Bolshoi Ballet

TV Talent Scouts

“Ազգային պարեր” (National Dances), Shant TV, Armenia
“Большой Балет” (Bolshoi Ballet), Rossiya-Kultura TV, Russia
May 2024

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. S.Matevosyan (host), A.Haxverdyan, L.Hakobyan, M.Mkhitaryan, G.Karapetyan (jury), A.Julhakyan (jury), A.Davtyan (Shant TV), H.Ghukasyan (director and producer), S.Mikayelyan (jury), T.Mnoyan (jury), A.Khangeldyan, S.Margaryan, M.Babayan, S.Barseghyan (host); “Ազգային պարեր” (National Dances), Shant TV, Armenia © Shant TVWhile German TV programs rarely promote the art of dance, dance is part and parcel of media abroad. The sequels of two dance competitions—Ազգային պարեր (Azgayin Parer/National Dances) on Shant TV, Armenia, and Большой Балет (Bolshoi Ballet) on Rossiya-Kultura TV, Russia—were broadcast recently. Both competitions are textbook examples of how to foster talent while simultaneously nourishing and cherishing dance culture.

Folk dance is a pillar of Armenia’s culture, and the Armenian State Barekamutyun Dance Ensemble has presented it professionally since 1987. Its founder and artistic adviser, Norayr Mehrabyan, is the father of Arsen Mehrabyan, who made his career on Western ballet stages. Shant TV’s first run of a folk dance competition reinforces the status of national dance. (more…)

Intense

“Romeo and Juliet”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre (Historic Stage)
Moscow, Russia
April 04, 2024 (video)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. D.Efremov (Montague's Servant), I.Alexeyev (Benvolio), M.Lobukhin (Tybalt), and ensemble; “Romeo and Juliet” by L.Lavrovsky, Bolshoi Ballet 2024 © Bolshoi Ballet / D.YusupovIn early April, the Bolshoi Ballet revived Leonid Lavrovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, which senior balletomanes may remember from the company’s famous tours of London and the Met in the 1950s and ‘60s. Galina Ulanova, Raisa Strutchkova, Vladimir Vasiliev, Maris Liepa, and many others wrote ballet history dancing the leading roles. I couldn’t attend the premiere in Moscow but was finally able to watch a video of the opening night. It made me wonder why the production had been dropped from the schedule. (more…)

In Commemoration of Ekaterina Maximova

“Fragments of One Biography”
Bolshoi Ballet and Guests
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
February 01, 2024 (video)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2024 by Ilona Landgraf

1. Ensemble, “Fragments of One Biography” staged by V.Vasiliev, Bolshoi Ballet 2024 © Bolshoi Ballet / E.FetisovaOn February 1st, the Bolshoi Ballet’s prima ballerina, Ekaterina Maximova (1939-2009), would have celebrated her 85th birthday. A phenomenally successful (and multi-decorated) artist, Maximova’s fame reached far beyond Russia’s borders. After retiring from the stage of the Bolshoi in 1988, she continued to dance with other Russian and international companies—and sometimes even returned home to the Bolshoi. From 1990 on, Maximova worked as a coach, teacher, and member of several arts councils and committees. Every five years, Maximova’s husband, Vladimir Vasiliev, stages a gala at the Bolshoi in honor of his late wife. I was able to watch this year’s event on video. (more…)

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, (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…)

Style Over Substance

Modanse”
Svetlana Zakharova Evening

Bolshoi Theatre (Historic Stage)
Moscow, Russia
October 31, 2023

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

1. S.Zakharova, “Come un respiro” by M.Bigonzetti; Svetlana Zakharova Evening, MuzArts 2023 © A.Stepanov The title “Modanse” sounds like an à la mode ballet – classy, extravagant, and fashionable. It belongs to a double bill featuring the Bolshoi Ballet’s prima ballerina Svetlana Zakharova. The external production includes dancers of the Bolshoi Ballet’s roster, and since 2019 has guested regularly on the Bolshoi Theatre’s stage and abroad.

As a seasoned artist, Zakharova must have an instinct about what suits her on stage. Hence I’m flabbergasted that she has kept Mauro Bigonzetti’s “Come un respiro” (“Like a Breath”) in the program. The 2009 creation, of which Zakharova acquired a reworked version, is ill-suited to make her and her co-dancers (among them Anastasia Stashkevich, Ana Turazashvili, Mikhail Lobukhin, Vyacheslav Lopatin, and Denis Savin) look good. Moreover, its succession of bland solos, pas de deux, and group dances fails to excite. (more…)

Fiendishly Fine

“Master and Margarita”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre (New Stage)
Moscow, Russia
October 29, 2023 (matinee)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Ovcharenko (Master) and E.Krysanova (Margarita), “Master and Margarita” by E.Clug, Bolshoi Ballet 2023 © Bolshoi Ballet / Batyr Anadurdiev I was skeptical whether Edward Clug was the right choice to tackle Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel “The Master and Margarita”. A Russian choreographer seemed better equipped to adapt this landmark of Soviet literature for the ballet stage than a Romanian-born working in Maribor, Slovenia. Two years after its premiere at the Bolshoi Theatre, I was able to watch Clug’s “Master and Margarita” – and my reservations were proven thoroughly wrong. It’s a fabulous blend of entertainment and food for thought, brimful of metaphors and allusions. Yuri Possokhov, Clug’s Russian colleague, currently preparing a new piece for the Bolshoi, is full of appreciation for “Master and Margarita” as well. I met him at another performance where he told me that Clug understands the Russian soul perfectly well.

Interestingly, Clug, together with Christian Spuck (then artistic director of Zurich Ballet) intended to stage “Master and Margarita” in Zurich in 2015, but their plan was thwarted when the theater’s research revealed that ticket sales would be uncertain because the Zurich audience wasn’t familiar with Bulgakov’s novel. Destiny brought the Bolshoi Ballet’s artistic director Makhar Vaziev to the scene who decided to stage the piece in Moscow.

A lifetime could be spent exploring Bulgakov’s political and social satire and the biblical questions raised by the novel. In short “The Master and Margarita” (published only after Bulgakov’s death in 1940, first in an edited serial form in 1966/67 and uncensored in 1973) intertwines two plots: (1) the mayhem caused by the Satan (alias Professor Woland) and his entourage when visiting Moscow in the 1930s, and (2) the trial of Jesus of Nazareth in Jerusalem during Pontius Pilate’s governance. The connecting link is the Master, a Muscovite author (and Bulgakov’s alter ego) whose latest manuscript tells the Jerusalem plot. Margarita is the woman who loves him and – unlike Moscow’s critics – his work. (more…)

Prix Benois Laureates 2023

Prix Benois de la Danse
Bolshoi Theatre (Historic Stage)
Moscow, Russia
June 21, 2023

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

Yesterday evening, this year’s laureates of the Prix Benois were announced on the Historic Stage of the Bolshoi Theatre.

1. J.Ryu, C.Kerche, and Q.Yunting, Prix Benois de la Danse, Bolshoi Theatre 2023 © Bolshoi Theatre / B.Annadurdyev2. M.Kang, Prix Benois de la Danse, Bolshoi Theatre 2023 © Bolshoi Theatre / B.AnnadurdyevQiu Yunting (National Ballet of China) and Misun Kang (Universal Ballet, South Korea) share the prize for the best female dancer. Yunting was nominated for her performance of Tatiana in John Cranko’s “Onegin”, Kang for her interpretation of the Widow in Bingxian Liu’s “Mirinaegil”. Hugo Marchand (Paris Opera Ballet) was awarded the prize for the best male dancer. He didn’t attend the ceremony. Vyacheslav Samodurov won the prize for the best choreography for “Dancemania” – a creation for the Bolshoi Ballet.

Mikhail Lavrovsky, People’s Artist of the USSR, was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award. (more…)

Dancer Nominees for the Prix Benois 2023

Prix Benois de la Danse
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
June 17, 2023

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

Eleven dancers from five nations are nominated for this year’s Prix Benois. Of the six women and five men, one dances in South-Korea, four in Russia, and two each in China, France, and Kazakhstan. This Tuesday the laureates will be announced in an award ceremony at the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow.

Here’s a short overview on the nominees:
1. M.Elchibayeva, Kazakh National Opera and Ballet Theatre after Abay © Kazakh National Opera and Ballet Theatre after Abay 2. M.Elchibayeva, Kazakh National Opera and Ballet Theatre after Abay © Kazakh National Opera and Ballet Theatre after AbayMalika Elchibayeva, leading soloist of the Kazakh National Opera and Ballet Theatre after Abay in Almaty, Kazakhstan, is nominated for her performance as Queen Shamkhat in “Frescoes” by Zaurbek Raibayev. Gulzhan Tutkibayeva, artistic director of the company, describes Elchibayeva as having “an outstanding appearance, beautiful texture, a professional school, and acting skills. For 5 years in the theater, Elchibayeva has performed almost all the leading parts of the ballet repertoire. In the role of the Queen Shamkhat she is organic, expressive, and managed to fully convey the idea of the ballet master Raibaev.” (more…)

Choreographer Nominees for the Prix Benois 2023

Prix Benois de la Danse
Li Jun / Maša Kolar / Wayne McGregor / Vyacheslav Samodurov
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
June 15, 2023

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

On June 20th, the Bolshoi Theatre hosts the annual Prix Benois ceremony, followed by a gala on June 21st. Prizes will be awarded for the best choreographer, and the best female and male dancers. Mikhail Lavrovsky will be honored for his lifetime achievement.

Four choreographers are competing this year:
1. “Where to Pour All My Love?” by L.Jun, National Ballet of China © National Ballet of China 2. “Where to Pour All My Love?” by L.Jun, National Ballet of China © National Ballet of ChinaLi Jun, dancer-choreographer of the National Ballet of China, is nominated for “Where to Pour All My Love?”, a twenty-minute piece set to music by Zhao Jiping. It premiered at the company’s 12th ballet workshop in April 2022. Jun’s source of inspiration was the Chinese multi-episode TV drama “Da Zhai Men” (Grand Mansion Gate) which traces the history of a Beijing-based family from the late Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911) to World War II. “Where to Pour All My Love?” focuses on Bai Yuting – one member of this family – whose love for Peking Opera gets out of control. (more…)

Mighty

“Ivan the Terrible”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre (Historic Stage)
Moscow, Russia
June 06, 2023

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

1. E.Obraztsova (Anastasia) and I.Vasiliev (Ivan the Terrible), “Ivan the Terrible” by Y.Grigorovich, Bolshoi Ballet 2023 © Bolshoi Ballet / D.Yusupov For Yuri Grigorovich’s “Ivan the Terrible” at the Bolshoi Ballet I needed some preparation. The biography by the late Ruslan Skrynnikov (1931 – 2009), a research professor at St. Petersburg State University and a leading historian of early modern Russia, seemed useful. Although it was instructive, the reading was tedious. Skrynnikov is a painstaking sociopolitical analyst, an expert in imparting the cruelty of medieval life, but I learned little about the person Ivan the Terrible (1530 – 1584). Interestingly, his nickname terrible results from a misleading translation of the actual epithet Грозный (grozny) which – according the Russian lexicographer Vladimir Dal (1801 – 1872) – can be translated as “courageous, magnificent, magisterial and keeping enemies in fear, but people in obedience”. A “tsar who managed to keep everything under control” – that’s how ballet legend Ivan Vasiliev (who’s regularly performed the role) describes Ivan the Terrible in an interview (subtitled in English and very much worth seeing), adding that “when you bear responsibility for such a huge country, you cannot lose control.” (more…)

Invincible

“The Flames of Paris”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre (New Stage)
Moscow, Russia
June 04, 2023 (matinee)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

1. E.Kokoreva (Jeanne), V.Lantratov (Philippe), and ensemble; “The Flames of Paris” by V.Vainonen, Bolshoi Ballet 2023 © Bolshoi Ballet / E.Fetisova “A highly unlikely work” – commented the late Clement Crisp in his Financial Times review about “The Flames of Paris”, which the Bolshoi Ballet performed at the Royal Opera House as part of their 2016 London tour. He argued that the dramatic scheme was papery and the chief roles were predictable.
I checked myself, watching the 85th performance of the latest production at the Bolshoi Ballet’s home base in Moscow.

“The Flames of Paris”, first staged in 1932 at the Kirov Theater in Leningrad (today’s Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg) is about how French revolutionaries turned politics and society upside down. Its rousing score by Boris Asafiev draws on music by Lully and Rameau, including the Marseillaise, and climaxes in the powerful revolutionary song “Ça ira”. In 2008, the Bolshoi Ballet’s then artistic director Alexey Ratmansky restored and revised Vasily Vainonen’s original choreography. Nikolai Volkov’s and Vladimir Dmitriev’s libretto, initially spanning four acts, was condensed to two acts. It tells the story of the revolutionaries’ march to Paris and their storming of the Bastille in July 1789. Oblivious to the people’s fury, the monarchy and its representatives continue to debauch in festivities (including a court ballet) at Versailles, but eventually apprehend the looming danger. Puppets of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette are already mangled by the crowd, soon to seize the palace. (more…)

Well kept

“Raymonda”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
April 6, 2023

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

1. D.Rodkin (Jean de Brienne) and A.Kovalyova (Raymonda), “Raymonda” by Y.Grigorovich after M.Petipa and A.Gorsky, Bolshoi Ballet 2023 © Bolshoi Theatre / M.Logvinov “Raymonda” is a foundation of Russian ballet repertoire, but is rarely performed in Europe. After his flight to the west, Nureyev staged several versions of the work for western companies, staying faithful to Petipa’s 1898 original. The few European choreographers who’ve tackled the piece – among them Pontus Lidberg for the Royal Swedish Ballet in 2014 and Rachel Beaujean for the Dutch National Ballet in 2022 – adjusted Lydia Pashkova’s libretto to match western tastes. The only Petipa/Pashkova-based Russian production I saw was Konstantin Sergeyev’s from 1948, presented by the Maryinsky Ballet on their 2014 tour to Baden-Baden. That production felt alien in Baden-Baden’s modern Festspielhaus, reinforcing the reputation of “Raymonda” as dusty and outdated. In last year’s review of Tamara Rojo’s “Raymonda” for the English National Ballet, London critic Jenny Gilbert went so far as to call Raymonda an “ineffectual heroine” (implying that the numerous renowned ballerinas who’ve taken on that leading role in the last 125 years were foolish in doing so) and the plot “offensively silly.” She also claimed that Russian “ballet culture has a higher tolerance of such [silly] things.” After watching the Bolshoi Ballet’s “Raymonda”, I’m inclined to think that the western perspective misses what “Raymonda” is actually about. (more…)

Hot!

“Don Quixote”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
April 5, 2023

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Putintsev (Basilio), E.Kokoreva (Kitri), and ensemble, “Don Quixote” by A.Fadeechev after M.Petipa, Bolshoi Ballet 2023 © Bolshoi Theatre / D.Yusupov “The Bolshoi Ballet” is synonymous with excellence – and if anyone can pull off “Don Quixote”, it’s them. This past Wednesday, though, the company left me flabbergasted. Pavel Klinichev wasted no time at the conductor’s podium, unleashing Ludwig Minkus’s score the instant he turned to face the orchestra. The effervescent pacing of the first few bars made clear that this “Don Quixote” would be a spicy one.
From the first moment that the goateed Don Quixote (Alexey Loparevich) and his loyal, oft-gluttonous squire Sancho Panza (Georgy Gusev) set off on their chivalrous journey, Valeriy Levental’s set transported us to the sizzling cauldron of the jam-packed port of Barcelona. Everything is perfect: the turquoise Mediterranean Sea glints under the bright summer sun; fresh fruit is piled sky-high; and the local youth remain in the merriest of moods. The happiest of all, Kitri (Elizaveta Kokoreva) and Basilio (Alexey Putintsev), quickly bring the scene to a boil. Kokoreva’s Kitri sweeps onstage like a torpedo, her fleet-footed legs and teasing fan leaving a trail of sparks. Klinichev’s brisk conducting seemed to spur rather than challenge her. I especially admired Kokoreva’s rock-solid balances – from which she descended only to hurl herself into a battery of snappy pirouettes. (more…)

Transcendent

“The Nutcracker”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
December 29, 2022 (matinee and evening performance)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2023 by Ilona Landgraf

1. V.Bessonova (Colombine), “The Nutcracker” by Y.Grigorovich, Bolshoi Ballet 2022 © Bolshoi Ballet / M.LogvinovAfter meeting him at a guest performance with Les Ballets de Monte Carlo six years ago, the Bolshoi’s Semyon Chudin suggested that I see their “Nutcracker” in Moscow. Year after year, one thing or another has prevented me from getting to the Bolshoi at Christmastime. Finally, this year, it happened: on the edge of New Year’s Eve, I watched a matinee and an evening performance.

The Bolshoi’s “Nutcracker” dates back to 1966 – qualifying it neither as trendy nor hip by today’s standards. Perhaps Makhar Vaziev, the company’s artistic director, has kept it in the repertoire for a number of reasons: out of respect for tradition; out of respect for the ballet’s choreographer – Yuri Grigorovich – one of the company’s formative figures; and out of respect for the crowd-pleasing nature of the piece that leads to sold out performances now as ever. (more…)