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Kennedy Center Festival -- Week I


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#1 Ari

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Posted 05 March 2003 - 07:50 AM

With its Opera House closed all year for renovation, the Kennedy Center had to move most of its ballet programs into the much smaller Eisenhower Theater, which is usually used for plays and modern dance performances. In such a place, the lavish spectacles that make up the bulk of the KC's ballet programming were clearly impractical, so the Center had to come up with ideas for events that would stir excitement. Hence the "International Ballet Festival," which opened last night.

Instead of featuring full-fledged companies, the Festival is bringing in small groups of dancers from leading companies to dance excerpts from their native repertory. The first week brings us 13 dancers from the Royal Danish Ballet, doing parts of Napoli Act III, 12 dancers from the Bolshoi, doing several very short pieces, and 7 dancers from American Ballet Theater, doing Fancy Free. Except for ABT, which is presenting three different casts of sailors and girls, the dancers remain the same all week. The Danish dancers will swap solos during the course of the week, though.

A last-minute change in the program's order brought us Napoli to start the evening — a bad idea. The excerpts presented here come from the ballet's final act, which celebrates the marriage of the hero and heroine. Performed cold, with nothing to prepare us for this explosion of joy, it felt awkward. This is a closing ballet if I ever saw one. However, I think it might have worked had the dancers been better. This was my first view of the Danes in 11 years, and while Alexandra's posts had warned me of their decline, the performance still came as a shock. These people don't know how to dance Bournonville anymore; their upper bodies are rigid, their arms stiff, and the men lack elevation and ballon. More important, they don't seem to feel the shape of the choreography or understand how the steps fit together to make something coherent, let alone beautiful. Many of the dancers didn't so much as smile. This was true even of the three dancers I'd seen do good Bournonville work in the past: Rose Gad, Silja Schandorff, and Christina Olsson. The performance looked like a school recital, a stiff account of discrete steps. The audience response was tepid.

The Bolshoi presented two very short ballets, Spectre de la Rose with Nina Kaptsova and Gennady Yanin (replacing Dimitry Gudanov) and Kasian Goleizovsky's solo Narcissus, with Yanin; the pas de deux from Gorsky's La Fille Mal Gardée, with Anastasia Goryacheva and Andrey Bolotin; and the grand "pax" (as the program called it) and variations from Don Quixote (credited to Gorsky, not Petipa) with Anastasia Volochkova, Evgueni Ivanchenko, Irina Fedotova, Ekaterina Shipulina, and four anonymous girls. The two Gorsky pieces were performed last spring at an Opera House gala, but presumably most of the Festival audience will not have seen that. I did, though, and while I didn't mind seeing La Fille again (especially with the delightful and technically secure Goryacheva, whom I also admired in The Nutcracker a few months ago), I did not enjoy sitting through another Volochkova Don Q. The piece shows this ballerina at her worst, her most vulgar. If she seemed a little less vulgar last night than she had in the spring, maybe this was just because I knew what to expect. It's sad to see this choice of repertory because, as her performance in La Bayadere last June showed, Volochkova is capable of much, much better. The real interest in the Bolshoi's portion of the program came from the piece by Goleizovsky, an avant-garde choreographer of the early 1900s who influenced Balanchine, among others. I didn't see any antecedents of Apollo in the work, but at times it did look like Nijinsky's Faune (I don't know which ballet came first).

Closing out the evening was Fancy Free, an appropriately festive choice but one that is very familiar to Washington audiences. (I'd rather have seen Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes.) It benefited from the more intimate stage and auditorium, but the boys' horseplay with the first girl looked so tough and menacing (rather like NYCB's version) that I wanted to call 911. I've seen the company do better.

Maybe the dancers will all warm up as the week goes on, but last night this festival looked distinctly drab.

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 05 March 2003 - 09:51 AM

I thought the evening was rather flat (and agree with most of Ari's comments), and I wonder how much was the "opening night" problem. Several people who hadn't seen the Royal Danish Ballet since 1992 (from intermission conversations) were also shocked at the way they looked. I guess since I've seen them during the Time of Troubles, I was more prepared. It is no small thing to say that they have not deteriorated further since January 2000! And Andersen does care about Bournonville and wants those ballets to be important to the company again, so I live in hope. (I agree, too, that having Napoli, especially the bare bones concert version, as an opening ballet is not ideal. We asked why the switch, and it wasn't really last-minute, but known some time ago. The Robbins Trust requires that "Fancy Free" end the program. Bournonville, alas, worked in the days when "trust" was written without the capital letter.)

I did think some of the Danish dancers -- especially Thomas Lund in the first man's solo, and Schandorff in the fourth women's variation, and Rose Gad in the pas de six (without a variation) --were fine. I was especially glad to see Schandorff and Gad, because it's rare to see mature dancers rather than teenagers dance these variations. I didn't think they looked stiff; although I think, as a whole, the group was a bit over-careful. The other men who danced were not trained at the school and hail from Spain, France and Australia (Mads Blangstrup, with Morten Eggert the other Danish man along for this trip, was only cast in one variation in the tarantella, and I look forward to seeing him do one of the big solos later this week.) And I think you could tell that they were not bred to the style, especially in the shallow plies and arm positions.

One small note on the Bolshoi dancers that might be of interest to Bolshoi fans. Volochkova danced Don Q in a pale yellow tutu; her own costume hadn't arrived yet, we were told. It is not her best color. She and Ivanchenko had danced the Don Q at a gala last year here, and, to me, it just doesn't suit them. Why not Black Swan? I was glad to see "Narcissus" again and would like to see more Goleizovsky. We got a setless "Spectre de la Rose" -- no window! - which I think is a terrible thing to do to a Diaghilev ballet. It's like doing a Balanchine ballet without the music. But I liked Nina Kaptsova as the Young Girl very much. I've read so many accounts of people saying, "Nijinsky? Yes, he was nice, BUT KARSAVINA!!!!!" that I wanted to see, just once, someone who could make this a ballerina role, and she did. She has the exact sense of floating, seeming to be completely relaxed and in a dreamlike state, yet dancing a classical variation -- very clear, very musical.

I thought ABT's "Fancy Free" looked more like NYCB's than its own version, too, and have thought that for several years. It's not as tight (in both texture and direction), nor as sweet as the old ABT version. I also thought the sense of extremely close friendship among the men has been lost. But it was nice to see a full ballet after a night of excerpts. There will be other casts tonight and tomorrow afternoon. (Last night was DeLuz, Lopez, Carreno, Sandra Brown, Elizabeth Gaither and Angela Snow.)

I thought the audience response generally was tepid, except for Volochkova and Ivanchenko, but the Tuesday night audience is often tepid, I think. I hope the week will warm up, as the dancers get used to the house. The stage manager should take a call when this is over. I can't imagine the logistics -- rehearsals, dressing rooms, all the sharing that must go on -- that goes into this. Each company brought its own conductor, too.

#3 Alexandra

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Posted 05 March 2003 - 10:15 PM

Some quick notes on the second performance:

Not at all flat, neither the dancers nor the house. The Bolshoi got a scattered standing ovation, the Danes and ABT warm applause and several calls.

Napoli looked completely different mostly because Rose Gad and Thomas Lund (in the Teresina and Gennaro roles) gave the ballet its center. They were in character even though this was "just" the dancing. It's wonderful to see how Lund has grown up -- he dominated the stage, was master of ceremonies at his own wedding (with appropriate Danish reticence, of course). He also danced beautifully. In his body, the Bournonville style still lives: the elegance, the relaxed torso, rapier feet, a quick, high jump, beautiful landings. He has a plie. He's grown into his face, too -- his looks had been a problem; he's been like a wise Alain, and that's difficult to cast, but here, he looked like Gennaro.

We had an almost all-Danish cast of women, too; only Caroline Cavallo (from Atlanta Ballet, but with the RDB for more than a decade) was not Danish. Cavallo, only in the pas de six (no solo) was charming here, her dancing as sweet and clear as it wasi her early days as a Bournonville soloist. Unfortunately, in bigger roles, she has to use force and smiles in place of personality, but as one of a group, she's fine. Gad, coming back from both injury and a later maternity leave, hasn't quite gotten back in top form and her dancing was mellow -- the whole tarantella was a bit mellow -- but she's so musical, connecting the steps with a beautiful legato flow, that I didn't care. The female soloists were fine, as well (Diana Cuni, Gudrun Bojesen and Christina Olsson). It's the men who are the problem. Neither Fernando Mora (Spain) nor Morten Eggert (Danish, but still in the school when things began to change after the 1992 festival) were up to the first and second male solos, respectively.

The Bolshoi was the same, only more (to keep in the Danish spirit; that's the title of a fairly recent film about Erik Bruhn). MORE leaps and turns and smiles. Volochkova's costume arrived, and she seemed much more comfortable in Don Q last night. The audience roared at the double fouettes.

But the great performance -- and it was one for the ages -- was ABT in "Fancy Free." It was the best I've ever seen, as ABT was being turned over to soloists and minor principals when I started seeing the company, and lately there's been a whiff of "why do I have to dance this thing?" about the piece. And every bit of choreographic interest has been knocked out of the solos.

Not last night. I suspect rehearsal. I suspect coaching. I suspect that all the dancers AND the coach(es) were in the same room at the same time. I don't care if they deny it. That's my story, and I'm sticking with it. There were so many tiny details in the solos that I've never seen -- and in the storytelling. Nothing had been ironed out. My one quibble is that it's the later, garbled role version (the Kriza sailor and the Robbins sailor are merged, which makes the ending of the second solo inappropriate, and causes the "sweet sailor" to take the role of the "ringleader sailor" at times, thus confusing characterization). Fix that, they have perfection.

Gomes was the Robbins sailor, and was absolutely adorable. He also danced the pas de deux (with Julie Kent). The last time I saw Kent in this, she was doing Juliet -- instantly, deeply in love -- which I think is in the wrong key. Juliet wouldn't have to flip a coin to figure out who she would spend the rest of the evening with. Last night, Kent had the right tone, light, flirtatious. Paloma Herrera, as others have mentioned from other performances, does the girl with the red purse as exasperated, not frightened. Their meeting/gabbing scene was perfectly timed -- all the little bits were perfectly timed. I've never gotten all the business at the very end of the ballet, when the three guys usually just mill around and smile at each other when the third girl comes on the scene. I've never caught all the bits to the conversation -- no, we're not going after her. Why? Remember your sore shoulder? Remember my sore jaw?

David Halberg, in the second solo, and Craig Salstein, in the first, were excellent, and all of them were convincing not only as war buddies, but as goofy, 1940s males.

"Fancy Free" is one of those ballets I've always put up with because it's ours, and was a big hit, and shows a fine craft. Last night, it looked like a masterpiece, and I wish every aspiring choreographer would go see it and absorb its lessons.

#4 Inga

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Posted 07 March 2003 - 07:23 AM

Thank you Ari and Alexandra for your reviews.
I never hear about Kaptsova dancing "Spectre de la Rose" before, it should be added to her repertoiry recently, so I am happy to read that the addition is successful.
Anastasia Goriacheva received Soul of The Dance Award from Russian Ballet Magazine in the Rising Star category for 2002.

I'm curious to know what the spectators think about Ekaterina Shipulina in Don Quixotte variation. In Moscow opinions about the ballerina are controversial.

#5 Ari

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Posted 07 March 2003 - 07:39 AM

Inga, I didn't care for Shipulina. I don't remember exactly what my objections were, but she was the weakest of the soloists in Don Quixote.

#6 Alexandra

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Posted 07 March 2003 - 08:05 AM

I thought she was adequate, but nothing more. The first soloist, Fedotova, has a beautiful jump!

Volochkova fell yesterday afternoon in Don Q -- slipped while walking to the back corner, in the adagio, before taking a balance. During her fouettes, which travelled badly, the audience showed its appreciation by rhythmic clapping, like at a skating event. It was one of those audiences! They seemed new not only to ballet, but to being in a theater (and the average age was about 72). Lots of candy paper rattling.

Is Goriacheva trained at the Bolshoi? She has the technique (she was much better the second night and yesterday afternoon than on the opening) but is very unpolished. There's no beauty to the movements, to my eye.

I was sitting with someone who had seen Tatiana Riabouchinska do Spectre (!!) so she was less impressed with Kaptsova than I had been :) But to have to dance that piece with no set, no atmosphere, and no rose -- she has a flower, but it could be a giant carnation -- AND a new partner. That must be difficult.

Gennady Yanin is getting the most applause for "Narcissus." He's a very cheery Narcissus, but he's dancing it beautifully.

Yesterday afternoon, everyone was forcing it. The Danes were in We're Going to Grin at You Until You Clap mode. "Fancy Free," despite very good dancing from Cornejo (in the role that now must be called the short, perky sailor, although I don't think that's how it was born) and Corella in the Robbins role, didn't jell. I liked Corella's characterization though -- exuberant, and just on the edge between being the natural leader, and being a bully.

I'm not going to any more performances this week. I hope others will and report.

#7 Marc Haegeman

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Posted 07 March 2003 - 08:56 AM

Thank you for the reports!

Alexandra, Goriacheva was indeed trained at the Moscow Choreographic School. At the Bolshoi she works mainly with Struchkova.
Some more on : http://users.skynet....Goriacheva.html and (in Russian): http://www.ballet.cl...goriacheva.html

#8 Inga

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Posted 08 March 2003 - 08:00 AM

Thank you Ari and Alexandra for your answers about Shipulina.

#9 Alexandra

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Posted 08 March 2003 - 08:15 AM

Inga, we're curious about how these dancers are regarded in Moscow. You said Shipulina was controversial. Could you say more?

I'm also curious about Gennady Yanin, who is dancing "Narcissus" here (and also Spectre, but that was a last-minute change, we're told, due to injury of the dancer originally scheduled to dance the role.) He seemed very tentative on opening night, and got more comfortable with the role at each performance, of the three I've seen. Which leads me to think that this role, too, was new for him.

One friend asked me if Volochkova had done her fan trick in Don Q -- she did this at a gala last year here, threw the fan up in the air and caught it on the way down, flicked it open and fanned. Answer, no, she did not.

(There is another review of this program by Jean Battey Lewis of the Washington Times on today's links. Clive Barnes was down, so there will be something in the New York post next week. I'm told that a critic from Miami will be reviewing the festival as well. Next week we get the Kirov in "Shades" from Bayadere, Miami City Ballet in "The Four Temperaments," and a pick up company from Britain led by Adam Cooper in MacMillan's "Sea of Troubles.")

#10 Marc Haegeman

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Posted 08 March 2003 - 08:48 AM

Alexandra, Inga will surely be able to tell you more about this, but "Narcissus" surely isn't new for Yanin. When the company was in London two years ago, at the Drury Lane Theatre, he danced all the performances of "Narcissus" then, due to the absence of Tsiskaridze, and was pretty successful with it.

#11 Alexandra

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Posted 08 March 2003 - 09:10 AM

Thanks, Marc. The tentativeness we sensed could well be because of the stage, which is probably a quarter of the size of the Bolshoi stage. This is one role I would love to see Tsiskaridze do! (His photo is on the poster for the Festival, but he's not here.)

#12 Marc Haegeman

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Posted 08 March 2003 - 09:13 AM

Oh yeah, this role is tailor-made for Tsiskaridze :).

#13 Inga

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Posted 09 March 2003 - 12:12 AM

Alexandra, Ekaterina Shipulina is not very dear for Moscow audience but she is often talked about, even too often for a young soloist who dance only one leading role in the current repertoire (Odette-Odile). She have her fans but many people think her uneven and unripe.
In my opinion Shipulina have beautiful lines, she may be lyrical and aristocratic but she is not always strong technically. I would like to see more of her.

Opinions about Nina Kaptsova also are mixed – some people think her rather good soloist than talented prima ballerina, some people like her (I like her too). I think several years ago when she was just accepted into the company the was rather bland but as time goes on she became more emotional. She have her charm, if not star power, and she is strong professional.

Gennady Yanin dance in the Bolshoi character roles. He usually liked by the audience but he never have leading parts so he is not as popular as classical premieres. As Marc already write he danced Narcissus before.

You could be right Alexandra that stage conditions in Kennedy Center made problems for the Bolshoi dancers. Anastasia Goriacheva have good classical style, unpolished dancing is unusual for her. In Moscow she usually approved. One critic considered her last season’s debuts in Giselle and La Fille mal Gardee as some of the most interesting events of the season. She is apparent candidate for the prima ballerina position. I think her gifted and intelligent dancer.

#14 Dale

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Posted 09 March 2003 - 12:53 AM

Tsiskaridze did "Narcissus" in New York in the 1997 Diagalev Tribute night at the New York State Theater. He seemed properly theatrical and the crowd loved it.

Inga, thank you for making our understanding of the Bolshoi dancers more complete. You mentioned that Anastasia Goriacheva danced in Ashton's La Fille mal gardee. She was praised for her performance as Lise by Ashton expert David Vaughn last year in an issue of "Dance Now."

Regarding Fancy Free - Alexandra, I've seen the pas de deux switched between the shy sailor and the rumba sailor, depending on the cast. Recently at NYCB, Woetzel did the pas de deux and the rumba (as did Benjamin Millepied), usually when he headed a cast in which he was the "star" dancer. I agree that it makes more sense the original way. Currently, Stiefel at ABT is the shy solder and dances the pas de deux, as did Robert La Fosse (a Robbins favorite).

It also seems as if all the companies, including ABT two weeks ago, are having a losing battle with the concert stage. Why didn't they hold this at the smaller theater, especially as it now seems as if they have many empty seats for a few dates?

#15 Ari

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Posted 09 March 2003 - 07:02 AM

Dale, the festival is being held in the Eisenhower Theater (is that what you meant by the smaller theater?), not the Concert Hall. ABT's engagement there was, thankfully, the only ballet to be seen there this year. I think it was necessitated by the fact that the Eisenhower was booked that week.


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