Tag Archive: Antonina Chapkina

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

 

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…)

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…)