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Kirov in New York Continued -- Swan Lake


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#1 Michael

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Posted 12 July 2002 - 11:10 AM

Now that the Kirov's visit to NY has moved on last night to Swan Lake perhaps it's time for another thread.

I thought last night's performance quite wonderful. If I had written (and left) at the first intermission, after Acts I and II, I would in fact have said that it was one of the finest evenings I've ever had at the Ballet, that the Kirov's Corps de Ballet is astonishingly great, that Svetlana Zacharova (Odette) is fully realized as a great Ballerina, and that Danila Korsuntsev (Siegried) is a fine Danseur Noble with great weight on stage. The rest of the evening, however, somewhat modified these reactions.

I'm still completely blown away by that Corps de Ballet, without a doubt the best I've ever seen. And by the Company as a whole. The Kirov is astonishingly good throughout its ranks, the beautiful finish with which each solo and each character dance is performed is something to behold. Oh what a Corps and Oh what an Orchestra. The pas de trois in Act I was gorgeously performed, and so was the Cygnets dance in Act II, and the passages for the Single Swans in Act IV, and the character dances in Act III were not only beautifully performed, but performed without apologies but instead with an enthusiasm and grace that tells you the dancers know that this is "dancing" too (and, Damn it, it is) and that these roles are not considered Donkeys Work in this Company. This is not only a great company in its Corps, but also in its Soloists. You do not see that finish from many principals elsewhere.

However, the role of Odile in Act III was quite exposing for Zacharova and the Black Swan pas de deux was similarly exposing for Korsuntsev. Zacharova's a great Swan, it's her persona, witness the fact that it's the Dying Swan she takes to the galas. Perhaps, in mitigation, it's almost impossible for the same Ballerina to be both a great Odette and a great Odile, although a neighbor opined that Makarova had done it (something I never saw).

Another circumstance that limited delight is the ridiculous Happy Ending in the Kirov's Swan Lake, an ending which trivializes the drama and robs the moral issues involved in Swan Lake of meaning. Briefly, at the end, Siegfied enters and is immediately reconciled with Odette (she just swoons and is carried around by him, she doesn't even seem to have to forgive him for anything), after which Siefried wrestles with a fairly absurd Von Rothbart (Von R. is dressed in a feathered 17th century Cuirassier's helmet and a pair of silk wings) and rips off one of Von R.'s fabric wings -- whereupon Von R writhes on the ground and dies like a bug -- and thereafter Odette and Siegfried live happily ever after. I can only say that the beautiful hint of impending doom with which Act II was performed; and all of the emotional impact of Siegfried's betrayal of his vow to Odette in favor of Odile in Act III, are rendered null and void by an ending which means that there was neither doom nor irrevocable sin in any of this.

After last night, though, I'm a fan of this company. We have a lot to learn from it, in particular from the look and discipline of the Corps, from the finish and articulation of the steps by the soloists and principals, from the shape and the phrasing they give to everything, and from the fact that they treat what they do as Art and neither as Sport nor as a form of Circus. The company knows where Fifth Position is and shows it. It is neither aging nor full of kids, and its maturity is refreshing.

And I'm a fan of Zacharova, if only she would eliminate that vulgar grand battement. That's her particular sin, not the six ten penchee a la Guillem, but instead the leg kicked up on the side and raised higher than her hand and what it does to the line of her hips and back when she gets herself into that position. But previously having only seen her at Galas and guesting at NYCB Nutcrackers a couple of times, I was impressed by how strong and lyrical she is, how beautifully she moves, how she has the Etoile's ability to carry an entire evening, and how her more modern line -- when she's restrained her flow is to classical line something like Matisse's line is to Rembrandt's -- can complement and offset the discipline and chaste rigour of the corps. And she responds to music and phrases beautifully. One particular example sticks in my mind -- a diagonal in which the repeated phrase is step forward, then developpee back modestly, then step forward again and then developpee or even battement back fully but stick at the top and hold it for a second, almost in arabesque, and then repeat the phrase, all the way across the stage, on the music -- half developpee then step and a full one. The effect is to contrast and show the two extensions to the rear and she performed it just beautifully, showing me how the steps related to the phrase and to the music and moving beautifully also while doing it. But that same thing could be said for much of what she danced in that grueling and extended role.

#2 dancermom2

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Posted 12 July 2002 - 12:16 PM

Somebody else noticed that the Kirov Orchestra has a lovely sound and plays beautifully with out slurred passages and at just the right tempo. They do not overpower but seem to compliment the dancing on stage. Of all the three orchestras I have heard, ABT's, NYCB's and the Kirov's...the Kirov's is by far the best from a musical standpoint.

#3 Manhattnik

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Posted 12 July 2002 - 01:20 PM

I got a standing-room ticket, and bailed after Act III; I was still worn out from all those endless Bayaderes. I will probably see Nioradze tonight, too, if they have strong enough coffee at Starbuck's.

I found Zakharova less objectionable than before, and found myself enjoying the amplitude of her dancing, and the way she uses it to be voluptuous spatially and musically (one can do a LOT of rubato in the course of one of those endless developpes!), rather than physiologically (of which she's anything but, unless one considers the curve of a ribcage voluptuous). Perhaps Michael is referring to Odette's repeated diagonals with the two sisonnes en avante, then the steps into a battement to the front that swings through passe and back in to her signature winged-arm arabesque. Zakharova did it prettily indeed, but I missed any sense of tragedy, love, fear, pain, or nobility from her; in short, all the things which make Odette a heroine. At ABT, we saw Julie Kent performing the second movement of Symphony in C as if it were the second act of Swan Lake, here we have Zakharova doing the reverse. (I still remember Lopatkina's gorgeous second movement from 1999 -- where is she, anyway?)

I actually liked Zakharova better as Odile, as at least she showed some good, old-fashioned manipulative sexuality and nastiness. All those balances in those extreme attitudes gave her the look of some sort of dangerous but alluring weapon, all shiny barbs and serrated edges, and particularly beautiful in those killer slow attitude turns in her solo, rock-solid all the way through, and stopping on a dime, with no wobbles or adjustments anywhere. There were moments when her extreme positions were a bit disquieting, though. In those sky-high developpes a la seconde to which Michael refers, it's bizarre that her foot ends up higher than (and brushing a bit) her upraised hand, but the displacement of her hips and back required to acheive this contortion is particularly alarming. As her working hip swings higher and higher with her leg, the standing hip pivots in towards her center of gravity, pulling away, in a sense, from the standing leg, and giving a dimpled effect which is especially Not Pretty in a tutu.

Those extreme attitudes of hers made it look as if she were using her working leg to encircle Siegfried and hold him captive when he was supporting her from behind -- another one of Swan Lake's many metaphors of captivity and freedom, but one which I'm sure Petipa and Ivanov never imagined. And when she'd go into a penchee in attitude, her working leg seemed to curl around Korsuntev's upper arm. Very strange, and very Agonish, for a moment. I miss those trumphand backward hops in arabesque at the end of the coda, but the rest was well-danced, I though. Zakharova's very Russian fouettes weren't embelleshed, but were solid and musical, her leg swinging to the side precisely with each beat of the music.

I wasn't as wild about Korsuntev -- he had a nice line and was rather elegant, but colorless and occasionally heavy footed. It was nice to see a first act which didn't wish to present a psychodrama or plumb the depths of Siegfried's soul, as in McKenzie's excerable first act, which notably manages to be both homophobic and misogynist. (I remember when the elegant but rather fey Belotserkovsky took the hand of McKenzie's Flirty Noblewoman, I couldn't help but translate the shocked and delighted reaction of EVERYONE onstage to be "The prince isn't gay! There will be an heir! The kingdom is saved!") Sergeyev simply has Siegfried as a bookworm, more interested in perusing the pages of a suspiciously itty-bitty book with his dotty tutor than in perusing the local talent. Or the book something racey from Gay Paree?

Although I usually despise the Jester with a vengeance, I found the interplay between Dmitri Zavalishin's Jester and Petr Stasyunas' Tutor to be gentle and charming. I liked that it seemed the Jester had been playing the same tricks on the Tutor for ages, and I also liked the way the Jester covered up for Siegfried's inability to choose a Princess in Act III by catching the bouquet Siegfried drops and turning it into a joke. Zavalishin was delightfully if somewhat relentlessly spunky, and looks as if he aspires to be Daniel Ulbricht when he grows up. He can certainly spin like a top, and has quite a repertory of tricks, which sometimes even include pointing his feet.

Of the other dancers, the ones whose faces I can associate with names, anyway, I'm getting rather fond of Elvira Tarasova, who danced the three Gamzattis I've seen so far, as well as the first-act Pas de Trois last night. She's not a Rubber Woman like Zakharova or Vishneva, and she's not a drama queen, but she is clean, refined and delivers the goods with great professionalism and clarity. I was about to write that she seems to be one of those "always-the-bridesmaid-but-never-the bride" dancers, but then I remembered that Gamzatti IS the bride. Oh well. I also liked Irina Golub quite a bit -- one could hardly ask for bigger, clearer echappes in her solo (the first one) in the pas de trois. It's interesting that Sergeyev has other dancer interacting with the girls in the pas de trois as they do their solos -- it's as if he were saying "In the Socialist Worker's Paradise we do not do dance for dance's sake!" Astonishingly, Anton Korsakov looks even more baby-faced than he did three years ago, and just as high-strung. He'd be a great complement for Yvonne Borree; maybe Peter Martins should hire him.

I've really enjoyed the Kirov's orchestra. They make Minkus sound like a real composer, and make Tchaikovsky sound like a god (which he is, of course). My strongest praise of all has to go to the Kirov's corps de ballet. In 1999 they were uneven and unpredictable, perhaps exhausted from those marathon performances of Sleeping Beauty. Slightly rusty on opening night, the corps has gotten better and better each night. Wednesday night's Shades was transporting, and last night the corps was just sensational. There is really nothing in the art world like an organic and homogenous corps like the Kirov's (or the Bolshoi's, which similarly impressed me two years ago). It's both a joy and a privilege to watch. I've found the Kirov's penchant for curtain calls after every act to be a bit much, but it's hard to quibble with how they've had them for the corps after Shades and Act II of Swan Lake. Last night Zakharova and Korsuntev took bows in front of the curtain, which then opened to reveal the corps in perfect ranks, as each principal modestly retreated to a wing, then turned to bow to the corps, as the audience cheered wildly.

Can you imagine that at ABT or City Ballet? No, I can't either.

Oh, a great Odette/Odile? Martine van Hamel. Soft, melting and soulful in white, and an avalanche of sexuality in black. She didn't just show you Odette/Odile as good girl/bad girl, but two sides of the same feminine coin. I was going to say nobody else has come close, but then I remembered Monica Mason. Now I'm feeling old...

#4 Alexandra

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Posted 13 July 2002 - 11:38 AM

So Friday, they had the night off?

Or did no one go?

#5 Manhattnik

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Posted 13 July 2002 - 01:44 PM

Well, Friday was supposed to be Nioradze, but instead was Vishneva. So I guess one could just re-read the comments on Tuesday night's performance. Except I though Vishneva even more sensational, especially in the Shades scene with her fiery pique turns at the end.

Speaking of Shades, the corps seems to have set aside any rustiness, jet lag or opening-night jitters we may have seen Monday and Tuesday, and looked like utter heaven. As far as I'm concerned, they're the real stars of this visit, and I'm very happy that the Kirov management (as well as the Met audience) seems to be well aware of this fact.

There were many incidents of idiots taking flash pictures during the performance. A particular dolt fired one off at the very end of the tom-tom dance, when the men slam themselves down on to one knee (or maybe both). One of the leads looked to have been dazed while he was in the middle of this, and wobbled more than a little when he finally hit the stage. It wasn't exactly a terrifying moment, but it was clear he'd been perturbed.

At the end of the next intermission someone from the Met came onstage and talked about the "epidemic" of flash pictures, and implored people not to take them. Good for the Met, but, honestly, I don't know why they don't make an announcement about cameras, beepers, cel phones, etc., before each performance, like they do at the State Theater. Maybe they think it's too vulgar?

I was going to go this afternoon, but Pavlenko got pulled in favor of Zakharova again, for some reason. I'm rather looking forward to Gumerova tonight; Odette is a big-gal role if ever there was one. So we'll see. Maybe this time I'll make it to the fourth act, even.

#6 Dale

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Posted 13 July 2002 - 02:43 PM

Interesting observations about Zakharova. When I read Manhattnik's musings on her "birth" from a Soviet lab, I laughed knowingly. I guess I've always viewed her as a strange, beautiful bird...maybe it was a genetically manipulated bird :) We were pondering her strengths and Michael brought up her musicality and Manhattnik rightly pointed out her solid technique as Odile. I'd like to add a certain graciousness that comes out in her port de bras and a, I won't say spirituality -- I don't know her that well -- but a feeling that what she is doing is special. That quality came out especially in SZ's first entrance in La Bayadere, when veil came off and she looked up, you knew this one was different.

Her extentions are another thing. I don't mind high extentions, but SZ really shifts her entire torso to make room the leg. And, as Manhattnik pointed out on the La Bayadere thread, the high leg distorts the shape of other steps. And, after awhile (and I get this feeling with other dancers as well) if the leg goes up, it goes all the way up. Every time. There's no shading, just slam. Maybe when she gets older she'll realize that certain effects work best when used less.

As for Swan Lake, I believe SZ is a natural Odette, but I agree with Manhattnik, I didn't get the sence of tragedy I get from other dancers. Maybe it is the lack of mime to explain her situation in this production. The Balanchine version doesn't have mime but the dance sequence he created for Odette and Siegfried conveys the situation.

As Odile, I thought SZ just replaced her sorrowful look for a learing grin, but her dancing was just so good. Those fouettes were perfect and didn't move an inch.

The Swan corps deserved the accolades they've received, they were so wonderful, even more than in La Bayadere for me (the Bolshoi, when here in 2000, were the best I've seen in the Shades in awhile). And I was a bit distracted during the last act, watching Veronika Part (one of the four larger swans) and Daria Pavlenko (one of the two demi-solo swans) behind the principals.

#7 Michael

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Posted 13 July 2002 - 05:34 PM

In this Matinee of Swan Lake this Saturday afternoon it was Zacharova again, in place of Pavlenko (as Mannhatnik indicated) -- the difference was that the Black Swan got an extraordinary performance from her today, one of the best I've ever seen. As Eric and Dale have indicated -- as Odile, Zacharova has no lack of persona but knows just who she is supposed to be. And not a step was missed -- She made it look easy.

Different Jester today and very slow tempi in Act I, and that seemed a little flat. Although a great Pas de Trois. But Oh what an Act III. And the Corps de Ballet, once again, was beyond praise.

You are both also right that there is no sense of tragedy in this production. But I wonder whether that isn't because, with the ridiculous happy ending, There is no Tragedy in this production. "He's O.K., She's O.K." If Odile seduced him and he broke his vow -- that doesn't Matter, They're Happy ever after anyway and he doesn't even have to apologize. It's very 1960's in some way.

#8 Kevin Ng

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Posted 14 July 2002 - 01:24 PM

Zakharova's performance yesterday afternoon was superlative, and was even more expressive than in the Kirov's London season last year. Danila Korsuntsev was an excellent partner and danced powerfully in his variation. Last night Andrei Ivanov as the jester brought the house down with his multiple pirouettes. Anton Korsakov was impeccable in the pas de trois, his 'battu' steps were crisp and clear.

Kevin,
Hotel Empire,
New York.

#9 Juliet

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Posted 14 July 2002 - 04:23 PM

Am I the first person to write about Gumerova? Oh goody....

However, before I do--and I was most grateful to see her in this as I had looked forward to it greatly--a few brief notes on the overall performance...

I have been watching and loving the Kirov for years and years and more years than I want to count. ;) Last night was one reason why--of course they've had a hundred years to get it right, but it doesn't get much righter than this. The production is polished, everyone stands on stage perfectly, the nuances are there.

I am very familiar with this production and the ending was not as jarring to me for perhaps this reason---it helped that the dancer doing Von Rothbart (D. Zavalishin) was wonderful--he did *not* curl up and die like a bug, (although I was not as happy with the upper body wing-work as I might wish...)

I take back every negative thing I've ever said or written about Igor Kolb. He danced a prince.
He couldn't really act one as just about every jot of mime is excised here. Maybe they used up the quota on Bayaderka, but I don't think so....as Kisselgoff noted, there are a set of dances, but the thread holding them together has been snipped. There is no narrative...I was more amazed as the evening went on, but there you are....
Kolb moved beautifully--although the moderate tempi of his variations took me aback slightly, especially in the first act--and if his mien was more princely than melancholy, well, that is another interpretation and just as valid.

The pas de trois was sprightly and beautiful--Golub and Tarasova certainly have the track record and they delivered completely...I was less impressed by Korsakov last night...his jumps were plodding and he looked as if he were firing on about 6 cylinders, although his ensemble work was up to par.

The corps is, well, the Kirov corps. I have been ranting for years about it and they did not disappoint--I even loved the cygnets (usually I dread this little bit) for their precision and complete refusal to camp up this chestnut variation. They sustained the illusion into the fourth act---frequently all that running and beating of wings ends up looking like flailing of arms and scurrying without pattern or coherence.

Gumerova stood out for me as Odette chiefly for her fragility and exquisite articulation and placement of her feet......I loved watching the development of a step, the way she cut through the air in her arabesque, the stillness of her when sensing another presence...
That said, I think she was more successful as Odile---dramatically and technically. She is very young and I am of the firm belief that it takes time to mature into this role (if you are granted the time to do it physically, the characterization usually evolves as well). I didn't sense a sexuality but rather a cold and brittle purpose...I didn't, for a second, fear that she wouldn't drill them all into submission with those fouettes.

And wasn't it refreshing to see properly rehearsed and performed character dances? (Except for those nasty dragged-through-the-cobwebs Spanish dresses, which were too long, anyway.) I enjoyed myself so much......I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to see last night's performance.

#10 Alexandra

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Posted 15 July 2002 - 06:11 AM

This makes two Gumerova fans (at least) -- I'm intrigued. I remember here in Washington a few months ago as a giant , rather awkward Princess Florine and the tall girl in "Rubies" I found her engaging, but very raw. I was struck, Juliet, that you thought her fragile -- I wouldn't have imagined that possible from those earlier performances. (Not quibbling, as I didn't see the "Swan Lake." Just curious :D )

I'm sure Manhattnik went to this one, too, and I hope he'll write in between breaks to work :) Any others?

#11 Roma

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Posted 15 July 2002 - 07:27 AM

Well, I went to the Saturday matinee hoping to see Pavlenko in SL. Alas, it was not to be. She was there to be sure, behind Zakharova as a demi soloist swan.

I had seen Zakharova’s Diamonds, and thought her quite great in the role—the first dancer ever to make me not think of Farrell while watching her. The musicality, amplitude, and fluidity of her dancing created an impression of melting grandeur. She was a bit distant perhaps, but the overall effect was one of almost majestic brilliance. (The “almost” is for her hideous, touch-your-nose-with-your-foot grand battements in the finale). I was ready to concede that her years of apprenticeship as a freakishly twisty automation were finally ending and here was a unique and gifted artist ready to emerge. I expected great things from her Swan Lake. And indeed, except for those Eiffel Tower extensions that made me cringe and squirm in my seat (may be it’s a nervous tick, and she can’t help herself?), her dancing was impeccable. But half way through Act II pas de deux I had to ask—is there anyone in there, inside that grotesquely gorgeous body of hers? Because she did not infuse her movement with any sense of drama, dignity, or nobility (as Manhattnik said earlier), after a while even her musicality began to look like affectation. Every effect seemed diligently rehearsed, and I did not for a second lose the sense that this was Svetlana Zakharova beautifully executing this or that step. It lent her portrayal a certain falseness. Perhaps she still lacks somewhat in imagination-- it just does not seem to me that she has the ability to conjure up worlds with her dancing. I could not believe in her Odette the way I believed Nina A or Lopatkina (who is on maternity leave) or Maria Kowroski in this role.
SZ fared far better as the Black Swan. She was probably one of the best Odiles I had ever seen—malicious, seductive, technically dazzling, perfect. A bit girlish perhaps, but it worked. She seduced the prince, the audience, and she very nearly seduced me into liking her ;).
Korsuntsov is very elegant, but has little presence, and I could care less whether he was or wasn’t on the stage throughout most of the evening. I would love to see Fadeyev in this role—his soft-spoken, poetic, pliant elegance should be very fitting here, in a way it might not have been for Solor.

Natalia Sologub was interesting in the pas de trois, and as a swan. She has such an aggressive, almost angry quality—I can’t imagine her as Aurora, though she must be very well suited to the “modern” repertory.

How great was it to see the national dances performed as if they were an integral part of the ballet (which of course they are, except I couldn’t figure out where they fit in dramatically), and not as throwaway parts. I love that the Russians perform even corny and kitschy parts with such complete conviction, and without any apologies, that it lends the pieces value that perhaps they do not deserve (not talking about the character dances here, but in general). Mercuriev stood out in the Spanish—beautiful feet, and some appropriate fire.
The corps deserves all the praise they receive and much more. It was an incredible privilege to watch them in Swan Lake and La Bayadere this past week. Ditto for the orchestra, by far the best ballet orchestra I have heard. And I found it rather interesting that they adjust to what the dancer is doing on stage, not the other way around.

As far as the production itself—yes, it lacks a dramatic focus; yes, the ending is ridiculous, especially the ripped wing= writhing death part, but it doesn’t really bother me for a couple of reasons. One being that I have seen it many times and it isn't so jarring anymore. The other reason being-- I have never seen a full-length coherent Swan Lake, and I can’t help but find the lack of Freudian excesses in this one very refreshing. Plus any ending other than Balanchine’s seems ludicrous to me, and I am never completely happy watching a Swan Lake other than his.

#12 Juliet

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Posted 15 July 2002 - 07:29 AM

Re: Gumerova--
Yes, one of the things which surprised me was the fragility, the delicacy of the legs and feet in Odette.....I didn't feel it in her upper body, but the precision with which she placed one ankle over the other in the fall-backs, the trembliing battus at the end of the pdd....the feeling of hollow or brittle bones was certainly there.

I didn't feel the pathos in her upper body, the swoop of expressive arms/back was not pronounced--yet. She may develop it, or I may have been watching on a night when she was still growing into her wings, as it were. It was, however, a lovely performance.

#13 Natalia

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Posted 15 July 2002 - 08:37 AM

I'm happy to read that Sofia Gumerova's Odette is becoming softer & more fragile. Her reading of the role was quite 'rough' in London, two years ago. [I believe that she was thrownon stage for BOTH matinee & evening performances of 'Swan Lake' back then...poor thing.] She's a big & tall lady; it seems that she has lost quite a bit of weight. She was already looking leaner in DC, last February, and was even thinner in St Petes, one month ago. Her face reminds me a little -- just a liitle bit -- of ex-POB etoile Ghislaine Thesmar.

Now for the $64,000 Question:

WILL IT BE DIANA VISHNEVA AS KITRI in TONIGHT's opening DON Q???? I have a round-trip air ticket, plus hotel, plus show ticket for tonight. Leaving this afternoon right after work & back to DC early morning. They better not change Kitris on me!!!!! [Before anyone yells at me...yeah, I know, Kirov casting is always a pot-luck gamble. :D I'm already doing my chants & prayers for a Vishneva Night....]

#14 Kevin Ng

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Posted 15 July 2002 - 09:09 AM

Yes, Jeannie, it will be Vishneva and Samodurov dancing in Don Q tonight.

#15 Manhattnik

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Posted 15 July 2002 - 09:14 AM

Sure Vishneva will be dancing -- but as Mercedes!

Just kidding!

I liked Gumerova a lot. Didn't think she was at all coarse, and while not quite a dancing sack of bones like Zakharova, she's certainly on the thin side. I enjoyed a lot of Gumerova's performance without really feeling she'd caught on to the heart of the role; while her Odile isn't as relentlessly blank-faced as Zakharova's, there's still a sense that there's more going on in her feet than in her head. Perhaps the other side of this coin, I found Gumerova's lack of affectation to be quite appealing, like she was the Swan Next Door.

And, really, it was just lovely seeing Gumerova's long, long arms and legs in those beautifully trained Kirov positions. I love the way these dancers are so scrupulous about just where they go, and when. They dance as if they had little tattoos on their knees which say "retire goes HERE ---->" and their feet always find that position, as if their were magnets in their toes and kneecaps. It is quite a bit more gorgeous than these metaphors imply, I guess.

At the risk of repeating myself, I do have to say that once again the real stars of the evening were the corps and the orchestra.

Oh, apparently the program for Wednesday night was wrong -- the Jester both nights was Ivanov, he of the springboard thighs.


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