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Le Corsaire at The Kennedy Center


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#121 Marc Haegeman

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Posted 23 June 2009 - 12:17 PM

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.

#122 Natalia

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Posted 23 June 2009 - 12:44 PM

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.]

#123 Natalia

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Posted 23 June 2009 - 12:48 PM

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.

#124 canbelto

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Posted 23 June 2009 - 12:51 PM

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.

#125 Helene

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Posted 23 June 2009 - 12:56 PM

I loved the corps.

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

#126 Natalia

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Posted 23 June 2009 - 01:22 PM

Roger that. The female classical corps of the Bolshoi has so improved in the last 4-5 years. The character corps (both genders) and classical men were always fantastic at the Bolshoi but the classical ladies now rival those of the Mariinsky. The Mariinsky is in a state of trasition and the ladies corps, in particular, is very young (a couple of dozen new ladies in 08/09 and more to come from the latest graduation class).

#127 leonid

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Posted 23 June 2009 - 02:14 PM

Marc, Schipulina is a nice "house ballerina" - nothing more and nothing less.

With what authority can you make such a statement you are after all like the most of the posters here merely a member of any audience. As you used two sentences the first patronising and the second without substantiation and what I read as pomposity, I wonder what her friends in the company will think of what you wrote let alone herself when she reads it as she surely will be shown it.

It is odd in a serious discussion about sincere committed artists to hear such a vulgarism as, "...she constantly fails to wow me vis-a-vis the hyping in Russia." You later say, "Wonderful poser. Ballerina? No way,IMO.

I have to ask you this question, do you read what you write?

#128 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 23 June 2009 - 02:49 PM

OK folks, I think we can disagree without impugning the perceptions of other posters or eviscerating the dancers.

Cool it, OK?

#129 Mikhail

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Posted 23 June 2009 - 04:07 PM

Which schedule came first -- Kennedy Center or Milan? Perhaps she was available for Milan because her services were not needed at the Kennedy Center?


Bolshoi announced the casts for the US tour only on March 19. Here is the link to the first announcement which I saved for the history being absolutely sure that it would never become true. Both Zakharova’s and Osipova’s schedules were known at that time. Zakharova’s one was taken into account, Osipova’s was not. One can see from this poster that Osipova was planned to dance Le Corsaires in Washington on June 17 and 20. At that time her La Sylphide with ABT was scheduled on June 17 and 19. No comments.

#130 Ilya

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Posted 23 June 2009 - 07:03 PM

.... 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!


If there is nothing in the character to imply that he is Jewish, what is the point of identifying him as such on the official Bolshoi website? I posted the link and the quote above, here it is again, both in English and in Russian:
http://bolshoi.ru/en...dynid26=323#dyn
http://bolshoi.ru/ru...ynact26=art#dyn

And what is the point of endowing the character with stereotypical antisemitic traits and a Jewish name?

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. [I notice that, when on tour, the Bolshoi not only does not 'black face' the character but minimizes the 'rear padding,' thank goodness.]


Natalia, thank you for describing this. I never watched the full Moscow version, and now I am glad that I did not. This is offensive, period. Whether in Russia or on tour, this is offensive. A search of Bolshoi's synopsis of the ballet in English yields the following pearl (see the link above):
"...eventually the handkerchief, passing from hand to hand, reaches an old negress who, picking it up, starts to chase Seyd-Pasha, smothering him with her caresses. Seyd-Pasha is hard put to it to contain his anger."
Through yet another miracle of English-to-English translation, this becomes, in the Kennedy Center program:
"...until it reaches an old maid who, picking it up, starts to chase Pasha Seyd, smothering him with her caresses. Pasha Seyd has a hard time containing his anger."

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.


Yes, I wish it was published, as well. In fact, given how much work has allegedly gone into reconstructing the 19th century story, choreography, costumes, and sets, I was expecting to see a long article in the program booklet detailing the scholarship and explaining the result. I was dismayed to find nothing of the sort. In fact, the printed program does not even identify the composers who wrote the music.

If the Bolshoi thought it important to fully restore everything as much and as closely as possible, including the 19th century racism, they should stick to this position and defend it, instead of watering down their program notes and mime while on tour. Present your "negress" and your "jew" in DC, and let's have an open discussion of the merits of this approach. If this were their position, it would at least command some respect from me. However, this position would not stand up to close scrutiny, for reasons that I explained earlier in this thread: this production is far from restoring "as much as possible as closely as possible." To take one obvious example, Conrad was not a dancing role in the 1899 production that the Bolshoi purports to restore. Here is how the Sankt-Peterburgskaya Gazeta of January 14, 1899 described the January 13, 1899 performance (the English translation is mine):
"The ballerina's partner in the pas de deux, Mr. Kiaksht, danced magnificently as well, surprising with his jumps, double turns in the air, etc. The variation of Mr. Kiaksht caused a complete sensation and was repeated.
...
Corsair Conrad was performed by Mr. Gerdt..."
Mr. Gerdt, 54 at the time, could not possibly have had a dancing role, much less the virtuoso steps that Mr. Skvortsov executed on Sunday afternoon. Clearly the ballerina's partner during the pdd was a different person in the original production. Also, here is an excerpt from Sankt-Peterburgskie Vedomosti of January 12, 1858, regarding the original Perrot staging:
"On the square, a crowd of corsairs is walking, with their leader Conrad (Mr. Petipa.)
...
Mr. Petipa did not dance in this ballet; he performed his role with great energy."
[Everything is quoted from "Russkaya baletnaya kritika vtoroi poloviny XIX veka" by O. Petrov, Sfera, 1995, ISBN 5-86193-022-8.]

So, if the Bolshoi was really aiming to "RESTORE as much as possible as closely as possible," they would have gone back to Conrad being a purely mime role. Clearly, they felt they had enough leeway to change this important aspect of the original. If so, why not do away with the racism as well?

#131 Ilya

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Posted 23 June 2009 - 07:21 PM

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!


Marc, we were victims of really, really poor planning on the part of Bolshoi's management, as well as some extremely bad manners, also on the part of Bolshoi's management. I believe Alexandrova did dance on Thursday. After that, they had two ballerinas left to do four performances in 69 hours. It may have been wise to have, for example, Alexandrova stick around for three more days, just in case of an emergency. In any case, everyone's prior engagements had been known for a very, very long time, and the Bolshoi had more than enough time to have new dancers learn the role, instead of scheduling Ms. Shipulina to do the dress rehearsal + four performances. Common sense also dictates some good will gestures like letting people know (or at least trying to!) about the cast change as soon as it occurs, not 10 seconds before the performance, especially if you are planning to come back to the same venue for many years to come and presumably want to have repeat customers.

Having said this, I would like to reiterate my admiration for Ms. Shipulina and Mr. Skvortsov who really saved the day for the company in very tough circumstances.

#132 mariinskyfan

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Posted 23 June 2009 - 09:01 PM

I appreciate everyone's opinions regarding Shipulina. I would love to give her another chance to wow me next time the Bolshoi comes around. And as far as Somova goes, while she isn't my personal favorite, she IS very exciting to watch and is capable of some truly brilliant dancing. I would rather see that any day over something forgettable.

BTW, Celebrity Sighting: I saw Owen Wilson at the Sunday Matinee.

#133 Mashinka

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Posted 24 June 2009 - 01:18 AM

I appreciate everyone's opinions regarding Shipulina. I would love to give her another chance to wow me next time the Bolshoi comes around. And as far as Somova goes, while she isn't my personal favorite, she IS very exciting to watch and is capable of some truly brilliant dancing. I would rather see that any day over something forgettable.


Really? A forgettable performance is just that, out of mind when you leave the theatre, whereas on every occasion I've been unlucky enough to catch Ms Somova I've seethed with rage for the next 24 hours. Somova is never exciting and incapable of efficient dancing let alone brilliant. I too am a Maryinsky fan but I try not to let it stop me from being objective.

#134 mariinskyfan

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Posted 24 June 2009 - 04:53 AM

Really? A forgettable performance is just that, out of mind when you leave the theatre, whereas on every occasion I've been unlucky enough to catch Ms Somova I've seethed with rage for the next 24 hours. Somova is never exciting and incapable of efficient dancing let alone brilliant. I too am a Maryinsky fan but I try not to let it stop me from being objective.


I understand that I am in the minority by not completely disliking Somova's dancing. But, like I said, she also isn't my favorite. For instance, if I was expecting to see Evgenia Obraztsova but Alina Somova appeared on stage, I would be very disappointed. Having said that, I would still rather see Somova over Shipulina. When I saw Alina Somova dance in Don Quixote this past winter, she gave one of the most secure yet technically dazzling 3rd act Kitri's I've seen. I left the theatre excited and inspired. After Shipulina's Medora, I wouldn't say I "seethed with rage", but I was extremely let down and uninspired. I hope this doesn't sound biased.

I will try not too talk too much more about Somova bc I know that is not the purpose of this thread.

#135 Natalia

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Posted 24 June 2009 - 06:14 AM

......So, if the Bolshoi was really aiming to "RESTORE as much as possible as closely as possible," they would have gone back to Conrad being a purely mime role. Clearly, they felt they had enough leeway to change this important aspect of the original. If so, why not do away with the racism as well?


Very good points, Ilya. It's too bad about the offensive elements, which were in practically all 19th/early-20th C story ballets (e.g., Bayadere's 'little sambos' in Act II; 'American Negro Couple' in the Legats' Fairy Doll; even the Moor in Fokine's Petrouchka). Many of the wonderful Bournonville ballets that survive have offensive elements but we still embrace the Royal Danish Ballet; we certainly do not call today's Danish population 'racist' just for keeping these elements in the Bournonville ballets. It was the 19th Century and today's audiences are expected to have the maturity to understand that they are seeing a relic of the past, I suppose. But we still feel queezy just seeing it, even if we know that it's a museum piece.

I am curious about the 'Conrad solo' in the cave scene -- the famous male solo of 'Corsaire pdd.' Your sources mention that in the 1899 version -- the version that Burlaka et al attempted to reconstruct -- that solo was performed by Georgi Kyasht, rather than Conrad, who was mimed by Pavel Gerdt. Did Kyasht's character have a name (not "Ali" - we know that!) or was he merely a young guy/porteur who shows up to dance with Medora?

Related to this, it is interesting to note that Ratmansky's Act III 'Pas d'Eventailles' for Corsaire resurrected this tradition of the 'unidentified porteur/soloist' -- as Conrad is in prison during most of Act III, Medora needs a guy with whom to dance this pas and...voila!...Mystery Porteur shows up. [In the 2007 performances in Moscow & London, this was tall Ruslan Skvortsov's usual role.]


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