CriticalDance Forum

The Imperial Russian ballet in Spain
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Author:  Cassandra [ Mon Jun 04, 2007 10:44 am ]
Post subject:  The Imperial Russian ballet in Spain

Scheherazade/The Polovtsian Dances/Bolero
Centro de las Artes Escénicas y de la Música
5th May 2007

The Centro de las Artes Escénicas y de la Música is situated on the eastern side of the historic town of Salamanca in an area that appears to be undergoing regeneration. The venue itself is huge with a vast stage and an auditorium to match, filling it must be a challenge and the company did well to attract an audience that filled at least half of it.

The first work on the programme, Scheherazade, didn’t suit the large stage; its hothouse goings-on in the stifling environment of a middle-eastern harem should by rights look claustrophobic, but the company uses that watered-down version by Isobel Fokine that now seems standard in all Russian companies meaning much of the work’s impact is lost. The ballet has revolved around that exotic character The Golden Slave since the time of Nijinsky and the company’s leading man, Kirill Radev, made an intense though rather boyish looking slave, but definitely cute enough to tempt a sex-starved sultana.

Kasyan Goliezovsky is a choreographer virtually unknown outside of Russia and little of his work seems to have survived unfortunately, though such gems as his Scriabin Mazurka and Russian Dance are occasionally performed. The exception is his version of the Polovtsian Dances, still to be seen in the Bolshoi’s production of Prince Igor, which I saw in Moscow about seven years ago. Gediminas Taranda used to dance the role of Kuman in this work (I imagine he must have been fantastic) and he has now staged it for his own IRB. This Goliezovsky version is of course very similar in structure to the more familiar Fokine as the music very much dictates what is happening on stage, following the story of the opera with Prince Igor reluctantly witnessing an evening of Polovtsian culture; but here it is far more of a drama with the leading warrior, Kuman, competing with a rival called Jinete for the ownership of a ferocious female slave. Tremendously exciting, the dancers gave it everything they’d got: definitely the highlight of the evening.

For me Bolero conjures up visions of Torville and Dean and this unusual interpretation of the Ravel score hasn’t completely won me over yet, though I am in a minority here as everyone else who’s seen it appears to admire it very much. Before the music starts we hear a burst of thunder and a downpour of rain with lightning flashes revealing a woman on a high throne surrounded by acolytes. As the music begins the stage remains pretty much in darkness with just individual bodies or faces illuminated in the midst of the gloom but generally a lot of the dancing remains in darkness even though there is some spectacular stuff being performed at the front of the stage. Eventually the light increases to reveal a large corps de ballet with both sexes identically dressed in long heavy skirts split in the front to reveal a gold lining that catches the light as the dancers turn and jump. As the music reaches a crescendo ‘Diosa’ descends from her throne walking across the backs of her disciples as the leading male dancer, Zhanibek Kaiyr, as a kind of high priest leads her followers in a frenzied finale.

Swan Lake
Teatro Cuidad
8th May 2007

Driving down to Marbella from Salamanca took a while because of our decision to take the scenic route making a detour through the Monfrauge National Park where we were rewarded by the sight of no fewer than fourteen eagles soaring above the rocky crags high above the still waters of a lake: a magical sight. As we drove south the roadside gorse bushes and wild roses gave way to bougainvillea and prickly pear and the temperature soared. Apparently the weather hadn’t been so good earlier in the tour and by the look of the swans that evening it was easy to tell who had been to the beach that day and who hadn’t, also who had been to the beach and probably wished they hadn’t. The Teatro Cuidad in Marbella is a tiny Art Deco style theatre with a stage so small it created a few logistical problems for the technical team and meant the dancers found they had to clip their wings somewhat (pun intended)

Although the company dances an abridged version of Swan Lake, all the vital action remains intact, although some numbers such as the national dances in the ballroom scene have been scaled down, but only in the numbers of dancers as they all retain their impact. An oddity of this production is that there are two jesters instead of the usual one. Jesters in the UK have been redundant for years now as most people think that even one jester is one too many; nevertheless the ploy of having two seems to work, with a pair of virtuosos (Daniyar Mergaliev and Kirill Radev) dancing flat out to outdo one another and acting as a distraction to their melancholy prince.

In the principal roles Lubov Sergienko’s Odette was gracious but slightly distant towards her prince, rather as if the promise of love and freedom couldn’t dent her subservience to Rothbart. Considering the pocket-handkerchief size of the stage I was surprised that she opted for the Piqué turns instead of the fouettés though. As ‘Prince Sigfrido’ Nariman Bekzhanov danced extremely well and has the bearing of a potential danseur noble, but like the other dancers he was rather restricted by lack of space. The double work went well as these two dancers are physically very well suited, but I didn’t detect much chemistry between them. In this version Siegfried’s betrayal condemns him to death and it is Odette’s last minute intervention that saves his life and breaks Rothbart’s hold over her at the same time.

The audience in Marbella seemed to be an equal mix of Spanish, Russian and British, but despite the theatre being small, it wasn’t quite full and I’ve a feeling the town has interests other than the arts closer to its heart - those who saw any of that extraordinary TV series Marbella Belles will know exactly what I mean. In spite of the less than full house the audience was very appreciative of the dancers and they got a lot of applause at the end.

Carmina Burana/The Polovtsian Dances/Bolero
Teatro de Rojas
12th May 2007

The Teatro de Rojas in Toledo has a pretty blue auditorium that belies its rather drab exterior and this venue was packed out for the final performance I was to see on this tour. The musically high-octane programme was Carmina Burana, the Polovtsian Dances and Bolero, any one of which would have provided a stirring climax to any evening.

Choreographers just love Carmina Burana and I must have seen a number of different versions, but on the whole I think the music defeats them, even though the music was written with performance in mind, at best only a couple of episodes have looked good in each production I’ve seen but this one manages to hold the attention pretty much all the way through. Choreographed by the Estonian choreographer Mai Murdmaa, this was only the second work of hers I had seen, the first being Daphnis and Chloe, danced by Baryshnikov and Osipenko in Leningrad some thirty odd years ago.

The opening ‘Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi’ has Kirill Radev as a young man angrily expressing his frustration with fate’s cruelties and hurling himself across the stage in furious jetés. A dynamic start before the much softer Springtime Section with the girls wafting onto the stage wearing rather beautiful wreathes of flowers on their heads. The costumes are startlingly modern here with the men in decorated jeans and cut-off vests and the girls in floaty green skirts with matching short tops

In the following scene, In The Tavern, Murdmaa finds seemingly endless ways of expressing the unwitting humour of a bunch of inebriates staggering around the stage to possibly the finest drinking song ever written “In taberna quando sumus non curamus quid sit humus dust” (When we are in the tavern, we do not think how we will go to dust). Vladimir Shmigelsky led the binge drinkers in their humorous revel and made a very comic drunkard. This scene ends oddly with the entry of what I took to be a butterfly, who fluttered around the bewildered looking drunks. Seems I got it wrong though as according to the programme she was meant to be an angel.

Carmina Burana’s essentially lascivious nature comes to the fore in the final section reminding us that the text was written by naughty medieval monks allowing their minds to dwell on sex rather than piety and The Courts of Love, has the two leading dancers in ‘nude’ costumes illustrating a variety of sexual positions in a way that is both innocent and arousing. The two exceptionally beautiful bodies belonged to Lubov Sergienko and Nariman Bekzhanov.

Although the programme supplied a good deal of information about Orff’s music, there was little about the choreographer and I had to ask a couple of the dancers when they thought the work had been premiered. Apparently it was around thirty years ago, which would place it firmly within the Soviet era when ballets were strictly scrutinized before being passed for the stage, so how they managed to get those overtly sexual poses past the censors must remain a bit of a mystery. On the whole I found the choreography for this work very inventive, though there are some repetitious bits here and there, but it’s a lengthy piece and Murdmaa keeps the pace going all the way through. Only the fussy angel struck a wrong note with me.

The Polovtsian Dances was, if anything even more exciting than in Salamanca with fabulous performances from Zhanibek Kaiyr as the dominant Kuman, and the incredibly versatile Kirill Radev as his shaven-headed adversary Jinete pursuing the fiercely resisting slave girl of Elena Kolesnichenko whose angry broad leaps were as high and wide as any male dancer’s.

Once again Bolero brought the evening to a close, a very triumphant close too with the entire audience on their feet to give the dancers a standing ovation.

Author:  Tahor [ Mon Jun 11, 2007 11:52 am ]
Post subject: 

Fantastic review Cassandra, thank you for sharing your Spanish adventures with us!

I agree this is a very interesting company, with some interesting dancers, and a repertoire worth seeing, with some pieces of choreography you cannot see elsewhere.

Nariman Bekzhanov is a fascinating dancer (especially in semi classical-contemporary rep) - physically he has the most extraordinary body shape combined with a beautiful lyrical quality of movement, a form that is lissom and sinuous, giving his movement a willowy quality that is spellbinding to watch - this quality was particularly triumphant in the Carmina "erotic" pas de deux.

I agree too Cassandra that Vlad made a wonderful drunk in Carmina - afterwards I felt compelled to drink a bottle of vodka just so that I could try the moves myself!

One of their principal dancers, Kirill Radev, is world class, a great artist. I had seen Kirill dance Nutcracker Prince a few years back, and I too saw some performances on this recent Spanish tour. Kirill's performance in Carmina was absolutely outstanding. He is a dancer of both sensitive, expressive lyricism, and also great Russian style virtuosity. His technique is one of superb pure classicism - beautiful lines, and perfect upper and lower body harmony. Kirill is one to watch!

Author:  Cassandra [ Tue Jun 12, 2007 8:20 am ]
Post subject: 

So pleased to hear you have ventured out of your pyramid again Tahor.

Agree with your comments regarding Kirill Radev and Nariman Bekzhanov, there is a lot to admire in this company.

At present the company is on tour in South Africa, then to Serbia and in September at the Mikkeli Festival in Finland with Ruzimatov, Zakharova and Matvienko as guests. Details of the Mikkeli gigs below:

Author:  LMCtech [ Tue Jun 12, 2007 11:05 am ]
Post subject: 

Thanks for the review and the comments, so we in the US can live vicariously through your observations.

Author:  Cassandra [ Mon Dec 17, 2007 4:35 am ]
Post subject:  Time to dust off the Spanish phrase book again?

The Imperial Russian Ballet travels to the Spanish Canary Islands over Chistmas and new year. Details are as follows:

Auditorio de Tenerife
27, 28, 29 & 30 December Carmina Burana, Scheherazade, Bolero

Teatro Cuyas de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
2, 3, 4, 5, 6 January El Cascanueces (The Nutcracker)
9, 10, 11, 12, 13 January Carmina Burana, Scheherazade, Bolero

Now that's what I call a winter tour!

Author:  Cassandra [ Tue Jan 01, 2008 2:38 pm ]
Post subject:  Happy New year from Gran Canaria

After freezing in sub zero Baden Baden watching the Kirov, I´ve moved on to the Canary Islands for some mid winter sun. The Imperial Russian Ballet´s performances on Tenerife were massively successful and to my astonishment they are able to field a far, far better Golden Slave in Scheherazade then the Kirov (more of that anon).

Am now in Las Palmas to see some Nutcrackers: as with my Kirov watching I´ll report back in full when I return to London, though I´m not quite sure when that might be as although it was easy to fly from Baden to Tenerife I´m currently unable to find a flight back to London. Never mind - there are worse places to be stranded!

A happy new year to you all filled with lots and lots of dancing.

Cassandra x

Author:  Cassandra [ Mon Mar 03, 2008 11:59 am ]
Post subject:  Triple Bill in Tenerife.

Scheherazade, Carmina Burana, Bolero
Imperial Russian Ballet
Auditorio De Tenerife, Santa Cruz
29th & 30th December 2007

The Spanish Canary Islands are tiny dots in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of West Africa, so small in fact that as the plane flew across the vast expanses of sea I wondered if the pilot would be able to find them. Fortunately he did and after an hour’s drive from south to north across the island of Tenerife, I found myself gazing in awe at the Auditorio De Tenerife, a building that deserves to become as iconic as the Sydney Opera House. The first performing arts centre to be designed by Spain’s superstar architect, Santiago Calatrava, it is situated on the palm fringed sea front of Santa Cruz and is a construction of crescent moons made of pale translucent mosaic and at night when bathed in floodlights it becomes a landmark for miles around. The inside was as spectacular as the outside with the vast auditorium instantly reminding me of the interiors of the bee-hive tombs of Mycenae with the roof soaring upwards in a dizzying spiral. Unfortunately this spectacular design feature was responsible for the evening’s downside as sadly the quality of sound was atrocious. Whether the problem will be addressed I don’t know, but I think it unlikely that anything will be allowed to ‘disfigure’ the design concept simply to improve the acoustics.

Having seen the Kirov production of Scheherazade in Germany only two days before, I imagined that a touring company would look poor by comparison; however I was quite wrong as despite the smaller scale of the production the ballet was danced with far more passion by the IRB principals than I saw from the Kirov stars. As Zobeide, blonde Margarita Kamish took the sex-kitten approach to the role, much more the Sultan’s favourite than the queen of the harem. The minute her lord and master left to go hunting it was play time for her and the odalisques as the male slaves are released for a night of love. As the Golden Slave, Nariman Bekzhanov was a sexual fantasy made flesh. He prowls the stage like a panther in search of his willing prey with Kamish relishing the erotic promises on offer.

In the other roles the Taranda brothers both gave well thought out performances as the Shah and his head eunuch, Vitautus Taranda in particular was able to communicate the complex personality of the eunuch particularly skilfully. This was no buffoon but a calculating character prepared to take all sorts of risks for his personal enrichment, a helpful bumbler on the outside and a vicious schemer on the inside. I also appreciated the fact he wore the eunuch’s hat as in the Bakst designs and not the clown’s blue wig favoured by the Kirov.

It’s rare to see the elder Taranda brother, Gediminas, on stage these days as he seems to limit his performances, but he took on the role of the Shah to great effect, playing him as an autocratic ruler angry at the betrayal of his women but impassive as they are slaughtered. Only the fate of Zobeide affects him; unmoving as she stumbles towards him, his eyes are nevertheless brimming with tears. As she falls dead against him he gives her one final kiss before letting her fall to the ground: Beautifully done.

I had seen Mai Murdmaa’s Carmina Burana for the first time earlier in the year and had admired it enormously, but on this occasion the casting was very different due to two of the male dancers leaving the company. ‘Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi’ was no longer danced by Kirill Radev, who had made such a strong impression on me as the young man furiously resisting the iniquities of fate, his part being taken over by Nariman Bekzhanov, a more elegant performer than Radev, he performed the steps well but couldn’t quite match Radev’s Angry Young Man approach. I also missed Vladimir Shmigelsky who had made such a strong impression as the drunk in the In Taberna section. His replacement, Roman Arkhipov, was certainly humorous but Shmigelsky’s glorious take on uninhibited intoxication proved a very hard act to follow. Bekzhanov was having a very busy night as he returned for In the Courts of Love to portray the principal lover along with Margarita Kamish in an exceptionally explicit pas de deux of sexual coupling.

Bolero was the final ballet of the evening with hard working Nariman (make that Superman) taking the central role. On the whole he came over as rather lightweight in the part of High Priest, though he coped well with the partnering difficulties that include having a girl sitting astride both his shoulders. This is very much an ensemble piece though and everyone on stage gave it everything they’d got. As usual this highly charged programme was massively popular with the wildly cheering audience who gave the hard working dancers a standing ovation. They certainly deserved it.

Author:  Tahor [ Sat Mar 22, 2008 4:50 pm ]
Post subject: 

Nariman's dancing is breathtakingly beautiful in Carmina, the expressiveness of his lyrical movement left me speechless, and reminded me (as if I needed reminding) of the beauty of dance in the hands of someone like this! What a stunning dancer he is!

Author:  Cassandra [ Mon Mar 31, 2008 6:52 am ]
Post subject:  Nariman Bekzhanov

Tahor, I agree with you 100% regarding Nariman Bekzhanov and apart from being so very beautiful to watch he is also extrememly versatile and is able to perform in a variety of dance styles.

I note Bekzhanov also impressed Stuart Sweeney who saw him dance in Estonia a few months ago:

Author:  Cassandra [ Wed Apr 30, 2008 9:37 am ]
Post subject:  Summer in Madrid

The Imperial Russian Ballet dances in Madrid this summer at the Teatro Gran Via in four programmes:

1 - 6 July - The Nutcracker
9 - 13 July - Triple Bill
15-20 July - The Sleeping Beauty
22- 3 August Swan Lake

Author:  Cassandra [ Mon Jun 09, 2008 8:05 am ]
Post subject:  Teatro Gran Via

Here is the web site for the Teatro Gran Via where the company is to perform next month, click on proximamente then on Ballet Imperial Ruso.

I notice the theatre is currently playing host to Julio Bocca's company.

Author:  Cassandra [ Fri Jul 25, 2008 10:54 am ]
Post subject:  Triple Bill in Madrid

Scheherazade, Carmina Burana, Bolero
Imperial Russian Ballet
Teatro Gran Via, Madrid
13th July 2008

The Imperial Russian Ballet is currently dancing in the final programme of their month long engagement in Madrid and earlier this month I braved the intense mid-summer heat of that city to watch the company for which I am developing a real affection.

The triple bill of Scheherazade, Carmina Burana and Bolero is always a real crowd pleaser and it’s not unusual to see the audience on their feet to applaud at the end. On this occasion the evening’s highlight was Scheherazade with a Zobeide who was completely new to me, the highly attractive Anna Pashkova. Very much the star of the harem, Pashkova portrayed Zobeide as a beautiful opportunist, an actress capable of convincing the Shah of her devotion but ready to drop the mask and risk all for her sexual gratification. I’d seen Nariman Bekzhanov’s Golden Slave before so I already knew the levels of excitement he could bring to the role. A dancer with the ability to switch effortlessly from classical aristocracy to abandoned sensuality, his duets with Pashkova were exceptionally uninhibited.

Carmina Burana appeared to have suffered a few cast changes that have diminished the intensity of some passages. In the Courts of Love seemed rather restrained with the leading couple going through the motions of the erotic pas de deux without really raising any temperatures. Nor did In the Tavern achieve the comic attention to detail that past dancers have given it. Only Elena Kolesnichenko in the Primo Vere section seemed to catch the mood of the piece.

When I first saw Bekzhannov dance the leading role in Nikolai Androsov’s Bolero, I reported back that I found him somewhat lightweight in the part. Not now though as he has made a real effort to broaden his interpretation developing a far more dramatic approach to match the melodrama of the music. As the Goddess he worships, Kolesnichenko was icy and regal displaying a malevolent power over her mortal subjects. The Spanish audience seems to love this ballet and as with every other performance of it I’ve seen in Spain they clapped and cheered as if they were reluctant to let the evening end.

Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Tue Jul 29, 2008 5:05 am ]
Post subject: 

Cassandra, I shall see the Imperial Ballet next week, performing "Swan Lake", "Scherazade" and "Polovtskian Dances" in Tallinn. Shame they will not perform Mai Murdmaa's "Carmina Burana"; Murdmaa, Estonia's foremost choreographer is seldom performed her in Tallinn these days, apart from her delightful "Nutcracker".

Author:  Cassandra [ Tue Jul 29, 2008 7:33 am ]
Post subject: 

Then you will see the Goliezovsky version of Polovtsian Dances - very different from the Fokine and far more exciting. I think this is the only company dancing it outside of Russia

If you are interested in the Murdmaa Carmina Burana, you may be able to buy a DVD of it from their marketing department. Perhaps they aren't performing it because they think they might be taking coals to Newcastle.

Author:  Cassandra [ Tue Oct 28, 2008 7:34 am ]
Post subject:  Further Spanish Performances

The Imperial Russian Ballet dances further performances in Spain in December and January. Here is the schedule.

4th December VIGO. Centro Cultural Caixanova The Nutcracker

5th Decmber OURENSE. Auditorio Municipal The Nutcracker

6th December CANGAS. Auditorio Municipal The Nutcracker

7th December A CORUÑA. Palacio de la Ópera The Nutcracker

9th December VIGO. Centro Cultural Caixanova Bolero + Suite from Don Quixote

13th December Teatro Calderón de Alcoy Bolero + Suite from Don Quixote

14th December Teatro Calderón de Alcoy The Nutcracker


2nd - 7th January Teatro Cuyas Gran Canaria The Nutcracker

9th - 11th January Teatro Cuyas de Gran Canaria Don Quixote

15th January Auditorio de León The Nutcracker

16th January Teatro de Barakaldo Don Quixote

17th - 18th January Centro Cult. de la Caixa de Tarrasa Don Quixote

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