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Calliope

Don Q.- as viewed by an American in Paris

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I apologize in advance for the typos. The keyboards here are slightly different.

I m not a big Don Q fan as a ballet to begin with, so overall I found the production to be boring. Its all new sets, and costumes, but to quote a film Whoever said orange was the new pink, was SO wrong. Kitris costume is orange and fuschia

Despite the production, the dancing was superb. Diana Vishneva dancing Kitri and Jose Martinez.

Vishnva knocked everyone,s socks off, I stopped counting after the 11th curtain call. Having never seen her, I found her dancing solid, but she had perma-grin all evening

My time is up at this internet cafe, more after seeing the Balanchine tomorrow

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I will be reviewing this later on, but I would just like to post a few comments on the performance of Diana Vishneva with the Paris Opera Ballet in their "Don Quixote" on May 18. Remembering that heavenly transformation that the other Kirov star Svetlana Zakharova underwent while appearing with the POB, I was rather curious to see how Vishneva would fare in this apparently blissful environment :).

It’s sad to say, though, that this time the goods weren’t delivered. Even though she learned Nureyev’s choreography for the occasion, Vishneva remained her usual self. My biggest disappointment comes from the fact that while she dances strongly throughout, she completely fails to comply with the different stylistic needs of the successive acts of this ballet. I won’t even bother with her coarse, one-dimensional portrayal, yet I can't make any allowances for her poor rendering of the classical passages of the Vision scene, where her complete lack of poetry, sense of grandeur and scale proved a total loss, painfully exposing her limitations as a dancer. It's a technical exercise, executed like a robot.

It was a bit strange to see that the Parisian audience completely fell for such a poor display – they have seen a lot better.

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Yikes. And here I was utterly taken with Vishneva when the Kirov was last in New York. Well, I'll be seeing her dance Don Q when they visit in July (albeit not Nureyev's version, thank goodness!), and I guess I'll get a chance to see for myself.

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Yup, the girl is a real shocker. The question is, why did the audience go bezerkers ?

Leaving to one side for a moment, her dancing, which is - well - as Marc has just described it - the one thing the Russians have always got on straight, is that this is a PEFORMANCE. There is an audience out there.

Miss Vishneva is not dancing for Hugues Gall, Brigitte Lefefvre, the répétiteurs, her instructor, or the person giving class tomorrow morning. She is dancing for the public. She is not worried about mistakes, because she considers, rightly of course, that absolutely no-one except us dried-out old prunes wearing thick specs and flat gum shoes, is going to notice. She rode the thing hell for leather, and certainly put a fire under her fellow dancers whatchumacallit. Even woke Martinez up with a start.

Hence, an audience in heaven.

Compare that to the ultra-cautious, academic approach we have got used to, in her French counterparts in the same role. Metaphorically, one senses many of the POB girls glancing anxiously out into the rows of professors, wondering what Awful Sanction might fall down upon their head if they flub a step...Everything fastidiously executed down to the last hair-splitting detail.

Now if the French could stop worrying about Dread Punishment, and go out there and have a hell of a time DANCING to MUSIC, we would have the best of both worlds. Or should I say, the best of all possible worlds ?

Miss Vishneva seems to ride easily on the music. Why ? Well, if she sees that she'll have to blow a step to make it LOOK musical, she'll sacrifice the step, half-finish it, or whatever, and go for the music. A French dancer will SACRIFICE the music, and go for the step. Unless one is lucky enough to be a Phavorin or a Thibault - there you get the step, and the music !

Now, back to the actual contents of what Miss Vishneva was doing. BEURK as the French would say. Doesn't like a position in mid-lift ? Correct it ! Finds the arabesque drooping a little ? Yank it up ! Purpose of arms on human body ? To create ramrod straight lines, you fools ! Incoherency between developpé à la seconde at 180 degrees, devant at 95 degrees and derrière at 120 degrees ? Who cares ? All goes into the same hopper, don't it ? Purpose of épaulement ? To expose one's chin to the world, while folding the upper back into a Japanese paper thinggie.

If that is what the Vaganova school is now turning out, I say, thank Heavens Miss Assylmouratova has just taken over.

One might have hoped that the delicate Irina Zhelonkina would have been invited to Paris, but I sp'ose she has not yet learnt to turn her leg into a baseball bat.

Jose Martinez surpassed himself, seemed even to enjoy dancing (?!). Like his wife Mlle. Letestu, M. Martinez is a strictly épaulement-free zone, and his plié is always a little shallow, but he is nonetheless a formidable and extremely technical dancer who pulled out all the stops last night.

Myriam Ould Braham exquisite in the trio. Dancing of E. Thibault as beautiful as always. I found the gypsy scene rather better than last week, with M. Bélingard giving it his all, despite a hideously unflattering costume.

A note to costume people: can we not somehow all agree that costumes MUST be changed if their cut or length do not suit the person who has got to wear it ? Mlle. Hurel, who did the Cupid last night, is a slightly stockier woman than the other "inhabitants" of the costume, and the full plateau tutu slumped down and looked just awul on her. As the dancer has got 2000 people staring at him, the least costumers can be expected to do, is to make sure that he doesn't feel tricked out in circus gear.

Unlike several critics, I found the Russian set designs, by Beliaev, very fine. Great impression of height and space.

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You've said it, Katherine. Vishneva KNOWS that there is an audience out there. I have to agree with what Marc has said about Vishneva's actual quality of dancing, but she just knows how to glue the audience's eyes to her face, her body, her everything, regardless of whether you like or don't like her dancing. That's her talent. I think her best variation was the Act I varition -- how she uses those casternettes (sp?) in order to accentuate the orchestral music !! She had the music under her control!! And I just loved the way she used her eyes as a tool of expression!

Of course, we saw the differences in the french and russian schools. Vishneva is not an archetype of the Vaganova style, I don't think -- she doesn't have the lyricism of Assylmuratova or Makarova -- but the power and energy she adds to the role makes her so much more expressive and interesting than the french etoiles. I don't blame her for not being able to assimilate into the french style, how could she? with the time she had to prepare herself, and if she had, that would have meant a sacrifice on her part.

Martinez is a technically competent dancer, with brilliant balances but I just found him lacking the depth in his interpretation for Basil. Perhaps I shouldn't compare him to Legris. :) Technically speaking, there's a certain speed and crispiness that Legris adds in executing his pas, while also connecting the movements with finesse. Legris has the line because he "reaches" -- that is, he tries to conquer the space and make himself appear bigger. Martinez doesn't have to do that because he's already so tall (1m90 I believe)...but anyway, what I wanted to say was that I just prefer Le Legris. :)

Like you, Katherine, I cannot quit this forum without noting the REMARKABLE qualities of Myriam Ould Braham, who IMO, has the brightest future ahead of her, more than her colleagues in POB, and even those around the world!! :( Forget Cojocaru!! :) J/K. Although I think Cojocaru is a lovely dancer as well. La Ould-Braham is THE CLASSICAL dancer, or perhaps, the ROMANTIC ballerina. Her impeccable classical qualities are just so refined and sumptous, and she just knows how to connect her pas so lyrically. Her arms and feet are polished to the point that they look porcelain!! And I can't believe I missed her cupidon/amour!! And regardless of the fact that POB has so many talented dancers in their corps, honestly speaking, my eyes did not leave Ould-Braham for even a second during the second act...if only I could see her in La Sylphide, The Festival of Genzano, Pas de Quatre, Giselle, etc...I'm sure we won't have to wait long. :)

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I've never seen Miss Ould Braham close up, and as for the Bastille, close up means about 17 kilometres away, even if you've got 600-franc tickets. That beng said, since the "Jeune Danseur" programme a couple of years ago, I have sought out every opportunity to catch another distant glimpse and can only endorse your remarks. Her demeanour is modest and reserved, though it seems almost to glow with light. But what is truly outstanding, is her quality of movement - a cloud, floating on the music. Her feather-like jumps are absolutely soundless.

Her dancing is also tasteful. To see a girl barely five feet tall, who makes no attempt to dance outwith her own ambitus of articulation, is so unusual these days, that it deserves comment.

As I love jumps and beats - and was a mad jumper myself when still young enough to move those twinkle-toes - I must admit to being more interested, as a rule, in the dancing of men. What can one expect, from a Bournonville freak ? But Mlle. Ould Braham has really got my attention focussed.

I would not like to say anything discourteous about the equally tiny Miss Cojocaru, as I have not seen her dance. Study of still photographs however, does indicate that her teachers in the Ukraine pushed her extensions to the utmost - I've seen one photo of her attitude devant (in the role of Nikiya) virtually NOSE high ! She appears to be dancing on a truly sublime quality of movement, which means that the moment she begins to move, certain placement and rotation problems that do strike one in photographs, appear to vanish. One can only hope that her delicate frame has not been harmed by this nonsense, as everything one reads about her indicates that she is a person of great musicality and insight.

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Terry, one of the most tiresome things in ballet is when a dancer is always the same, no matter which role he or she tackles. What kills a performance like Vishneva’s Kitri in Paris for me, is the fact that we have already seen it so many times before, whether she is dancing Kitri, Juliet, Giselle, Scheherazade, Rubies, it doesn’t really matter. The result is always similar and I consider that a serious drawback. Maybe if the Paris audiences would see her in different ballets their enthusiasm might fade away.

Vishneva simply has no eye for the different classical plastique required for interpreting the classics. This has nothing to with a difference of schooling between Russia and France. But because of that, in my view, Vishneva is one of the most dull and predictable dancers ever – that at the Mariinsky she is coached by Olga Chenchikova, who in her time knew more than any to vary her classical plastique, is one of the great mysteries of the cosmos. It’s interesting that you mention Alina Cojocaru. Funnily enough, her performance of Kitri in Covent Garden earlier this season, provided just that: by subtly varying her plastique she knew how to express the different moods of her character within the ballet. It may not win over an audience as the Vishneva tactics can, but that's a subtleness which is completely beyond her.

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Frightening thought that - Miss Vishneva has been unleashed upon the world as Juliet, or Giselle ?

The idea did cross my mind last night that that might already have been the case, and now, Marc, you have confirmed it.

Good grief.

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I suppose different people see things differently, or perhaps something strange happens to Russian dancers in mid-Atlantic.

When the Kirov was at the Met in 1999, Vishneva danced one of the finest Giselles I've ever seen -- in the second act you could really see the young girl struggling to reach out to Albrecht, and then save him. Of all the Kirov Giselles -- Assylmuratova, Zakharova, Dumchenko, Sologub and Nioradze -- I found hers the most moving (of course every performance was very, very fine). I'd go see her dance Giselle again in a heartbeat.

Regarding Zhelonkina, perhaps she was having a bad couple of weeks that July, or her plie didn't make it past Customs, or something. I am truly hoping that this July I'll see the Zhelonkina so many European viewers have seen.

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I'm seconding Manhattnik's observations. The Giselle we saw by Vishneva here in '99 was quite fine; lofty and very moving. She was less of an Aurora, but her Giselle reminded me of written descriptions of Makarova in the 70s; aerial and desperate.

Zhelonkina was also not seen at all to good advantage. The brittleness Manhattnik mentioned was evident in more than one role (I recall a very unfortunate Peasant Pas de Deux.)

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I don't think anything happens to Russian (or any other) dancers when they cross the ocean, I just think that people in different places value different things. This thread is a good example of that -- thanks to everyone for giving your REASONS for thinking this, that or the other!

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To tell the truth, I have not seen Irina Zhelonkina since 1993 in Germany. She must have been about 19 at the time, and was a demi-soloist or soloist then, with an absolutely startling musical intensity.

From what you say above, I fear that her dancing may have broken down. The fashion at the Maryinskii Theatre over the last decade, has been for people like Yulia Makhalina or the hypnotic Lopatkina - all variations on a Guillem theme. Severe damage has been done, the more so, as that lot are all principals now. Even the men, starting with Faruk Ruzimatov, and now Tsiskaridze - though he's at the Bolshoi of course - have gone right over to that hyper-lax mush.

It's all very regrettable, and I'd like to point out, in that context, to anyone who has not yet read it, the interview with A. Assylmouratova by Marc Haegemann, dated November 2001.

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I haven't seen any of the Russian ballerinas which are discussed about, so can't offer any comment...

But thanks to Calliope for her initial review- and I'm looking forward to reading your comments on the Stravinsky program (I attended it yesterday)!

Terry, I see what you mean about Martinez and Legris. I prefer Legris too (and really regret not seeing him yesterday, as he got injured in his last "Don Quichotte"... I haven't seen him since the beginning of the season :) :) :( ); it's hard to explain but for me Legris just has a special kind of joy in his dancing. However, Martinez is an excellend dancer too, and I especially admired him in some modern roles, for example in Ek's "Giselle" and "Appartement".

About Myriam Ould-Braham: I haven't seen her so often yet, but found her lovely when I saw her. But unfortunately the careers at the POB often are quite unpredictable, and sometimes there are dancers who were considered as very promising and who get stuck as quadrilles and coryphees for their whole careers. She was promoted to coryphee

at the last competition, and has been given a few interesting roles (such as Cupid in this "Don Quichotte"- by the way, it's interesting to notice that that role was danced by premieres danseuses, sujets and coryphees) so, so far, things are good for her, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed! But among the younger POB dancers, I'm also fond of the young quadrille Dorothee Gilbert.

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I was in Paris last weekend and saw Vishneva for the second time. After her "Manon" in Covent Garden -about a year ago- I was lucky enough to see her in DQ. Again in a ballet-production I am not familiar with...first time I've seen it live....

Despite a bad seat (second row, 1st.balcony-left...I felt miles from the stage :) ) I have enjoyed the performance.

Although found the cast Vishneva/Martinez a bit strange. (preferred the Pujol/Legris-one on Friday :) ).

Well...what can I-with my limited ballet-knowledge- say about Diana ? I was simply stunned by her technical ability, she is an amazing quick dancer and I thought her perfect in the first act. The side I don't like about her is her constant smile ...and her "look at me, I'm the star"-attitude...a bit too much show-off dancing to my taste and taking her skirt too high (If you understand what I mean !) In spite of all this, I'm definitely looking forward to see her in other roles to get a more complete picture about her.

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I have been seeing Irina Zhelonkina for most of her career at the Kirov. It’s true that her performances can be a bit disappointing and she never really made it to the very top (and she won’t now), but for me she is one of the purest Vaganova/Kirov products. Definitely one of the old school. Zhelonkina is a great stylist, who can easily switch from romantic to classical ballets (and neo-romantic) without confusing them. Only last year I saw her Giselle – and that was one of the best I have ever seen within the Kirov. In the second Act the emotion grew entirely out of the quality of her style of movement, unlike the first Act where acting and drama are predominant. And what a relief to see a Giselle who doesn’t look already mad from the moment she steps out of the cottage. :)

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Viviane, the problem with Bastille is that one always feels far from the stage! :) (On the other hand, even from the cheapest seats one can actually see the stage, which is not the case in Garnier...)

Could you tell us a bit more about the Legris- Pujol performance? And also about the dancers in the secondary roles?

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Estelle, being so far from the stage was not my main complaint...I was sitting not even halfway the row..and had a restricted view !

Glad I did know there were windmills on stage :) I'll never book through the Internet again !

Please, be a bit patient with me today, I'll be back later with some comments :)

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It makes me very angry - I bare my teeth and GRRRRRRRR - when I think about extremely able people, like Irina Zhelonkina, swept into the background by that trampling horde of 1980s tricksters.

One has only to compare the careers of Sylvie Guillem, and her compatriot, classmate and contemporary Elisabeth Maurin, the latter being an incomparably finer artist - and technician.

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Oh, sorry, I didn't know that there were such bad seats in Bastille. So far I had never had a restricted view- I guess I was lucky! Sorry for the misinformation.

I'm looking forward to reading the rest of your comments.

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Estelle, sorry it took some time to come back to you :D

First of all - more general - I like to say that I loved the production very much.(mind, I have never seen DQ before, exception for the recent RB-version on video :)).

Against other thoughts, I adored the scenery and atmosphere from the settings : a tremendous love for details, good perspectives, numerous plans, an impressive created space and a fine evocation of the Morish style.

And, all this enchanted by a magnificent lighting ! On Friday, I had a good seat and could admire everything from very close.

A pity it seemed I missed out on a part : there were some technical problems at the start of the dream-part on Friday and on Saturday this was solved by a black backdrop.

Nevertheless : a scenery in a great style, typical for the Parisian Opera.

So were most of the costumes, which seemed a bit of a problem for many spectators. The design and details were fabulous, apart from some remarks on colours and exact execution of the designs (gypsies and spanish female costumes).

As I already told you I have seen DQ with Pujol/Legris on Friday 17th May. And I preferred it far way out above the Vishneva/Martinez on Saturday.

It was extremely nice to have a balletticket and to hear some weeks later that the leading ballerina is promoted to principal. :)

Pujol is a very pithy dancer and she brought us a lively Kitri.

She was completely at ease and in command of her role in the first Act. In contrast, in the tutu-dances I prefered Vishneva because she seemed more under control : no wonder, she's dancing this role already for years.

No doubt : Manuel Legris made my evening ! Oh dear ! What a dancer, what an actor...he is magnetizing, I was completely carried away !

He was simply enjoying himself on stage and projected his character to the audience in a stirring way.

And he and Laetitia Pujol were a perfect match : he had no problems in showing us : " this Kitri is mine" !

It was a pleasure to see Bélingard's gypsy, he was very convincing, what a panache ! A bit of a revelation to me, after his 'soft' prince in Paquita last year.

Apart from the leading roles, the performance of some other dancers was less satisfying : I didn't understand the casting of Nathalie Riqué as the Streetdancer and I want to forget quickly Emilie Cozette as the Queen of the Dryades and Mélanie Hurel as Cupidon.

I hardly dare to say it : I love Nureyev's choreographies. Sometimes appartently a bit "messy" but so rich in dancing, dancing, dancing !

I have to agree, the choreography of the toreadors is not a splendid part and more : although miles better than the RB-ones, the Parisian toreadors need a masterclass with Antonio Marquez ! I missed real Spanish passion ;)

On Saturday, José Martinez surprised with some breathtaking, extremely long balances (hope this is the right word ?) and I was stunned by his manéges. But, I can't help it : I don't like the slow-motion effect of his long legs in a lot of passes.

Sadly I only saw two extremely talented dancers on stage, but not a couple with some chemistry and magic between each other. And to finish, allow me to send a bravo to Laurent Queval's Gamache : he was outstanding :)

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Thanks for your review, Viviane! And now I regret even more not having seen Legris...

About Nathalie Riqué: I was not extremely impressed by her either, but perhaps I'm more indulgent, knowing that she's been absent for three years for severe health problems, and that she's about 37- so it might take her some time to recover fully, and it's already quite an accomplishment to come back on stage after such a long absence. But perhaps another role would have been more suited.

Emilie Cozette is a very young dancer (she's 20)

and has been cast a lot recently. I wasn't entirely convinced by her Queen of Dryads, which was technically OK but a bit cold in my opinion, and from what I've read the level of her performances varied quite a lot, some were very good and some weren't... Perhaps it was a bit too much pressure for her?

I agree that the toreadors might not have been "Spanish" enough... Perhaps it's a bit too hard for the POB dancers to forget their usual style?

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Estelle, thanks for some 'inside-information'.

I had no intention at all to be harsh, it was only my impression of the moment. I'm always hoping to be surprised by dancers in another ballet or another character and role that suits them better :)

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I don’t think you were that 'harsh', Viviane. Quite a few of the supporting roles (Queen of the Dryads, Cupid, last act variation, Street dancer) in these casts were indeed disappointing. We had the same problem last Winter with the Bayadères, when the role of Gamzatti looked at times seriously neglected by the casting department.

I don’t think it’s a question of age, as Estelle mentions, it’s rather the ability to pick the right one out of the masses to have a crack at the big role. And not everybody is a Nureyev to make that judgement.

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