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Seismic Changes at the Corps Level26 new; 43 out (either promoted up or gone)


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#1 Natalia

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Posted 02 January 2009 - 05:19 AM

The recent publication on the MT web of the 2008/09 season roster yields some interesting surprises. Perhaps the biggest of these is one of the biggest shifts in the corps de ballet since the 1917 Revolution. Let's remember this as we welcome the Mariinsky Ballet to the Kennedy Center next week.

Yuri Fateev may only be "Interim Director of the Ballet" -- as per the brochure of the Fall '08 Ardani-sponsored tour of the troupe to California -- but he seems to have instituted some seismic changes in the make-up of the company. It follows on his revolutionary nixing of the usual season opener of Swan Lake or another 'full-evening war horse'; instead, the season opened with - gasp! - a Balanchine mixed bill. And the stage was populated with over 25 recent graduates of the Vaganova Academy + a few recruits from other Russian schools and troupes.

The Facts (as per the roster and my checking with friends in St P)

Corps de Ballet:

Total 101 corps dancers - 56 ladies and 45 men

26 new corps members this season (15 ladies and 11 men...12 men if you count Nikolai Zubskovsky going back down to the corps after years as a Choryphee). They include many of the stars of the last graduation in June '08 -- 'future-soloist' ladies like Anastasia Nikitina & Yulia Chereskevich AND the 'bumper crop' of extraordinary men on the fast-track to Soloist or Principal, such as Alexei Kuzmin, Kirill Leontiev, Ilya Petrov, the Safin Brothers (Kirill and Yegor), Andrei Soloviev, Vasily Tkachenko (brother of Tatyana) and Sergei Umanets.

Exactly 27% women and 27% men are brand-new in the corps. Not radical but pretty shocking when one realizes that many of the "older" -- pre-2000 Vaganova graduates -- dancers don't perform as often as the younger ones. Also, keep in mind that at least another 25% of the corps dancers come from the immediate-past classes (lots from 2005 and 2006...there was no graduation in 2007).

The corps also includes some dancers from other locations, such as Oksana Skorik of Perm and Maxim Podshivalenko of Moscow-via-Providence, RI, who appears to be taking over some of Ponomaryev's "King roles." Also new is one "Marianna Agafonova" from ???? -- already being given solo roles, including both Polyhymnia and Calliope in Apollo...in different performances, of course. :) )

For some of us who have been following this company for a long time, the total of "101 dancers" in the permanent corps de ballet is an eye opener. That's significantly down from what it was during USSR days.

Creation of an 'Apprentice' group within the old 'Reserves' section:

I notice that, this year, the long-time "reserve dancer" group of 20 dancers includes some new young faces (recent-grad Belik; new names Kazakova & Lomako among the ladies)...so is this the beginning of an Appretices group at the Mariinsky, as in all other great companies? The reserves still includes the traditional group of just-retired older dancers, such as Adamenko, Bikchurin & A. Tsvetkov.

Coryphees by the dozen!

There are now 29 coryphees - a record number! Of the 17 ladies-choryphees, 11 are new/promotions or 65% of the coryphees. [Alas, one of the 'new lady coryphees' is Yulia Bolshakova, who appears to have lost her spot at the soloist level, unless that was a misprint last year.] Of the 12 male coryphees, 9 are new -- 75%.

New Soloist - Ex-Principal of the Maly

I was surprised to see Elena Evseeva -- classmate of Tereshkina in the Vaganova class of 2001 -- one of the Maly-Moussorgsky Company's primas brought into the Mariinsky...as a 2nd Soloist. She is understandably being fast-tracked to Principal. She was one of the best pure-classicists at the Maly; I fondly remember her Aurora.


So those are the facts. What of it? I will not editorialize. I look forward to seeing, with my own eyes, the early results of these changes when the company performs a week of Don Quixotes at the Kennedy Center and, later, when I travel to St. Petersburg in Russia in March for regular rep + the Mariinsky International Ballet Festival. Given the rumblings among us fans during the past couple of years and the not-so-great reviews (sprinkled among the positives), there is no way to go but up. Fresh blood - a new attitude! I am hoping that, like Mother Russia, the great Mariinsky Ballet will overcome past troubles on its way to a new high.

Natalia Nabatova
Washington, DC

#2 bingham

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Posted 02 January 2009 - 09:37 AM

Natalia,
Very interesting. Is the large number of newcomers due to the retirement of the older corp members ? With Russian ballet companies, is there a retirement age for corp members or are they just "let go" as in American co? :)

#3 Natalia

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Posted 02 January 2009 - 10:16 AM

Natalia,
Very interesting. Is the large number of newcomers due to the retirement of the older corp members ? With Russian ballet companies, is there a retirement age for corp members or are they just "let go" as in American co? :)


It's due to a combination of (a) huge number of promotions to Choryphee level this year and (b) some normal attrition...some retirements, some 'defections' to Western European troupes. In the promotions, I believe that Fateev was trying to right some wrongs, e.g., a lot of folks who had been waiting for promotions for years finally got them + recent-corps members were promoted at their rightful time. Same thing in other levels, e.g., Yana Selina finally got her promotion to 2nd Soloist level after 12 yrs as Choryphee.

re. Mandatory Retirement - I seem to recall reading somewhere about a "20 year policy" but it may only be a practice and not a rule. In other words, if the person entered the company in 1989 as an 18-yr-old graduate, then s/he would retire in 2009 at age 38. The interesting thing is that almost all of the folks who were taken into the company in 1989 left long ago. Who is left from the 1980s, at the corps or choryphee level? Irina Prokofieva? Olga Akhmatova? Interesting thought -- very soon the company will have NO corps members who danced during the USSR Era. They still have Ayupova, Makhalina, Zelensky, Nioradze (commenced in Georgia in late 80s), Ponomaryev, Chistyakova at upper levels but hardly a corps member, male or female.

#4 Hans

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Posted 02 January 2009 - 10:34 AM

I don't know if this is the case in Russian companies, but in the west, corps members often retire earlier than soloists and principal dancers.

#5 Natalia

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Posted 02 January 2009 - 10:56 AM

I don't know if this is the case in Russian companies, but in the west, corps members often retire earlier than soloists and principal dancers.


True, Hans. Not so in the East until fairly recently. In the USSR days and the first few years after perestroika, corps members never retired...they just stayed on and on, so to speak, unless they went into teaching at the affiliate academy, became stage managers, etc. Some of the older folks in the Bolshoi or Kirov would appear on stage once or twice a year, dancing in a large group number such as Csardas or Polonaise of Raymonda, just to hang on 'til they reached pension age. I believe that there was some sort of rule that, to maintain a job, one had to appear once on the stage every x-number of months. I remember how Oleg Vinogradov loathed this rule when he began working at the Kirov ca 1976. He tried to get rid of the excess personnel and received death threats. Ditto the immediate successors of Yuri Grigorovich at the Bolshoi...and THAT was in 1995, well after the changes!

#6 leonid17

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Posted 02 January 2009 - 12:30 PM

I don't know if this is the case in Russian companies, but in the west, corps members often retire earlier than soloists and principal dancers.


True, Hans. Not so in the East until fairly recently. In the USSR days and the first few years after perestroika, corps members never retired...they just stayed on and on, so to speak, unless they went into teaching at the affiliate academy, became stage managers, etc. Some of the older folks in the Bolshoi or Kirov would appear on stage once or twice a year, dancing in a large group number such as Csardas or Polonaise of Raymonda, just to hang on 'til they reached pension age. I believe that there was some sort of rule that, to maintain a job, one had to appear once on the stage every x-number of months. I remember how Oleg Vinogradov loathed this rule when he began working at the Kirov ca 1976. He tried to get rid of the excess personnel and received death threats. Ditto the immediate successors of Yuri Grigorovich at the Bolshoi...and THAT was in 1995, well after the changes!



Both the Kirov and the Bolshoi companies were better companies when the stage was filled by older dancers. Why, because in general it is was their home, their life and their experience brought a weight to performances that in general has been lost especially in character corps work. Those old dancers loved being on the stage and danced as if they loved it and lived their roles as if it was their own lives. Vinogradov did get rid of the older dancers and the tradition you talked about that made the two major companies what they once were, has been diminished.

#7 Mel Johnson

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Posted 02 January 2009 - 12:31 PM

With that amount of motion in any company's ranks, it would appear to me to be a harbinger of change in strategic doctrine, not merely a tactical redeployment, if I may use a military metaphor. What that continental shift is, time only will tell.

#8 Natalia

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Posted 02 January 2009 - 12:48 PM

Leonid, that is an excellent point. Example: today's lone 'veteran character principal,' Vladimir Ponomaryev. So many of us adore him because he has live on that stage since 1964 and has Kirov-Mariinsky in his soul.

Unfortunately, less of today's repertoire demands the 'army' of dancers (Mel's analogy) that was required in the big story ballets of the Imperial and Soviet Eras. How many dancers are required to put-on the Neumeier or Forsythe evenings? Even most Balanchine evenings require much fewer dancers than would Beauty, Swan Lake or Bayadere.

#9 Helene

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Posted 02 January 2009 - 01:57 PM

How many dancers are required to put-on the Neumeier or Forsythe evenings? Even most Balanchine evenings require much fewer dancers than would Beauty, Swan Lake or Bayadere.

Peter Boal's argument against more full-length classics is the lack of soloist and principal roles compared to a triple bill. He's said that this programming gives the dancers more opportunity, since there are at least eight-ten principal roles in the average triple bill, and six alone in a ballet like "Divertimento No. 15". But he doesn't have a huge corps to take care of.

#10 bart

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Posted 02 January 2009 - 02:06 PM

A great report and topic, Natalia. Thank you so much.

How many dancers are required to put-on the Neumeier or Forsythe evenings? Even most Balanchine evenings require much fewer dancers than would Beauty, Swan Lake or Bayadere.

Could this be part of -- or an expansion of -- the current hyper-active touring policy. With all those dancers, you could tour multiple sub-companies in "smaller ballets" -- or even scalled-down Swan Lakes, etc. -- virtually all year long.

The Mariinsky is probably the best-known global brand in ballet right now. Perhaps people in charge want to reap the financial rewards even more than they're doing now. An enlarged, younger company -- possibly one NOT attached to a single stage and its routines -- might actually be the goal.

#11 Sacto1654

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Posted 02 January 2009 - 03:55 PM

The Mariinsky is probably the best-known global brand in ballet right now. Perhaps people in charge want to reap the financial rewards even more than they're doing now. An enlarged, younger company -- possibly one NOT attached to a single stage and its routines -- might actually be the goal.


This is my personal opinion, but I think there may be still another reason why Fateev is making the entire troupe younger: they're more able to do a large-scale ballets that demand a large number of physically strong dancers. This could portend the very possibility of new versions of La Bayadare, Le Corsaire and Raymonda some time in the future in true full-length versions but with more "modern" choreography (all three of the ballets I mentioned require substantial numbers of dancers on-stage).

#12 Mashinka

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Posted 03 January 2009 - 09:04 AM

Nikolai Zubskovsky going back down to the corps after years as a Choryphee


At one point he was listed as a character principal, That is a very serious demotion.

#13 Marc Haegeman

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Posted 03 January 2009 - 09:28 AM

The Mariinsky is probably the best-known global brand in ballet right now. Perhaps people in charge want to reap the financial rewards even more than they're doing now. An enlarged, younger company -- possibly one NOT attached to a single stage and its routines -- might actually be the goal.


This is my personal opinion, but I think there may be still another reason why Fateev is making the entire troupe younger: they're more able to do a large-scale ballets that demand a large number of physically strong dancers. This could portend the very possibility of new versions of La Bayadare, Le Corsaire and Raymonda some time in the future in true full-length versions but with more "modern" choreography (all three of the ballets I mentioned require substantial numbers of dancers on-stage).


And since when would a company like the Mariinsky only be able to do full-length classics with young dancers? Like leonid tried to explain companies like Bolshoi and Kirov were remarkable in the great classics among others because they had older dancers in their ranks - even in the corps de ballet, older members act as essential lynchpins for the ensemble. They have full-length versions of Corsaire, Bayadère (even two) and Raymonda, which count among the best around and form the backbone of their repertoire. Give me one good reason why they would change those?

#14 leonid17

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Posted 03 January 2009 - 10:47 AM

This is my personal opinion, but I think there may be still another reason why Fateev is making the entire troupe younger: they're more able to do a large-scale ballets that demand a large number of physically strong dancers. This could portend the very possibility of new versions of La Bayadare, Le Corsaire and Raymonda some time in the future in true full-length versions but with more "modern" choreography (all three of the ballets I mentioned require substantial numbers of dancers on-stage).


Since when has youth and strength had such a correlation in ballet? Would you call 35 young or not? Carlos Acosta is about that age and he is still able to perform at the highest level. In general I can think of a number of older dancers who were able to dance three full length ballets in a week when younger dancers would have collapsed. Please do not confuse strength with stamina.
I also do not know why any producer would want to "disrespect" the productions of 19th century ballets in the manner you suggest.

#15 Natalia

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Posted 04 January 2009 - 04:05 AM

...... They have full-length versions of Corsaire, Bayadère (even two) and Raymonda, which count among the best around and form the backbone of their repertoire. Give me one good reason why they would change those?


Marc, the answer may be in the other revolutionary change of Fateev: Ending the decades-long tradition of opening the season with Swan Lake (usually) or another major full-evening ballet. Instead, the season started with a Balanchine mixed bill, and a short one at of only TWO, not three, ballets: Serenade -- which Petersburg balletomanes have never cared for -- and Symphony in C.

Petersburg balletomanes take a bit of comfort in the fact that Fateev is 'interim' director of the ballet.


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