(This was written at an altitude of 36,000 feet in a state of extreme sleep deprivation, so I beg your indulgence if I’ve forgotten half of what I wanted to write. It’s too long as it is.)
Flames of Paris
Jeanne - Natalia Osipova (16), Ekaterina Shipulina (17m), Ekaterina Krysanova (17e)
Philippe - Ivan Vasiliev (16, 17e), Vladislav Lantratov (17m)
Jérôme - Andrei Merkuriev (16), Denis Savin (17m, 17e)
Adeline - Anastasia Stashkevich (16), Anna Rebetskaya (17m, 17e)
Marquis de Beauregard - Ruslan Skvortsov
Mireille de Poitiers - Kristina Kretova (16, 17e), Anna Tikhomirova (17m)
Antoine Mistral - Artem Ovcharenko (16, 17e), Denis Rodkin (17m)
Jarcasse - Irina Zibrova
Gilbert - Vitaly Biktimirov (16, 17e), Alexander Vodopetov (17m)
Sutler - Anastasia Vinokur
Gaspard - Alexander Petukhov
Lucille - Lyudmila Ermakova
Hunstmen - Batyr Annadurdyev, Yuri Baranov, Karim Abdullin, Evgeny Golovin (16, 17e), Maxim Surov (17m)
King Louis XVI - Denis Medvedev
Marie Antoinette - Elena Bukanova (16, 17e), Olga Tubalova (17m)
Amour - Chinara Alizade (16, 17e), Daria Khokhlova (17m)
Apparition of Rinaldo’s Bride - Yulia Lunkina
Armida’s Friends - Maria Zharkova, Yulia Grebenshchikova, Olga Marchenkova, Angelina Vlashinets (16, 17e), Ana Turazashvili (17m)
Furies - Maria Vinogradova, Anna Okuneva, Yanina Parienko, Viktoria Litvinova, Anna Leonova, Anna Tikhomirova (16, 17e), Xenia Sorokina (17m)
Master of Ceremonies - Alexei Loparevich
Auvergnese - Anna Antropova, Anna Rebetskaya (16), Kristina Karasyova (17m, 17e), Alexander Vodopetov (16, 17e), Vitaly Biktimirov (17m), Anton Savichev (16, 17e), Ivan Alexeyev (17m)
Marseillaise - Igor Tsvirko, Alexei Matrakhov, Maxim Surov
President of the Convention - Alexander Fadeyechev
Jacques-Louis David - Yuri Ostrovsky
conductor - Pavel Sorokin
The best way to summarize the opening night of Flames of Paris would be to say “veniit, vidit, vicit,” because it felt a lot like Natalia Osipova’s coronation. With her spark and one-of-a-kind jump, she effectively overshadowed everyone else on stage. I barely even noticed Ivan Vasiliev until the pas de deux. Nevertheless, it was obvious that Osipova and Vasiliev had been away from the Bolshoi for a while, not because they no longer fit in stylistically (they did), but because what was presumably a fairly short rehearsal period was not enough to overcome Osipova’s synchronization problems with Andrei Merkuriev’s Jerome and even Vasiliev’s Philippe. I also have to note that in the Dance of the Basques, it was not Vasiliev and Merkuriev, but rather Vitaly Biktimirov’s dashing captain who put the dance over the top, which certainly helped me understand why Vassily Vainonen had originally given the lead in the piece to a character dancer.
The audience was beside itself during the pas de deux, and when Vasiliev got whoops and hollers during his variation and coda, which included things like triple revolutions in the air and his proclivity for ending sequences of pirouettes very, very slowly, I didn’t mind in the slightest. That’s the nature of the beast.
Nevertheless, Flames of Paris suddenly seemed like a much better ballet the following afternoon when Ekaterina Shipulina and Vladislav Lantratov took over the leads. Instead of being the Vanya and Natasha Show with a few extra bits thrown in, the ballet now came across as an integrated whole.
Given her height, Shipulina is not an obvious ingenue, but she and Denis Savin as Jerome were entirely synchronized, and so was everyone else on stage. I did not find Shipulina to an inferior Jeanne in any way, She is not exactly earthbound, has just as much Bolshoi style and there were many moments when took full advantage of the length of her legs to drive the choreographic point home.
Lantratov can’t do a macho strut anywhere near as plausibly as Vasiliev, but his dancing has greater beauty. He does not have Vasiliev’s bag of tricks in the pas de deux, but frankly Shipulina has the better fouettés. Perhaps because he’d been dealing with an injury during the tour, Lantratov looked visibly pumped up by his own performance of the pas de deux, not quite like the footballer who had just scored a goal, but perhaps like a fan who had just watched his team score. Since Vasiliev is not exactly a model of balletic decorum, I couldn’t blame Lantratov for taking his own liberties.
Lantratov’s Philippe is also a nicer guy. Unlike Vasiliev, he does not crow over those being led to the guillotine, though Vasiliev’s reading gives him a dramatic opportunity when he realizes how much distress his behavior has caused Adeline. I can certainly understand what Vasiliev is trying to do, because otherwise Philippe’s character has no dramatic development to speak of.
Ekaterina Krysanova and Savin did not have the eerie synchronization he had with Shipulina, but they were by far the most convincing pair of siblings. In many ways, Krysanova was the most persuasive heroine. She looked the youngest, her character underwent the most clearly delineated development, and every jump and turn was there. Her variation was also the best of the three, the hops on pointe and rapid turns being most compatible with her technique.
On Friday Andrei Merkuriev as Jerome was largely overshadowed by Osipova, but the following day Denis Savin effectively made him the ballet’s dominant character. Nearly all of Jerome’s choreography is by Ratmansky, and since Savin is a self-described contemporary ballet specialist within the Bolshoi, he was at ease with Ratmansky’s shifts of balance and quirks for hands and feet, all danced with gorgeous flow and, to borrow a modern dance image, a fall-catch-and-suspend dynamic. (Ditto for Shipulina.) He was completely persuasive as a good and innocent teenager, all heart and hope, who endures unbearable tragedy. And Savin’s finale is devastating. At the end of the ballet the stage is crammed with movement and action, but I could see only Savin’s desolation. Having watched the afternoon performance from the seventh row of the orchestra, where every dramatic detail was visible in high resolution, so to speak, I was crushed by his performance and could barely bring myself to applaud when the curtain came down. And then he did it to me a second time in the evening!
Ratmansky has both his heroines change footwear during the course of the ballet. If Jeanne spends most of the ballet in pointe shoes, excepting the scene of character dances in Act 2, during which Osipova and Krysanova wore low-heeled shoes and Shipulina wore boots, Adeline wears heeled shoes for most of the ballet until her duet on pointe with Jerome, which is effectively her only passage of what we’d call “real” ballet dancing.
At the first performance Anastasia Stashkevich was luminous as Adeline, her expansive dancing punctuated by high extensions and deep swooning backbends. All of changing realities of Adeline’s world registered on Stashkevich’s face, and in the end she was stoic in the face of death. Anna Rebetskaya’s dancing was perhaps not as vivid or individual, but her character was delicately drawn, and she was very touching in her interactions with Savin. She and Ruslan Skvortsov looked sufficiently alike to be plausible as a daughter and father, even if she is actually older.
In the absence of Dmitry Gudanov, Skvortsov danced all the performances as the Marquis, though the printed programs would have us believe that he wasn’t scheduled to do any. He was delightfully dastardly, a rapacious predator whose alpha-maleness is expressed through deep, wide strides and dazzling batterie. With merciless, surgical precision he skewered the man of power who abuses it to prey on women. (I’m sure he’s never run across those in the theater. ) Ratmansky has the Marquis observe his rivals, studying their methods and weaknesses, and then outdazzle them choreographically. Even when seemingly paying tribute to the King, the Marquis is really showing him up. Skvortsov’s dancing was especially satisfying because it’s rare to see a six-footer excel at such rapid and intricate footwork, and each performance was stronger and more forceful than the one before.
It’s a shame Skvortsov was not able to do at least one performance as Antoine Mistral/Rinaldo because neither Artem Ovcharenko nor Denis Rodkin quite had his droll wit, musicality or grasp of the style. Too often Ovcharenko and his partner Kristina Kretova played fast and loose with the music, while Rodkin needed reminding that he was dancing an enervated Rinaldo and not Conrad. His determination to dance everything as big and as strong as possible negated any chances of conveying the pseudo-Baroque style. As for Rodkin’s potential danseur credentials, he is tall and strong, but in the coda he performed royales rather than entrechats six, and in a spetacular display of ungentlemanliness, he elected to out-jump and out-split Daria Khokhlova’s Amour as they performed what was supposed to be a series of small, rapid flick jetés. In an instant Rodkin managed to negate about three-quarters of the positive impressions he may have made on me during the tour. Evidently his coaching sessions with Nikolai Tsiskaridze did not include lessons on good stage manners. For his part, Ovcharenko did perform entrechats six, but spread out three of them over music that called for four.
As Mireille de Poitiers/Armida, Kristina Kretova showed admirable Baroque port de bras, even while dealing with completely anachronistic elements of choreography, such as pointe shoes. Even though she has extremely flexible feet, Kretova hopped and hopped and hopped on pointe perfectly. She and Yulia Lunkina as the Apparition of the Bride engaged in a Dynasty-worthy struggle over the hapless Rinaldo, and she clearly relished every minute of her melodramatic revenge. At her second performance she perhaps elected to ham it up excessively, but she was charming. In her republican incarnation she was more of a hard sell and less attractive as a result.
Anna Tikhomirova was somewhat less convincing as a period stylist. Her performance was a 21st-century allusion to the style rather than an attempt to recreate it, and this is, after all, Vainonen’s choreography, not Ratmansky’s. (That said, on the basis of her performance I would very much like to see her take a crack at Balanchine’s Chaconne.) Unlike Kretova, her Armida actually seemed to derive sadistic pleasure from destroying Rinaldo. Tikhomirova was the better and more appealing dancer in her second-act duet, her rhythmic accuracy resulting in each of her movements coinciding with the appropriate musical accent. Tikhomirova recognizes that cymbal crashes are there for a reason and uses them.
Both Chinara Alizade and Khokhlova were in fine Amours, Alizade a bit flashier, Khokhlova subtler and charming. Alexei Loparevich as the Master of Ceremonies and Denis Medvedev as Louis XVI were very funny. Medvedev was especially vivid as an alternately cynical, bored, petulant and jealous king.
In Vainonen’s character dances, all those who performed the Auvergnese dance gave it verve and personality, and the Marseillaise trio was bursting with both virtuosity and fun, particularly Igor Tsvirko, who overflows with vitality.
At the final performance there were some end-of-tour “shenanigans,” for example, one of the Marseillaise dancers wore a thick red beard, and the first of the corps of “Mariannes” carried a small French flag.
On the whole I found Ratmansky’s first act more persuasive. The drama flows easily, and the choreography is interesting in its unconventional use of the pas de deux: brother-sister, father-daughter, assailant-victim. In the second act I got the impression that the imperative to preserve as much Vainonen as possible, especially the flashy pas de deux, interfered with the story Ratmansky wanted to tell, and which he had been telling persuasively up to that point.
My honest advice to anyone who’s interested in it is to grab any opportunity to see Osipova and Vasiliev perform the pas de deux in a concert or gala setting. But if you’re going to see the whole ballet, choose a different cast. Overall the theatrical experience will be more satisfying and feel less like a circus. The ballet is also probably best seen from a slightly elevated position. There is a lot of stuff going on around the stage, so the ballet benefits from a panoramic view.
Audience response was very enthusiastic and there were lots of curtain calls, since all three couples would take them in turn, and then come out together before going separately a second time around. Even though I didn’t record an exact tally, my impression is that the greatest number may have taken place at the last performance, during which Vasiliev had worked very hard to sell himself to the London audience, and they ate it up.