A New Yorker at the Bolshoi BalletViewing "le style royale"
Posted 20 November 2011 - 12:27 PM
Then there was the Bolshoi as a building. A long shot of the outside of the building. There was no explanation, so I thought - naive me! - that it must be a Potemkin village, created for a movie scene. It was the actual Bolshoi as I soon realized, amazed. To this provincial New Yorker, I always thought the Metropolitan Opera the grandest theater imaginable. Well, readers, I was wrong. The interior was as imperial as the entrance - red carpets, chandeliers, along the lines of the Met, but much more ornate, much more theatrical.
It was some time before we got past the unnecessary narrator in English and French, and finally, the ballet commenced. I was surprised at the level of costuming - it seemed every member of the cast was bewigged and elaborately hatted, as well as decorated jackets for men and trailing gowns for women courtiers. As we know, Sleeping Beauty takes a while to get going, and the Bolshoi took every passage, no cuts, danced it all, and after awhile I began to miss the Peter Martins streamlined version! When will this be over, I thought. I preferred Merrill Ashley's Carabosse to the Russian man who mugged the role at the Bolshoi - too grotesque. Ashley played her as an evil beauty, and I loved the long fingernails which the Russians dispensed with.
I realized as I absorbed the "style royale" of the Bolshoi that they act as well as dance. They are emotionally present, they do not withhold their feelings. Also, every member of the corps de ballet was chosen for beauty as well as dancing, and that is certainly not the case at New York City Ballet. The female corps in the Bolshoi are uniformly rows of very pretty girls. That is their tradition. Also, they don't need their corps de ballet to be as skllled as Balanchine's corps needs to be. The technique for every member of the New York City Ballet is very demanding, and it's impossible to choose an entire corps de ballet of beautiful girls who also can do Balanchine choreography, where every dancer has to be top notch and ready for solos. Yet on the NYCB stage all give the illusion of beauty. (I just passed the Theater Formerly Known as State, and I saw the NYCB dancers sans make up, hanging out, eating lunch - I would never realize they were dancers if I weren't so familiar with every member of the company. I could have named each one. And they were far from conventionally "pretty". They were accomplished Balanchine dancers.
So I was impressed with the ornateness of the Bolshoi theater, the production values, the beauty of all involved.
At first I thought Svetlana Zacharova was too mature for the 16 year old Aurora. You see these things on film which are not apparent in the theater. She was technically perfect and smiling, always radiant. David Hallberg I had only seen in Ratmansky's Nutcracker last year at BAM and there I sat very close to the stage and noticed his look of wonder as he accomplished a feat with his ballerina. It was as if he was amazed they did it! His entrance on the Bolshoi stage was I can only call thrilling. His leaps, his command of the huge stage. You'd never know what suppressed power he possessed as you earlier observed him pacing slowly before the performance.
In the wedding scene, I felt that Svetlana Z was more suitable for the part as she had matured with the role. I noticed Hallberg's concentration as he centered her in her pirouettes, ending in a noble pose for both.
I could have criticized the fairy tale characters, the cat without a tale and without catlike motions, Puss in Boots who never captures her, the wolf who lacked menace. But it's late and after all, it's only a fairy tale, isn't it?
If anyone saw this performance in Moscow today or the live film, I'd love to hear your responses.
Posted 20 November 2011 - 02:20 PM
Sleeping Beauty is not my favorite ballet, in part because of its length, but also because the drama of the story is muted compared with that of R&J, Giselle, or Swan Lake. I totally agree that the production was too long and there were many moments when I was just treading water waiting for the next real thing, i.e., dancing. In particular, the role of Carabosse was too long as well as plain silly (silly like Green Rothbart in ABT's Swan Lake). I much prefer the feminine evil fairy that is used at ABT. (I haven't seen NYCB's version.)
The surprise for me was Svetlana Zakharova. The only time I'd seen her before was on the DVD of Giselle with Robert Bolle and the ballet company of La Scala (I think), and I her acting didn't move me at all. In this Sleeping Beauty, I didn't care for her in Act 1, and I can't really explain why, except to say again that I wasn't moved by her acting. She wasn't especially expressive, didn't make me believe in her. Maybe she was terrified of that Rose Adagio, which didn't even include the balances of the ABT version. But in Act Il, which didn't require great acting, simply great classical dancing, she simply shone. She was exquisite, her technique thoroughly in service to the choreography, her "line" beautiful at every moment. I wonder whether perhaps she isn't a great actress but is, indeed, an exquisite classical ballerina.
The other surprise was the interview with David Hallberg BEFORE the ballet. The fact that he had the presence of mind, knowing that he would be making ballet history, to answer questions so graciously is a testament to his modesty. He is quoted in one of his online videos saying that for him, ballet is a "calling," and that is evident in his manner, his earnestness, his dedication.
It was definitely worth it to me to get up at 6:30 a.m., but I can count on the fingers of one hand (maybe half of one hand) the number of dancers I would do that for. I'm curious to see whether David's work with the Bolshoi will change his dancing in any way. What an exciting time to be a balletomane!
Posted 20 November 2011 - 02:21 PM
I felt like the production, although lavish looking, was disappointing b/c it was practically the same set throughout the entire ballet. The set was very similar to the Paris Opera Ballet, but I think the POB version (by same design team) had more set changes or the illusion of more changes. I could be wrong. I will have to go back and re-watch the Paris Sleeping Beauty. Also, I thought the mime especially when the Lilac Fairy says, "No, she won't die, rather she will fall asleep..." was too subtle. Most productions make the mime much more clear, although I guess Sleeping Beauty is so well known that we really don't need the mime to be so clear. I am surprised that I wanted more mime. The other part I hated about the set was that the Lilac Fairy came to pick up Hallberg in a boat after the Vision Scene just like in most productions, but Aurora's palace was right there staring us in the face and there was no water. The boat was floating on land. Rolling out mist did not help me think of it as water. It was the most jarring boat scene I have seen in a Sleeping Beauty. I wonder why the set designers and director did not think up something better.
Posted 20 November 2011 - 02:44 PM
As someone new to the Bolshoi (except for the Don Q broadcast), I found the overall level of dancing impressive. I try to avoid the game of "corps-spotting," but I can't help but notice the prince who was wearing a gold crown topped with a profusion of green feathers. Have no idea who he was. But I thought he had great presence.
p.s. I think previously the discussion of the moviecasts has been in the "Ballet Films" forum. Putting it in the forum for the particular company makes more sense to me and maybe will spark more discussion of the movies.
Posted 20 November 2011 - 02:49 PM
Loved the sets and costumes: big, sumptuous and kind of overwhelming, which is OK: I don’t expect to be underwhelmed by the Bolshoi. That floor has to go, though. It wasn’t bad looking straight on, but I feel sorry for the audience in the upper reaches. Those overhead shots seemed to be devoid of dancers; all you could see was the pattern.
Very divided feelings about Zakarova: a lot to like, but those much-discussed extensions made me cringe. And there was one jete early on that was awful: legs flung apart, no actual elevation, no forward movement, no lightness, just a mid-air 180+ split and a clunky landing; “Uh oh,” I thought. But later, I think it was during the vision scene, she did a series of what looked like deliberately low jetes that were everything they should be: arced and traveling with good ballon. Her upper body and arms were lovely, but I did think she lacked delicacy and freshness in her petit allegro. On the other hand, it was a nice change seeing a Rose Adagio that didn't insist on excessive balances with the attendant wobbles; she looked relaxed and confident - no need to show off. I’d really like to see her in something else; I wonder if she’s shown at her best as Aurora.
Aside from some crummy YouTube videos, this was my first view of Halberg, and he’s a stunner. Even my inexpert eye could see the difference in his style from the Bolshoi men and it’ll be interesting to see who ends up influencing whom the most. There were a couple of times when he seemed to need more space than the stage could provide. Very impressive.
Posted 20 November 2011 - 03:22 PM
Needless for me to point out that Mr. Hallberg was as fine as he could be. I couldn't help thinking as he made his entrance in Act II, that I was watching one of the finest dancers of our time live on the very grand Bolshoi stage.
For me personally, Ms. Zakarova did not disappoint and I noticed too that Mr. Hallberg was paying close attention to her while they were dancing their PPD, making sure she was the one shining throughout the entire coda.
I must admit that I did not like the close-up camera work whenever there was an solo. The camera literally followed the dancer/actor from one end to the next. One could lose track of the directions (in the audience) easily, and you didn't get to see what was happening on the other end of the stage if other dancers were also doing mime at the same time. I prefer to see the big picture since it's not a small stage.
Overall, I like the sets and the costumes. It was long but I enjoyed it so much I didn't even notice the time.
Posted 20 November 2011 - 03:25 PM
Posted 20 November 2011 - 03:53 PM
1. I am a fan of Svetlana, but I never imagined her as Aurora. I was very pleasantly surprised. I appreciated her in both acts. Her dancing appeared effortless. I came away feeling, more than ever, that she is a princess and a star. This version of the ballet certainly sought to showcase that.
2. I didn't know that "Sleeping Beauty" involved a chicken fairy. The yellow feathered fairy was a joy to watch.
3. The fourth prince, who wore a crown with feathers in a circle, pointing outward, was beautiful physically and in his dance. Did he perform the role of the prince in "Cinderella" in Act II, as well? What is his name?
4. I loved the fairy tale characters. They were humorous and dramatic, if a bit campy. The birds really danced like flying birds. The wolf chasing Red Riding Hood continued in character even after taking his bow, to the audience's delight. The Puss and Boots characters captured the essence of playfulness and kitty confidence.
5. Lilac lacked the presence, grace, and power with which I associate the character. I wondered if she held herself back in some manner. She hardly ever even smiled.
6. David Hallberg dances beautifully, with grace and elegance. I expected longer solos, having seen other versions of this ballet. I had some trepidations during the lifts, but this ballet does not contain many lifts. A few times he landed too far to the side of the stage, outside of the lighting. Also, the cameraman did not show his entrance on two occasions, and did not show the curtain call, to my dismay. Unfortunately, I did not see his interview, and I hope it ends up on youtube.
7. The children in Act I were wonderful. Their smiles were genuine, and their dancing was beautiful.
8. I don't like Carabosse in any incarnation. I never have understood the characterization. I do not find the character scary or innately evil, just ugly.
9. The scenery disappointed, surprisingly. The painted backdrop did not convey anything important, and was not spectacular or interesting.
10. I appreciated the forest scene. It explained the vision of Aurora in a way that I have not seen before, and really provided context that was missing for me. It helped tie the two acts together.
11. David was a bit too deferential in his kiss. That peck would not have awoken me after one hundred years of sleep.
12, The theatre contained maybe ten people. Why doesn't the distributor market this series? I can't imagine who would not have enjoyed this performance.
Posted 20 November 2011 - 04:24 PM
Other thoughts: I missed the series of fish dives in the Grand Pas de Deux - is this always the case in the Bolshoi SB?
It's the case with any Russian production. Fish dives are a Western European addition.
I caught the delay. I was only able to stay for the Prologue and Act I as I had somewhere to be (but I wanted to show up to increase the attendance numbers to encourage the new theater to keep adding the ballet productions)--I was hoping to be able to stay for at least Act II (which is usually my favorite) but the screen flashed that there would be a 30 minute (!!!!) intermission and so that would have only let me see about 15 min of Act II. I thought the Carbosse was too camp and limited in mime to be more effective. Zakharova I did not warm to--the extensions, the angularity....it's not for me. I had hoped pregnancy would soften her but it does not appear to be the case. I can imagine, though, she would be more effective in Act II, so I am disappointed I could not stay for it. I would have preferred to see Alexandrova as Lilac (though I would prefer to see her in most anything given the option), but I understand they probably have to spread the wealth to Allash. I thought she did a lovely job, though, quite secure.
I did like the patterned floors when we had a straight on shot, but whenever they did anything from a overhead angle it seemed like too much.
Posted 20 November 2011 - 05:42 PM
The children were beautifully trained, much better than our American children, even from SAB or JKO School.
Also, I'm glad I wasn't sitting in one of those balcony seats. I agree--the viewing was impossible with the floor design.
Posted 20 November 2011 - 05:48 PM
This production makes me realize once again the genius of Balanchine, to peel away all this frou-frou and have his company class practice tendus. Stripping away all the ornateness to display the choreography and immaculate technique. He was a true original; he came from this Russian imperial tradition, he drew from it but discarded it. In changing the name of his Ballet Imperial to Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2, he famously remarked, "Nothing is imperial anymore, except - except the Empire Hotel!" (referring to the hotel across the street from the theater).
Posted 20 November 2011 - 06:26 PM
After being subjected to ABT's current production, this production seems like a paragon of virtue. Sets and costumes are lavish and architecturally and period correct.
I too was disappointed by the Lilac Fairy's lack of authority and yearned for Sara Mearns but enjoyed Carabosse.
Zakharova may not be a natural Aurora but she took control after the intermission and for those of accustomed to American dancers there is so much to enjoy in the use of the upper body. Hallberg was never anything but acomplete classicist even in his interivew.
All in all a wonderful sunday morning. I can hardly wait for Le Corsaire.
Posted 20 November 2011 - 07:21 PM
King Florestan: Andrei Sitnikov
Queen: Kristina Karaseva
Princess Aurora: Svetlana Zakharova
Prince Desire: David Hallberg
Catalabutte: Vitaly Biktimirov
Four Princes Who Come Courting: Karim Abdullin, Yuri Baranov, Pavel Dmitrichenko, Vladislav Lantratov
Фрейлины, which Google is translating into "Maids of honor". I assume the Lilac Fairy's entourage: Angelina Vlashinets, Yulia Grebenshikova, Elizaveta Kruteleva, Yulia Lunkina, Svetlana Pavlova, Maria Prorbich, Olga Smirnova, Anna Turazashvili
Fairies' Cavaliers: Batr (?) Annadurdiev, Artemi Beliakov, Klim Efimov, Dmitri Efremov, Maksim Ollengeim, Denis Rodkin
Dutchess: Olga Suvorova
Галифрон, наставник принца, "Galifron" -- I think the man in the second act who's Desire's handler: Igor Simachev.
Leads in the Peasant Dance: Anna Antrolova, Aleksander Vodopetov
Carabosse: Alexei Loparevich
Lilac Fairy: Maria Allash
Fairy of Tenderness (Candid): Daria Khokhlova
Fairy of (translating as) Carlessness (A type of flower). Maybe free-spirit?: Chinara Alizade
Fairy of Generosity (Spreader of bread crumbs): Ksenia Kern
Fairy of Playfulness (Twittering canary): Anastasia Stashkevich
Fairy of Audacity (Violent): Elena Andrienko
Diamond Fairy: Anna Leonova
Sapphire Fairy: Viktoria Litvinova
Gold Fairy: Maria Vinogradova
Silver Fairy: Anna Tikhomirova
White Cat: Yulia Lunkina
Puss in Boots: Igor Tsvirko
Princess Florine: Nina Kaptsova
Bluebird: Artem Ovcharenko
Little Red Riding Hood: Anastasia Stashkevich
Wolf: Alexei Koryagin
Cinderella: Daria Khoklova
Prince of Fortune: Karim Abdullin
Conductor: Vasily Sinaiski
By the "yellow" one, do people mean the Fairy of Playfulness from the Prologue or the Gold Fairy from Act III.
Posted 20 November 2011 - 07:38 PM
Posted 20 November 2011 - 08:03 PM
I had the same thought. I enjoyed the performance thoroughly, but when I thought about bringing friends, I couldn't help but feel that ballet -- this ballet, anyway -- is an acquired taste. I kept thinking about the Mariinsky Jewels. It strikes me as more immediately appealing to the modern eye, and if I were bringing non-ballet friends, it would be Balanchine all the way.
This production makes me realize once again the genius of Balanchine, to peel away all this frou-frou...
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