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Bolshoi: London 2013 (29 July-17 Aug) @ Royal Opera House


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I have also been enjoying watching ballet in a sensibly sized opera house, North American venues often being excessively wide and deep.

What are your seating recommendations for Covent Garden Theatre? I've studied photos of the interior on Google images and am not sure about what would be ideal (assuming available seats and plausible price...big assumptions, I'm sure). Is the orchestra sufficiently raked/sloped that you don't have to worry about tall people with big hair blocking your view? The tiers seem very far back in the center and somewhat obstructed views on the side. My main comparison is the Met Opera House, which has no perfect seats for dance. How does Covent Garden compare?

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I have sat both at Met Opera House and ROH, and I could say ROH is much smaller scale than the Met. Met is so huge that even the Grand Tier seats seem very far away but ROH is much closer. One of my favorite seats at Covent Garden is in fact the front row of the Amphiteatre, the price is reasonable and offers a very good view of the stage. The orchestra, on the other hand is not raked enough and often your view is obstructed by a tall person. You may have to sit in the middle rows such as L or behind because the rake is better there. I was in the 2nd row of orchestra center block for Mayerling and I couldn't see almost anything. Well I am quite small like 1.6m.

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At Covent Garden, raking is definitely better row L back in the orchestra ("stalls", they call them). Stalls Circle is usually good.

Anything on the side will have an obstructed view necessarily because it's the side of the horseshoe so you can't see anything upstage on the side that you're sitting.

I like the Coliseum in London (English National and Birmingham Royal perform there). I've never been unhappy with any orchestra seat there. I usually sit in the front row just because I like to be close, and unlike some theatres, it is not sunk below the level of the stage.

Also tickets are way cheaper there than at the ROH.

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Not reviewing the performance - I'm sure Volcanohunter will do that more than justice ... but I just wanted to mention that at the end of this first performance of Jewels tonight by the Bolshoi in London Sergei Filin was led out on the stage. You could see the affection the dancers hold him in through the mad dash made by both Smirnova and Chudin as soon as he came into their eyesight on the stage right side. Certainly that - in and of itself - succeeded in turning the evening from a performance into an event ... and, at that moment in time, the audience responded in rapturous kind.

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Is the orchestra sufficiently raked/sloped that you don't have to worry about tall people with big hair blocking your view? The tiers seem very far back in the center and somewhat obstructed views on the side. My main comparison is the Met Opera House, which has no perfect seats for dance. How does Covent Garden compare?

I would reiterate what naomikage said; the tiers are not set nearly as far back as they are at the Met. They're stacked directly on top of each other, which makes for less than ideal sound on the balcony and, presumably, the stalls circle and grand tier also; I wouldn't recommend them for opera, but the sightlines from the center are fine. I also agree that the front section of the amphitheater, which is steeply sloped, is a nice place to sit. From there I had no problem seeing the multiple ramps of La Bayadere, for example, and I didn't feel the need to use any kind of magnification to look at dancers' faces. I definitely wouldn't sit at the sides.

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I’m way behind on my reviews, especially after having flown 10 ½ hours from London to Houston yesterday, but I will post about the August 10th Swan Lake later on (although Volcanohunter's excellent review already sums up most of my impressions of the performance). But here is my report on the Friday, August 9th Sleeping Beauty:

The role of Princess Aurora was taken by Svetlana Zakharova in this performance, and already there was an air of excitement and intensity in the theater which went quite unfounded during the Thursday Beauty with Krsyanova. Zakharova certainly has her fans, and for many younger dancers she is marveled at for her seemingly God-given ballet physique: tall, rail-thin and hyper-flexible. Zakharova steps onto the stage as if in her own bubble—a glamorous, imperious, prima ballerina not making any particuar attempt to interpret a 16-year-old princess. She is cool, some describe her as icy, and yet in this role she is forced to be warm and youthful to a degree not necessary in other ballets.

Her entrance at the beginning of Act I shows real promise in this regard, but when the Rose Adage starts she becomes, quite understandably, preoccupied with the balances. To her credit, she did hold two fairy long balances at the end of each sequence (the first one she remained in attitude; the second she completed the allonge to arabesque). Supported pirouettes with the princes also cause her tension; her face subtly but visibly panics as none of the men make it out of the adage alive with keeping her on her leg. Ultimately, however, she finishes the Rose Adage unscathed and finishes a lovely, if ossified, Act I. The Vision Scene of Act II is predictably where Zakharova’s performance peaks, as the elusive, almost untouchable quality to her dancing is used well to its advantage here. Her final pas de deux in Act III shows off basically everything we have come to know, like, or dislike about Sveta: long, elastic, ear-whacking extensions (which haven’t gone down with age), polished technique, and an austere demeanor.

There is hardly another ballerina I can think of who fully compares to Zakharova—other ballerinas have certain qualities of hers but not all—which thus makes her a ballerina unlike any you will see in another cast. Her aloof demeanor contrasted spectacularly with Krysanova’s humility in the Thursday performance, and indeed while Zakharova is always interesting to watch, she ultimately proves unmoving as Aurora.

Alexander Volchkov as Prince Desire showed more dramatic fortitude than Semyon Chudin of the night before—though this is not saying much—but Volchkov lacks the latter’s technical gifts. He is not blessed with great lines or a buoyant jump, and actually seems to flail his body a bit when he is executing big traveling jumps. Perhaps least forgivable, however, is Volchkov’s ports de bras: his arms are not well supported from his back in first position and are shaped quite like airplane wings in first arabesque. He partnered Zakharova very well, though he too doesn’t escape the Zakharova supported pirouette curse when she got stuck facing him during one turn in Act III. In the brief and simplistic role of the Prince, Volchkov proved much more successful in conveying his infatuation with Aurora’s vision that Aurora herself, as the Act III pas showcased a couple with no real love, feeling, or any emotion at all for one another.

Ekaterina Shipulina was one of the night’s standouts as a Lilac Fairy of maturity, class, technical strength, and musicality. There is great confidence in Shipulina’s dancing, something not always seen in Olga Smirnova’s performance of the same role, and her pirouettes in the variation were completed without incident. Unlike Smirnova, Shipulina did not attempt full arabesque and attitude turns during the coda with the faeries, preferring instead to complete ½ or ¾ arabesque and attitude turns. This was probably a smart decision, as she did not travel during the sequence in the least and did well to save what was a very off-axis double en dedans pirouette to finish. Shipulina lacks the expressive upper body of Smirnova, but still infuses the role with a warmth and strength which is seen all too briefly under Grigorovich’s production.

Artem Ovcharenko repeated as the Bluebird and proved himself a dancer of admirable line and posture while successfully dancing a role typically reserved for shorter men. Daria Khokhlova as Princess Florine is far below his level, showing a coy demeanor and choppy phrasing during her variation. Anna Tikhomirova was predictably vivacious as the Diamond Fairy, if just a tad bit hurried by the fast footwork required by her second variation. Chiara Alizade also caught my eye as Sapphire: her face reminds me a little bit of Altynai Asylmuratova’s. The faeries in the prologue were very lovely--Anastasia Stashkevich an absolute delight in the songbird variation--and then we had Ivor Tsvirko’s campy, psychotic rendition of Caraboose. He had this crazy look in his eye and a great ability to engage with the cast around him, though never for a moment did I believe him as a woman (and his makeup didn’t help matters).

Despite the uninspired performances from the lead couple, this performance conclusively proved superior to Thusday’s—strong performances from Shipulina, Ovcharenko, and Tikhmoriova (among others in minor roles), good corps and demi-soloist work throughout, and a passionate (if not perfect) handling of the score by the Bolshoi orchestra.

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I was there, in the ROH, yesterday. Very surprised to see Filin showing up at the end! Well, Smirnova and Chudin are HIS dancers.

I feel so disappointed for not being able to see both Alexandrova and Zakharova dancing this time.

I am afraid I need more time to write down my impressions of the performances. No reviews from me, sorry! innocent.gif I cannot do the ballet technique examinations. I am a scientist and engineer, and was never in ballet class. tiphat.gif

The House is smaller and 'warmer' than Met. My seat was at the Balcony Right. There is a bar just in front of me, that covers a half of the stage. I have to almost stand up to see the show. Tonight I will have a better seat.

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The Telegraph live streamed a morning class by the Bolshoi this morning. A predominantly men's class taught by Alexander Vetrov was promised, but in fact what was filmed was a predominantly women's class taught by Svetlana Adyrkhaeva, and it could really more accurately have been described as a warm up rather than a full-blown class, especially since it lasted less than an hour.

The large studio was not particularly filled up. There were maybe two dozen or so dancers present. Most visible, because they were standing at the barre opposite the camera, were Ekaterina Shipulina, Ekaterina Krysanova, Ruslan Skvortsov, Anastasia Stashkevich, Chinara Alizade, Daria Khokhlova and Vladislav Lantratov. Later others came into view as well, including Kristina Kretova, Anna Leonova, Yulia Lunkina and Ivan Alexeyev.

Adyrkhaeva began with lots and lots of tendus and every manner of rond de jambe, integrating pirouettes into the exercises almost immediately. Once she moved to center pratice she threw the dancers into the deep end right away: a grand plié, into pirouette, into développé, into promenade à la seconde combination. Being a female-oriented class, there was lots of petit allegro. Only at one point did she stop to give a dancer, Dmitri Dorokhov, I think, a correction. (He was unfamiliar to her and when asked, identified himself as Dima.)

Once center practice began the dancers began to drop off very quickly. Many did only one or two exercises, and ultimately only three women made it to the end, none of whom, I'm sorry to say, I can name for you. No doubt the dancers are simply very tired and conserving their strength. A three-week season may not be as tough as an eight-week ABT marathon, but the Bolshoi has been performing continually since mid-September and these dancers have basically been deprived of a summer vacation.

Here is a Reader's Digest version of the class.


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Anyone in London knows how to order flowers to deliver to the ballerinas on stage? Last night Obraztsova & Smirnova both got big baskets of flowers. Why no any flower for Krysanova after Rubies? flowers.gif

In my view Krysanova was the most deserving of flowers last night, a pity she never received any. You may be interested to know though, that last time the Bolshoi danced in London she was the recipient of one of the biggest flower throws I've ever seen at Covent Garden with the stage absolutely carpeted in blooms. When a ballerina gets that kind of attention in London she knows the audience is in love with her.

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Jewels, August 13


Anastasia Stashkevich, Dmitry Gudanov
Ekaterina Shipulina, Ivan Alexeyev

Daria Khokhlova, Yulia Lunkina, Denis Medvedev


Kristina Kretova, Andrei Merkuriev, Yulia Grebenshchikova


Olga Smirnova, Semyon Chudin

Anna Leonova, Ana Turazashvili, Angelina Vlashinets, Anna Okuneva

Denis Rodkin, Artem Belyakov, Mikhail Kryuchkov, Dmitri Efremov

conductor: Pavel Sorokin

I’m having connectivity issues, so I’ll have to try and hustle.

Problematic issues first, like the designs by Alyona Pikalova. Each section of the ballet is preceded by a garish gold front curtain that has little visual relationship with what follows. If it’s supposed to represent the cover of a jewel box, the image is clumsy, and it would be best to skip it altogether. Emeralds and Rubies appear to take place in front of columns of colored glass blocks, while Diamonds takes place against a slightly cheesy nighttime sky.

In Emeralds Elena Zaytseva’s costumes are closer to Christian Lacroix than Karinska, except that Zaytseva is not Lacroix. The bodices are excessively glittery, and the light they reflect is white, not green. The vertical stripes of the two-tone tutus are also not especially pretty and particularly distracting in the Sicilienne. In Rubies the dresses are awful and the headdresses are worse, and the Diamonds tutus are a little too big; they flop too far behind the music in allegro sections. But the tiaras are suitably Russian.

On the matter of performance style, I don’t lament that company A, B or C does not look like New York City Ballet. In the case of the great companies I am interested in seeing their unique approach to Jewels. As long as the music and choreographic accents are respected, and the dancing is large and committed, I am satisfied.

The Bolshoi performs the longer version of Emeralds with the double ending. I had a few doubts going in about Anastasia Stashkevich in the principal role, because while she is an extremely dynamic dancer, her movement, and especially her port de bras, can have a brittle quality sometimes. But she recently made her debut in La Sylphide, and it shows. On balance she was alright, although she was a little hit-and-miss rhythmically, which, as you can imagine, was a problem in her solo.

However, when Ekaterina Shipulina appeared on stage, all luxuriant and dreamy rapture, my mind was put at ease, knowing that I would come away completely satisfied with at least one performance that evening. In the “walking” pas de deux, she did for the most part walk on the music’s pulse, which happens far less often than I’d like.

In the trio Yulia Lunkina was especially lovely, since the air of gracious serenity she always projects seemed especially suitable in her solo section to the violin solo. The men had a few problems staying together in the allegro finale, but in the second finale is was obvious how Jewels benefits from a great company like the Bolshoi: a chain of seven dancers, the women all on pointe in arabesque, perfectly positioned, perfectly synchronized and entirely secure.

As Rubies began the orchestra seemed to lack rhythmic bite, and initially Yulia Grebenshchikova appeared not entirely secure in her échappés, so I was worried that her turnout may betray her. However, when the musical theme repeated itself, and she came out a second time more confidently and emphatically, I was reassured that everything would be alright. Kristina Kretova has a lot of fun and she’s very game, though for my taste there isn’t yet enough dynamic shading in her performance. Perhaps because she tends to hold her arms very straight, she doesn’t always appear quite as slinky as she could. Andrei Merkuriev was better and Grebenshchikova was better still. Tall, long-legged and charming, she did vary the dynamics of the way she bent and re-straightened her elbows and wrists again and again; she managed being “manhandled” with aplomb, and the big, wide échappés, pliés and penchées were all there. The audience reacted enthusiastically, but then I’ve yet to encounter an audience that wasn’t won over by Rubies. Nina Kaptsova’s husband Alexei Melentiev was the piano soloist.

The Diamonds corps was excellent, that was apparent immediately from my vantage point on the balcony. However the main demi-soloists Anna Leonova and Ana Turazashvili looked a little mismatched, Leonova’s more straightforward style contrasting with Turazashvili’s very grand manner.

Olga Smirnova gave a very confident performance of her long and fiendishly difficult pas de deux, only it didn’t seem difficult. She appeared to have no fear as she dove right into all the plunges and off-balance turns and twists. There have always been hints of Swan Lake in Diamonds, but in Smirnova’s interpretation it is an all-out abstraction of Swan Lake, with her undulating arms and broken wrists. If there was an aspect of her performance that bothered me, it was the very exaggerated way she walked on pointe.

Semyon Chudin’s manner was more straightforward, and the audience was made ecstatic by his solo dancing. However, I was bothered by the jerkiness of his coupé jetés en tournant: by the excessively aggressive way he seemed determined to split his legs (you know the feeling you get when you think a dancer’s legs are about to undergo the wishbone treatment?) and by the fact that he allowed the rear arm to rise above the shoulder and higher than the front arm. His next sequence of pirouettes à la seconde was really beautiful, but by then the audience reaction was way over the top. Not that I have any right to tell an enthusiastic audience how they ought to respond, but once they start reacting to a performance of Diamonds as they might whoop and holler at an Ailey show, I feel some sort of line has been crossed.

Sadly, for me the ending of Diamonds fizzled. The great unison promenade, which follows all that swirling counterpoint, is probably my favorite moment in all ballet. And yet here it didn’t have the usual effect. I don’t know whether this was because the preceding counterpoint hadn’t swirled enough, or because the conductor didn’t slow down sufficiently for the grandeur of the moment to register, or whether the dancers, accustomed to dancing on a larger stage, felt a little cramped. For me, at least, the usual euphoria of Balanchine’s evening-ender ballets was missing, though the audience was very appreciative and rewarded Smirnova and Chudin with two curtain calls.

Smirnova was the only ballerina to receive flowers on this occasion.

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I haven't the knowledge to comment on all the technical problems volcanohunter identifies in the dancing of Chudin last night but it seemed to me that Smirnova and Chudin gave an exquisitely danced performance of Diamonds that was full of grace and soul. It certainly outshone the home company's offerings in this ballet. Maybe that accounts for the audience reaction although IMO "whoop and holler" is a "way over the top" description of their appreciation.

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There have always been hints of Swan Lake in Diamonds, but in Smirnova’s interpretation it is an all-out abstraction of Swan Lake, with her undulating arms and broken wrists.

Very interesting! When I watched the Diamonds, I thought these are FREE swans; not like in the Swan Lake, those swans are being abused. innocent.gif

Last night's Rubies was much better than the night before. The leading dancers, Kretova, Merkuriev and Grebenshchikova made rubies shinning. Their frolic for joy finally infected everyone on the stage, then audiences! flowers.gif

I had seen a video clip of Gudanov's modern dancing. He is very strong technically. Why couldn't he flirt a little bit on stage? Even Krysanova's vigor and vitality failed to move him. unsure.png

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Thanks so Volcanohunter for another glorious review. We learn so much from you. You will be much missed in London once the Bolshoi season has completed and you have returned to your native climb, one so very fortunate to be graced by the generosity of your good self.

I agree with you totally in your comments about the Bolshoi's decor and costumes for JEWELS. Those for RUBIES were particularly distasteful in their overall misunderstanding of Balanchine's remit.

One observation: You say of that same piece of stunning potential: "The audience reacted enthusiastically, but then I’ve yet to encounter an audience that wasn’t won over by Rubies." It is a shame you weren't able to be present in the ROH on Monday. You would have been able to add another first to your admirable list. The audience then present was all but tepid in its response to this insightful slice of balletic wit, deservedly so from my viewpoint. It was performance which, much like the said sad decor/costumes, was truly misguided. Agree with Yudi that Tuesday's showed a definite improvement.

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Actually I thought the Jewels audience strange too, when the curtain opened for Diamonds they applauded either the set or costumes, or perhaps, (and this is becoming common in London), the tutus.

Having seen both performances I feel that the Bolshoi is in the same position as the Royal Ballet, that there is only one good cast within the company, so they are distributed on different nights. Very disappointed that there was only one cast for Diamonds though.

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Swan Lake, August 14

Odette/Odile: Ekaterina Shipulina

Prince Siegfried: Ruslan Skvortsov

Evil Genius: Artem Belyakov

Jester: Igor Tsvirko

pas de trois: Kristina Kretova, Anastasia Stashkevich

Dowager: Kristina Karasyova

Tutor: Alexei Loparevich

Master of Ceremonies: Vitaly Biktimirov

Waltz demi-soloists: Yanina Parienko, Anna Leonova, Maria Vinogradova, Ana Turazashvili, Karim Abdullin, Denis Rodkin, Mikhail Kryuchkov, Yuri Baranov

Cygnets: Svetlana Pavlova, Margarita Shrainer, Anna Voronkova, Yulia Lunkina

Big Swans: Olga Marchenkova, Angelina Vlashinets, Yulia Grebenshchikova

Hungarian Bride: Angelina Vlashinets

Russian Bride: Anna Rebetskaya

Spanish Bride: Chinara Alizade

Neapolitan Bride: Anna Tikhomirova

Polish Bride: Anna Okuneva

conductor: Pavel Sorokin

Ekaterina Shipulina and Ruslan Skvortsov make an extremely glamorous pairing. Immediately I could feel my American prejudice for the tall and the fabulous asserting itself. Chronologically speaking, this is probably the Bolshoi partnership of the longest standing, begun in the classrooms of the Moscow Ballet School, which they completed in the same year.

Yuri Grigorovich has been persuaded to allow his Sleeping Beauty to be redesigned, so the Bolshoi really ought to work to get his permission to change the costumes and decors for Swan Lake as well. When the corps de ballet dances the opening waltz as well as they do, it seems almost criminal to dress them in costumes that appear to have been sewn out of camouflage fabric bought at an army surplus store. There was a flawless pas de trois for all concerned, and Igor Tsvirko was also near perfect as the Jester. Because he was acting vigorously, he was perhaps more conspicuous that I would have liked, but I can’t blame the man for trying. So far I think he was the only Jester who managed to catch the flower the first pas de trois soloist threw in his direction.

This was my first look at the Evil Genius of Artem Belyakov, who made his debut in the role this spring. I thought he acquitted himself very well, dancing with a great deal of force and elevation.

Shipulina is an august, expansive Odette. Those who seek Russian grandeur and pliancy need look no further. She took the adage at a slow pace, but was able to sustain it. The first lift of the middle section was a little noisy, but all of the subsequent lifts were remarkably quiet, and while I suspect that a tall dancer like Shipulina may not always be easy to partner, Skvortsov did not let on. In the end the pas de deux was very satisfying. Old Hollywood couldn’t have produced a more splendid pair of lovers. The swans, small and big, who followed were excellent.

Toward the end of her variation Shipulina seemed insecure as she performed the final sequence of turns, and indeed at the end she lost her balance. It occurred to me that she might be fatigued, as she was performing for the third day in a row. But she came back strongly in the coda. It was notable how fiercely her Odette resisted being turned back into a swan at the end of the act. Shipulina and Skvortsov brought real dramatic tension to the scene.

In the Hungarian dance I was pleased with the épaulement of Angelina Vlashinets. Anna Rebetskaya must be the personification of the Sweet Young Russian Thing. Chinara Alizade had style but couldn’t match Anna Tikhomirova for elevation as the Spanish bride, while Tikhomirova took the Neapolitan dance and knocked it out of the park. Anna Okuneva’s jumps looked a little labored in the mazurka.

Shipulina is a natural Odile, so she burst onto the scene and took command of it, not really trying to impersonate Odette. The adage had an up-to-the-minute urgency on both sides. Again, often times Skvortsov seems ready to surrender, but no sooner does Odile begin to impersonate Odette than he feels in his gut what a vulgar fraud she is, and he hesitates once more.

Like Ekaterina Krysanova, Skvortsov does a lot of things the “hard” way. He does not dance through the music, evening out a phrase to make it physically easier to perform. Instead he will descend from a jump and hold the landing until the next musical phrase begins. Shipulina’s solo dancing was stronger than had been at her previous performance, and by the time she got through her perfect single fouettés, it was obvious that she wasn’t suffering from any sort of fatigue. Superb dancing from both from start to finish.

Perhaps once you’ve seen this version enough times you can start to make peace with Grigorovich’s idea of Siegfried’s victimization at the hands of a Cartesian Evil Genius, in which Odette was never real and Siegfried is doomed to end up alone, but nothing worse. Even the swans are no longer swans but rather turbulent waves conjured up by the Evil Genius to separate Odette and Siegfried. Certainly Shipulina, Skvortsov and Belyakov gave it their all to put this across, so the ending was not without drama, and it was not uninvolving, even if it was not catastrophic. Since it turns out he is flexible in these matters, I’ll add that this time Skvortsov’s Siegfried ended by kneeling down slowly on one knee before raising his arms toward the amphitheater as the curtain fell. So he finished each of his three outings in Swan Lake differently.

At the end of the performance there were three curtain calls, the most there have been at the nine Bolshoi performances I’ve attended so far. In truth the audience may not have been clamoring for a third call, but as soon as Shipulina and Skvortsov appeared before the curtain, they were greeted enthusiastically. We’ll see how Smirnova does tonight.

I sat among the well-heeled of the grand tier, who are a stingy bunch, not willing to applaud much of anyone or anything, leaving it to the rest of the hall to do such a vulgar thing. If you’re looking for a fun crowd, I’d sit higher up. Excellent views, though.

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But she came back strongly in the coda. It was notable how fiercely her Odette resisted being turned back into a swan at the end of the act.

I am glad to read your praising of Shipulina's performance in S.L.

When she danced in Rubies on 12th night, she really surprised me: WOW, a wild American girl! Shipulina's performance reminded me of Diana Vishneva's dancing in Rubies, Diana also showed a little wildness, which is perfectly OK for an open & happy, BSO American girl. -- So, I am not agreed with some professional critics who said "Ekaterina Shipulina is more Soviet siren than American chorus girl."

On the second day, in Emeralds, Shipulina surprised me again: WOW, she changed! She became an elegant grown-up girl/lady! It seems to me Shipulina is not only a good dancer, but also a good actress.


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As for Andrei Mercuriev, when I saw his dancing Rubies that night, suddenly an idea flashed in my head: this guy can dance Gene Kelly! They both have nimble and quick feet; they both are gentle and graceful, humor and pleasant; ...

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So, I am not agreed with some professional critics who said "Ekaterina Shipulina is more Soviet siren than American chorus girl."

I don't agree with that characterization either. On the one hand I can see what they're trying to say, because of all the Bolshoi's ballerinas she is the one who most reminds me of the big, unbridled Old School, which I mean as a compliment. But her sensibility is more modern. In certain repertoire I can't help but think of her as a Bolshoi-American hybrid.

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