CriticalDance Forum

Bolshoi in North America 2014
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Author:  Francis Timlin [ Tue Jul 22, 2014 6:56 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Bolshoi in North America 2014

Alastair Macaulay reviews a broad range of casts of "Swan Lake" for the New York Times.

NY Times

Author:  Buddy [ Wed Jul 23, 2014 1:03 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Bolshoi in North America 2014

Thanks, Francis, for these press reviews. I saw Svetlana Zakharova’s and Olga Smirnova’s two Swan Lake performances and thought that they were excellent. Of the press comments, I found this description of Olga Smirnova by Robert Greskovic to be the one that I share the most.

“Dark-haired and beautiful, the statuesque woman with long feet and limbs cut a ravishing figure. Her large, wide-set eyes beamed, appearing as windows onto depths of emotion. Her dancing was silken and incrementally shaped.”

Author:  balletomaniac [ Thu Jul 24, 2014 11:19 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Bolshoi in North America 2014

Bolshoi Ballet
David H. Koch Theater
Lincoln Center
New York, New York

July 22, 2014
“Don Quixote”

-- by Jerry Hochman

What impresses most about the version of “Don Quixote” that the Bolshoi Ballet unveiled last night during its two week series of Lincoln Center Festival performances is its choreographic focus on ballerinas. While this may not seem so unusual – after all, the lead character in most Romantic and Classical ballets is female – I can think of few ballet productions that are so overwhelmingly ballerina-oriented. And last night, the Bolshoi ballerinas, particularly its corps dancers and young soloists of varying rank, delivered.

Although there were antecedent ballet incarnations, Marius Petipa’s version of “Don Quixote” to music by Ludwig Minkus, which premiered at the Bolshoi in Moscow in 1869, is considered the ballet’s original production. After Petipa expanded his version in 1873, Alexander Gorsky restaged it for the Bolshoi in 1900, and it is this Petipa/Gorsky version that is the wellspring from which most current productions are derived. And it is this Petipa/Gorsky production, in a “new choreographic version” by the Bolshoi’s former Artistic Director Alexei Fadeyechev, that had its first performance at the DHK Theater last night.

There is no indication of how, if at all, Mr. Fadeyechev’s staging may have changed the basic Petipa/Gorsky choreography. Regardless of its genesis, this production is less coherent than the production previously choreographed for American Ballet Theatre by Mikhail Baryshnikov, or even ABT’s current and somewhat inferior production. Most significantly, there are two differences that make little thematic sense: First, the visit to the gypsy encampment, in which Don Quixote has a delusional episode followed by his ‘dream’, is not told within the context of the overall story, but is a separate stand-alone sequence (Kitri and Basilio are not present), which clearly provides cover for grafting a little classical-looking ballet onto the base story (and the dubious opportunity for a commedia dell’arte-like 'puppet show' that makes the Don go bonkers) . Secondly, Kitri’s wedding somehow becomes a royal celebration, held among garishly costumed nobles (they may resemble costumes worn by nobles in paintings by Velasquez, but they’re still garish-looking) – the justification being a casual meeting between Don Quixote and a duke and duchess and their retinue out for an intra-Act afternoon’s stroll in the woods, during which these nobles presumably invite Don Q to invite Kitri and Basilio, who aren’t even there, to celebrate their wedding at the castle. Maybe the castle had a larger dance floor than the tavern or the town square, or perhaps the duke and duchess gave the Don a catering discount.

But logical staging side, far aside, this production includes dance segments that either were deleted in the ABT productions or were added subsequently, which translates into more dancing overall, and more quality choreography for ballerinas than in other performances of “Don Quixote” that I’ve seen. Aside from seven featured Dryad dancers (which of course are female), there are seventeen characters identified in the program who have dancing roles in this production. Of these, fourteen are women. And although most of these are ‘featured’, as opposed to ‘lead’ roles, they provide significant opportunities to gauge the ability of the Bolshoi ballerinas below the principal level.

The leading roles, Kitri and Basilio, were performed by Principal Dancers Maria Alexandrova and Vladislav Lantratov (the ‘Evil Genius’ in last week’s “Swan Lake”). Mr. Landratov, who joined the company in 2006, danced Basilio with youthful vigor, and proved to be excellent both as a partner (powerful and controlled overhead lifts, for example) and individually (electrifying turns that he did without unnecessary self-congratulatory flourish). My only criticism is that he played Basilio without any particular character – he was neither the clownish underachiever, nor the cocky, party-animal playboy, both of which ‘types’ I’ve seen, and to me there was little stage chemistry between him and his Kitri. He was simply, and excellently, a hyperactive young man who happened to be a really good dancer.

I found Ms. Alexandrova’s performance to be more problematic. I understand that she recently recovered from a serious dance injury, which may have limited her jumping ability (her Plisetskaya leaps, for example, were mediocre). But technically she was more than adequate, particularly in the final act’s pas de deux, with scintillating pique turns and fouettes. But where Kitri is supposed to be a spitfire, a feisty Spanish coquette, Ms. Alexandrova, who joined the company in 1997, came across as a feisty Spanish cougar. Even discounting the age difference (which really isn't all that unusual or crippling for the role), Ms. Alexandrova played Kitri with pasted-on flourish. Every final pose was accompanied by either a cocking of her head or an open-mouthed gape that didn’t so much say ‘I’m an irresistible party girl’ as ‘look what I just did’. This made her portrayal look both old-fashioned and forced. It may be the way this role is supposed to be played in Bolshoi productions – but it makes Kitri a character whose skills one admires, rather than a character one can connect with.

The other male lead role, Espada, was danced by First Soloist Denis Rodkin as a deadpan, cardboard character. But even with his relative stiffness (which comes with the choreography) he played Espada with unusual vibrancy. To me, Mr. Rodkin resembles Patrick Bissell, who initiated the role in Mr. Baryshnikov’s ABT production. And although his performance did not include any of the creative nuances that Jared Matthews recently brought to the role with ABT, Mr. Rodkin handled his cape expertly (not an easy task), and executed the toreador-inspired steps with appropriate (and believable) gusto.

But as finely performed as Mr. Rodkin was as Espada, he was overshadowed by his two companions: Mercedes, portrayed by Oxana Sharova (a member of the corps), and a “street dancer,” danced by Anna Tikhomirova (a First Soloist). Both danced superbly, but Ms. Sharova was particularly ablaze.

In ABT’s production, Kitri’s friends are dubbed “Flower Girls”. Here, they’re given names, Juanita and Piccilia, as well as more dancing. Played by Yanina Parienko and Anna Rebetskaya, both Soloists, they were the first act’s spark plugs.

In the ballet’s second act, the initial scene takes place in a Spanish tavern followed by Don Quixote’s field trip to the gypsy encampment. In the ABT version, it’s the other way around – the tavern scene follows the gypsy encampment scene and the ‘dream’ scene, which makes more sense. But in the ABT version, the gypsy dances themselves are more restricted in scope, and primarily assigned to men (perhaps to level the dancing playing field). Here, the Gypsy Woman is the heart of the scene, dancing an entire story in the course of her solo. As a result, the scene is more than just a sequence of character dancing. And the performance by Kristina Karasyova, another of the Bolshoi’s extraordinarily talented soloists, was extraordinary. Every part of her body was filled with passion. Her fiery dancing fused perfectly with her profoundly moving characterization, and her performance was alone worth the price of admission.

The tavern scene itself includes an interesting dance that the ABT version omits. Intended to be a ‘typical’ dance that a tavern might provide to entertain its customers, it’s one of those significant dancing ‘asides’ that adds essential character and depth to a scene. While I watched it, I dubbed it a ‘castanet’ dance because the lead dancer utilizes them in the course of her dance (she actually plays the castanets as she dances). But the program describes her simply as a ‘Spanish’ dancer, accompanied by a pair of accompanying ‘Guitar’ dancers. However they’re identified, as danced last night by Maria Zharkova as the Spanish dancer and Nino Asatiani and Vera Borisenkova as her guitar-carrying cohorts, all members of the corps, the dance was wonderful, and Ms. Zharkova smoldered.

Also unlike the current ABT version, in this production the Dryad Queen is danced by a different dancer than the one who portrays Mercedes. Last night, it was performed by Leading Soloist Olga Smirnova, and even though I still noticed a somewhat corkscrewed torso (similar to her ‘style’ as Nikiya in her guest appearance with ABT several weeks ago), to me it was the finest performances I’ve seen her give to date. She was consistently pitch-perfect (and much faster and more on-the-music than Ms. Alexandrova when they appeared on stage together). The dream scene’s Cupid, Yulia Lunkina, a Soloist, danced with finesse, but the role here is played relatively straight, without the ‘cuteness’ that is inherent in the ABT conception. To me, without this quality, an essential component of the role is lost, but that’s not Ms. Lunkina’s fault.

And in the final Act, Kitri’s Wedding, the dancers who performed variations within the main pas de deux were Maria Vinogradova, a Soloist, and Ana Turazashvili, a member of the corps. Each danced magnificently, with Ms. Vinogradova, who also was featured last week in “Swan Lake,” continuing to impress with the clarity of her execution and her spirited presence.

Of all these ‘added’ or ‘expanded’ roles, the only one that was somewhat disappointing was also the only one that added another male dancer. In the final Act, a dance called ‘Bolero’, a duet, was an added variation. It was danced satisfactorily by Anna Antropova and Vitaly Biktimirov, both First Soloists, but the dance itself is forgettable.

In addition to those with featured roles, there were several ballerinas I noticed who performed as villagers (they're not specifically identified as sequadillas, as in the ABT production) or Dryads, who danced with particular verve and who brightened the stage (or in one case, a 'drinking table' at the tavern). But since the Bolshoi program fails to identify any of the dancers other than those in featured roles, there's no way I can identify them.

The Bolshoi’s next New York production is “Spartacus.” Perhaps the ballerina-centric “Don Quixote” was intended to immunize audiences against the testosterone-laden production to come. Regardless, and even though it’s not thematically as ‘tight’ as the ABT version, the increased dancing it provides showcases the Bolshoi's many talented ballerinas at all levels of rank, and makes me look forward to further opportunities to see these dancers grow.

Author:  Buddy [ Thu Jul 24, 2014 3:37 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Bolshoi in North America 2014

Jerry, I just finished this before I saw your most recent post, which I’ll read as soon as possible. I gather that you didn’t see Olga Smirnova’s Swan Lakes. If you did, please let us know what you thought.

Swan Lake

Svetlana Zakharova and Olga Smirnova

As I mentioned in my above post, I was most fortunate to be able to see them both twice. I’d been planning this for months.

As fine as all the Bolshoi artists were, these two women, for me, dominated everything. They are acknowledged giants. Amazingly, Olga Smirnova is only 22, so she’s just beginning. Her prospects are daunting ! Interestingly, Svetlana Zakharova, in a sense, is also just beginning. Always having been a dancer of impressive ability and beauty, since the birth of her child several years ago she has become a remarkable dramatist.


is what these the two exceptional artists were about.

As beautiful and fine as their dancing is, it was their *Personality* that was the Essence. It was powerful, poetic and riveting. Both women come from formative Vaganova and/or Mariinsky backgrounds, but here they were something else. Their Vaganova-Mariinsky fineness served to reinforce their Drama. It’s something that you’re not likely to see at the Mariinsky except for maybe Diana Vishneva, who is more a world artist these days, and perhaps Yekaterina Kondaurova, who in my mind, has become an interpretive powerhouse in the last two years. Other Mariinsky artists, such as Ulyana Lopatkina, are capable of this, but it’s not their essence. Their’s is more a world of dreamlike wonder. Svetlana Zakharova and Olga Smirnova were Here and Now.

I’m not sure if you could consider what they did to be more Bolshoi. I’ve seen a lot of Bolshoi performances, but I’ve never seen ones like this. Perhaps being at the Bolshoi gives them this impetus, but they transcend company style.

Both Svetlana Zakharova and Olga Smirnova are One of A Kind Artistic Phenomena.

These were performances where almost everything seemed right. Both women can be counted on for this. And besides being consistent and highly sensitive artists, they don’t make mistakes.

Svetlana Zakharova was different from Olga Smirnova in that her individuality and drama were used to fuel all the elements of her performance. Olga Smirnova’s were used more to define her character. She created something immensely personal. Svetlana Zakharova created a phenomenon.

Author:  balletomaniac [ Thu Jul 24, 2014 6:42 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Bolshoi in North America 2014

Hi Buddy. Thanks for your comments, which are always appreciated. I saw the opening night "Swan Lake" with Zakharova, and as you may have read, found her to be technically brilliant (as I wrote, I'd see her Odette/Odile again, in a heartbeat), but not very dynamic emotionally. If you found otherwise (or saw her second performance and it was delivered with more characterization than I saw), great. Maybe you were able to see things I couldn't. And unanimity among balletgoers, including critics, is rare anyway.

I didn't get to see Smirnova's Odette/Odile, but people whose opinions I respect have said that her performance was as fine as you describe.

Thanks again for your interest. If you see more performances, please post your comments. I'll look forward to reading your observations.

Author:  Buddy [ Fri Jul 25, 2014 11:30 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Bolshoi in North America 2014

Jerry, I’m no longer in NYC. I arranged carefully so that I could combine the Swan Lake performances with my other necessary travel. I’m so glad that I did. I will look forward to reading about what you see next.

I’d be happly to try to explain somewhat more what I saw and felt in Svetlana Zakharova’s and Olga Smirnova’s Swan Lake portrayals. As I’ve written, I saw two of each.

Svetlana Zakharova

I was sitting quite far back for her first performance, but I did have theater glasses that gave me sufficient magnification. For the second performance I was fairly close and still used theater glasses constantly, because facial expression is very important to me. In the first performance what she did facially was fine enough that I focused more on how her expression reached into her entire body — her command, her crafting and her beauty. It was from the beginning of her Odile portrayal through to the end of the evening that she excelled. Everything fell into place magnificently.

In her second performance I really focused on her face. I recall from my notes two things that were extremely powerful. As Odette in the first act, she made a tremendous effort to reach out to her partner for a loving connection. I couldn’t have asked for more and I think that she did all that she could. It was soulfully embracing and I felt it deeply. As Odile she used brilliant restraint, which the Bolshoi seems to encourage here. I personally liked this approach. In her final act Odette her expression became so depthful at times that I felt she might actually go over the edge and become the character. Once again I was moved considerably.

One general comment that I’d like to make is that as performers grow in artistry with their maturity it seems very important to also hold onto the freshness.

Olga Smirnova

What impressed me most was how she combined so much with such excellence. Svetlana Zakharova accomplished the same, but with a sense of totality. Olga Smirnova seemed to highlight every compelling detail — her eyes, her face, her motion, her placement, her feelings — they all cried out for separate attention because of their remarkable fineness. Yet they all blended together wonderfully.

There is one thing more about this production that fascinates me. I’ve alway appreciated Swan Lake most as a dreamlike flow emanating from and revolving around the Act I White Swan duet — An Enchantment. In this series I was most taken by the characters, Odette and Odile, as strongly and brilliantly defined individuals. It became Theater of the highest order.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Sun Jul 27, 2014 7:17 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Bolshoi in North America 2014

In the New York Times, Alastair Macaulay reviews the Tuesday, July 22, 2014 performance of "Don Quixote."

NY Times

Robert Johnson reviews both the Tuesday, July 22 and Wednesday, July 23, 2014 performances for the Newark Star-Ledger.


Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Jul 28, 2014 9:50 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Bolshoi in North America 2014

Apollinaire Scherr reviews the Tuesday, July 22, 2014 performance of "Don Quixote" for the Financial Times.

Financial Times

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Jul 28, 2014 10:42 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Bolshoi in North America 2014

Gia Kourlas reviews the Friday, July 25, 2014 performance of "Spartacus" for the New York Times.

NY Times

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Tue Jul 29, 2014 10:09 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Bolshoi in North America 2014

Alastair Macaulay discusses the Bolshoi's New York season for the New York Times.

NY Times

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Fri Aug 01, 2014 10:19 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Bolshoi in North America 2014

In the Albany Times Union, Tresca Weinstein reviews the Tuesday, July 29, 2014 performance of "Don Quixote" at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

Albany Times Union

Jay Rogoff reviews the same performance for the Troy Record.

Troy Record

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Fri Aug 01, 2014 10:47 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Bolshoi in North America 2014

Lynn Hasselbarth reviews "Don Quixote" at Saratoga for Metroland.


Author:  Francis Timlin [ Fri Aug 01, 2014 11:58 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Bolshoi in North America 2014

Robert Gottlieb reviews the Bolshoi's New York Season for the New York Observer.

NY Observer

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