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Bolshoi's Bayadere

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Since I saw that the Bolshoi is going to transmit its Bayadere into movie theaters next season I suddenly realized that I've never seen the Bolshoi's Bayadere. I have all the currently available commercial videos of the ballet and am familiar with the Mariinsky's traditional and reconstructed versions of it as well. But I never saw a Bolshoi Bayadere.

So I did some searching and found a video. I wanted to tell anyone who has never seen the Bolshoi's version some of the things I have never seen in any other version. I looked at the Bolshoi's website and it seems that it is a hodge podge of choreography by Vakhtang Chabuiani, Nikolai Zubkovsky, Konstantin Sergeyev, Yuri Grigorovich, and, of course, Marius Petipa. Basically, a version that includes scenes that have been added or changed over the years.

The curtain opens with the fakirs acting wild around the fire.The way the fakirs are treated in the Bolshoi version is similar to Makarova's production. Their choreography is a lot wilder than the Nureyev version, for example.

The warriors come skipping and jumping on stage and Solor does several jetes. I am used to him leaping from the wings onto the stage but not leaping across the stage at his entrance.

So right off the bat I knew this was not going to be a Bayadere like any other.

Nikiya's 2nd appearance (sort of a variation) is with a jug. The moves make more sense while she holds a jug.

At the beginning of the second scene a parade of whip wielding guys come parading out and then some moors in black face (this scene would not fly in the U.S.). They are all followed by Gamzatti who is dancing across the stage.

I have to say that I always find the second scene sort of empty. There is normally very little dancing (just D'Jampe dancers normally), and the only thing that holds our interest is the Dynasty (Krystle versus Alexis) cat fight between Gamzatti and Nikiya. For the most part it is mainly an "acting" scene, not a dancing one.

Well, the Bolshoi changes all of that. As I said Gamzatti dances across the stage and then the stage becomes the inside of the palace and she dances a variation that includes hope en pointe. I wonder who choreographed this. Since most versions leave out the last act this addition in the Bolshoi version gives Gamzatti some more dance time.

Then, the moors dance before Nikiiya and the slave come out for the short pas de deux known as "Nikiya and the Slave" which is in Nureyev's version and the traditional (as opposed to the reconstruction) version at the Mariinsky. Unlike the POB and Mariinsky, this is danced before Solor arrives which makes much more sense. I never thought it made sense for Nikiya to come dance before both Solor and Gamzatti and not figure out what is happening. So the Bolshoi puts this added PDD in a good place. She dances for Gamzatti and then leaves. That makes more dramatic sense.

Solor only arrives after the stage clears and Gamzatti's father tells him he's going to marry his daughter, etc.

Then, Gamzatti gets a short variation again before she and Nikiya have their confrontation (she's called for Nikiya). What really surprised me is that parts of the confrontation are actually done en pointe and not just ballet running around the stage like in all the other versions. There are even grand jetes thrown in.

However, the one mis-step in this version is that Nikiya seems to grab the knife to stab Gamzatti with even less provocation than in other versions.

During the engagement scene the Golden Idol has a couple of extra leaps thrown in and returns for the coda.

Solor has a variation that is set to totally different music in this scene.

Nobody does the Nikiya "sad" variation as well as the Russians. Their spines are like rubber bending all the way back to the leg.

Now Kingdom of the Shades. OMG!!! The Bolshoi has three ramps!!! Three levels that the shades must descend. That means when some are finally on the stage floor, you are seeing 4 levels of shades coming forward. It is absolutely MARVELOUS!!!! This more than any other difference is by far the best thing in this version.

At the end of the Kingdom of the Shades the palace/temple/whatever collapses on Solor (he's the only person on the stage at the end) and Nikiya appears above him, and he dies reaching up toward her.

Anyway, those are the differences. I thought many of you would like to hear about that.

Basically, I enjoyed Gamzatti getting two variations in this version, the cat fight being partially on pointe, and the shades descending three ramps! Those were the most interesting and fun parts of this version to me.

Have any of you seen this version? I can't wait to see it at the movies next season now! To think I was going to skip it since I thought I knew Bayadere backwards and forwards! LOL

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Which version is it?

The Bolshoi's version with Nadezhda Gracheva.

I looked at the Bolshoi's website and it seems that it is a hodge podge of choreography by Vakhtang Chabuiani, Nikolai Zubkovsky, Konstantin Sergeyev, Yuri Grigorovich, and, of course, Marius Petipa. Basically, a version that includes scenes that have been added or changed over the years.

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There were just a handful of opening credits in the opening sequence:

  • Nikiya: Svetlana Zakharova
  • Solor: Vladislav Lantratov
  • Gamzatti: Maria Alexandrova
  • Rajah: Alexei Loparevich
  • High Brahmin: Andrei Sitnikov

Before the second act, Katerina Novikova, the Bolshoi spokeswoman and multi-lingual broadcast host, mentioned a few other dancers, and many were listed in the quickly rolling credits, but here is the rest of the cast list from the Bolshoi site.

  • Tologragva, warrior: Alexander Voytyuk
  • A Slave: Denis Rodkin
  • Magedaveya, fakir: Anton Savichev
  • Aya, slave: Anastasia Vinokur
  • Gumpe: Yulia Lunkina, Svetlana Pavlova
  • Grand Pas: Karim Abdullin,Ivan Alexeyev, Alesya Gradova (Boyko), Elizaveta Kruteleva, Anna Leonova, Yulia Lunkina, Anna Okuneva, Yanina Parienko, Svetlana Pavlova, Maria Vinogradova
  • Dance with drum: Anna Antropova, Vitaly Biktimirov, Igor Tsvirko
  • The Bronze Idol: Denis Medvedev
  • Manu (Dance with Jug): Maria Prorvich Anna Rebetskaya (see below)
  • Scene "Shadows"
    • First Variation: Anastasia Stashkevich
    • Second Variation: Anna Tikhomirova
    • Third Variation: Chinara Alizade

Before the first half, general director, Anatoly Iksanov spoke about the ballet, and Novikova translated into French and English. Before the third act, Novikova spoke about how Filin, who was in the hospital, usually stood by her in the wings, and how they hope he recovers soon.

If Patty Duke can play Patty and Cathy, and Hayley Mills can play twins, perhaps the technology exists so that there can be a DVD where Maria Alexandrova dances both Nikiya and Gamzatti. She owns Gamzatti so well, that it would be a great challenge. Or a series of DVD's where Viktoria Tereshkina guests with the Bolshoi, and they do it twice, switching roles the second time. (Or Doug Fullington gets to do a reconstruction of "La Bayadere" with Carla Korbes and Carrie Imler switching off the roles, with Lucien Postlewaite returning to do Solor. But I digress.)

Vladislav Lantratov was a beautiful Solor. I've rarely seen a male dancer with such elegance and carriage -- and beautiful hands -- who could not only jump, but transition effortlessly between them.

I preferred Zakharova in the short allegro portions of her solos, especially the end of the basket solo. I thought she looked a lot stronger in the adagio in the Berkeley performances five or six years ago, but that might have been because the camera was close in for most of the broadcast. I would have preferred more distance. With the strength of Alexandrova and Lantratov, Zakharova didn't have the same weight or presence for me.

I understand why the YAGP/Emerging Pictures folks are doing a poll on the major roles, but the ballet lives and dies by the depth of the featured characters and the corps. I think they should interview and feature the guy who played the drum in the drum trio, who, according to the cast list is either Vitaly Biktimirov or Igor Tsvirko. The males corps in the section showed the perfect balance of energy/virility and form that the Bolshoi men have at their best. The fakir's roles is a combination of anaerobic dancing, stillness, and intense mime, and kudos to Anton Savichev who did all three equally well.

There was a trio with a soloist and two young students. The blond student to the right (facing the screen) has a special presence.

This might make me an ugly American, but the blackface is a bad idea.

I got the impression that the tempos in the last act were a little fast. They didn't sound fast, but the Shades looked a little pushed. Nonetheless, I thought all three soloists were very fine.

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This might make me an ugly American, but the blackface is a bad idea.

I got the impression that the tempos in the last act were a little fast. They didn't sound fast, but the Shades looked a little pushed. Nonetheless, I thought all three were very fine.

A friend I went with was so upset by the blackface that she is writing to the Bolshoi to complain!

I also thought the tempo for the Shades (including their entrance) was faster than I am used to hearing and would have allowed more lusciousness if it had been slower.

PS Helene I thought you were Canadian? And I'm sure you're not ugly!

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I agree with Helene, the blackface kids are no longer appropriate. Musing about why the Russians still use them was also a distraction. Their choreography is another dubious aspect. My son (24 y.o. and media-aware) was rather shocked.

This version completely isolates the Kingdom of the Shades sequences from the narrative of the ballet: it is almost an unrelated epilogue.

Why is it that very few people know how to film ballet? Do any of them actually know what is going to happen next and what they should be showing?

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Why is it that very few people know how to film ballet? Do any of them actually know what is going to happen next and what they should be showing?

\

I found this particularly annoying in Nikiya's basket solo where the camera panned around to the Rajah stalking across the stage not doing much!!

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  • Manu (Dance with Jug): Maria Prorvich

Maria Prorvich did not appear as advertised, not surprising given that she'd spent the preceding 10 days at her husband's bedside in hospital. Prior to the second act, when describing the forthcoming dances, Katerina Novikova stated that the Manu dance would be performed by Anna Rebetskaya, and the final credits reflected that.

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PS Helene I thought you were Canadian?

Not yet :)

  • Manu (Dance with Jug): Maria Prorvich

Maria Prorvich did not appear as advertised, not surprising given that she'd spent the preceding 10 days at her husband's bedside in hospital. Prior to the second act, when describing the forthcoming dances, Katerina Novikova stated that the Manu dance would be performed by Anna Rebetskaya, and the final credits reflected that.

I missed most of the intro to Act II -- many thanks for the correction!

I forgot to mention Medvedev's Bronze Idol: I loved the plush muscularity and weightiness of it, but especially the mechanical indications and characterization throughout.

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"If Patty Duke can play Patty and Cathy, and Hayley Mills can play twins, perhaps the technology exists so that there can be a DVD where Maria Alexandrova dances both Nikiya and Gamzatti."

Still giggling...

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I do not mean this as a defense about the black face characters in Russian ballet (both the Mariinsky and the Bolshoi use them in various ballets). I just want to explain my experience. When I lived in Germany and Austria most Germans and Austrians did not at all understand my horror at chocolate candy bars with smiling black faces on them. They had candy named "Negerkuss" (Black Kiss). By the way, "neger" is translated as "black" and does not have the n-word connotation. Anyway, we forget that we are a country with a pretty large minority of blacks, and, as a result, we are much more sensitive and possibly enlightened about the consequences of stereotypical representations and how they make people feel.

But a country with a smaller percentage of a particular minority is not going to be as understanding. I could not get Germans (even ultra liberal and totally non-prejudiced Germans) to feel the way I feel about a black face on a chocolate candy bar. They just did not "get" it (they thought I was crazy and over reacting), and I think that comes from not really being exposed to many blacks and how they feel about it, whereas we have grown up as a nation with guilt about slavery and an attempt to make up for it by being very conscious of these issues.

We really can't expect another country to feel the way we do if they have not had the same experiences. It is OUR reality to be shocked by stereotypical depictions of blacks because there has been a concerted effort to wipe away prejudice (at least on the surface), whereas other countries who do not have the extra baggage of slavery and do not have many blacks are not going to understand, in my personal opinion. It is hard to understand someone not "getting it" because we are products of our culture and in our culture it is shocking.

Again, I am not condoning the use of blackface kids, but I am just explaining why I think it is not so shocking to Russians and why the companies there continue to use black face.

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As for the actual Bayadere performance, I hope that the Bolshoi will release this as a dvd. The reason I hope this is that there are so many different things in the Bolshoi's version. Solor enters with grand jetes, his warriors do more leaping than most versions, Gamzatti arabesques like crazy at her entrance and then even has an actual variation, the cat fight is done partially en pointe, etc. I also love the Nikiya and the Slave pas de deux, although the Mariinsky does this also. Then, there are the ramps for the shades!

Anyway, there are enough differences in choreography (I think because of Yuri Grigorovich) to warrant a dvd release so that we have something to compare and contrast with other versions. I wonder what other people think of these choreographic changes. Do you hate them? Love them? I find it fun to see differences between versions.

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Again, I am not condoning the use of blackface kids, but I am just explaining why I think it is not so shocking to Russians and why the companies there continue to use black face.

Fascinating, but I can offer a contrast with the situation in Slovakia, post-Communism. I taught there for five months on a Fulbright lecturing award a few years ago. The only Africans/blacks/African-Americans I saw in all that time were African students studying at the medical school and the very rare black American tourist. So they have very little first-hand experience, much like the Russians.

But my very fluent English-speaking students were eager to learn our cultural sensitivities, slang, etc., as so many hoped to work for multi-national corporations in western Europe. They had been taught that "black" to refer to a person is extremely offensive and should never be used. Well, not really, I explained. It's sometimes appropriate to refer to a person as "white," and then "black" is also acceptable.

Meanwhile, nobody had impressed upon them that the n-word is absolutely taboo and should never be used. They had noticed that it sometimes shows up in rap music here (they have fabulous Internet access), but I urged them to refrain from ever using it. I also explained that the late Justice Thurgood Marshall preferred "Negro," as he believed it was analogous to "Caucasion," but that this was not common in our language now and many find it unacceptable. Afro-American is dated, but African-American acceptable, indeed, preferred. (We also spent some time on the evolution from American Indian to Native American and back.) So much of this reflects shifting cultural norms and it's hard to come up with a clear explanation for most of it.

I don't recall ever seeing black face in the theater or on products like chocolate bars and don't know how to explain that. They loathe Russia and admire Britain, so that might be part of it. They are wary of Germany(although some might consider working there), due to the lingering memories of the Nazi occupation, something even young University students are painfully aware of.

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Again, I am not condoning the use of blackface kids, but I am just explaining why I think it is not so shocking to Russians and why the companies there continue to use black face.

Fascinating, but I can offer a contrast with the situation in Slovakia, post-Communism. I taught there for five months on a Fulbright lecturing award a few years ago. The only Africans/blacks/African-Americans I saw in all that time were African students studying at the medical school and the very rare black American tourist. So they have very little first-hand experience, much like the Russians.

But my very fluent English-speaking students were eager to learn our cultural sensitivities, slang, etc., as so many hoped to work for multi-national corporations in western Europe. They had been taught that "black" to refer to a person is extremely offensive and should never be used. Well, not really, I explained. It's sometimes appropriate to refer to a person as "white," and then "black" is also acceptable.

Meanwhile, nobody had impressed upon them that the n-word is absolutely taboo and should never be used. They had noticed that it sometimes shows up in rap music here (they have fabulous Internet access), but I urged them to refrain from ever using it. I also explained that the late Justice Thurgood Marshall preferred "Negro," as he believed it was analogous to "Caucasion," but that this was not common in our language now and many find it unacceptable. Afro-American is dated, but African-American acceptable, indeed, preferred. (We also spent some time on the evolution from American Indian to Native American and back.) So much of this reflects shifting cultural norms and it's hard to come up with a clear explanation for most of it.

I don't recall ever seeing black face in the theater or on products like chocolate bars and don't know how to explain that. They loathe Russia and admire Britain, so that might be part of it.

There are also regional differences probably. Here in Florida it is quite normal to use "black," and my black friends have told me they prefer it to "African-American" because "African-American" has a distancing "professional" connotation. For example, in official presentations, it is common to use "African-American" to refer to history or give presentations, but among friends it comes off as very formal and, thus, has a distancing effect. So "black" is used among friends. I have no idea if this is the way Northern blacks feel, but it seems to be how my friends in the South feel about the use of terms.

Also, I guess I should mention that my experience of Germany and Austria is 20 years old, so things may have changed. There may no longer be candy bars with black faces on them. I have no idea.

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When Anna-Marie Holmes originally staged Bayadere for Boston Ballet in about 2000, her solution was to dress the children all in gold.

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In Cuba the formal term used is "Afro-Cuban". Curiously, the Spanish derivative of the "N" word is widely accepted too, and not in whispering, nor necessarily in an offending way either. It is just still current, somehow in the Mark Twain fashion/mood.

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Does anyone know why Olga Smirnova did not dance as scheduled?

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Yesterday I drove to Bellingham to see the re-broadcast. Due to unforseen delays for my friend, we arrived 40 minutes into the production, just as Nikiya is dancing her her "fall in love" ppd with Solor. It's such a long production that we were squirming during the final 10 minutes. We decided on the drive home that maybe it wasn't so bad to miss the first 40 minutes - because we had seen so much dancing anyway, and most of it is variations.

Ms. Zakharova is so secure and lyrical in her movements - and yet she left me emotionally vacant. Honestly I was rooting for Gamzatti throughout the production. But I did love her in the 3rd act and understand why her Odette is so amazing. I think all credit goes to Ms. Alexandrova for her performance. Her acting draws you in, and she's so exciting to watch dance, that you can't help but be on her side. The "cat fight" scene surprised me because it involved so much dancing. I've seen a DVD of the Royal Ballet version, so I guess I expected something similar. I liked Mr. Lantratov more than I expected to. He didn't over-act or push hyper panache that other dancers choose. His dancing was very pure, without any fussiness and everything looked effortless. His partnering was secure and he made his divas shine.

The blackface is really bad form, and I've heard the excuses about this in Dutch culture - where Black Peter helps Sinter Klaus. In Latin America, making slit eyes with your hands is considered acceptable to imitate Asian eyes, but I still cringe at that too. Eventually this is going to become a big deal for the Bolshoi - they will put on La Bayadere when the Obamas visit, or Kofi Annan visits. But eventually it's going to blow up on them. I don't think the Russians have an equivalent stereotype to fight against - except maybe the Russian gangsters in many the Hollywood movies.

I was prepared for the Shades to make me cry, but it left me a bit cold. There was some wobbling, but mostly I think the detatchment from the 2nd act made me unemotional in the 3rd act. I did really enjoy Ms. Zakharova and the 3 soloists. Ms. Z is built in the Sophie Guillem mold. If you met in person you would probably think "human sized asparagus ectomorph". Alexandrova's musculature mesomorph is more pleasing to my eye, so I guess Cubanaboy and I agree on our aesthetic preferences (please, more meat on their bones!) But they are both strong, secure dancers.

I wish I could have seen all the interviews. My seatmate is an ethnic Russian with a Ukranian passport. She was very, very uncomfortable during the interview with Ms. Alexandrova. I enjoyed the interview (well the translation). After the performance I asked her why she was fidgeting so much. Ms. Alexandrova, she said, was very "fake" in her interview. It was too exaggerated, and her comments seemed cloying. My friend said she thought Alexandrova was trying too hard to pull heartstrings. I noted that I really like Katarina Novikova as the MC for these events. My friend felt Bolshoi should get a different MC, with a better English and French accent. I think my friend would prefer a professional broadcaster in the role, as she expects this person to "represent" Russia to the US.

I, on the other hand, don't mind Novikova's accented English, and find her broadcast manner is more authentic than someone with more polish. Plus she always wears wonderful clothes! The stage workers behind the scenes are fascinating, and some of the stage hands are great eye candy. Do they always wear English T-shirts with "STAGE" and other labels? Just for the broadcast nights?

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I have the complete opposite view of Katarina Novikova. First, how many people can fluently speak Russian, French and English? Not that many, I would surmise. Moreover, I think she is a very engaging and animated personality.

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Yesterday I drove to Bellingham to see the re-broadcast.

You are hardier than I am -- I just can't do that round trip in a day.

The stage workers behind the scenes are fascinating, and some of the stage hands are great eye candy. Do they always wear English T-shirts with "STAGE" and other labels? Just for the broadcast nights?

I love those shirts. There are days when I wish that all performers wore shirts with their names on them, rather than trying to match them up with their photos in the program!

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I'm with you. It's hard enough to keep track of a company with which you're somewhat familiar, but with visiting companies, it's impossible to tell who the players are.

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I agree: I think Novikova is amazing.

Me too. One good thing is that she provides the three tnraslations in a very fast manner, and she's definitely a great dressed woman! My French friend had no problem understanding her at all.

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I understand Novikova better in French than I do English, and she certainly seems much more comfortable in French, but who am I to complain about a trilingual person when I speak only one language fluently, and merely dabble in a second?

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I wish I understood French, but I've never had a problem ever understanding her English, and so appreciate her facility with languages, how she thinks on her feet and the graciousness and intelligence that she shares with a worldwide audience.

She's one of my cultural heroes.

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