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delibes

Nikolai Tsiskaridze benefit

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I have translated the Kommersant report in today's paper (May 12th), critical of Tsiskaridze, even sarcastic, but it explains his mysterious fame (mysterious to me, I regret).

Introduction: The Bolshoi Theatre had a sold-out benefit for Nikolai Tsiskaridze, the most famous male dancer in Russia. Tatyana Kyznetsova was witness to his celebration.

Benefit performances are given for three reasons: as a sign of farewell to the public, to verify someone's exceptional status, and to attract attention to that person. In the last instance they are usually organised in an outside theatre for those artists who aren't satisfied with their career progress or repertoire (a significant example was Anastasia Volochkova). In the Bolshoi itself benefits are rare, with just three in the 21st century for Svetlana Zakharova (by reason of her special status), Galina Stepanenko (for long service) and now Nikolai Tsiskaridze, the only dancer whose popularity has extended far beyond the limits of the world of art.

If you stopped a man in the street and asked him to name a famous male ballet dancer, in Europe they wold name Nureyev, in America Baryshnikov, while in Russia invariably Tsiskaridze. No one in ballet equals Tsiskaridze in the eyes of the general public, and this is to the credit of not just him as an artist. Actually, no one of his colleagues leads such a busy life beyond his theatre-- he judges ballroom competitions on television, he performs in musicals, he doesn't miss important worldly events. It's true, though, that on the Moscow stage today there is no one capable of being a sufficiently charismatic and brilliant leading man to contest Mr Tsiskaridze's announced precedence.

No wonder that his benefit was a total sell-out. The People's Artist indulged his public with his hits, the freshest of which dates from 2001. Apparently new stage roles aren't so urgent for the 34-year-old artist as new roles in life -- the dancer doesn't bother to conceal his desire to be chief of the Bolshoi ballet. Meanwhile, as he awaits his promotion,

Nikolai Tsiskaridze asserts himself as the living embodiment of the Bolshoi' historical tradition, the natural heir to his geat teachers. Three roles in the Benefit -- Solor in Bayaderka, Narcissus in the eponymous miniature, and Herman in Pique Dame -- were dedicated to three legends of Russian ballet, Marina Semyonova, Galina Ulanova and Nikolai Fadeechev, who once upon a time prepared these roles with Nikolai Tsiskaridze.

From the stage result it's hard to say anything definite about either the pedagogic gift of these celebrities or the receptivity of the student. In all three incarnations N Tsiskaridze showed his trademark quality-- an excellent, almost feminine adagio line, exceptional footwork, amazing jete en tournant with his rather curved-back torso. He has just as rigorously retained his typical flaws -- the unstable, if passionate rotation, the mincing affectedness of his dance, and a pretentious mime style that is usually considered in this country to be a mastery of acting.

In the final ballet, Petit's Pique Dame, which brought Tsiskaridze a Golden Mask and State prize, the six and a half years since its premiere have produced irreversible changes: the role of Herman has lost all the movements and combinations the People's artist found uncomfortable for his body. However, he has made up the loss with hard work on his face muscles -- none of Tsiskadirze's colleagues is capable of so horribly knitting his brows, or blazing with so wild a gaze, or twisting his lips into so sardonic a grimace. It was rather to Galina Ulanova's credit that in the old days she would counsel the young dancer to look in the mirror once in a while. "The mirror is your only true judge," said this great artist, who could play dead, not quivering a single muscle of that angelic, still face. While Mr Tsiskaridze dramatizes in a directly opposite fashion, evidently he has stayed satisfied with the process of judgement by mirror.

Love of one's own reflection is the subject of the second role he danced at the benefit. Galina Ulanova adapted Kasyan Goleizovsky's 'Narcissus' for the then young dancer, jettisoning from it all that didnot suit his superb body. Since those days the half-naked Nikolai Tsiskaridze in a pale-blue leotard with coquettish yellow triangle below his waist has been loving himself with such self-intoxication that there isn't breath to reprove him either for his technical flaws or his distortion of the choreography.

Only in the Shades Act from Bayaderka, in honour of Marina Semyonova, did Nikoali Tsiskaridze remain true to the accepted text of the role, and he danced Solor very successfully -- he turned clearly, he flew like a bird in his jetes and pas de chats, and the more complicated double assembles were done practically without fault. However, it is precisely in the territory of academic classicism where rivals to the People's Artist are found, who are capable doing as much with no less brilliance.

Genuine uniqueness in the Shades Act was demonstrated by his partner, Galina Stepanenko, the oldest of the Bolshoi's primas. It lay in the natural regality of her stage authority, by some miracle transmitted by Marina Semyonova to her pupil. Galina Stepanenko, uniquely among all today's ballerinas, dances everything that is set, in the way that it is set, not changing movements and not simplifying them either. All the little details of the role that are missed by the normal viewer, were surmounted not simply honourably, but were performed by the ballerina with a kind of elegant flair, showing an unostentatious respect for herself, her profession and her teachers. This testified to the continuity of tradition more hopefully than the most emotionally wrought dedication, and the most packed-out benefit.

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I find this a very odd piece indeed, in fact it almost reads as if the writer has a personal grudge against the man. Benefit performances are a regular occurrence in Russia and have been for years, so I don’t know why the writer feels uncomfortable about this one. She says herself that they are given to “verify someone's exceptional status” and if Tsiskaridze’s status isn’t exceptional then I don’t know whose is. Perhaps the fact that these performances are becoming rare at the Bolshoi has more to do with the current pressures of the main house being closed than anything else.

Ms Kyznetsova seems to have a problem with Tsiskaridze’s popularity with a non ballet going public and the fact that he appears regularly on television. All I can say is Good for Him! It never does any harm for a dancer to be seen and recognized outside of the tight coterie of ballet fans and few people could make a better ambassador for the art than the good natured, humorous Tsiskaridze. As for performing in musicals, I believe he first made this career move whilst recovering from an horrific injury and perhaps I would have more patience with this writer had she alluded to the incredible bravery and perseverance this dancer showed in working his way back to recovery.

I won’t comment on the actual review, not having attended the evening myself, but I find it rather admirable that Tsiskaridze chose to honour three great personalities from the Bolshoi’s past, if nothing else it proves he has a healthy respect for the traditions of the Bolshoi company.

Genuine uniqueness in the Shades Act was demonstrated by his partner, Galina Stepanenko, the oldest of the Bolshoi's primas. It lay in the natural regality of her stage authority, by some miracle transmitted by Marina Semyonova to her pupil. Galina Stepanenko, uniquely among all today's ballerinas, dances everything that is set, in the way that it is set, not changing movements and not simplifying them either. All the little details of the role that are missed by the normal viewer, were surmounted not simply honourably, but were performed by the ballerina with a kind of elegant flair, showing an unostentatious respect for herself, her profession and her teachers.

A beautiful assessment of this outstanding ballerina’s work; Stepanenko is a dancer whose gifts have been denied to her admirers outside of Russia for some years now as she (and her near contemporary Gracheva) are considered too old to be regularly included on foreign tours. One of the reasons Tsiskaridze crossed swords with the management at the Bolshoi was because he championed older ballerinas that were being unfairly sidelined, so it’s good to see him choosing Stepanenko as his partner at this prestigious event.

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This critic seems a bit confused. First she says:

It's true, though, that on the Moscow stage today there is no one capable of being a sufficiently charismatic and brilliant leading man to contest Mr Tsiskaridze's announced precedence.

...and then goes on to criticise his dancing(and acting) as the very opposite of brilliant, but as mincing, affected and pretentious.

Also I think Ms Kyznetsova has some of her facts wrong.

Apparently new stage roles aren't so urgent for the 34-year-old artist as new roles in life

Tsiskaride frequently in interviews mentions his dissatisfaction with the fact that he does not get to dancing new roles.

Three roles in the Benefit -- Solor in Bayaderka, Narcissus in the eponymous miniature, and Herman in Pique Dame -- were dedicated to three legends of Russian ballet, Marina Semyonova, Galina Ulanova and Nikolai Fadeechev, who once upon a time prepared these roles with Nikolai Tsiskaridze.

'Once upon a time' is true for Semyonova and Ulanova, but Fadeechev still coaches him in all his roles, as far as I know.

Ms Kyznetsova seems to have a problem with Tsiskaridze’s popularity with a non ballet going public and the fact that he appears regularly on television.

I have noticed this attitude from critics before - lamenting his immense popularity as if that in itself detracted from his dancing.

Thanks for the translation, delibes!

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"QUOTE

Three roles in the Benefit -- Solor in Bayaderka, Narcissus in the eponymous miniature, and Herman in Pique Dame -- were dedicated to three legends of Russian ballet, Marina Semyonova, Galina Ulanova and Nikolai Fadeechev, who once upon a time prepared these roles with Nikolai Tsiskaridze.

'Once upon a time' is true for Semyonova and Ulanova, but Fadeechev still coaches him in all his roles, as far as I know."

Sorry I don't know how to extract previous quotes properly. I should say that in translating Russian, it's possible to suggest slightly different nuances or variations of tone in English by the variety of available translations. Kogda-to's first meaning is 'Once upon a time' but could also be 'once' or 'formerly'. Also the perfect tense in Russian can change in English if you say "who have formerly prepared the roles" rather than "who once (upon a time) prepared the roles". I do not know which would be more accurate. I try to translate close to word by word, in order not to second-guess more readable but maybe interpretatious (my own invented word) translations. Like Mashinka, I was also impressed by the straightforwardness of the description of Stepanenko, a dancer I do not know. By the way, on Tsiskarize and new roles, did he not pull out of making a new ballet with Christopher Wheeldon recently? We had a television documentary about that, and he did not seem very wholehearted about it in the rehearsals, though there was also a suggestion that he got sick. Non-ballet popularity has always seemed to get up some of the ballet fraternity's noses; Darcey Bussell and Rudolf Nureyev on TV comedy shows, and Baryshnikov in Sex and the City. I wonder if this wider media exposure actually has brought general watchers to see performances of ballet, though. My impression as an occasional goer was that more people would only buy a Darcy Bussell ticket for the Royal Ballet, because they were frightened of seeing someone else who they didn't know. It works better when ballet dancers turn themselves completely over to a different stage, like Adam Cooper or Sylvie Guillem. Ballet people don't seem to resent that so much for some reason.

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"QUOTE

Kogda-to's first meaning is 'Once upon a time' but could also be 'once' or 'formerly'.

Thanks for explaining the nuances of translation. In this case, it wouldn't make a difference though. I quoted 'once upon a time', but the same would apply if it had said 'formerly', for example. It is true for Ulanova and Semyenova, but Fadeyechev still coaches Tsiskaridze (in fact, has now replaced the other two teachers in coaching him for all his roles).

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