Natalia

New 'Le Corsaire' at Bolshoi

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How can we combine “too long” and “more dancing”? It’s a pity Ratmansky didn’t accept any of proposals generated here.

I suggest to watch two historical records I prepared for the Russian forum in view of the forthcoming premiere of Le Corsaire. I guess it could be now of interest here too. Sorry for the extremely bad quality.

These are flv-files, I use VLC-player – easy to find.

1992, Bolshoi, the première of Sergeev’s version. Nadezhda Gracheva dances Le Petit Corsaire. She shouts nothing :)

1994, Bolshoi, Grigorovich’s version. Galina Stepanenko dances the variation from the Slave pas de deux.

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I attended the two first performances. One caveat: I have been following the very interesting discussion here, but I don't have the same kind of expertise and did not even try to keep track of all the details of production history as I watched. You can consider this more of an "average-ballet-fan" report...

I found it an enjoyable production, though it felt long opening night--less so, but still a bit long, the next night. Openings are often just a hint 'off' and I think this was no exception and factored that in as best I could in assessing the performance. My guess is that by nights number 3 and 4--or by the time Natalia, that you see it!--it will be looking better and better. I have to add that I suspect one reason it feels long is that in some ways the greatest dance climaxes come early--two flashy pas-de-deux in Act I and the three odalesque variations and beautiful Jardin Anime (with the prettiest music -- Delibes at least I can remember) in Act II. Ratmansky's Petipa pastiche choreography for the Pas d'eventailles is the only big dance set-piece that occurs in Act III. I thought Ratmansky did a very fine job, but, still, the final dance climax of the evening is not exactly the choreographic highlight of it. Also, in this final classical sequence the heroine dances with a cavalier (not the hero) and, making the scene feel a little odd, she dances with a cavalier in front of her supposed husband, the Pasha, even though one of the ballet's regular jokes is the presence of Eunichs to mediate between the Pasha and his harem. I do NOT substantially object to any of this and am willing to believe anyone who tells me it is more or less authentic, but in thinking about why the evening felt long...well, the overall structure seems to me part of the problem especially on a night like opening night when the dancers were not, in my opinion, really 'sizzling' and the spectacular stage effects of the final scene did not come off.

That said, I did enjoy the production, more than the other two Corsaire productions I have seen. A mix of pantomime, classical set pieces and character dancing hinging on a senseless plot which the staging does not, and probably could not, make sense of. The production is, however, visually beautiful: it 'makes sense' so to speak to the eye: wonderful painted sets and even more beautiful (really, truly fabulous--detailed, varied, sparkly) costumes. As always with the Bolshoi I thought the character dancing was outstanding, a true highlight. Merkuriev--a terrific villain (Birbantio) and Anna Rebetskaya led the character dances opening night and as long as they were dancing I was enthralled--this was really the hands-down highlight of opening night for me and one of the highlights of the two evenings altogether--genuinely great dancing. Also, I think I am in love with her! The next night the character dancing remained strong, but not quite on their level. In the classical ensembles, I also deeply appreciated the fact that the company dances like a company; to me, at least, the dancers showed a real unity of style and the women in the corps roles and small ensembles were especially enjoyable for this reason. (Oh, and though Zakharova is one of their stars, the company does not appear to make a fetish of long legged, super thin, hyper-extended dancers. That's a plus.) Since I am most familiar with American Ballet Theater's production of Corsaire, I was struck by the fact that the ballet is really a women's showpiece and, especially, a showpiece for Medora. American Ballet Theater has made it over into a men's ballet. Here, the choreographic highlight was certainly the Jardin Anime--it overcrowds the Coliseum stage and the dancers were cautious, as if worried about a crash, especially opening night--and did I hear them talking to each other???--but nonetheless, at last, I feel I understand the scene's reputation as one of the great set pieces of Petipa. Even with the Kirov I didn't quite get it before. The scene is pure, gorgeous classical dancing. The sets do not include fountains, as does (or did) the Kirov, but the dancing is like a fountain -- one section arises and, as it 'falls' away to an end, another, just as beautiful, arises...by the second night the dancing was approaching to sheer pleasure. I do hope the Bolshoi brings this production to the Met--where presumably they would have the space they need to showcase the choreography properly.

I thought all the mime sections were well done--actually so well done that for my taste the effete pasha and, as I infer (and Mel mentioned), the 'stage Jew' Lankedem were a little queasy making, but I have no wish to argue with anyone about it--Gennady Yanin as Lankedem was especially good. I agree with Leonid that classical variations throughout had a few too many bumps and bobbles in finishing--and that fault was repeated the second night as well. But overall, for me, a nice festival of dancing. I especially liked Matvienko whom I found dashing and charismatic (evidently not everyone does) as well as a fine dancer. I also liked the way he partnered Zakharova--at one moment, in an overhead lift of the opening act he seemed to rise onto demi-pointe as if to lift her higher and higher. Zakharova is gorgeous and seemed especially ornamental in her use of her upper body--she also offered some very well articulated gargouillades in the Jardin Anime scene that the next night's ballerina (Alexandrova) did not pull off. The ballet's big tutus are especially flattering on her, and she now seems to have a more controlled relation to her own facility than she used to...but I did suspect she was a bit off. Turns (something she is known for) did not always seem one-hundered percent secure. I thought she was at her loveliest in sections of the Jardin Anime. Shipulina as Gulnare pleased me by her shear security though I did not find her as kittenish as Gulnare seems meant to be (at least in this version). I do not mean the remark about her security as faint praise; whenever she came on one felt one could just relax and watch her dance. The three odalesques have always been my favorite part of the ballet in other productions. Of the three dancers (same cast both nights) only Osipova made a strong impression on me (though the other soloists were better at the second performance). I was sitting in the last row opening night and from there she looked about 12 years old--a little older when I sat closer--with a big smile and stage-filling presence despite her relatively short stature. She seems to have a huge natural jump and a delightful earnest-while-joyful manner of presenting herself. She did a remarkable series of jumps along a diagonal, turning in the air in retire on each leap--very impressive opening night and maybe even more easeful and relaxed the next. I would love to see her in a big part. Among other featured dancers: both nights, Vasiliev put his heart into his dancing in the pas d'esclave, but not always his control and actually I wouldn't be surprised if Osipova jumps as high as he does. However, I know he is very young and would be happy to see more of him. I did very much like the two women who sort of 'led' the featured group of 6 girls in the jardin anime and also led the ensemble in the pas d'eventailles: I think these were Chinara Alizade and Anna Tikhomirova -- and if anyone knows which one of them was the darker haired girl, I would be happy to find out. I was very charmed by her. The male cavaliers to the ballerinas in the Pas D'eventailles did not make a good impression though Shpilevsky, who partnered Zakharova, is big and strapping which I like to see in a male soloist -- the next night the dancer performing the cavalier repeatedly made what I can only describe as outright mistakes (as well as bobbles on his jump landings)-- entering early and even getting in the way of the ballerina at one point towards the end.

At the second performance, Tsiskaridze was a very engaging Conrad. I did think that his dancing in his big solos was not so easy and intense as I remember it being in New York (in the Shades scene of Bayadere) a few years ago. And he danced what appeared to be an easier version of his 'coda' solo in the act I pas de deux than Matvienko. But I enjoy his long lines and joyful presence. As most people reading this probably know, he has recently recovered from a serious injury. He was an especially happy Conrad, smiling at his ballerina and happily smooching her when he got the chance, also moving beautifully through his various mime scenes and set poses--which is pretty much what most of the ballet gives Conrad to do. When Tsiskaridze throws up his arms over his head it's an image one can savor--a quality that is especially necessary for the ballet's final tableau. Maria Alexandrova was terrific as Medora: a light, bounding leap and a bounding personality to go with it. Her dancing showed the snap and excitement that opening night was missing She also exuded authority--almost all her solos, including speedy, flashy turns etc., ended with a kind of slowing of the movement as if to emphasize her sheer control as well as the beauty of the steps. She is not a "pretty" dancer exactly, but a very vivid one. Moreover in Act III, she loosened up just that little bit extra and, to my eyes, was dancing with the sparkle and magic I associate with the greatest dancing. As a result too, the Pas D'eventailles looked like a proper dance close-out for the evening. I would say that Alexandrova along with Osipova and Rebetskaya (with Merkuriev) offered the dance highlights of my two evenings. Yatsenko as Gulnare was interesting to me: I am so used to 'leggy' dancing that initially I found her lack of extension, at least as she danced this role, something I had to get used to--that is, she seemed a little constricted to me. But I quickly came to enjoy her musicality. She and Alexandrova are more of a match physically than Shipulina and Zakharova which gives the Jardin Anime a nice 'sister' quality--hardly necessary to it but still enjoyable.

Work took me to the United Kingdom--I'm home now, so no more Bolshoi for goodness knows how long, but I will be reading all the reports.

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Wow! Many thanks for those wonderful insights, Drew.

Your comment on the Jardin Anime scene is so evocative that I really want to see this again, even in another production, if only to get a look at what MIGHT be made of it.

The scene is pure, gorgeous classical dancing. The sets do not include fountains, as does (or did_ the Kirov, but the dancing is like a fountain -- one section arises and, as it 'falls' away to an end, another, just as beautiful, arises...by the second night the dancing was approaching to sheer pleasure.

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Thanks a lot, Drew, for your clear written and interesting report. You are right – these two girls who lead in pas de six, are Chinara Alizade and Anna Tikhomirova. Chinara is black haired and more subtle, Anna is blond, she is stronger and has good leaps. Both are in corps de ballet, both graduated from the Academy two years ago, both became laureates of the Moscow Ballet Competition in 2005 (Alizade conquered the gold, Tikhomirova – the bronze).

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Leonid, thank you. And what did Medoras cry in Le petit corsaire?

It sounded like "na bordazh".

To add a liitle to what I have said before, I did not find the first night performance cohesive and the fault appeared to lie several directions. The first was that the stage was too small and the performances of the dancers in general was to small. The main fault lay with Zakharova in my opinion. The choreography challenged her and she was unable to give a dominating performance of ballerina quality. She struggled with almost all the choreographic combinations that had turns and her smile was fixed, too frequent and to broad especially in the intrada to the big pas de deux. . Her dancing did grow more assured and flowing in the last two acts, but IMHO was not a performance that a (the) leading ballerina of the Bolshoi Ballet could be proud of.

Vasiliev showed ballon and spirit in his variations but suprising his face seemed rather plain. He is short and of-classical/demi-caractere type. Gennadi Yanin as Lankedem gave the most complete performance on that first night. Osipova is much vaunted but I did not find her as exceptional as I was led to believe. The "Jardin anime" scene was too crowded and the stage for this scene which I love in the Vinogradov version failed entirely for me.

It seemed to me on the way home that an opportunity had been missed. Some choreography appeared unmusical or of the wrong weight and the score at times appeared extremely thin. A view which I was to change on the second night, due entirely to the appearance of Maria Alexandrova as Medora who appeared to inspire the company.

Ed: to remove two words

Edited by carbro
To add "[/quote]" to make the quote box :)

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As was promised I talked to Yuri Burlaka to present here more details on the music of Le Corsaire.

A short Introduction (Ouverture) – Pugni, composed for Le Corsaire

Pas des esclaves, female variation - R.Drigo for Maria Gorshenkova in The Vestale.

Finesse d’amour (Medora in the 1st act - with participation of Conrad and Seid-pasha) – a variation by C.Pugni for Praskovia Lebedeva in Satanilla.

Pas de deux:

Adagio – Nocturn by R.Drigo from the ballet Spring Dreams

Medora’s variation – J.Gerber from Trilbi.

Pas des eventailles:

Entrée, Adagio, Pas de six and Coda – R.Drigo from The Enchanted Forest

Gulnara’s variation – A.Zabel, for E.Sokolova

Male variation – R.Drigo from The Magic Mirror

Medora’s variation – R.Drigo from Pygmalion, or The Cyprus Statue

Concerning some cuts made for London tour they include the Introduction by Pugni, the adagio from Pas des esclaves and the male variation from Pas des eventailles. Strange that nobody mentioned this in the reviews.

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Mikhail et al, I have just returned to the USA after a week in London. I've been too tired to write reviews but promise to do so in the coming days (in the tour's thread) for not only the SPECTACULAR Corsaire (Zakharova finally gaining my utter respect & admiration with this one) but also the witty Bright Stream (Osipova taking the cake once again!) and the mixed bill, which I did not care for except for the Tharp...What was that rubbish of a Class Concert - a.k.a. 'Poor Man's Etudes'???!!!! Folks who dislike Lander's Etudes or the show-off finale of Martins' Friandises will absolutely puke with this dog of a 'crowd pleaser.' The Bolshoi is too good to be digging the bottom of the choreographic barrell with this thing which, rightfully, had been dormant for 40 years.

Just a quick note to add to your list of provenance of numbers in Corsaire:

The music for the adorable 'pizzicatto duo' for two female demi-soloists in the Jardin Anime was originally Fleur de Lys' solo in Drigo's Act II 'Betrothal Suite' (for Fleur, Phoebe and friends) from the 1898 revival of Petipa's Esmeralda. Fleur's solo is still performed in St. Petersburg's Maly-Moussorgsky Theater Ballet (now Farouk Ruzimatov's troupe) edition of Esmeralda, but was not included in the 1990s telecast of that production that is now a DVD...but a bit of that music is played during the end-credits of the DVD.

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