Natalia

Royal Ballet in Washington, DC, June 2009

53 posts in this topic

Well, NYCB does have a history (at least in the Martins era) of having male principals who are no great shakes, but dance frequently because they are reliable partners and blandly inoffensive. An unintentional return to the days when the ballerina was the focus and her partner was just there to support her. Sebastian Marcovici and James Fayette (who has retired) spring immediately to mind. And frankly, I'd take Edward Watson or Rupert Pennefather over Nilas Martins (even in his good days 10 years ago, let alone his present state) any day.

Cinnamon,

You have me banged to rights, that's very very true. Last year when I had the chance to see NYCB in four programmes I have to say in regards to many of the male principals I was left thinking, hmmmmm....

And actually having seen the current state of the etoiles male ranks at POB one comes away with the same impression. Like Watson though, there are some very talented modern dancers in etoile positions in a classical ballet company.

And in truth since both the RB and POB dance those three acts so rarely nowadays, it doesn't really matter. Watson and Pennefather have enough technique to muddle through a fille. Bayadere, Don Q, Swan Lake, Coppelia etc defeat them but those ballets are one a season at most and that's why the Royal has recruited so many foreign virtuosos. Ditto POB.

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I was lucky enough to see the mixed bill almost 3 times --- the open rehearsal on Tuesday afternoon (for only $10!!) was a dress rehearsal, and it looked like the dancers only marked things in DGV. It was also a nice surprise to run into Leigh and Hans, though I did not put 2 and 2 together until later and realized that Hans was our Hans!

Though I liked Chroma (as well as Infra and Eden/Eden) a lot, it faded a bit over 3 consecutive viewings. What makes it interesting for me is not only its facility-on-sleeve kind of choreography, showing off the extreme facility of the dancers, but the different kind of energy and movement quality it asks from the dancers. As a piece of choreography, it may not last the ages, but it works very well as an exciting essay on movement. As such, I thought the contrast to the much subtler, softer Ashton that followed it (after an interminable 25-minute intermission) was very interesting, and only served to highlight Ashton's particular brand of classical port de bras. The contrast between the abstraction of Chroma, and the clear story and drama of Month was also very interesting. DGV for me was kind of synthesis of the two: it has clearly more classical port de bras, though Wheeldon does distort classical lines everywhere, has a more classical use of the corps, and it calls for the kind of extreme facility shown in Chroma. At the same time, DGV's rhythms and pacing was more varied and subtle than Chroma, which seemed to run with the knob stuck at 11. I thought the program was a great way to introduce the company to the public.

Things I liked: Edward Watson and Leanne Benjamin in DGV, and Edward in Chroma. They had perhaps the most idiomatic movement quality for those two pieces: sharp, discontinuous, and a little disturbing. Eric Underwood was similarly nice in Chroma (but not so much in DGV). Marianella was also very nice in DGV (but admittedly, she's my favorite RB dancer), but I would gladly watch Watson and Benjamin again. Sarah Lamb looked great for having just come back from injury not too long ago, and I would never have guessed that Chroma would fit her so well.

Rupert was a great surprise in Month, and I loved how Ashtonian his dancing style was --- the port de bras, the attack of his gestures all looked very right for Ashton: I loved his solo. Ivan Putrov the next night had a more anonymous, homogeneous execution. Alexandra won me over in a lovely, touching pas with Putrov, but her style did not fit in with the company at all. This was really apparent in her first solo with the fast footwork, when she was followed by the very idiomatic Iona Loots. Her attack was homogeneous, whereas Ashton has a way of emphasizing or punctuating the end of his phrases and steps, while going just as fast. A friend of mine was distracted by Alexandra's sickled foot at the beginning of the pas, but I was too distracted by other things to notice that. The audience received her very warmly, and it was really nice to see that.

Both Kolias were good, and handled the virtuosic part well, but I preferred Paul Kay for his greater ease, and his better-fitted wig!

I did not like the seams in the set of Chroma or the wrinkles in the colored rectangular backdrop --- it seemed to go against the minimalist design, and made it look cheap. The sets for Month were beautiful, DGV looked well executed except for a couple of minor lighting issues (they looked like fluorescent lamps flickering a bit as they initially lit up instead of coming on full strength).

After the Tuesday night performance, some friends and I went to the nearest 7-11 for some late-night food (the program was 3 hours long), and one of them caught someone humming the tune to DGV!

--Andre

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:) I know that 7-11! By Jefferson House? :)

Next time, if it's still there (it's been a long time since I lived in Foggy Bottom!), I recommend Mehran on K? or on Pennsylvania! It's Pa: http://mehrankabob.com

It's a small little Pakistani cafe; prices have gone up over the years, but still affordable. Open until 1 weekdays, 3 am on weekends..... I'm veggie, but loved their stuff, and it's good sustenance if you like your curry!

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...that's why the Royal has recruited so many foreign virtuosos. Ditto POB.

Surely you don't mean that the POB is loaded with foreign virtuosos. The company is still overwhelmingly French, and even foreign nationals like José Martinez and Eleonora Abbagnato were trained in France. In the top ranks only Alessio Carbone could be identified as a "foreign virtuoso."

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...that's why the Royal has recruited so many foreign virtuosos. Ditto POB.

Surely you don't mean that the POB is loaded with foreign virtuosos. The company is still overwhelmingly French, and even foreign nationals like José Martinez and Eleonora Abbagnato were trained in France. In the top ranks only Alessio Carbone could be identified as a "foreign virtuoso."

I meant only the Royal is loaded with foreign virtuosi, not the POB.

By ditto I meant several of the etoiles I've seen dance classical roles and was kind of underwhelmed by their classical technique. They were the ones who've been discussed here as surprise nominations to etoile due to their suitability to the modern ballet rep.

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By programme notes I meant the page long diatribes of pseudo intellectual artspeak McGregor favours,

I get a kick out of you, Simon. :)

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And in truth since both the RB and POB dance those three acts so rarely nowadays, it doesn't really matter. Watson and Pennefather have enough technique to muddle through a fille. Bayadere, Don Q, Swan Lake, Coppelia etc defeats them but those ballets are one a season at most and that's why the Royal has recruited so many foreign virtuosos.

Since the RBS production line dried up with regard to British dancers, employing from abroad has become a necessity, but if I'm unhappy about 'political advancement' I'm even more unhappy about the calibre of some of the imports. Surely if the Royal Ballet head hunts for male dancers they could have come up with someone better than Thiago Soares? His performance at the recent Diaghilev Gala at Covent Garden was embarrassing; a Russian friend described him to me in an email after that performance as "No jump, no line, no style, no class". He isn't the only dud as several foreign male dancers have been engaged at lower levels with similar dismal abilities, so what's going on here?

The POB has different problems from the RB such as the slavish devotion to modern work of no discernable merit, but the backbone of the company remains solid with talent still emerging from the school. It's more a problem of the wrong people getting promoted than lack of actual ability there.

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Mashinka

You're bang on about Soares, I just can't quite believe his performances when watching - it's just not good. Makhateli is another one, he has what I call the "Orlando Bloom Effect" where even when he's performing you forget he's there.

Steven McRae, is a technical dynamo, but I find his approach to dance and stage personality so pugnacious and overbearing that once you've stopped marvelling at his tricks there's not much else there - I feel he's another demi-caractere first soloist who has been promoted to prince because he's one of the few who has the technical armoury to cope with the principal rep.

I do wonder though with all those great great dancers that the likes of ABT, MCB, SFB manage to recruit that the Royal can't seem to do the same?

I also think you're right regarding the POB their rep allows great fruit to whither on the vine and male dancers of dubious technique leapfrogging to top rank over far more stylish compratriots. Moreau, Belingard & Pech are fine in the right rep, but aren't classical ballet dancers. Ganio seems increasingly to be permanently injured - a sad cautionary tale about over pushing talent before it's strong enough to cope with the massive physical responsibility it will have to cope with.

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:wink: I know that 7-11! By Jefferson House? :)

I'm not sure --- it's very close to the Foggy Bottom Metro stop if that helps narrow it down. It's the smallest 7-11 I've ever seen. Thanks too for the late night dining suggestions.

--Andre

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That's it! Sort of behind the hospital........

There's also a late-night Pita place... can't remember the name... but it's in Georgetown. Also in Georgetown, on M street, is an awesome South Indian cafe -- Amma's Kitchen.

And that's all from the food gallery -- can you tell I have yet to have lunch?

Anyways, did no one see Manon last night, with my beloved Tamara? I so wish DC could have seen this with her and Cope.... his Act I solo is beautiful.

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Anyways, did no one see Manon last night, with my beloved Tamara? I so wish DC could have seen this with her and Cope.... his Act I solo is beautiful.

Haha --- the lunch discussion syndrome! :wink: I have not heard good things about Carlos's performance last night, but I'll leave that to someone who was actually there.

--Andre

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Well... my humble opinion is that he's just not a MacMillan dancer. Carlos needs big slamming solos. He surprised me in Ashton's Rhapsody with some nuanced musicality, but really -- I'd rather see him as Ali, Basilio, Acteon, etc..........

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Just returned from "Manon" with Alina Cojocaru and Johann Kobborg. My goodness, what beautiful dancer-actors they are! Cojocaru was very effective as a youthful Manon, just a teenager perhaps, who impetuously runs away with Des Grieux and is soon after seduced by the glamour of Monsieur G.M. Her teenage appearance was quite striking in the brothel scene--I could very easily imagine Sylvie Guillem dancing the same steps with seductive confidence, but I found Cojocaru's young, naif Manon, covered in unfamiliar silks and jewels, quite striking as she half-hesitantly abandoned herself to this new world, torn between the glamour and her feelings for Des Grieux. She was very moving, without being over the top, during the death of her brother, the rape scene in the gaol, and the final flight into the Louisiana swamp.

Kobborg, as no one needs to be told, is an impeccable artist, with beautiful line, a strong stage presence, and nuanced acting. He was able to convey his character's thoughts even while standing around the brothel, and he was sweetly protective of Manon.

Ricardo Cervera as Lescaut also seemed quite young, and perhaps not so much distasteful (considering he basically sells his own sister to the highest bidder) as thoughtless. I received the impression that perhaps they had not spent much time together as children, and as a result he does not really have feelings for her as a person. Self-absorbed and wily, his most entertaining moment came during the drunken Act II pas de deux with his mistress. Both he and Laura Morera displayed excellent comic timing, and it was a pleasant, light, well-choreographed contrast to the syrupy darkness of the rest of the ballet.

This was my first time seeing Manon, and I feel about it the same way I feel about MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet--I'll only watch it with a really good cast. It seems that MacMillan wants to tell the story through the dancing, without mime, but doesn't quite know how. We therefore see a lot of rather pedestrian steps repeated one (or two or three) too many times and must rely on the dancers' acting ability to understand characters' relationships and what is happening in terms of the plot. MacMillan is clearly a master of clever and complicated lifts, but unfortunately when he thinks he's come up with some really interesting gymnastics, he feels the need to beat us over the head with it and make absolutely certain we get to watch it several times, regardless of what the music is doing. In the same vein, he has to show us quite graphically and specifically just how Manon is defiled by the Gaoler, as he is apparently unable to get the point across any other way.

Thankfully, the rest of the cast was up to the standard of Cojocaru and Kobborg, so we had a beautifully danced, finely acted performance that triumphed over the unfortunate choreography to produce a moving evening of theatre.

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Makhateli is another one, he has what I call the "Orlando Bloom Effect" where even when he's performing you forget he's there.

Except when he partners so atrociously that he manages to ruin his ballerina's performance.

McRae, is a technical dynamo, but I find his approach to dance and stage personality so pugnacious and overbearing that once you've stopped marvelling at his tricks there's not much else there - I feel he's another demi-caractere first soloist who has been promoted to prince because he's one of the few who has the technical armoury to cope with the principal rep.

Agree entirely. I would only add that there's more to most of those roles than simply jumping about and looking cheerful - not that it seems to matter at Covent Garden nowadays. McRae is also quite small and although he looks brilliant at times, I wouldn't say it's a 'complete' technique

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Just returned from "Manon" with Alina Cojocaru and Johann Kobborg...

My goodness, what beautiful dancer-actors they are!...

This was my first time seeing Manon, and I feel about it the same way I feel about MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet--I'll only watch it with a really good cast...

Thankfully, the rest of the cast was up to the standard of Cojocaru and Kobborg, so we had a beautifully danced, finely acted performance that triumphed over the unfortunate choreography to produce a moving evening of theatre.

Thanks so much, Hans, for this review! I saw the same performance, and share your generous feelings about Cojocaru and Kobborg - and you are right, MacMillan needs superb casting like this to make his ballets come alive - in truth I would have been happy to see M repeated, with exactly the same cast. May I also praise Gary Avis as the reprehensible Gaoler, in a truly memorable character performance that, for me, absolutely "sold" the Third Act.

Cervera's Lescaut, for me, is another memorable performance. In MacMillan's concept I suppose that he is an evil character, a brother who is so depraved that he pimps out his own sister. However, Cervera danced so well, and with such explosive joy in his character, that he almost tilted me over to "the dark side" - more importantly, he made it possible to understand how Manon, Des Grieux, and even Monsieur G.M. could have fallen under his spell.

I hope that folks will share their reviews of the other performances, with different casts. Had I to do it all over again, I would have seen every one of them.

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Thank you all for your reviews and comments on the RB it makes me here in London, feel in touch with what is happening with their performances.

I sometimes forget to check what is in Dance View Times and I think Alexandra has also written an excellent review of the triple bill widely discussed above and it has a stunning picture of Eric Underwood,

who is impacting more and more on the London audience.

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Alexandra's danceviewtimes review is here:

http://www.danceviewtimes.com/2009/06/identity-matters.html

I was especially looking forward to reading her thoughts about "A Month in the Country," given BT's recent threads on Ashton. Here are are few of the points she made about casting and interpretation, which are especially interesting because they're based on close comparisons to previous RB visits with the same work.

It looked much better than it did on its last visit, where it had become the Sylvie Guillem Show, or even in the days when an overwrought Marguerite Porter danced the ballerina role, rather than Katia, the adorable strawberry temptress. But it didn't look quite like itself, and the dancing (and casting) raised more identity questions. Why has the ballerina role become a tall girl part? Lynn Seymour, who created it, was closer to five feet tall than six, and her lines are in the choreography. Zenaida Yanowsky's dancing was beautifully soft, but her height made the pas de deux seem awkward at times, and it was difficult to imagine that she would stay in a marriage and house that bored her so.

And:

As Beliaev, the young tutor who wreaks havoc in the unsuspecting family, Rupert Pennefather handled the pas de deux well, but had trouble with the solos, and did not create a clear character. Watching him, I learned more about Anthony Dowell (who created the role) than I had watching Dowell. How did Dowell show, from his entrance, that he unwittingly brought danger? (The audience laughed heartily at the loud chord that accompanies his entrance.) How did he establish that he was Kolia's tutor, because that wasn't clear, and Paul Kay's "Aw, shucks!" gesture when Beliaev left didn't help.

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Thank you leonid, and thanks for posting the excerpts, bart! I realized that *I* had not been clear. When I wrote "The audience laughed heartily at the loud chord that accompanies his entrance" I meant at this series of performances, NOT when the ballet was new.

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Why has the ballerina role become a tall girl part? Lynn Seymour, who created it, was closer to five feet tall than six, and her lines are in the choreography. Zenaida Yanowsky's dancing was beautifully soft, but her height made the pas de deux seem awkward at times, and it was difficult to imagine that she would stay in a marriage and house that bored her so.

My guess is that it is about age as the RB has become a much younger company over the years. Natalia Petrovna should look older than Vera, her ward, and old enough to be a mother to Kolia, played by an adult dancer desperately trying to convince us he's really a child. With no suitable older dancers available, the company opts for height instead; that way she can look down a little towards her son and her ward making her more a figure of authority towards the younger members of her household.

For a clue as to why she remains in the marriage read Anna Karenina.

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If the dancer can't create a sense of why, or that there's a pull at all, the performance looks incongruous. It's like an Odette who doesn't appear to be stuck.

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Natalia Petrovna should look older than Vera, her ward

The best way of achieving that would be to go back to casting a very young, possibly completely unknown dancer as Vera, as Ashton did in his first two casts.

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In the Turgenev play, Natasha Petrovna is 30 years old. Kolya, her son, is 11 or 12. Vera is a ward, not a daughter, and is supposed to be too old to be a daughter to Natasha. In fact, a leitmotif of the story is that Vera and Natasha are close enough to be sisters. Natasha is married to a much-older man who loves younger & younger chicks, e.g., his interest in Katya the maid. Natasha is no longer young enough for the old rooster.

Ansanelli is actually perfect in age for the role of Natasha; the dancer is 28/29, the character 30. The tradition of making Natasha an 'older woman' came only with the ballet and the casting of Lynn Seymour. The difference in age between Natasha and Vera should be about 10 years, not 20. That, I think, puts the story into better perspective and explains a lot.

I believe that Ansanelli's Natasha lacked the petit-allegro sharpness and bubbly musicality of the Ashton style; from that point of view alone, her Natasha was mediocre. Her triumph, IMO, was in the characterization because she is so believable as a 30-year-old Natasha, wanting a man closer to her own age and fighting her 'sister' for him. Ansanelli also benefited by having an emotional and romantic-looking partner in Ivan Putrov -- more emotional than Pennefather. Also, the Ansanelli-Putrov partnership is physically well matched to make the lifts and throws of the pas de deux exciting; I prefer the shorter ladies in this role...not having to heave-ho the Bussells and Yanowskys. Things really 'clicked' in that final Ansanelli-Putrov performance, IMO.

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One of the sub-themes that has developed in this thread is the contrast between an older generation of RB dancers and some of the younger principals. There's a video which has been posted here before -- Anthony Dowell (with Antoinette Sibley) coaching Pennefather and Cuthbertson in Swan Lake. I enjoy watching Dowell and (in the distance) Sibley as they bring subtle arm gestures, along with suggestions, to the the session while P and C dance.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-IcrRfdkC8s

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In the Turgenev play, Natasha Petrovna is 30 years old. Kolya, her son, is 11 or 12. Vera is a ward, not a daughter, and is supposed to be too old to be a daughter to Natasha. In fact, a leitmotif of the story is that Vera and Natasha are close enough to be sisters. Natasha is married to a much-older man who loves younger & younger chicks, e.g., his interest in Katya the maid. Natasha is no longer young enough for the old rooster.

Ansanelli is actually perfect in age for the role of Natasha; the dancer is 28/29, the character 30. The tradition of making Natasha an 'older woman' came only with the ballet and the casting of Lynn Seymour. The difference in age between Natasha and Vera should be about 10 years, not 20. That, I think, puts the story into better perspective and explains a lot.

Lynn Seymour's age has nothing to do with Ashton's casting or his inspirational take on Turgenev’s play as firstly he needed a dramatic actress and Seymour, was renowned as such and in such a way, that few that

have followed her in this role or others she created, have been able to come close to any of her original outstanding performances.

Ashton subtly characterised his roles and developed his cast in such a way that they remained entirely integrated within their parts in spite of the febrile atmosphere that Natalya Petrovna's behaviour

inevitably creates.

In the play, Natalya Petrovna is actually 29, Seymour was 37 years old, Beliayev in the play is 21 and Dowell was 35, Rakitin in the play is 30 and Derek Rencher was 44, Vera is 17 and was played by Denise Nunn who was a junior member of the corps de ballet. Natalya Petrovna is not married to a much older man he is 36 in the play and he was played by Alexander Grant who was 51 and a very clever actor. Age had no meaning in any of their remarkable performances.

The age of the dancers had no relevance as they perfectly revealed the households tense relationships as the ballet evoked the boredom that can arise in a country house in a hot summer. Ashton in this ballet as ever reveals a gift for portraying characters from a past era.

The legendary Moscow Olga Knipper at the age of 41 has a tremendous success in the role of Natalya Petrovna and the originating actress Elizaveta N. Vasileyeva could not have been only 29 years old as the first performance of this play was given for her benefit performance.

It is Natalya Petrovna’s story of a self-inflicted predicament and her soon to be passed obsession for a younger man. But there is not really any sadness or torment, as Ashton’s presents an outsider’s gentle view of the folly of the situation. This is achieved with the lightest of touches, combining refined amusement with the bittersweet charm of Ashtonian lyricism.

I am glad you like Putrov he is progressing every year. But I am sad at the loss of Ansanelli who has achieved a lot in her time with the Royal Ballet.

PS

Edited to clarify a statement,

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