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Bolshoi Ballet - 'Don Quixote'

Done by home companies better

by Jerry Hochman

July 8, 2005 -- Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, New York

I missed seeing Svetlana Zakharova when the Kirov was last in New York. I did see her, however, as a guest last year with American Ballet Theatre in "La Bayadere" as Nikiya. I recall her being strong as iron and projecting larger than life with jaw-dropping extensions and leaps. Abetted by her personal costume, or lack thereof, she was also drop dead gorgeous.

Everything I observed in Zakharova last year seems to still be accurate. In her opening-night performance as Kitri in the Bolshoi’s disjointed production of “Don Quixote,” she looked radiant, and still displayed impeccable technique. But, having only recently seen Diana Vishneva’s Kitri with American Ballet Theatre, Zakharova’s Kitri is not quite on the same level. Where Vishneva seemed to inhabit Kitri, Zakharova’s characterization seemed pasted on. She came across as vivacious but not naturally fiery.

Nearly every time she came to the end of a dance/music passage, particularly in Act I, she’d punctuate it with an overblown hand flourish and/or head snap that bragged, ‘look at what I just did!’ Perhaps this is Bolshoi style, and each of their Kitris does the same thing. Regardless, the vamping distracts from the brilliance of the dancing. The few times when Zakharova completed a passage and didn’t mug, she was perfect. Huge jetes (way over 180 degrees), dizzying fouettes (but not quite as dazzling as, say, Gillian Murphy’s), slow, sensual Guillem-like extensions that provoke‘wows’ from the largely unsophisticated audience (and awe from the cognoscenti), and a natural effervescence that requires no artificial emphasis. Although she didn’t do the “fan variation” in the Act III Grand Pas, few seemed to mind. Finally, although she seems to have lost some weight since defecting to the Bolshoi, she still looks spectacular on stage.

Zakharova’s capabilities, however, were no surprise. What was a surprise was the improved level of the company as a whole since I last saw them, and of the supporting soloists in particular. Based on last night’s performance, gone are the days when the Bolshoi consisted to a large extent of dancers past their prime. Under Artistic Director Alexei Ratmansky, the Bolshoi dancers (at least the women – it is premature at this juncture to assess the men) appear as a group to be younger, better trained, and more winsome than their recent predecessors.

To be blunt, they now look more like ABT dancers. And, their character soloists are superb. As the Gypsy Girl (who handles the bulk of the gypsy dancing in this production), Anna Antropova (listed as a simple Soloist, rather than First Soloist or Leading Soloist) was spectacularly earthy and torrid. Irina Zibrova, a First Soloist, was both Mercedes and the girl in the “Bolero” variation. Her Mercedes was well done.  Her Bolero variation with repeated rubber-spine deep backbends, was extraordinary. Kristina Karaseva, a member of the corps, was sultry and sensual as well as technically accomplished, in the Spanish variation.

But little Natalia Osipova and not so little Nelli Kobakhidze, both members of the corps, displayed precocious (and prodigious) talent in their respective variations during the Act III Grand Pas. Osipova in particular promised to be the baby ballerina starlet from the moment she appeared on stage, and she delivered on the promise. Of course, it’s too early to tell whether she can do more than what she showed in this variation, but her self-confidence and obvious ability (including leaps that came close to orbiting) herald a bright future.

In the more “standard” supporting roles, Nina Katpsova was an engaging Cupid (Amour in ABT’s production), and Timofey Lavrenyuk danced a very capable Estrada. Initially Andrey Uvarov as Basil seemed a mismatch for Zakharova. A relatively bland stage persona compared to Zakharova’s ebullience; a rather tame dancer, compared to Zakharova’s radiance, Uvarov was a Basil who actually looked like a barber. But he emerged in Act III, and, although not as clean as New York balletgoers are used to seeing, he suddenly became supersized as his long legs and body devoured the stage.

The Bolshoi production of “Don Q”, however, is not up to the standards of its dancers. It makes no narrative sense (even given that the story itself makes little sense), and often seems to have been stitched together by a choreographic committee. The opening prologue with Don Quixote playing Cervantes playing Don Quixote is deadly dull and unfunny. Act I, which looks a lot like an Iberian "Napoli," moves very fast and then repeatedly stops dead. Instead of Act II beginning in the gypsy encampment proceeding Don Quixote’s dream sequence and ending in the tavern as it does in the ABT production, the Bolshoi’s Act II begins in the tavern (and includes Basil’s staged death and Lorenzo’s blessing of Kitri’s marriage to Basil), but then segues uncomfortably to Don Quixote and Sancho coming upon the gypsy encampment and the dream sequence.

And then after Don Quixote returns to what passes for his senses, he encounters a duke and duchess who invite him to Kitri’s wedding which is taking place in their castle. Even taking into account that this is staged absurdity, the scenic sequence makes no sense. On the other hand, the character choreography that is not in the ABT production – specifically, the Spanish, Gypsy and Bolero variations danced in the gypsy camp -- is wonderfully exciting to watch.

But although the production itself is uneven, the largely touristy (and sold out) audience came to see The Bolshoi, not "Don Q." Whether the story fits together or whether the dancers were doing anything that dancers in home companies don’t do and do better, didn’t matter in the least. They saw a colorful production, excellent, bravura dancing, and can tell their friends that they saw The Bolshoi. The standing ovation at the end, while not undeserved, was preordained.


Edited by Staff.

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