes from his dream. (more…)

Topical

“La Esmeralda”
Ballet of the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre
Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre
Moscow, Russia
March 07, 2019

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2019 by Ilona Landgraf

1. O. Kardash, “La Esmeralda” by V. Burmeister, Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre 2019 © A. Klyushkina Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame” – which features Notre-Dame’s deformed bellringer Quasimodo and the compassionate, kind Esmeralda – has long been popular material for stage and film adaptions. The first ballet adaption premiered in London in 1844, with choreography by Jules Perrot and music by Cesare Pugni. In 1950, Vasiliy Tikhomirov and Vladimir Burmeister produced a new libretto for their version with the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theatre. As in the novel, their production is set in the 15th century and has a frame narrative that explores Esmeralda’s childhood background. For this iteration of the tale, Tikhomirov and Burmeister brought back Esmeralda’s tragic death while eschewing several secondary characters. In addition, Pugni’s score was newly orchestrated and supplemented with music by Reinhold Glière and Sergei Vasilenko. The three-acter is still in the company’s repertory and – more than 500 years later it is (regrettably) still highly topical. “La Esmeralda” exposes the Catholic church’s sickening hypocrisy and rotten ethics, which have made and continue to make international headlines to this day.

At the heart of the story is Esmeralda, who was picked up and raised by the Romani after they (wrongly) deemed her mother Gudule to be dead. (more…)

A Conversation With Guillaume Côté

Moscow, Russia
December 16, 2018

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2018 by Ilona Landgraf

1. G.Côté rehearsing “Frame by Frame” by R.Lepage and G.Côté, The National Ballet of Canada 2018 © The National Ballet of Canada / A.AntonijevicGuillaume Côté, principal dancer of the National Ballet of Canada, had just made his debut as a guest dancer with Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet the previous evening, dancing Romeo in Alexei Ratmansky’s version of “Romeo and Juliet” alongside Evgenia Obraztsova. The role was originally created on Côté in 2011. We met early in the morning – a couple of hours before Côté would return to Toronto – to talk about Romeo, love, his career, and Russia. The first topic we touched upon was dance critique.
Côté’s answers are in italics. (more…)

All That is Called Love

“Romeo and Juliet”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
December 15, 2018

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2018 by Ilona Landgraf

1. E.Obraztsova and G.Côté, “Romeo and Juliet” by A.Ratmansky, Bolshoi Ballet 2018 © Bolshoi Ballet / E.FetisovaI saw the Bolshoi Ballet in Alexei Ratmansky’s “Romeo and Juliet” for the first time in November 2017, though the choreography premiered in Toronto at the National Ballet of Canada in 2011. The piece is intense, seething with emotions and laden with turmoil. If there is a moment of peace and tranquility it is swiftly swept away by the rush of events. The story feels like a river-boat ride: once you’ve boarded, there’s no stopping or changing course. Instead, the passengers quickly find themselves carried from placid waters to heavy currents and towards a torrential waterfall. (more…)

From “Ballet Falsity” to Long-Runner

“The Bright Stream”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
February 10 and 11, 2018

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2018 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Front Curtain, “The Bright Stream” by A.Ratmansky, Bolshoi Ballet © Bolshoi Theatre / D.Yusupov“The Bright Stream” was Shostakovich’s third score for ballet. After his previous ballets, “The Golden Age” (1930) and “Bolt” (1931), were banned from the stage, Shostakovich attempted to create a new composition that would please everyone. Fyodor Lopukhov (1886 – 1973) was in charge of the choreography, the libretto was by Adrian Pyotrovsky and Lopukhov, and indeed, “The Bright Stream” was enthusiastically received at its premiere in Leningrad – today’s St. Petersburg – in 1935. (more…)

It’s Done

“Nureyev”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
December 09, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. V.Lantratov, “Nureyev”, chor.: Y.Possokhov, dir.: K.Serebrennikov, Bolshoi Ballet 2017 © Bolshoi Ballet / M.LogvinovAfter the Bolshoi Ballet’s July premiere of “Nureyev” was canceled at the last minute, officials doubled down on security efforts for the rescheduled performance on December 9th. Although guards lined the theater’s entrances and the curtain rose behind schedule, the performance was a smooth ride from start to finish.
And yet only those who attended the dress rehearsal this summer can truly asses whether or not the initial version was tweaked to comply with requests from the authorities. One might have noticed, for instance, that Richard Avedon’s photo of the naked Nureyev was not used as a backdrop, but rather was only projected on a screen for a quick second. But given the fact that the work was finally seen by the public – do these minor changes matter?

Choreographer Yuri Possokhov, stage director and set designer Kirill Serebrennikov, and composer Ilya Demutsky are the artistic core team behind “Nureyev”. Interviews with the trio, who had previously collaborated on the Bolshoi’s ballet “A Hero of Our Time”, were printed in the program booklet, which also contains Serebrennikov’s libretto.

(more…)

Universal Love

“Romeo and Juliet”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
November 25, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. V.Lopatin and A.Stashkevich, "Romeo and Juliet" by A.Ratmansky, Bolshoi Ballet 2017 © Bolshoi Ballet / E.Fetisova Last week the Bolshoi Ballet added a second version of “Romeo and Juliet” to its repertoire. By Alexei Ratmansky, it premiered at the National Ballet of Canada in 2011 and is being performed on the New Stage of the Bolshoi Theatre. As during recent years, Yuri Grigorovich’s adaption will be shown on the Bolshoi’s Historic Stage.
Ratmansky cast three leading couples: Ekaterina Krysanova & Vladislav Lantratov; Anastasia Stashkevich & Vyacheslav Lopatin; and Evgenia Obraztsova & Artemy Belyakov; however the pairings switched in the course of the first run. I saw the fourth performance after the premiere; Stashkevich was Juliet alongside Lopatin’s Romeo. (more…)

Why Did the Bolshoi Cancel “Nureyev”?

Bolshoi Ballet
Moscow, Russia
July 10, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

Bolshoi Theatre © Damir YusupovSaturday’s news that the Bolshoi canceled “Nureyev” three days before the ballet’s premiere on Tuesday, July 11th, and instead plans to perform its well-trodden “Don Quixote”, came as a severe blow. The ballet traces the life of ballet legend Rudolf Nureyev, who had his early career with the Kirov Ballet (today’s Maryinsky), before defecting from the Soviet Union during a tour to Paris in 1961. Nureyev became an acclaimed superstar in the West. He died in 1993, due to the consequences of AIDS.

The artistic team for “Nureyev” consists of choreographer Yuri Possokhov (a former Bolshoi dancer now resident at San Francisco Ballet), stage director Kirill Serebrennikov, composer Ilya Demutsky, music director Anton Grishanin and costume designer Elena Zaytseva. Serebrennikov is also in charge of the set design. I write in present tense as the premiere hasn’t been entirely scrapped but was postponed to May 2018. (more…)

Four Dancer Nominees for the Prix Benois 2017

Prix Benois de la Danse
Bolshoi Ballet / Korean National Ballet / National Ballet of Uruguay
Moscow / Seoul / Montevideo
April 28, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Statuette of the Prix Benois de la Danse, design by I.Ustinov © Y.PokrovskyOn May 30th and 31st the Bolshoi again hosts the ceremonies of the annual Prix Benois de la Danse Galas. Prizes will be given on the first evening, while the gala on the following day will look back on highlights from the twenty-five-year history of the Prix Benois. It is already known that Marcia Haydée will be awarded the Benois Prize for Lifetime Achievement and Aurelie Dupont the Russian-Italian Prize Miroir de la Danse.

This year’s nominees include seven choreographers, six ballerinas and seven male dancers. I asked four dancers – two female, two male – about the roles which earned them the nomination: they are, alphabetically, Nina Kaptsova (Bolshoi Ballet), Jae-Woo Lee (Korean National Ballet), Maria Riccetto (National Ballet of Uruguay), and Denis Rodkin (Bolshoi Ballet).
All four were asked the same questions:
“Why was performing this role special compared to other roles you danced? What challenged you? In what perspective did the role make you grow as an artist?”

Here is what they answered: (more…)

Olga Smirnova and Semyon Chudin on “Swan Lake”

“Swan Lake”
Vienna State Ballet
Moscow / Vienna
April 28, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. S.Chudin and O.Smirnova, “Swan Lake” by Y.Grigorovich after M.Petipa, L.Ivanov and A.Gorsky, Bolshoi Ballet © Bolshoi Theatre / D.YusupovIn mid-May Vienna State Ballet revives Rudolf Nureyev’s “Swan Lake,” the version he choreographed for the company in 1964. The new set and costumes are by Luisa Spinatelli. Four guest dancers will take the leading roles in the course of the run. The Bolshoi’s Olga Smirnova and Semyon Chudin dance twice, on May 14th and 17th; on June 4th Marianela Nuñez and Vadim Muntagirov of The Royal Ballet guest in Vienna. The last performance on Monday, June 12th, will be streamed live on the internet.

While “Swan Lake” is Smirnova’s debut in Vienna, Chudin returns for the third time to the Austrian capital. Two weeks before opening night I asked both about their roles and about Nureyev’s production in particular. Smirnova, who at that time was in Moscow, answered in written form. Katerina Novikova, head of the Bolshoi’s press office, kindly translated Smirnova’s answers into English. Chudin, already rehearsing with the company in Vienna, talked with me via Skype. (more…)

Heightened Drama

“Mayerling”
Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre
National Theater
Munich, Germany
April 06, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. S.Polunin and A.Pershenkova, “Mayerling” by K.MacMillan, Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre 2017 © W.Hösl Igor Zelensky invited Moscow’s Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theatre, his own former troupe, to perform as a guest company for this month’s Ballet Festival Week in Munich. Last October, after a short period of double directorship in Moscow and Munich, Zelensky decided to concentrate solely on directing the Bavarian State Ballet. Laurent Hilaire, former Paris Opéra Ballet étoile, took over Zelensky’s post at the Stanislavsky in January this year.

The Stanislavsky brought along Kenneth MacMillan’s “Mayerling”, a piece rarely performed on German stages. As a special treat, Sergei Polunin danced the leading role at both performances. I saw the opening night. Although Polunin left the Stanislavsky in summer 2014, he continued to perform with the company on occasion. In Munich, he has been a permanent guest dancer since Zelensky took up the reins.

“Mayerling” isn’t the sort of piece one eagerly watches again and again – for at the root of the catastrophe of the piece is a tragedy that is too sad and a society that is too disgusting to witness repeatedly. The story is based on a dark chapter of the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. The Emperor’s third child with Elisabeth (“Sisi”), Duchess of the house of Wittelsbach, was Crown Prince Rudolf, who at the age of twenty-three, was forced into a marriage with Princess Stéphanie of Belgium. The ballet begins with the couple’s wedding ball and ends with the double suicide of Rudolf and his mistress, Mary Vetsera, at the royal hunting lodge at Mayerling. (more…)

Boris Akimov – Half a Century for the Bolshoi

Bolshoi Ballet
Moscow, Russia
March 10, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. B.Akimov, Bolshoi Ballet © Bolshoi Theatre / D.YusupovDid you watch the Bolshoi Ballet’s live broadcast last October on World Ballet Day? If so, you must remember the lean, white-haired man who taught morning class: Boris Akimov. The motivation he spread was contagious, his vigor stupendous. Akimov demonstrated the exercises, had an eye on everyone and, simply with his charisma, kept everyone’s attention focused. Katerina Novikova, head of the press office, had just revealed in her introductory words that Akimov has been working at the Bolshoi for fifty years, and yet no one could have imagined that he was seventy years old at the time.

Akimov danced with the company, directed it artistically and for decades since has been teaching, rehearsing and coaching not only dancers of the Bolshoi and other companies abroad, but also students of the Russian University of Theatre Arts. He has been honored and recognized for his artwork extensively, including receiving the “People’s Artist of the USSR” in 1989, the highest title Russia can bestow on an artist.

I met Akimov on March 10th at the Bolshoi Theatre to find out more about his career and artistic vision. Novikova kindly interpreted from Russian to English and vice versa.
Akimov’s answers are in italics. (more…)