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Dec 22 premiere of Neumeier's 'Midsummer Dream'


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The Bolshoi's first major premiere of the season -- John Neumeier's evening-length Midsummer Night's Dream -- is quickly approaching (Dec. 22, 2004) and is already frought with unofficial news of problems at rehearsals. Most of these concern the troupe's male superstar, Nikolai Tsiskaridze, non-desire to dance in this ballet. [Reported in a recent 'roundtable discussion' program previewing the ballet, shown on the Russian Kultura channel.] Tsiskaridze had originally been slated to dance the leading dual role of Oberon/Tessey with the opening cast. Now it appears that Dmitri Belogolovtsev will dance that role in the opening, opposite Svetlana Zakharova as Titania/Hippolyta.

I'm familiar with this production only from its performances at the Paris Opera Ballet. Neumeier's version combines the 'traditional' style -- with Mendehlsson's music -- with the abstract -- an electronic score by Ligetti. Some soloists are assigned two roles: one in the 'real world' (dancing to the traditional score) and another in the mythological Greek forest (mostly electronic music). In other words, it's quite a departure from both Balanchine's and Ashton's traditional vision of the work.

Here is a list of soloists & roles, in the Bolshoi setting, as per Bolshoi Theater sources:

Hippolyta/Titania: Zakharova - Allash - Lunkina - Antonicheva

Tessey/Oberon: Tsiskaridze (now out?) - Belogolovtsev - Klevtson - Uvarov

Helen: Kaptsova - Yatsenko - Ryzhkina

Hermia: Alexandrova - Schipulina - Rebetskaya

Demetre/Officer: Neporozhny - Skvortsov - Godovsky

Lysander/Gardener: Klevtsov - Volchkov - Savin

Filostrat/Puck: Godovsky - Medvedev - Ivata

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Some soloists are assigned two roles:  one in the 'real world' (dancing to the traditional score) and another in the mythological Greek forest (mostly electronic music). In other words, it's quite a departure from both Balanchine's and Ashton's traditional vision of the work.

It may be unusual for ballet, but having the "real" characters and fairy characters played by the same performer is often done in productions of the play. Pity that Neumeier isn't using Mendelssohn for the whole thing, though -- his music is much more fairy-like than Ligeti's, IMO.

(I assume "Tessey" is Theseus, btw? :) )

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Pity that Neumeier isn't using Mendelssohn for the whole thing, though -- his music is much more fairy-like than Ligeti's, IMO

But I think Mendelssohn wouldn't suit Neumier's conception of the fairy world which is choreographed (and costumed) in very strong contrast to the human world of the lovers and the court. And for the mechanicals, he uses barrel organ music.

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Update-Update! From a very reliable source...

Nikolai Tsiskaridze is back at rehearsals for this ballet, working with Zakharova, who just returned from Paris. So he's definitely 'on'! The information on the Moscow TV series "Ticket to the Bolshoi" (Kultura Channel) last week was not right, after all.

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Well, I watched this “Ticket to Bolshoi” by TV the last Thursday and do not understand now what was wrong with it? The program was prepared some time ago – before the theater faced problems with dancers’ diseases and injures. Nothing was said about probable changes in the cast. Just the opposite: telling about the coming premiere Ratmansky mentioned many people who would be involved – including Zakharova, Tsiskaridze, Alexandrova and many others, almost the whole company. I am afraid, somebody provided Natalia with the wrong info. I guess the rumors spread in Moscow between extreme fans because no fragments have been shown with Zakharova and Tsiskaridze. So what? The explanation is quite trivial: Zakharova was in Paris when they shot the clip. Tsiskaridze evidently will dance IF he is ready and has no problems with his leg. Also he is not recovered completely after the flu but appeared nevertheless at rehearsals yesterday.

Alexandrova changed a partner and instead of Andrei Uvarov started rehearsals with a guy from Hamburg Ballet – Ivan Urban. Yesterday Neumeier came to Moscow and was present at the rehearsals. The leading couples there were Zakharova & Tsiskaridze, Alexandrova & Urban, Kaptsova & Skvortsov (normally she had to dance with Neporozhny who was busy at that time). But Bolshoi has problems indeed. Klevtsov (the third Oberon, Lunkina’s partner) is injured, Uvarov and Belogolovtsev have a flu. The situation is difficult, there is one week before the premiere. John Neumeier gives a press-conference tomorrow. Perhaps, more detailed information will follow. Everybody hopes that the premiere will not be canceled.

I agree with Alymer, it was main Neumeier’s concept to use different music. Mendelssohn is for human love, Ligeti - for the love of elves and fairies and barrel organ music (actually, popular hits from La Traviata) for the grotesque love story. Three worlds – three types of the music - three types of steps. I like the idea.

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Thanks, Mikhail. As I mentioned above, Tsiskaridze was back in rehearsals upon the return of Zakharova, his Titania.

By the way, half of the Bolshoi soloists are down & out with a nasty flu. That, added to Filin's injury, leaves very few fully-healthy soloists at present. I hope that everyone can get better soon!

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From today's Bolshoi Theater press conference on "Midsummer" -

The first cast is confirmed as being (using the Russian transliterations of the Shakespearean characters' names):

Zakharova - Ippolita/Titaniya

Tsiskaridze - Tezey/Oberon

Aleksandrova - Germiya

Urban - Lizandr

Kaptsova - Helen

Neporozhniy - Demetriy

Godowski - Pack

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My friends in Moscow tell me that last night's general rehearsal of "Midsummer" included all of the above-cited dancers. Also, tonight's edition of the nightly cultural-news program Новости культуры (News about Culture, 7:30 p.m./19:30) will feature a long interview with Nikolai Tsiskaridze about his preparation for tomorrow night's premiere. [imagine if, in America, we would have a long prime-time interview with, say, Damien Woetzel, about his preparation for a New York City Ballet premiere! There's a lot of nice things to be said about Russia....ahh....]

I'll be off for a week, so I hope that our Moscow-based readers may be able to post their impressions of the premiere here. Calling Ina? Inga? Mikhail?

Merry, merry 'western' Christmas....Happy Holidays to all!

- Natalia Nabatova

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I've read various Moscow-based internet fora/chat rooms for feedback on the premiere of this ballet. Reviews are mixed about the actual ballet -- those who know other versions of 'Midsummer' prefer the Balanchine -- but very high in praise of the opening-night cast of soloists....esp. Svetlana Zakharova's acrobatics (more than her dancing) as Titania:

Sporadic quotable-quotes from the www.adagio.ru site:

Svetlana Zakharova:

* improbable flexibility...crystalline purity of her form

* Zakharova is a beautiful tool for acrobatics

* More acrobatics, less dance, as Titania

* it was her night - huge bouquets & standing ovation at the end, mostly for her

Nikolai Tsiskaridze:

* As always, a very charismatic presence

* Obviously dancing through an injury; not 100% yet. Wore big bandage over his left knee (mis-written as 'elbow' by one reviewer)

* Excellent high lifting of Zakharova

Among 'secondary' soloists, there was greatest, overwhelming praise for Nina Kapsova as the 'goofy' eyeglass-wearing Helen. "Masterful comic timing..." (Bolshoi chat room)

Urban's Lizander drew the most praise among the 'secondary soloist' men.

Interestingly, I read relatively less praise about the ballerina who we seem to prefer in the West -- Maria Alexandrova. "OK...fine" -- nothing more, nothing less -- for Alexandrova's Hermia. Neporozhni's Dimiter was also 'fine.' Nothing written initially about the Puck, Godovsky! [Later reviews mentioned his wonderful dancing as Puck.]

On the whole, Neumeier's ballet was praised for its "clownery & acrobatics" rather than as a beautiful work of art.

Cutting to the quick on all comments & reviews: what impressed most people was ZAKHAROVA's FLEXIBILITY. A night at the circus? Poor Bolshoi, if this is so! Let's hope for more true art in the upcoming premieres, Ratmansky's 'The Bolt' (Feb) & the Massine triple bill (April).

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Happy New Year!

I don’t want to sound disappointing, but it seems that Natalia’s trip to one Russian forum failed to demonstrate a full spectrum of opinions on the latest premier in the Bolshoi. A variety of balletgoers’ opinions as well as a whole bunch of newspaper critical reviews can be found on http://forum.balet.ru. The discussion on the concept of this Neumeier’s work and it’s realization by the Bolshoi Ballet still continues there and will surely go on as new casts appear at January performances. The booklet published for the premier promises three more casts for the main couple – Allash / Belogolovtsev, Lunkina / Klevtsov, Antonicheva / Uvarov. Hope they will bring new colors to this grand-scale ballet, which I personally loved. Though I must confess that not every balletomane (both on-line and off-line) share my opinion.

I should rather stress that the dancer who was homogeneously praised was Jan Godovsky . He was undeniably a spectacular Puck – quick, light, mischievous. There is no doubt that he enjoys this role. He seems to be very sensitive to different dance styles.

Nina Kaptsova was indeed a revelation as Helena demonstrating unexpected comic talents as well as good footwork. She was adequately supported by her partner – Vladimir Neporozhny. As to Alexandrova, she remained without a partner several weeks before the premiere, and had only a few rehearsals with the new one – wonderful Ivan Urban from Hamburg Ballet. Still her work got mostly favorable reviews from dance critics. Her Hermia was lively and emotional, very convincing in the jealousy scene, although not fully polished on the opening night. At the second performance two days later Maria managed to add her usual shining style and confidence.

In general, I would say that the opening night performance was a bit raw, but the next two ones were much better. All three times the cast was the same because of the numerous injuries and flues in the company. Nikolai Tsiskaridze, who still wears big bandage over his left KNEE (the one which was injured and undergone surgery), made an excellent match to gorgeous Titania / Hyppolyta of Svetlana Zakharova. His dancing improved from performance to performance, though he still hasn’t gained his former powers, while Svetlana used fully the abilities of her super flexible body and (yes!) demonstrated excellent dance training. Beautiful couple for a beautiful work of art.

This ballet, as I see it, is a feast of dance and acting, a show-case not only for all ranks of soloists, but the corps too. The latter, mostly of young generation, did a really good job. Among them I would like to mention three rather promising girls – Nelly Kobakhidze, Julia Grebenschikova, Natalia Osipova, and a boy - Karim Abdullin.

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Thank you, Ina...and welcome back to our forum!

It's good to read your first-hand perspective. It seems that the many readers on the Adagio & Bolshoi fora were quite 'off' in their views.

Kaptsova seems to be having a great year, isn't she? She was my favorite Lise in 'Fille Mal Gardee.'

I'm also happy to read about Natalia Osipova, who I prefer to even Kobakhidze. Osipova is very much in the mold of Jennifer Ringer of NYCB - ultra-feminine, gorgeous face, jet-black hair, not too tall, exceedingly charismatic! I, too, love Abdullin, from his student days; great technician and very charismatic.

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