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Le Corsaire at The Kennedy Center

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Unfortunately I was a bit late to the performance on Sunday, so I had to watch Act I on the monitor outside the KC opera house and was therefore unable to see the portrayal of Lanquedem. From the description above, it strikes me as very poor taste, much like the blackface children in La Bayadère. Surely the offensive references could be removed with no damage to the ballet, especially considering that Lanquedem is not portrayed offensively in the productions of the Mariinsky (as far as I can tell) or ABT.

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...I was surprised that this new production chose to have Lankendem, Isaac Lankendem in the program, acted in such a virulently anti-semitic way. That may be historically accurate for a nineteenth century Russian ballet, it's certainly par for the course in the literature, at least Gogol, but is it necessary for a new production?
I would be appalled if a choreographer today were to create such a character, but this is a reconstruction, and I think it's important to keep it as close as possible to the original. Would I have felt uncomfortable, maybe even offended, to see it? Most likely. But I would not want this historical reconstruction to be sanitized to suit some modern sensibilities, even though I recognize the danger of reinforcing certain bigotries.

I hate to think that Osipova arrived ill in DC with something she picked up in New York, where severe respiratory illnesses have been spreading like -- well, like a virus. (One night last week at the Met, you could hear The Cough travel from left to right down my row, like a wave. :rofl: ) I wish her a quick recovery.

Thanks again to all for your richly detailed reports. :)

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The Lankedem made me feel slightly queasy when I saw the production in London, and it is not my impression that antisemitism is entirely a dead letter in Russia where this revival/reconstruction premiered. I am also not convinced one couldn't modernize at least some points like this in nineteenth-century ballets with no profound loss -- and it certainly isn't as if we are seeing an "exact" reconstruction of the ballet in any number of respects. We aren't. As far as dance history goes, historians can still read about and document how the ballet was done originally. (That said, the whole premise of Corsaire involves a silly orientalism whose political implications don't bear much looking into...)

Very sorry to read Osipova has been ill. Wishing her a swift recovery...

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...I was surprised that this new production chose to have Lankendem, Isaac Lankendem in the program, acted in such a virulently anti-semitic way. That may be historically accurate for a nineteenth century Russian ballet, it's certainly par for the course in the literature, at least Gogol, but is it necessary for a new production?
I would be appalled if a choreographer today were to create such a character, but this is a reconstruction, and I think it's important to keep it as close as possible to the original. Would I have felt uncomfortable, maybe even offended, to see it? Most likely. But I would not want this historical reconstruction to be sanitized to suit some modern sensibilities, even though I recognize the danger of reinforcing certain bigotries.

Ah but there is no "THE original." Petipa himself made several versions, and none fully survived. Even the available notation is impossible to unambiguously interpret. Case in point: as far as I understand, the choreography used for the pdd is mostly by Vaganova and Chabukiani (who, by the way, are not acknowledged in the booklet). I always thought that good chunks of the pas d'esclave are also due to Chabukiani. (Please correct me if I'm wrong!) As has been discussed on this thread, other big chunks of the ballet---such as the pas des eventails that was omitted on tour---are newly choreographed. So, given all these huge liberties taken, why stick to the antisemitism both in the ballet and in the online program booklet? And, if historical accuracy is so important, why edit it out of the program booklet especially for the tour?

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Thanks, Alban and Ilya, for your thoughtful and erudite discussions of the racial/religious stereotyping that the Bolshoi chooses to include in this production.

Ilya writes:

Unfortunately, all forms of religious and ethnic intolerance, including antisemitism, have long been and still are part of life in Russia. Byron's poem that the names of the four main characters are taken from does not have any slave traders, Jews, or slave markets. The names "Isaac Lanquedem," "Lankedem," and "Lankendem" are all misspelled versions of the main protagonist from Alexandre Dumas' novel "Isaac Laquedem," based on the legend of the Wondering Jew---however, the actual character in the ballet has nothing in common with Dumas' character, either, as far as I know. I'd be curious to know who it was that introduced this character into the ballet, and when. However, given the virulent antisemitism of the tsarist Russia, it is no surprise to me that the character took root. Clearly, nothing much has changed since then, as the following quote from the Bolshoi's official Corsaire synopsis shows:

"Medora begs Seyd-Pasha to grant her her freedom but, seeing that he is unrelenting, complains of cruel treatment by her guardian; Seyd-Pasha orders the eunuch to send the Jew packing."

(See http://bolshoi.ru/en/season/ballet/reperto...nact26=art#dyn)

Miraculously, this was edited in the Kennedy Center program booklet and replaced with:

"Medora begs Seyd-Pasha to grant her her freedom but, seeing that he is unrelenting, complains of cruel treatment by her guardian. Pasha

Seyd orders Isaac to leave."

(In fact, before he orders Isaac to leave, he has him whipped.)

Such things must be talked about. As much, I think, as the skills of the greatest dancers. Either the Bolshoi knows what they are doing or -- worse ! -- are so untroubled by it that they don't even consider it morally questionable. (The Kennedy Center's rewriting of the program notes show that THEY know what is going on.)

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....As the International Sales Manager for Gaynor Minden, I was in touch with Katya Shipulina throughout the tour (she is a Gaynor Minden Artist). ...

Shipulina's heroism in stepping in to dance at the Sunday matinee is to be applauded but it does not take away from the fact that she is a mediocre dancer, compared to most Bolshoi or Mariinsky classical soloists. Only the announcement of the dreaded Alina Somova -- another Gaynor Minden spokesmodel -- as a 'guest Medora' would have been worse. I and the majority of posters here stand by our writings, based on decades of traveling the globe and comparing dancers. Nonetheless, you have a right to defend your spokesmodel - fair enough.

Furthermore, had the Bolshoi planned ahead and brought Zakharova or another Medora -- even if it were someone who could be taught the role for this tour -- we would not have been in this predicament of 'Schipulina Overload.' That is obvious, in reading how much Schipulina had to step in to cover for indisposed dancers throughout the tour.

p.s. The Bolshoi is the largest company on earth in the number of dancers -- 200 plus. How can a company of 200-plus dancers find itself on a major tour, at the Kennedy Center, with only one woman capable of dancing the role of Medora? The Bolshoi managers are trying their best but a class of Strategic Planning 101 may be necessary....also, Negotiations 101, when talking with the presenters (such as Kennedy Center) who will try their best to keep the number of principals to a minimum. The Bolshoi should have insisted in having another Medora flown in, especially when Anna Nikulina was removed from the roster at least amonth ago.

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Do you think the Bolshoi was trying to get away on the cheap by bringing as few dancers to D.C. as possible as a way of saving money, or for some other reason? Why were Tszidariske (spelling?) and Zakharova only available on opening night? Are they too important to be bothered with the company's D.C. run? Are they paid on a per performance basis?

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Do you think the Bolshoi was trying to get away on the cheap by bringing as few dancers to D.C. as possible as a way of saving money, or for some other reason? Why were Tszidariske (spelling?) and Zakharova only available on opening night? Are they too important to be bothered with the company's D.C. run?

Zakharova wasn't even here, abatt! Money was definitely a factor...the fewer principals (only 3 here -- 1 woman and 2 men), the lower the overhead costs. And one of those three principals, Tsiskaridze, was here for only one day!

Another way of cutting overhead costs was cutting the ballet to allow completion within the labor-union rules for regular pay, as Mikhail mentioned above. One minute past 10:30 pm -- exactly three hours after the performance began -- and a multitude of American workers at the Kennedy Center would have had to be paid overtime. Not just this time -- always, when foreign troupes bring the big ballets, e.g., the Tokyo Raymonda in 2008 sliced the Act II Pas de Six; the Mariinsky's Don Q earlier this year eliminated the children's theater scene; Mariinsky's R&J last year eliminated the Act III Dance of the bridesmaids; Mariinsky's Sleeping Beauty 1890 in 2002 eliminated several of the Act III Wedding Divertissements. And you've probably already noticed that ABT and other U.S. troupes do not even bother to stage long ballets, e.g., ABT acquired Ashton's Sylvia from the Royal and immediately removed an intermission to make it fit within the key "3 Hour Maximum" timeframe before overtime pay kicks in. It was either that or cutting the ballet.

Tsar Nicholas II of Russia did not have to worry about paying overtime to the unions. Apparently, neither do today's leaders of Russia. Sadly, going to Russia is the only way for us to enjoy the Imperial Russian-era ballets as they were meant to be seen and savored languidly, with plenty of long intermissions. Who the heck can afford that?; if it weren't for my traveling job and frequent-flyer miles, I'd be up a creek.

This, in fact, may be the reason why we will probably never-ever see the Mariinsky's Raymonda on tour -- it is a gorgeous, long ballet. It would be sacrilegious to slice and dice it.

That said, it is still possible for we Americans to enjoy these ballets, if we have it in our minds early on that we will never see them in full, on our stages. We are grateful for what we can see -- the full Jardin Anime last week, for example! -- but we still have the right to complain if we feel strongly about the excisions. Balletomanes do not have to shut up, roll over and "act dumb."

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And you've probably already noticed that ABT and other U.S. troupes do not even bother to stage long ballets, e.g., ABT acquired Ashton's Sylvia from the Royal and immediately removed an intermission to make it fit within the key "3 Hour Maximum" time. It was either that or cutting the ballet.

I don't think that was the reason, Natalia - even with two 25 minute intervals, the RB's version of Sylvia only lasts about 2 1/2 hours.

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To call Shipulina 'a mediocre dancer' is very harsh.

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i've long often been told that any ballet show over 3 hours hereabouts, i.e. in and around NYC, means overtime for the orchestra and the stage crew. so the 3-hr. cut-off seems to be a financial point of order.

secondly, re: SYLVIA at ABT i was told that the one-intermission scheme is something Ashton preferred but that it wasn't possible w/ the stage crews at Covent Garden, perhaps b/c of the sets' complexities and/or the Garden's storage space.

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...I was surprised that this new production chose to have Lankendem, Isaac Lankendem in the program, acted in such a virulently anti-semitic way. That may be historically accurate for a nineteenth century Russian ballet, it's certainly par for the course in the literature, at least Gogol, but is it necessary for a new production?
I would be appalled if a choreographer today were to create such a character, but this is a reconstruction, and I think it's important to keep it as close as possible to the original. Would I have felt uncomfortable, maybe even offended, to see it? Most likely. But I would not want this historical reconstruction to be sanitized to suit some modern sensibilities, even though I recognize the danger of reinforcing certain bigotries.

my two cents - i didn't notice any obvious anti-semitism. Only reading THIS thread made me realize that Isaac and his nose CAN be of semitic origin. For me it was a greedy old character. And the nose can just emphasize the age, like that beard of Sultan/ Pasha.

and somehow nobody defends a cute way of showing muslims praying?

Sorry, don't want to turn the thread into a ethnics/ethics discussion.

I'd recommend that people attended the talk with Burlaka, that would have answered a lot of questions. I wish it was published. Their goal was to RESTORE as much as possible and as closely as possible.

Sad about Osipova (but it still doesn't change my "falling out").

Natalia, Krysanova was MUCH better than at dress-rehearsal, there were some glitches (but then - no Bolshoi-in- DC Medora was perfect to my taste, each had cons & pros ;-)).......

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Now I'm confused -- according to Natalia, her friend who saw each performance said that Kaptsova danced every Gulnare, but did not dance the dress rehearsal.

According to YID and George Jackson's review, Krysanova did dance at least one Gulnare.

I'd be surprised if there was no pre-curtain announcement of a substitution for Gulnare, since there was one for Pas d'esclaves (only) on Opening Night.

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Now I'm confused -- according to Natalia, her friend who saw each performance said that Kaptsova danced every Gulnare, but did not dance the dress rehearsal.

....

Helene, Kaptsova DID dance Gulnare-Jardin Anime at dress rehearsal. The other woman -- not Krysanova but somebody else who looks like Nastia Meskova -- danced all other portions of the Gulnare role at that dress rehearsal. I guess that it was a sort of 'trial' for that dancer and, in the end, she was not called upon to dance an actual performance.

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I apologize, I got that backwards.

Did Krysanova do one performance, though? There are several contradicting reports.

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.... i didn't notice any obvious anti-semitism. Only reading THIS thread made me realize that Isaac and his nose CAN be of semitic origin. For me it was a greedy old character. And the nose can just emphasize the age, like that beard of Sultan/ Pasha......

YID, I am with you. There was nothing in the portrayal of the Isaac Lankedem character that made me think of him as 'Jewish'! He is a very funny, silly old miser...especially the part when, after Lankedem pleads with the pirates that he has no money, the pirates make him remove his turban and coins spill out!

For something that could be truly 'offensive' on tour BUT the Bolshoi has sense enough to tame: In the full Moscow version of Corsaire, the character role of the Sleeping Maid -- the rotund lady who is the object of the 'handkerchief joke' in which the Pasha's Harem Girls toss a handkerchief on her while she sleeps, designating who will sleep with the Pasha that night -- this character is supposed to be an African lady and, in fact, the title of the role in Russian printed programs is "A Negress." When she awakens to find the handkerchief and is so happy to think that the Pasha wants her...she jumps up and down and hugs the Pasha in an offensive and stereotypical manner.

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These days Zakharova has the premiere of Pink Floyd by Roland Petit in Milano so she could join the company only in Berkley. Tsiskaridze participates in Andris Liepa’s The New Russian Seasons in Paris and dances this awful The Blue God there.

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To call Shipulina 'a mediocre dancer' is very harsh.

I would say based solely on her sunday afternoon performance, that Shipulina is mediocre, but I am sure that she would have danced much better had it not been her 5th or 6th Medora in a week. This might sound harsh, but I feel obligated to hold the Bolshoi to an extremely high standard. She had trouble with virtually every double pirouette, never completing two full rotations. She had some of the least attractive feet I've seen. And although she has a beautiful arabesque, she simply does not have the star-quality one comes to expect from a Bolshoi leading lady. I agree with other reviewers that she is far better suited as a soloist, and was completely out-shined by Kaptsova as Gulnare, who showed no signs of exhaustion after dancing in EVERY performance. Kaptsova was exquisite!

When I think back, Shipulina's Medora was the most "blah" starring role I've seen from a Russian ballerina. I would prefer Osipova, Alexandrova, Zakharova, Tereshkina, Lopatkina, Vishneva, even Somova!

Having said all the negatives, I truly am thankful that she was willing to step up and fill in for Osipova on Sunday. Like others, I do not fault Shipulina for the lack-luster situation. I wish the Bolshoi would have made wiser decisions.

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It was also heroic if a bit crazy for Osipova to have danced on Saturday with a high fever, because if Alexandrova had already left, then Shipulina would have had to have danced the Friday night, Saturday matinee, Saturday evening, and Sunday matinee performances!

Kaptsova danced in either every or all but one performance, and she was as lovely on Sunday as she was on Opening Night, but Gulnare doesn't have as much dancing or stage time, with her first entrance an hour into the ballet, nor is she expected to carry it.

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As for Shipulina's technique (pirouettes, etc) -- I think Sunday was an exception. Again, I felt that ten days prior in Chapel Hill she looked tired -- and I felt that she was probably happy just to get through Sunday. I also wouldn't put her up there with Alexandrova/Osipova, etc... but she is technically competent, and I would MUCH RATHER see her over Somova..... despite a few fudged pirouettes from fif-first....

As for her feet -- I also don't agree -- but (and I apologize to the suppliers on this thread, but this is just my opinion -- and I don't think it's true for everyone dancer who uses them) I really don't feel that her pointe shoes are aesthetically pleasing on her feet. I'd love to see her in a bit more 'traditional' of a shoe, like she used to wear.

And, finally, as for the Bolshoi/Kennedy Center casting stuff, they ignored one of the most basic rules of life (in my opinion): always have a backup. And a backup for the backup. Seriously!

(Sorry for the repetitive paragraph/sentence structure -- I need more caffeine....)

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To call Shipulina 'a mediocre dancer' is very harsh.

I would say based solely on her sunday afternoon performance, that Shipulina is mediocre, but I am sure that she would have danced much better had it not been her 5th or 6th Medora in a week. This might sound harsh, but I feel obligated to hold the Bolshoi to an extremely high standard. She had trouble with virtually every double pirouette, never completing two full rotations. She had some of the least attractive feet I've seen. And although she has a beautiful arabesque, she simply does not have the star-quality one comes to expect from a Bolshoi leading lady. I agree with other reviewers that she is far better suited as a soloist, and was completely out-shined by Kaptsova as Gulnare, who showed no signs of exhaustion after dancing in EVERY performance. Kaptsova was exquisite!

When I think back, Shipulina's Medora was the most "blah" starring role I've seen from a Russian ballerina. I would prefer Osipova, Alexandrova, Zakharova, Tereshkina, Lopatkina, Vishneva, even Somova!

Having said all the negatives, I truly am thankful that she was willing to step up and fill in for Osipova on Sunday. Like others, I do not fault Shipulina for the lack-luster situation. I wish the Bolshoi would have made wiser decisions.

That the Bolshoi was short on Medora's for Washington is a regrettable thing. It isn't the first time this happens in touring situations, and it won't be the last time either. As mentioned here Zakharova is busy in Milan, Lunkina is on maternity leave, the scheduled Nikulina was injured, Alexandrova left after opening night, and it was undoubtedly a mistake to cast Osipova so soon after her New York/ABT outing. Some posters here make it sound as if audiences in Washington DC were victim of some special treatment. Really they were not!

Moreover, one doesn't judge a dancer on a sole sunday afternoon performance, as you know quite well, mariinskyfan. How anybody can call a ballerina "mediocre" when she has the bad luck to appear in successive performances of a ballet of this scale is beyond me. If she was really mediocre then she wouldn't even have been able to tackle them all. We had a similar situation in Paris last year also with the Bolshoi's Corsaire when Svetlana Lunkina danced three successive performances of Medora. Of course the third effort wasn't as sharp as the first and showed severe signs of fatigue - how could it be? But is that a reason to condemn her as a "mediocre" ballerina ?

Shipulina has always proven an extremely reliable artist, regardless of the number of times she had to perform, the shape of her feet, or of the pointes she is wearing. Natalia, I find it completely gratuitous to link her to Alina Somova (and the fact that they are both wearing pointes of a certain label is really of no further consequence here). We all know by now that you don't like this artist, and it is your good right to do so, but with all respect you do sound like a broken record with your ad nauseam derogatory remarks against her.

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Marc, Schipulina is a nice "house ballerina" - nothing more and nothing less. I do not detest her...I simply do not consider her ballerina material, especially in one of the grand companies of the world.

The link with Somova (beside the pointe shoes ads) is that Schipulina is featured much too often compared to other, more talented and deserving ballerinas within their respective home troupes. I have seen Schipulina MANY times live since ca 1998 and she consistently fails to wow me vis-a-vis the hyping in Russia. She is a very fine fairy in the Prologue of Sleeping Beauty, for example. Wonderful poser. Ballerina? No way, IMO.

Nice -- sometimes even good -- as a soloist. I stick to my description of "mediocre" as a ballerina.

Antonicheva, Gracheva, Allash, Ryzhkina (rarely seen in the West and a delight!) -- all principals -- or even the beautiful long-time soloist Anastasia Yatchenko, are far preferable, IMO. Other than Gracheva coming along as a coach, where were these ladies? [Gracheva is hardly retiring...she starred in the recent premiere of Burlaka's Paquita Grand Pas in Moscow.]

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These days Zakharova has the premiere of Pink Floyd by Roland Petit in Milano .....

I understand. Which schedule came first -- Kennedy Center or Milan? Perhaps she was available for Milan because her services were not needed at the Kennedy Center? That's what I meant by Bolshoi managers needing a course in Planning 101.

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I wanted to add that I liked how the Bolshoi corps managed to look elegant and lovely and capable of making beautiful tapered lines without being positively skeletal, unlike the Mariinsky corps (that I've seen recently). Having a bit of flesh especially in their arms and shoulders gave them a softer, more Romantic feel.

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I loved the corps.

Plus, now I want to be a pirate!!!!

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