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#16 Marc Haegeman

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Posted 01 February 2004 - 07:32 AM

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.

#17 Alexandra

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Posted 01 February 2004 - 07:41 AM

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!

#18 Jean-Luc

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Posted 04 February 2004 - 03:14 PM

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.

#19 Marc Haegeman

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Posted 04 February 2004 - 10:39 PM

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". :)

#20 Jean-Luc

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Posted 05 February 2004 - 07:42 AM

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, 05 February 2004 - 07:52 AM.


#21 cygneblanc

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Posted 05 February 2004 - 09:28 AM

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 !!!!

#22 Alexandra

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Posted 05 February 2004 - 10:28 AM

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!!

#23 Marc Haegeman

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Posted 05 February 2004 - 12:40 PM

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.... :)

#24 Viviane

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Posted 05 February 2004 - 02:15 PM

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

#25 Jean-Luc

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Posted 07 February 2004 - 03:47 PM

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, 07 February 2004 - 03:48 PM.


#26 Alymer

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Posted 13 February 2004 - 04:18 PM

There have been such detailed reviews of this season that I don't really feel I can add anything much. I did want to say however that Doug Fullington gets a mention in Pierre Lacote's programme note for Pharoh's Daughter.

I found this the least convincing of Lacotte's reconstructions - too many steps, too fussy, dozens of groups of people all doing different things at the same time. The only thing that looked like Petipa were the River variations - in particular the first one for the Guadalquivir. The rest of the ballet reminded me of nothing so much as Excelsior - though it was not nearly so original.

I loved Bright Stream however; a real success for the company. Lovely designs, a great score and interesting choreography. The dancers looked really happy and both casts I saw were excellent - especially Alexandrova as the Classical ballerina and Inna Petrova as Zina. But the real hero I thought was Ian Godovski who in ActII managed to pull off the amazing trick of being clearly totally masculine, while imitating the way a woman moves and dances perfectly. The moment when he snatched off the old dacha inhabitant's hat and placed it on a bench was pure Bournonville;his pointwork was amazing, and he managed to be very funny too.

But really, the best thing of all was to see how good the company looked, how well they were dancing, and how many promising dancers they seem to have. None of those I saw ranked higher than soloist. Most companies would be happy to have them as principals.


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