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Marc Haegeman

Bolshoi in Paris

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January 7 through 24, 2004 the Bolshoi Ballet is performing at the Palais Garnier in Paris. The company has last been there in 1991. There are three programmes:

"Swan Lake" (version by Grigorovich), Jan. 7-11: Svetlana Zakharova, Nadezhda Gracheva, Galina Stepanenko and Anna Antonicheva are sharing the lead; Andrei Uvarov and Sergei Filin alternate as Siegfried.

"La Fille du Pharaon" (Lacotte): Jan 15-18: Svetlana Zakharova, Nadezhda Gracheva or Maria Alexandrova as Aspicia; Sergei Filin or Ruslan Skvortsov as Taor; Gennady Yanin or Denis Medvedev as Passiphonte; Maria Alexandrova or Elena Andrienko as Ramze.

"The Bright Stream" (Ratmansky): Jan. 21-24: Inna Petrova or Anastasia Yatsenko as Zina; Yuri Klevtsov or Rinat Arifulin as Piotr; Maria Alexandrova or Ekterina Shipulina as the ballerina; Sergei Filin or Yan Godovsky as the dancer.

Info courtesy of the press service of the Palais Garnier. All casting information subject to change of course.

Not a bad programme with 2 premieres for the West ("Fille" and "Bright Stream", the latter replacing the initially scheduled Tsiskaridze vehicle "Queen of Spades" and "Chopiniana".) Zakharova is definitely pushed as the company's main attraction and will likely dance opening nights.

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I'm a particular fan of Galina Stepanenko and recommend to see her in "Swan Lake". Her Odile is fantastic - both in technique and temper!

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I will see "La Fille du pharaon" next saturday. Promise, I will write a report! It seems people enjoyed Swan Lake a lot, especially for Zakharova and Maria Alexandrova.

Edited by traviata

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A couple of more French reviews about the Bolshoi in Paris: René Sirvin, online at Imagidanse and Rosita Boisseau in Le Monde.

Just a few remarks. Both articles give the impression that "La Fille du Pharaon" was created while Boris Akimov was AD of the Bolshoi. From there on it's a small step to think that the initiative was more or less his. Which it is not correct - it was done under Vasiliev and Fadeyechev. The fact that Rozhdestvensky nearly dumped the ballet while Akimov was director seems to be a completely forgotten 'detail' now.

It's also beyond me why Sirvin says that under Vasiliev the Grigorovich ballets were taken out of the repertory. Again, this is not correct. "Swan Lake", "Giselle" and "Legend of Love" disappeared, but all the others were still being performed. And in the case of "Swan Lake" and "Giselle", they disappeared because Vasiliev staged his own versions.

Finally, I don't see what's so radically changed about Rothbart's role in Grigorovich's "Swan Lake", slightly revised for the occasion of its return to the Bolshoi in 2001. He always had a variation before the Black Swan and which variations for Siegfried were added? Maybe some of the Moscow people can enlighten us here.

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Thanks for the links and the commentary on the reviews, Marc -- that's very helpful. (And thanks for the photos, too!)

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Here's my report :sweating: !

I have seen « La Fille du pharaon » last Saturday night. The opera house was crammed! The cast was: Svetlana Zakharova as Aspicia, Dimitri Biologolovtsev as Taor, and Elena Andrienko as Ramzé.

This Fille is a huge production (just as can be “La Bayadère”) in eight parts, enclosing parades, a lot of variations for every kind of soloists, exoticism, false tropical animals… and a real horse on stage!

This ballet was recreated by Pierre Lacotte, who offered us two hours of pure dancing, with only short mimer scenes. Zakharova’s Aspicia is brilliant and attaching, despite the fact Aspicia isn’t such an interesting role.

In the first act, I enjoyed the first appearance of the corps de ballet: the huntresses. The audience laughed a lot at the appearance of a monkey on a liana :D .

The highlight of the second act was the Pas d’action, in which I especially liked Anastasia Yatsenko and Anastasia Goriatcheva, with beautiful red and white costumes :) .

Part of the third act takes place under waters of the Nile. Three dancers embodied three rivers (Anastasia Yatsenko: Guadalquivir, Ekaterina Shipulina: Congo, Maria Allash: Neva) that join in the Nile. Each of them danced a variation, and I especially liked Ekaterina Shipulina, who offered us a lively and sparkling interpretation.

Besides, I was stunned by the homogeneity of the corps de ballet, all the dancers having more or less the same size (maybe is it an illusion). I also did appreciate their smiles and their enjoyment to be on stage.

As regards Pugni’s music, I did enjoy it. In my opinion, that is real ballet music, fresh, light, and unpretentious.

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Thanks so much for the photos, Marc. Truly enjoyed them, though they made me feel so inadequate.... :)

A little bit of curiosity: the last one is called "soloilst's row". Does it mean that dancers are placed in the ballet barres according to their rank in the company?

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Since I discovered the Kirov, I'm intrigued by the Bolshoi : what has that other famous Russian company to offer ?.

Given that they appear in both Paris and London this season, comparison of the repertoire made me travel to Paris : I felt I absolutely needed to see their "La Fille du Pharaon".

This ballet, being a reconstruction of Marius Petipa's ballet of 1862, consists of 3 Acts, 8 scenes and is based on a novel by Th.Gautier..

This production was created for the Bolshoi in 2000 by France's best choreographer : Pierre Lacotte.

I couldn't guess that a cold and grey Paris-on-Sunday and a fully packed Garnier would be the background of a heartwarming first encounter with the Bolshoidancers. I hardly can find the right words for it, they bowled me over completely !

So, I even don't know where to start.

Maybe I take the story, the most feeble element of this ballet (not that you hear me complaining !).

"Seaking shelter for a storm in one of the piramids, Lord Wilson (an English tourist) shares opium with Arab merchants and thanks to his hallucinations that follows we have a wonderful ballet !

He became Tahor and meets the Pharaoh's Daughter, Aspicia (resurected from her sarcophague), and they fall in love. A love with all the complications and misunderstandings one can have in a ballet. In an heroic act he rescues her from a lion - becomes arrested by the Pharaoh who don't understand the situation and is later guided -in triumph- to the palace. His servant Passiphonte (John Bull) follows his master's adventures in despair.

Alas there is already a diplomatic marriage (with the King of Nubia) arranged for Aspicia, which she rejects. With the help of her servant Ramzé both lovers escape to a fishermens-place along the river Nile. When discovered by the King of Nubia, Aspicia sees only an escape in drowning herself in the river. Tahor and Passiphonte are taken into prison.

The God of the river Nile welcomes her in his kingdom but Aspicia's mind is still with Tahor. After seeing his image appearing here and there, the Nile-God fulfills her wish to return to the earth.

When the Pharaoh was just about to order the death of Tahor (by the bite of a sacred serpent), his daughter returns and can explain the betrayal of the Nubian King and her profound love for Tahor. After another menace to kill herself, the Egyptian Pharaoh accepts the unison of Aspicia and Tahor.

Instead of ending with a joyfull party, we find Lord Wilson awakening from a deep sleep : a smile on his face because of his marvelous dream !"

If you ever saw Lacotte's "Paquita", you can imagine what joyful ballet and great dancing was on offer. (btw, "Paquita" is now available on DVD).

Pierre Lacotte not only signed for the choreography, he also designed the costumes and scenery. And I can't deny he masters this part of the art too ! The scenery is simple but very effective, well balanced but eyecatching too, thanks to it's contrasts. Here I'm thinking f.i. of the contrast between the underwaterworld and the bright scene and colours of the piramids-environment. I had the reaction to close my eyes for the burning sun :) The costumes are splendid, not some strange, odd 'reconstructed' ones but made with a great reminiscent to the era, fitted for dazzling dancers of today.

I have to think hard to find another ballet with so much harmony and continuity.

The numerous scenes ask for many scenery-changes but everything went smoothly : I saw this ballet nearly in one breath, it was all over too quick. The light-hearted story has enough room for a laugh and a wink, not at least with the monkey who appeared in the wood, the fight with the lion, Aspicia's descent into the underwater-Kingdom, the funny 'deadly-snake' and for surprises : the -immaculate white- real horse on the stage.

The harmony and continuity was even more prominent in the dancing ! "La Fille du Pharaon" is jam-packed with fine dancing, little steps from numerous feet that never seem tired. You can't find 'dead points', solo's evolve into pdd and ensemble-dancing seamlessly.

The role of the corps and demi-soloists is delicately intertwined with these of soloists and principals : all these layers of creativity give a massive support to the ballet and make it a real "grand ballet".

I have to think hard to find another ballet with so much detail and delicacy.Detail in the costumes of course, but even so in attributes : the arches and spears in the hunting-scene -all perfect in line. The different, impressive tableaux they made at the end of a scene. Detail also in the 'scene-in-scene' : sometimes you hardly knew where to look !

The so important "mime" in this ballet was of an unseen quality : strong and fine at the same time with a cristal-clarity.

The dancing was crisp, clean and with -unseen for this part of Europe- such delicate arms and upperbodies !

I was more than lucky to find Maria Alexandrova in the role of Aspicia : what a wonderful and beautiful dancer ! Her dancing is very strong and powerful although with the necessary delicacy. I couldn't believe I found her as a soloist in 'le programme !'. I don't know if she can be seen as an example of the 'Bolshoi-style', but she seems to me one of those scarce vivid dancers with a real stage presence : I love her.

Rouslan Skvortsov as Tahor was impressive as well. Fast (very fast !) legwork to die for !

This must be a hell of a ballet for the dancers, at some moments hardly any chance to find some recuperation, so I forget about some small imperfections.

I was rather disappointed with Elena Andrienko in the role of Ramzé, not technically but a blank performance such a stark contrast with Alexandrova !

Some other names I'll learn by heart : Anastasia Yatsenko (a lovely dancer) offered us together with Anastasia Goriacheva a fine Pas d'Action in Act II, although the boys were not of the same quality.

Ekaterina Shipulina and Dimitri Gudanov as the fisherscouple for their natural dancing in act III.

I adored the whole scene and the variations in the kingdom of the God of the Nile, again Yatsenko (as river Guadalquivir) and Shipulina (as river Congo) were eyecatching.

This ballet was a perfect way to start a new 'ballet-year' : hat-off for Mr.Lacotte and the whole Bolshoi-company.

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Thanks Viviane and traviata for sharing your reports. Paris is indeed lucky to have seen La Fille du Pharaon - it's a shame they won't bring it to London this summer.

Silvy, no they aren't placed according to their rank. It was just a coincidence to find several soloists here together.

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I am afraid, Marc, that the class arrangement at the Bolshoi looks like a scale of ranks. When, during his interview on a Russian TV programme “The Night Flight” last year, Nikolai Tsiskaridze was asked the same question as Silvy asked here he replied:

“When a 10-y-o child comes to a ballet school, he can see in his class a mirror and wooden bars along the walls, on both sides and in the middle. All depends on the spot the child is placed at. The hierarchy of the class is determined by the distance from the centre. One who stands in the centre is the best. And each child learns his place pretty soon. The situation is changing from time to time, somebody is moved closer to the centre, someone is moved off. I was somehow lucky as I was placed in the centre from the beginning and stayed there throughout all 8 years.

When, after the graduation, I joined the Bolshoi and was placed almost by the door, my aspiration to get back to the centre where I have got used to stand :) for 8 years kept pushing me on. After finding themselves in the the back row some people sadly ‘crack’ but I was lucky, my drive was forcing me to move forward.”

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Sorry for this long delay!! :wacko:

SWAN LAKE in Paris.

A demonstration of style!

Ballet in line with the finest Russian classical tradition, Swan Lake was first created at the Bolshoi Theatre in 1877. Despite Tchaikovsky’s beautiful music, this production was unsuccessful, Julius Reisinger’s choreography having been judged of second rate. This ballet only acquired the notoriousness it has today thanks to Marius Petipa’s and Lev Ivanov’s intervention in 1895 at the Mariinsky Theatre.

Y. Grigorovitch’s “new” production of 2001

Not so new! The sets and the costumes are the same as the ones from the creation in 1969, and 90% of the choreography is unchanged. This production has unavoidably aged, the sets and the costumes of the first and third acts are quite old fashioned except a few pretty costumes. The differences that I have noted in the production presented this evening concern Odile’s entrance, placed in the middle of the 24 swans, all gathered to the centre of the stage behind a curtain symbolising the duality between the White Swan and the Black Swan. This change takes away all the magic of Odile’s entrance, and also of the swans’ entrance, which, in Ivanov’s (or Nureyev’s) version is more interesting. Indeed, for the first time in the performance, one discovers the swans, and the magnificent idea of discovering the Corps de Ballet little by little is stronger than presenting it at once. The second change concerns the end of the ballet: Grigorovitch has decided to adopt a sad ending in which Odile is killed by the Evil Genius. I suppose the version of 1969 with a happy ending for Odette and Siegfried corresponded better to the soviet ideology, but did not correspond to what Grigorovitch wished.

The staging is much simpler than Nureyev’s production. There is no tutor which takes Rothbart’s place, but an Evil Genius. One only wonders if the latter truly exists of if it only exists in the prince’s mind.

The Corps de Ballet

Whatever the classical production presented, the quality of the Corps de Ballet contributes greatly to the success of the performance. Even though it was sometimes not as precise as the Corps de Ballet of the Paris Opera, the Bolshoi’s Corps de Ballet is still of high standing there is no doubt about that! In the first and third acts, the men dance well together, whilst the women are light with many smiles. In the second and fourth acts, some younger dancers already have nice arms, but the ones with more experience show an incomparable style. One can see that the work of the back shoulders and arms is a long process and that it seems very difficult to acquire this style: this is what makes the company’s strength. The lightness of the dance together with soft and smooth arms brings a priceless character to this interpretation of Swan Lake. In addition, I was glad to notice once more that the foot work is cleaner than ten years ago…

The semi-soloists

Pas de trois from the first act (Maria Allash and Maria Alexandrova)

This pas de trois is danced with the prince. The choreography, very different from the one by Petipa/Nureyev, brings a certain lightness and casualness, maybe the indication that the prince is not yet tormented.

Maria Allash in the first variation has not amazed me, I found her very tense. She dances well, but when one has just seen the apparently relaxed corps de ballet, it contrasts a lot.

On the other hand, I liked very much Maria Alexandrova, she dances with ease, liveliness, neatness and a disarming smile!

The character dances from the third act

The fiancées from different countries replace the traditional character dances one sees in the Mariinski’s or the Paris Opera’s version. In any case, I was impressed by the demonstration of style they all show in their entrance in beginning of the third act. The port de tête, the intentions of their glances, everything was very accurate.

Maria Allash in the Hungarian dance did not convince me for the exact same reasons as the pas de trois from the first act…

Olga Suvorova in the Russian dance was (to me) extraordinary as far as the style was concerned. A variation in which everything takes place in the arms, the port de tête and the shoulders… A delight!

Maria Alexandrova in the Spanish dance was also very accurate in her variation, dynamic, playful, bright and precise with a very subtle reserve which makes one understand she is a young aristocrat and not Kitri!

Anastasia Yatsenko in the Neapolitan dance was charming, very smiling as usual, very precise also (what entrechats!), but also keeping a simple yet elegant style.

Ekaterina Shipulina in the Mazurka did not convince me as much. I found her technically good, but a bit tense.

On January 7th, 2004 (the opening night), the dancers were Svetlana Zakharova (Odette/Odile), Andrei Ouvarov (Siegfried), Dimitri Belogolovtsev (the Evil Genius) and Guennadi Yanin (the Fool).

Svetlana Zakharova(Odette/Odile)

She had already come to dance with the Paris Opera in 2002 Nureyev’s version with Jean-Guillaume Bart, and was an excellent Odette this evening, particularly in the Adagios. She has beautiful arms, nice cambrés, and a way of dancing which reminds one more of the style of the Mariinski, rather than the style of the Bolshoi. She is a touching Odette, very gentle and very lyrical.

On the other hand, I was not very convinced by her Black Swan. In Grigorovitch’s production, there is a pas de trois between Odile, Siegfried and the Evil Genius added before the Black Swan. This pas de trois takes place as if time were suspended. S. Zakharova was very good in this, having chosen to be serious and haughty. However, the traditional Black Swan was an alternation of arrogant and alluring expressions (even towards the audience, which I found quite amusing :wink: !). What I mean is that in this part, she did not seem totally at ease as far as the acting is concerned, and I get the feeling that therefore, she overacted a little.

Technically, she was perfect throughout the whole ballet. The only little reproach would be on the way she executes her fouettés, but started at a vertiginous speed…

Andrei Ouvarov (Siegfried)

He presents an elegant and refined prince, sometimes not very concerned, but in the whole, I was rather convinced by his interpretation. His technique is clean, his jumps were high and light, but he is not a “spectacular” dancer. I also had the feeling that he felt uncomfortable and cramped on the stage of the Palais Garnier, but this should improve along with the performances.

Dimitri Belogolovtsev (the Evil Genius)

His interpretation of the Evil Genius is not unforgettable. The intentions are very strong, but I do not know why, he has not convinced me (lack of presence?). His dance is quite energetic, which is rather appreciated, and however, the balance during the pas de trois with Zakharova and Ouvarov is fine. I believe this role needs a lot of energy and jumps, and someone like Nikolai Tsiskaridze should have been far superior, even though D. Belogolovtsev is fine in this role.

Gennadi Yanin (the Fool)

This small dancer of semi-character has very high and beautiful jumps and a speed of execution which are appropriate to this role. Meant to amuse the prince, he even gives his hand to the Prince when they are presented to the prince who has refused all of them.

For this first performance in Paris, I have been conquered by the quality of the dancers (soloists and Corps de Ballet), an evening where the theatre was full, with un undeniable success for the Bolshoi Company, obviously accentuated by the presence of Svetlana Zakharova.

On January 9th, 2004, the main parts were danced by Galina Stepanienko (Odette/Odile), Andrei Ouvarov (Siegfried) and Dimitri Rykhlov (the Evil Genius).

Galina Stepanienko is a much more reserved Odette than Zakharova. However, she is not less interesting, on the contrary. She seems sometimes very much in love with the prince, sometimes very curious to know who he is, sometimes very frightened when he approaches her, especially at the beginning. This interpretation is quite stylised because if this alternation of feelings can be seen in her glance, it can also be seen in her dance and in the movements of her arms. With this very clear conception of the role, one understands perfectly what arguments the prince has to present to finally manage to approach her. During the Adagio in the second act, she finally gives herself up in total confidence. Of course, this is the conventional interpretation for Odette, but here, I found the acting very clear. Technically, she does not have Zakharova’s extensions, nor does she have her feet, but she is still correct. Her arms are not as lyrical as Zakharova’s, but I would say she puts much more in the way she moves her shoulders and hands (a technical conception closer to the Bolshoi’s) which brings more expressivity than lyrism. She was very fine and fast in the coda, but also still keeping her arms very smooth.

Her Odile was much less arrogant than Zakharova’s, her Black Swan was much more cruel and less caricatured. Her variation was very good technically, with some fouettés followed by a grand rond de jambe where the balance was kept right to the end with an “iron foot”! However, it is a pity that in her fouettés in the coda, she added (at the beginning only) some slow tours à la seconde, which are very difficult technically, but do not bring anything here and tend to break the rhythm. It is even more of pity since her fouettés are very fast and steady. She also demonstrated an amazing technique in the manège at the end of the coda, where she literally jumped onto her piques, which rather impressed the audience.

Andrei Ouvarov was far better than on the first night. His technique is still very clean (except for a very slight stagger at the end of his variation of the Black Swan), his jumps also seemed to me larger and higher. I also noticed some magnificent portés with the White Swan. About the interpretation, he seemed more involved and concerned.

Dimitri Rykhlov also seemed to me a better than Dimitri Belogolovtsev as far as the interpretation is concerned; he is darker and more theatrical in his playing, but his jumps were not as high. Even with a slightly inferior technique, he convinced me better.

The Orchestre Colonne does not have the same quality as the Bolshoi’s Orchestra, and the interpretation varied from one evening to the other.

This production has undeniably aged badly, and seems to me too conventional with a very dull lighting, costumes which are not always well adapted to a production presented in 2004 in front of a French audience (except the ones of the fiancées and the Queen which I find rather good), and certainly a lack of poetry… It is really a pity, because it is not due to the quality of the dance which is excellent.

There is a life on stage in this company that I would be unable to explain with words… B)

Edited by Jean-Luc

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Thank you, Jean-Luc, for this long and thorough review which was well worth waiting for! :wacko: I can but wholeheartedly agree with your enthusiasm for this company; they may not be as clean and neat as we would want them to be, but who cares when there is so much going on on stage, such unforced commitment and such relaxed joy of being there. Quite a different atmosphere than with the Mariinsky if you ask me.

I wonder how Svetlana Zakharova will develop inside this company. She still looks very different, especially when confronted with genuine Bolshoi graduates like Stepanenko or Gracheva.

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I'd like to add my thanks for your taking the time to write at such length. That was so interesting to read -- this company has surely had its ups and downs. I didn't see it in the Good Old Days, unfortunately. When they danced Swan Lake here last season, I was stunned at how small (and to me, too small, too underweight) the women were compared to photographs and videos I'd seen from the 1960s and even the 1970s, and yet how powerfully they danced. Except for Alexandrova, I haven't warmed to any of their principal women, but I think they have some fine men.

Thank you agian, Jean-Luc. I hope we'll be reading more of you!

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Well, thank you to both of you! :wub: I'm planning to post another review about La Fille du Pharaon....maybe tomorrow.

Marc, you're absolutely right to wonder about Svetlana Zakharova and her development at the Bolshoï... Wait and see!

Nevertheless, because of her departure from the Mariinsky, this is a pity that Miss Vichniova is now "The" goddess of the Kirov Ballet now.... :):wacko: ...

Hoping other soloists ballerinas will have their chance now.

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There is still Lopatkina, Jean-Luc, she is rather "divine" as well, isn't she? :grinning: But you are right, it creates opportunities for the others. And as far as we can see, they do get them.

Looking forward to you review of "La Fille". :)

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Yes Marc, there is still Uliana Lopatkina...fortunately! :D

But since her disease, I'm afraid she won't dance so many ballets than before...I hope to be wrong... B)

La Fille du Pharaon, January 17th, 2004

A deliciously antiquated production!

Before seeing this ballet which has been left aside since 1928, I said to myself that I had to put myself in the context of the initial creation of this ballet. Obviously, it was not easy, but reading documents here and there has helped me a lot.

Pierre Lacotte’s production

Firstly, while reading various articles about Marius Petipa, one must certainly not forget that this choreographer, whose talent was not recognised by France, has always wanted to set up big productions (sometimes quite close to megalomania!), but also to bring to them some personal touches in the choreography and the staging. La Fille du pharaon is the first great ballet of this kind that the Mariinski had asked him for.

The Russian audience being fond of “exotic” things, Marius Petipa had the idea to make up an argument very freely adapted from Theophile Gauthier’s novel, “Le Roman de la Momie”.

In this sumptuous production, which was a big success amongst the audience, one can find everything Marius Petipa liked: a greatly caricatured exotism, “local” dances, imposing processions, variations for all the soloists and semi-soloists, princesses, good people, bad people, scenes from imaginary worlds (a scene in the bottom of the Nile, inspired from the Ocean Scene from the The Little Humpbacked Horse)... A “trip” by which the audience of the time of the Tsars could identify with by the princely aspect of the characters, but could also escape in lands that everyone talked about without ever having been there. Egypt at the time of the Pharaohs, what an adventure! Of course, Marius Petipa, very particular about the authenticity of the character dances also knew how to add quite a bit of humour to his ballets. I shall not ramble about this for too long because I would be off topic, but there was a lot of humour in Don Quixote, a certain megalomania in La Bayadère, a caricatured aspect to the bad guy in Raymonda, a mockery in Sleeping Beauty and imaginary worlds (Dryads’ Scenes in Don Quixote or Sleeping Beauty, the Shades Scene in La Bayadère). They were light and spectacular ballets for entertainment. It is only later, in the revisitings that the choreographers (Russian and Occidental) have added more serious or psychological elements and taken out the lighter elements of the staging to give more consistence and keep only the inventive and inimitable choreography by Petipa, which gives ballets in which the “pure entertainment” aspect has disappeared. Many of his productions are of such an exotism that one is tempted to compare these productions to the Hollywood movies of the 1950s in Technicolor (please forgive this anachronism!). The scenes with the fake monkey, the fake lion, the real horse and the fake snake are certainly authentic to what Petipa wanted: humour with a slightly megalomaniac aspect (a real horse on the stage of the Paris Opera is unconceivable! In the production of the Mariinski, they have also kept a real horse for Don Quixote’s entrance). I'm sure that Pierre Lacotte has wanted to recreate this light and imposing atmosphere.

To appreciate this production at its value, one therefore had to think about all that, and go to see this Fille du Pharaon in a particular state of mind, that of the 19th century. And I admit that it is not an easy thing to do! :) But I have to say that I wasn't disappointed: one finds the totally (but so amusing!) artificial spirit, the exotic aspect of the costumes and sets, the humour through the pseudo-tragedy of the heroine… I was conquered by Pierre Lacotte’s work because I am convinced that the spirit is absolutely faithful to what Marius Petipa wanted: an imposing production with a touch of humour and an exotic aspect; these were the elements that the audience of the 19th century liked to see on stage.

However, I stay sceptical about the choreography. If one really wants to understand how Marius Petipa made his ballets choreographically speaking, one has to know the version of Sleeping Beauty in Konstantin Sergueyev’s production for example, because many specialists agree that this is the ballet which choreography’s has been the best preserved through time. It's true that Sleeping Beauty is probably the most accomplished ballet of Marius Petipa, and so one can clearly see the archetype. In the Fille du Pharaon that I have seen, I have not recognised the Marius Petipa that I thought I knew (but I am not a specialist!) except in a few scenes. It seemed to me that Pierre Lacotte has complicated the choreography a lot, while Marius Petipa’s was very elaborated at the time, but was meant to be brilliant, lyrical or malicious, and most of all always in harmony with the music. Pierre Lacotte adds many small steps, changes of directions or intentions, jumps which did not seem to me in a perfect harmony. For example, why are there jumps or some en-dehors piqués and then some en-dedans in Aspicia’s fast manèges? It seems to that in the same manèges in other ballets by Petitpa, the ballerinas just do simple and fast piqués which allows them to go round the whole stage and gives a brilliant aspect while staying simple. A part from that, the choreography is very difficult technically, especially for the male dancers: a lot of petite batterie, of small jumps, which do not allow to express this energy one finds in the dancers of the Bolshoi. Besides, Marius Petipa having created the role of Tahor at the age of 44 did not have much to dance!

In addition, Marius Petipa’s ballets always show a progression in the unfolding of the plot and also in the choreography (see to Sleeping Beauty, la Bayadère or Don Quixote). Here, the general unity seemed to me a bit disjointed, some of the important elements in the unfolding of the plot being barely shown, and choreographically speaking, there is no progression. Besides, this Fille du Pharaon originally lasting 4 hours, Pierre Lacotte has had to “choose” amongst all the music score available, and so there is no pantomime and a lot of dancing. That said, I suppose that it is a very difficult task, and one should not be uncompromising: Pierre Lacotte’s work is after all more than fine.

The music by Cesare Pugni, reorchestrated by Alexander Sotnikov, seemed to be in the 19th century style: a very simple music, light and made for dance. Musically, it’s totally empty with easy effects and Alexander Sotnikov has totally respected that, without trying to add anachronistic harmonies, as others would have done… (I have to say that I hate John Lanchberry's arrangements :) ....)One can also note that David Coleman, Sotnikov’s alter ego for Paquita has also been very respectful of that.

Cesare Pugni’s inspiration is not worth that of Ludwig Minkus, and it's interesting to note that with time, music took more importance in Petipa’s Russian ballets: Pugni, Minkus, then Tchaikovski and Glazunov.

The dancers

Svetlana Zakharova (Aspicia)

She presents a very fresh and lively Aspicia. Her technique is magnificent and clean, but she did not seem at her ease in this difficult choreography, even though she managed through all the difficulties without any problem! I would not know how to explain, but there was an obvious difference between the way she dances Odette/Odile or Nikiya, and the way she danced Aspicia: usually, one sees her self-assured, with a very solid technique, which allows her to express herself as much as she can. Here, because she seemed more uncomfortable, her interpretation was very simple. Of course, there is nothing much to say in this production compared to Swan Lake or La Bayadère, but at some moments, I expected her to be more expressive. She was very much applauded, and this is greatly deserved.

Dimitri Belogolovtsev (Tahor/Lord Wilson)

This dancer who replaced Serguei Filin has disappointed me a little. Even though he has already danced this role with Svetlana Lunkina in Moscow, he seemed to me quite dull. His technique is unsteady, not always neat, but the choreography is so difficult that I understand why those faults are there. The Bolshoi Ballet School doesn’t prepare to dance small and precise, on the contrary: the boys are trained to dance with large jumps and expressivity. What expressivity can he give with this choreography full of assemblés battus, jetés, little jumps and entrechats? This is typical of the French School, or rather of the Italian School, but it's certainly not Russian. You’ll say that Marius Petipa was French! Yes, but one never sees this kind of technique for the men’s roles in the other ballets by Petipa, so I stay doubtful… As for Svetlana Zakharova, I come to the conclusion that Dimitri Belogolovtsev was not at his ease in this kind of repertoire, because even though his acting as an Evil Genius did not convince me in Swan Lake, he was still much more comfortable.

Guennadi Yanin (Passiphonte/John Bull)

Small dancer of semi-character, this part suits him perfectly. The choreography is also quite difficult, but he brings in his interpretation a humorous aspect which amused the audience very much.

Yelena Andrienko (Ramze)

She presents a very convincing slave (I have not seen Maria Alexandrova). She was fine in this part, playing it obediently. The “pointes frappées” variation was also very good.

The two variations from the Pas d’action (Anastasia Yatsenko and Anastasia Goriacheva) were also very good. The variation danced to the pizzicati seemed to me perfectly in Marius Petipa’s choreographic style.

The fisherman and his wife (Dimitri Gudanov and Inna Petrova) were also very good. She dances with lightness, and even if it is not perfect technically, the spirit is there. He was excellent in this part with a lot of humour and little difficulties in the dance.

The Rivers

Anastasia Yatsenko (Guadalquivir) confirms the good opinion I have of her: appropriate épaulements, a somewhat charming smile, a precise and lively dance, and a “spanishing” port de tête.

Ekaterina Shipulina (Congo) presents a nice variation which has nothing to do with the Congo (but this is due to the choreography) with a very delicate style.

Maria Allash (Neva) still lacks of presence, or seems very stiff, I don’t know! Her variation didn’t evoke Russia…

The Corps de Ballet

Very good performance, and there I must congratulate the dancers! The choreography seemed to me difficult for them also, but they got out of it brilliantly. Always together, with a lot of presence, of smiles, and an obvious happiness to dance. Even though the alignments are not always of the exactness of a military parade, I must say that I don't care about it (it's not that striking) because to me, the life they give on stage is much more important than the rest. But the rest is still more than correct! I don't remember who said that (Nureyev?), but one can have the finest soloists in the world, if there is no Corps de Ballet behind, it's worth nothing. Well there, there is a very good Corps de Ballet, with a lot of style and an identity of its own, which shows that the Bolshoi is a great company, in spite of its prestigious name.

Finally, I have spent a good evening, I enjoyed this performance a lot, and I think that the bet laid by Pierre Lacotte and the Bolshoï management has been won: a great historical production (Petipa’s first), unknown of today’s audience, and in the spirit of the choreographer.

I have felt a certain emotion during Pierre Lacotte’s (who fetched his associate Anne Salmon) bows, because all the dancers applauded his appearance on stage. It is probably quite comparable (within proportions, Lacotte is not Petipa!) to what Marius Petipa was to the dancers of the Mariinski or of the Bolshoi: a Frenchman who has come to Russia to give them a ballet.

Some people here have found this production too kitsch, close to boredom or disgust. I don't agree with these ready made opinions. Because, in this case, let’s put the things in the right place: for instance, I think that Sylphides flying in the trees, a Lucien who heroically waves his sword to save his Paquita, a Golden Idol who dances for a wedding (would you really believe it? :D ), a Cupid and a Dryad Queen in a love dream, are at least as kitsch as this Fille du Pharaon. But it doesn't bother me, because it's simply the history of classical ballet and the personality of Marius Petipa which are shown through it. I don't understand why suddenly, this Fille du Pharaon by the Bolshoi is kitsch, whilst the productions by Lacotte or Nureyev presented by the Paris Opera are not… I would like someone to explain this to me!

Pierre Lacotte’s choreography is difficult, and even the dancers talent, they didn’t seem to me at their ease.

But no matter what, the pleasure to see this production resuscitated was greater than the rest!

Edited by Jean-Luc

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Thank you so much Jean-Luc for your wonferful reviews ! I hope we 'll get to read more from you in the next few months !!!!

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Yes, thank you so much for that. If we can't be there, it's great to be able to read about it in such detail.

I've always been curious about Pharoah's Daughter. I read once -- in the John Percival biography, I think -- that Nureyev was always urging Ninette de Valois to revive that, saying that the flats were still in storage at the Mariinsky!!

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Great review, Jean-Luc, a thoroughly interesting read!

I have fond memories of Anastasia Yatsenko, too. I didn't see her in "Pharaoh's Daughter", but she was a vibrant Zina in "The Bright Stream", while her Neapolitan dance in "Swan Lake" had a lot of punch as well as the correct plastique. Really an interesting dancer.

So now, we are waiting for the final part of the Bolshoi trilogy.... :)

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A big 'thank you' from me too, Jean-Luc ! Your post revived the wonderful memories I have from this ballet :-)

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Well thank you! :D It's still a real pleasure to talk about nice things like ballets with the Bolshoï!

Here is the last part of the trilogy.... :grinning:

The Bright Stream, January 21st, 2004

How different this is from Swan Lake! With this ballet, Alexei Ratmanski and the Bolshoi Company take us to a universe full of parody, of fun, of virtuosity, and one cannot stop oneself from totally adhering to this most amusing ballet.

This production is a farce organised by the protagonists, and one shares their little stories with great pleasure!

The Ballet

First of all, the curtain opens on another curtain where the symbol “sickle and hammer”, emblem of soviet ideology is in a place of honour in the middle of sentences like “worker, fight for a clean canteen!”… The atmosphere is set.

After a frenzied overture, one discovers the stage where the sets are filled with fruits and vegetables, trusses of straw… These were the basic elements of the life of the kolkhozes. One then discovers the protagonists of the story through mini variations: a peasant girl called Zina and her husband, a student called Piotr. They obviously love each other. Their friends arrive, they are all very typical by their attitudes and choreographies: a School Girl, a dreamy old man living in a close-by dacha and married to a possessive and matriarchal woman, a milkmaid and a farmer… They are there to welcome a troop of artists which have come by train or by plane to celebrate the end of the harvests. This troop has an accordionist and two big stars: a Ballerina and a Classical Dancer, her partner. But no one knows that Zina has studied dance at the same school as the Ballerina, and they meet again with pleasure, each one telling the other about her life. Zina loves Piotr, but has no children yet, whilst the Ballerina has dedicated her whole life to dance. Things start to turn bad when Piotr sees the Ballerina, with whom he would not mind to have a love affair… In the same way, the old man has eyes only for the Ballerina, his wife (who-wants-to-seem-younger-than-she-is) has set her eyes on the Classical Dancer and the accordionist tries to seduce the school girl… In the Corps de Ballet are some kolkhoz inhabitants (dressed in bright flowery dresses whose designs one can see on the authentic matriochkas), some quality inspectors (!!), and some Cossacks. After numerous festivities, Zina is furious and sad to see that Piotr seems in love with the Ballerina. Zina confides in her and her friends; the Ballerina doesn ’t want to turn away from dance, and the seduction game between her and Piotr is not important to her. In order to teach Piotr and the two old neighbours a lesson, the Ballerina organises to play them a trick: when night falls, that it will be nice and hot, and that everyone will have had enough to drink, they will organise dates, but in disguise: Zina will become the Ballerina (with a mask), the Ballerina will become the Classical Dancer, and the Classical Dancer will become a Sylphide. The first act ends there. In the second act, I shall not describe everything because the ludicrous scenes due to the various misunderstandings are difficult to describe with words…

But of course, everything will come back to normal, Piotr will realise how much he loves his wife and how talented she is, and everything ends in a communicative good mood. It’s interesting to note that the theme of the husband seducing his wife thinking she is someone else reminds the story of Die Fledermaus.

The choreography by Alexei Ratmanski

The choreography is made on classical bases, but some sequences are totally original. In general, the choreography is playful, except in the scenes where there is a parody of romanticism. In this production, everything is referring to something, whether it is the character dances, the classical dance evoked by Zina or the Ballerina, or the obvious allusion to La Sylphide by Bournonville. I found that this choreography was also very accurate with the fantastic music by Shostakovich, interpreted with a lack of enthusiasm by the Orchestre Colonne conducted by Pavel Sorokin.

The Dancers

Inna Petrova (Zina) and Youri Klevtsov (Piotr) are a well matched couple. She is very thin and charming in this part. In addition, she has a much nicer technique that in the fisherman’s wife in La Fille du Pharaon.

He is a credible student and a good comedian. He is nearly touching when he realises how marvellous his wife is!

Maria Alexandrova (the Ballerina) and Yan Godovski (the Classical Dancer)

Maria Alexandrova was absolutely sparkling! Bright, clever, witty… a playful dance, technically irreproachable, and what a comedian! Disguised as the Classical Dancer, she is irresistible when she is victim of the assaults of the old woman! This dancer is an Artist, she dances marvellously and has an obvious presence.

Yan Godovski doesn’t do much in the first act: only a pas de deux followed by a variation in which he is perfect technically. His highlight is the long scene where, disguised as a Sylphide and wearing pointe shoes, he seduces the old man. The parody is at its highest, and I must say that if the dancers jubilate, so does the audience! The great moment of the ballet!

Guennadi Yanin (the accordionist) and Ksenia Pchelkina (the School Girl)

I loved the two performances they have shown us, especially the one in the second act danced on tango music… Their dance is also full of fun, lively, inventive, sexy at times. I loved the speed of the dance, the naivety of the interpretation and the joy of living of Ksenia Pchelkina.

Andrei Melanin (the old man) and Liubov Filippova (his wife)

I loved them too! Their performance in the first act is very amusing, but I also found something very touching in their acting. Their performances in the second act are both, each at their time, extraordinary: he, with the Sylphide is completely duped and astonished, she, with the “Classical Dancer” is irresistibly funny. She is also very good when she realises that her husband is with a Sylphide, jealousy taking over any other feeling…

I cannot talk about everything, because there are many visual things in this ballet, and I have certainly not grabbed hold of everything. But what a delight! I was really enthusiastic about discovering this choreography where one finds soloists which are very good dancers, very good technicians and above all…very good comedians. The Corps de Ballet is not at all in Petipa anymore, but their dances are spectacular for the men, and gracious and lively for the women. And they all seem to enjoy themselves on stage, the audience, a bit reserved at the beginning did not take long to be conquered. It was a success and there were no less than 6 or 7 curtain calls and the audience was very enthusiastic!

I have spent an excellent evening with this very successful humorous ballet. It was a long time since I had laughed so much at the Opera Garnier!

The Bright Stream, January 24th, 2004

This evening was the “second” cast which had the occasion to dance the very last performance of the Bolshoi on its Parisian tour: Anastasia Yatsenko (Zina), Rinat Arifulin (Piotr), Ekaterina Shipulina (the Ballerina) and Ruslan Skvortsov (the classical dancer).

The protagonists of this cast act on a slightly different mode than the other cast, even if the intentions stay the same.

Anastasia Yatsenko was very precise and more malicious than Inna Petrova as Zina. She is not a “victim” and she seems decided to not let her husband get away with being unfaithful. Her dance is technically different: livelier, faster, with a bit more presence than her colleague.

Rinat Arifulin is slenderer than Yuri Klevtsov, and even if his dance is a bit neater (I would be tempted to say more scholar), he therefore gives out less energy and liveliness. About the acting, he is a bit less expressive than Yuri Klevtsov, even if his parts are also accurate.

Ekaterina Shipulina had the difficult task to perform after Maria Alexandrova… But I must say that she got out of it quite well. Her dance is less lively and less energetic, but is more graceful. This by the way is a bit strange, because she stays a bit too gracious in the variation in the second act where she is dressed as a man. Therefore, the association Yatsenko/Shipulina seemed to me better (more) balanced: on the first night, I had eyes only for Alexandrova, without even looking at what Petrova was doing. Here, when they danced together, there was not one “dominating” the other. I wonder how the couple Yatsenko/Alexandrova would have worked…

Ruslan Skvortsov is convenient as the danseur classique, but less precise than his colleague Yan Godovski. It’s only a very small detail, but his performance on pointe as a Sylphide was technically less surprising (many pirouettes on demi-point and so on…), which, on the other hand is acceptable since it’s played on a burlesque mode. Another detail (more amusing) is that the dancer has a rather hairy chest, and his décolleté as a Sylphide is most ludicrous! He also played on a different mode, presenting a slightly “heavier” Sylphide than Yan Godovski, but it was still very good.

The other roles were danced by the same dancers as on the first night. The old couple let themselves go totally tonight, but the audience was with them!! The Accordionist and the School Girl also had quite a success with the scene with the dog.

The Corps de Ballet was once more very good (a lot of presence), even though I remarked here and there that the placements were a little less precise.

All were very very good and the audience very warm. In spite of this, the technicians of the Opera switched the lights back on after the fourth curtain call, which is annoying. This always happens with the Paris Opera Ballet as well, and I do not understand why it is so, it frustrates both the dancers and the audience.

To end this tour, this ballet programmed by default to replace The Queen of Spades (by Roland Petit) has had a big success. And it’s good, because this ballet has such a sympathetic character, that it really makes one feel like seeing the company again very soon. For this last performance, the coaches (including Ludmilla Semeniaka) as well as Boris Akimov came to bow on stage.

As a conclusion, the Bolshoi’s tour was, seeing the audience’s reaction, a big success. In addition, the fact that Svetlana Zakharova, who had already conquered the Parisian audience, was there was much appreciated.

Swan Lake, even in a production which has undeniably aged, was accurate for the interpretation and the style.

La Fille du Pharaon, reconstitution by Pierre Lacotte could be nothing else but interesting, and here again, in a lighter mode, the company proved itself to be up to it.

Finally, with The Bright Stream, a totally humorous ballet, one truly realises that these dancers are also good comedians with a playful and dynamic dance.

Three ballets representative of the scale of the company’s abilities: the repertoire, the reconstitution of their heritage, and the “renewal”.

But what I will remember the most (once more), will be the artistic quality of the soloists and even more of the Corps de Ballet, sign of a great company… Truly great.

Edited by Jean-Luc

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