Bolshoi Ballet

Leader(s) and Followers

“Five Years and Three Days With Makhar Vaziev”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
February 26, 2021 (documentary)

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2021 by Ilona Landgraf

1. I.Tsvirko and M.Vaziev after a performance of “Ivan the Terrible”, “Ivan the Terrible” by Y. Grigorovich, Bolshoi Ballet 2019 © Bolshoi Ballet / G.Uféras This year marks the fifth season with Makhar Vaziev as head of the Bolshoi Ballet. Upon this occasion, the Bolshoi Theatre released the TV documentary “Five Years and Three Days with Makhar Vaziev”, which is also available on YouTube (and includes English subtitles). For three days at the end of January, a film crew followed Vaziev from meeting to rehearsal to performance and back again, conducting several interviews along the way. Despite COVID-19, everyday work has continued at the Bolshoi. We witness the company’s preparations for two revivals: a performance of “Nureyev”, supervised by its stage director and set designer Kirill Serebrennikov, and a re-run of Sergei Vikharev’s version of “Coppélia(more…)

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 (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…)

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…)

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…)

Room for Improvement

“Onegin”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
March 11, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. E.Obraztsova and N.Semizorova, “Onegin” by J.Cranko, Bolshoi Ballet © Bolshoi Theatre / D.YusupovConditions were the same overall on the second of the three evening performances of “Onegin” at the Bolshoi. The sky above the garden of the Larina family’s country house was bright blue, domestic bliss was as yet unclouded, the village folk were in an expansively jolly mood. The Bolshoi Orchestra under Pavel Sorokin, reliable as always, ensured a fine rendition of Tchaikovsky’s music. Yet unlike the evening before the story didn’t gain momentum.

“Onegin” needs four dancers of equal or complementary strength in the leading roles. The role of Olga is smaller than the other three, but her part is pivotal for the dramatic turn the story takes. Saturday’s cast had only one consistently strong dancer, Evgenia Obraztsova as Tatiana. (more…)

Bringing “Onegin” Home

“Onegin”
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
March 10, 2017

by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2017 by Ilona Landgraf

1. A.Tikhomirova, S.Chudin and ensemble, “Onegin” by J.Cranko, Bolshoi Ballet © Bolshoi Theatre / D.Yusupov“John is here” is a well-known saying within the walls of Stuttgart Ballet. People know what they are talking about. Ever since his untimely death more than forty years ago John Cranko’s spirit has energized his Stuttgart company.
Yet last weekend his presence was strongly palpable elsewhere. The Bolshoi performed his “Onegin” on three consecutive evenings at home in Moscow. On first night not only Cranko seemed close but also Reid Anderson, who had supervised the production at the Bolshoi in 2013, and Jürgen Rose, whose costumes and set design are unvaryingly matchless. The Bolshoi Theatre and Stuttgart State Opera merged into one house on this Friday evening uniting their powers in a performance of overwhelming intensity. (more…)