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The Bolshoi under Vaziev

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The fan bases are notorious everywhere, Helene, and I try to avoid any contact with them. The loud protestations in the internet are not an indicator of what cultured ballet going public thinks or feels in Moscow. Most of those cultured ballet goers, and I meet quite many, avoid getting into the argument with those who start internet flames, they mostly ignore them. The dancers themselves are professionals and the fact that so many of them got green light, compared to the previous administration, translates into much better atmosphere within the troupe. I don't buy into the nonsense about "demotion", with the lists of those "demoted" arbitrarily made up. I have been connected to Bolshoi from the time Maximova, Bessmertnova, and, believe it or not, Plissetskaya, were still actively dancing, when Semenyaka was their principal prima ballerina, and Ananiashvili just turned 20. The grievances and strain within the company during 1980-ies were enormous but only those connected to the troupe knew about it, it erupted in a palace revolution in the 1990-ies. Later, it wasn't better, probably worse, when various very suspect, not connected to ballet directly, shadow personalities were involved in the affairs of Bolshoi. The quality of dancing was during those almost 40 years very uneven, with one or two great artistes and quite a lot of craftsmen I wouldn't like to see today. Several of the current "legends" had shaky beginnings, which is conveniently overlooked by those who like to trash all the young ones (representing both Moscow and Petersburg schools), while extolling beyond limits the supposed "legends". The troupe absolutely needed fresh blood, there is no question about it, no young talent (excluding Smirnova) was developed for a number of years, the corps and the soloists badly needed refinement and improvement, and from what I see, this is now taking place. I saw Zhiganshina's debut as Gulnare in the Fall, she was fresh, charming, sophisticated danseuse displaying beautiful cantilena and par terre; she was rivalling and, in le Jardin animé, even surpassing my memories of Kaptsova's wonderful Gulnare several years ago. Her debut as Aurore was absolutely timely and merited. Being nervous on such a big occasion is absolutely understandable.

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58 minutes ago, Helene said:

What's a wonder is that with such bitterness expressed by fans, claques that distort the audience response, hit-man YouTube videos, what could have been a fatal attack on a director, a company divided in response, the administrative turmoil of at least the last decade, and a change in administration that predictably undermined the hierarchy, that any productive dancing gets done.

 

That might be the reason that we have Art, Helene.

Edited by Buddy

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I don't think anyone can speak on behalf of cultured ballet audiences, which are a diverse bunch and hold a variety of opinions.  There are many who have great love and respect for dancers they consider legends without air quotes, and rightly so. Thinking that dancers aren't ready for roles isn't, by definition, trashing the dancers, nor is pointing out their weaknesses: it is often more a criticism of management who casts them, as the dancers don't cast themselves.  The subject of this thread is the state of the Bolshoi under Vaziev, which includes his casting patterns.  He would hardly be the first AD to want to make his mark by establishing that he can recognize and develop new talents that are beholden to them for their careers.  Ballet is more like other businesses than it is different, because, humans.

It's perfectly valid to want to see a complete, confident, secure performance and have little interest in watching early attempts that don't meet that description, and, in fact, believe it is a disservice to cast dancers they believe are not ready.  Definitions of ready vary greatly among ballet goers, and preferences in style, technique cover a broad spectrum.  One person's fresh and exciting is another's unfinished, and no one is under any obligation to watch someone's growth.  It's perfectly valid to prefer and respect different virtues, and to decide whom it is worth paying in time and money to see perform, and that doesn't always intersect with management's casting and artist development policies.  Just as it's perfectly valid to like a range of dancers and seeing performances that show a range of experience without using one to flog the other.

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Maybe I take a slightly more idealistic approach to some of what you’re saying, Helene. Art, of which I include ballet, seems to be essentially about love, beauty, hopes and dreams — the things that make life worth living. Best expressing this might be the goal, but the process of creating and interacting with it should strive for the same values. A truly good person, to me, is at least as valuable as the greatest artist (or the greatest anyone).

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3 hours ago, volcanohunter said:

In Act 1, Zhiganshina began her extremely premature debut as Aurora. There was basically no entrance applause, her performance was very nervous and stiff, and whatever bravos were heard came from the same claqueish voices heard during every Bolshoi broadcast. 

 

Zhiganshina's dad passed away just a tad over a week ago, which must have been a devastating blow for the poor girl, so her ability to gather herself and make this debut happen in the first place is downright heroic. If I was in the audience, and, lamentably, I was not, I would have applauded her too, and done so on my own free will, not claquieishly.

Saying which dancer gets claqueish and which dancer gets genuine shouts and applause is as much of a conjecture and speculation as there can be. Basically, a way of saying that "if audiences applaud an artist that I like, they do it genuinely, and if they applaud an artist I dislike, it must be because of the claque that got paid".

Edited by Fleurdelis

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On 2/1/2018 at 10:05 PM, Fleurdelis said:

Saying which dancer gets claqueish and which dancer gets genuine shouts and applause is as much of a conjecture and speculation as there can be. Basically, a way of saying that "if audiences applaud an artist that I like, they do it genuinely, and if they applaud an artist I dislike, it must be because of the claque that got paid".

I disagree.  In some houses there are known claquers, and this has been acknowledged by some dancers, for whom this is a shakedown with implicit threat, and there are distinct patterns of applause by claques.

I just start with the assumption that if claquers are paid, it's a shakedown, while others are over-the-top people.

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4 hours ago, canbelto said:

I wouldn't necessarily trust the applause meters in Moscow considering you don;t know who has paid their "dues" and who hasn't.

A claque cannot force an audience to go where it doesn't wan't to go. That's why their behavior can stick out like a sore thumb. If a few people are yelling until they're hoarse, but applause is otherwise restrained, then there's a good chance a claque is at work.

Cheers coming from every corner and a reaction that is universally immediate and enthusiastic are beyond the capacity of a claque to simulate. The woman sitting next to me wasn't sure she'd enjoy Skvortsov's performance, but in less than a minute he won her over completely, because he was that musical, that elegant, that high-flying, that dashing and that romantic. So she applauded and cheered with all her might through the second half of the evening, but certainly not because she'd been paid to do it or because she was part of a fanbase. On the other hand, I went in with very high expectations, and they were surpassed. I don't know when I'd last seen such a persuasive prince, so I'm not surprised others were bowled over.

I have no way of knowing for sure, but I'd venture to guess that Stepanova's entrance applause was generated by her fans, not a claque. They seeed to be sitting in the same part of the hall, whereas claquers try to spread out in an attempt to get others to follow their lead and so that their behavior is less obvious. But the admiration for her didn't seem to be widespread. I am neutral on Stepanova. I don't see what her fans see, but I also don't find her offensive. Her Lilac Fairy was commanding to the point of being stern, and I found that interpretation peculiar, or in any case not very munificent.

2 hours ago, Laurent said:

Her debut as Aurore was absolutely timely and merited. Being nervous on such a big occasion is absolutely understandable.

I have to disagree. Gulnare or Marie Stahlbaum are one thing, but Aurora is a role of entirely greater magnitude and complexity. Zhiganshina had technical difficulties, like falling out of diagonals of turns and barely holding on to balances, although her prince and her suitors did everything possible to help, her ankles were wobbly and her wrists were very tense. (I was reminded of how Pierre Lacotte criticized Agnès Letestu for her spoon-like hands, because the bend at the wrist was very pronounced. Zhiganshina's hands also resembled ladles.) She attempted a glacial tempo for the vision scene, which she couldn't sustain, and in its coda she couldn't keep up with the speed. But more importantly, she didn't seem to have anything to say. Her dancing was monotonous, and I couldn't say her Aurora had a distintive character, let alone personality development as the ballet progressed. She would grit her teeth, stare at the floor and just try to get through it. I don't blame her. It was insane to think that she could pull off the role at her age and level of experience. 

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3 hours ago, Fleurdelis said:

Zhiganshina's dad passed away just a tad over a week ago, which must have been a devastating blow for the poor girl, so her ability to gather herself and make this debut happen in the first place is downright heroic. If I was in the audience, and, lamentably, I was not, I would have applauded her too, and done so on my own free will, not claquieishly.

Saying which dancer gets claqueish and which dancer gets genuine shouts and applause is as much of a conjecture and speculation as there can be. Basically, a way of saying that "if audiences applaud an artist that I like, they do it genuinely, and if they applaud an artist I dislike, it must be because of the claque that got paid".

Thank you for writing this - I was just reading this thread and wanting to write exactly this.  For Zhiganshina to have performed at all under her very sad circumstances is praiseworthy.  Anyone seeing her Gulnare, Gamzatti and other roles would see she is entirely ready, having very strong technique and acting skills.  Yes, she's young, but in my opinion, she WAS ready for this debut.  Of course, dancers all are professionals and  used to "the show must go on" but for a young girl, with this most important debut, maybe THE most quintessential pure classical ballerina role, to dance under such circumstances was SO hard.  Of COURSE she was not perfect.  God bless her, I say.

Edited by MadameP

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The article about Abramov (Canbelto posted a link above) and his claque says that claque members sit in different places, not all grouped in one place.

At La Scala opera singers have forever talked about having to pay the claque for an important debut. This paying does not mean they are lesser artists. They are genuinely nervous about a very important debut and do not need the extra anxiety of an angry claque that has not been paid. Some refuse to pay it and win over everyone anyway, but some choose to not have the extra anxiety. I suspect anyone who dares to sing Norma (if La Scala ever decides to stage it again) after Callas at La Scala will be so nervous and know it is high stakes that she will pay the claque even if she is the most amazing artist that ever lived.

The article that Canbelto posted also has Mr. Abramov claiming many are hardcore lovers of ballet who can no longer afford tickets. They also sell their tickets sometimes to make money if a show is sold out. That means (in my opinion) the claque doesn't always work as planned. Someone buying a ticket who is not a member of the claque is probably going to be more independently minded (not always).

I think it is probably very hard to know when the applause is caused by a claque and when not. Probably sometimes an audience reaction is genuine. Sometimes the claque is making noise b/c they are paid, but they also agree with what they are doing.

I have sat in the Hermitage theatre and applauded with zeal the amazing Victor Lebedev while everyone else in the tiny theatre gave polite applause (same amount of applause to fairly mediocre talents on the same stage). I was astounded and wondered, "Don't they have eyes????" His deep cambres, His elegant turns, etc.

So you can see someone amazing and for some reason the audience just doesn't seem to care. And I have definitely seen the opposite where the audience goes wild for what I consider a very lackluster performance. Who is to know if a claque was a t work? This happens with or without a claque.

The amount of applause does not necessarily mean the dancer or singer was having the best night of her career. Lack of applause also does not mean the dancer was terrible. Occasionally an audience is just blah.

All of the greatest artists have had divided fans. Mediocre artists rarely have people fighting over them, b/c no one cares. No one spends time debating someone is just "okay" or "meh."  The ones that create the fights tend to go down in history as big names (and many are truly great artists). The great opera singers all have flaws and people still fight about them to this day online. Dame Joan Sutherland's mushy diction and lame acting vs. her amazing coloratura, big voice, etc.  Many can not stand the sound of Maria Callas and point out her screechy high notes, her wobbling, etc. while many of us adore her way with drama and words and her fiery temperament. Montserrat Caballe admits she didn't have the forte high notes for the bel canto repetoire, but she got by on her silvery pianissimi that created some legendary moments in the theatre. She overused her famed pianissimi late in her career singing them at the end of almost every line even when it wasn't in the score, but it was hard to complain. ALL great artists have flaws. But most of them highlight what they can do and choose roles that suit their voices better. It is the same with dancers. There are always things people can find they don't like about a dancer while others find amazing things in the same dancer. This goes on and on throughout history but an audience's applause (amount or lack of) does not always tell the whole story. Callas was booed at times, but almost every opera lover would give their right leg to see her in Norma or Violetta today.

 

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There's an excellent description of how a professional claque can work in Robertson Davies' "Lyre of Orpheus."

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On ‎1‎/‎30‎/‎2018 at 4:50 PM, volcanohunter said:

Yes, tepid. It lasted less than ten seconds, and you hear the same claquer over and over again.

Just to insert my two cents:  I saw the broadcast of DQ and I thought Smirnova was weak and insecure as Dryad Queen.

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When a Royal Ballet dancer lost her mother in the most distressing circumstances she was given indefinite compassionate leave.  Clearly such niceties don't exist in Russia.

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15 hours ago, Helene said:

I disagree.  In some houses there are known claquers, and this has been acknowledged by some dancers, for whom this is a shakedown with implicit threat, and there are distinct patterns of applause by claques.

I just start with the assumption that if claquers are paid, it's a shakedown, while others are over-the-top people.

I'd still think it's conjecture, unless one offers some specifics, such as "I saw so-an-so receive a suitcase of money from a dancer, and then I saw him clap that dancer, and his clapping followed a distinct pattern that went like so-an-so." But no one has done this here, so far I only saw people make references to some amorphous claque without providing any evidence as to how they know it is claque. Just because we know that there are claquers at the Bolshoi does not mean that the applause coming at a specific moment is from them.

If over-the-top people are ballet fans that get excited over a certain dancer, frequent the theater and also have a distinct patter of shouting or applauding, would it also qualify them as the claque? I wouldn't think it's fair. Or if, for example, there are distinct patterns heard in how the audience claps, say, Alexandrova, who was quite vocal in some interview about never paying the claquers, would it be fair to claim that she was being disingenuous? I wouldn't think so either.

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34 minutes ago, Mashinka said:

When a Royal Ballet dancer lost her mother in the most distressing circumstances she was given indefinite compassionate leave.  Clearly such niceties don't exist in Russia.

Before slamming Russia, let's consider a possibility that Zhiganshina actually wanted to dance Aurora that night because this is what her dad would have wanted her to do. He was very excited about her ballet career.

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45 minutes ago, Marta said:

Just to insert my two cents:  I saw the broadcast of DQ and I thought Smirnova was weak and insecure as Dryad Queen.

Just to insert my two kopecks: I disagree with you and I thought that she was very poised, confident and elegant.

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25 minutes ago, Fleurdelis said:

Before slamming Russia, let's consider a possibility that Zhiganshina actually wanted to dance Aurora that night because this is what her dad would have wanted her to do. He was very excited about her ballet career.

Yes, I think you are right that she would have wanted to dance her debut because that is what her father would have wanted, but that did not make it any easier for her. 

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51 minutes ago, Fleurdelis said:

I'd still think it's conjecture, unless one offers some specifics, such as "I saw so-an-so receive a suitcase of money from a dancer, and then I saw him clap that dancer, and his clapping followed a distinct pattern that went like so-an-so." But no one has done this here, so far I only saw people make references to some amorphous claque without providing any evidence as to how they know it is claque. Just because we know that there are claquers at the Bolshoi does not mean that the applause coming at a specific moment is from them.

 

I think the man who burst into the Bolshoi box I was sharing with two friends at a performance of Prince Igor to cheer an excruciatingly bad mezzo must have been paid to do so, it stretches credibility too much to imagine she actually had a fan.

In the past a number of dancers have complained about the claque in interviews, they clearly haven't imagined it.   Spontaneous applause is just as identifiable as the ugly over-the-top hollering of the claquers.  Their antics beg the question why does management not do something to put a stop to them?

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I don't think anyone is saying that dancers are imagining there is a claque, but it is really hard to identify or know for sure. I once took a non-opera lover to a performance in which I found the tenor excruciating to listen to, and my friend turned to me after a horrendous rendition of the aria, and he said, "I love his voice!" This was someone who was not used to opera, so he probably just found it thrilling to hear a loud voice.

So anything is possible in the audience. People can love a terrible performer and not be a claque member. People can hate a performer and not be a claque member and vice versa......claque members are paid, but sometimes they actually like what they are applauding and sometimes actually hate what they are booing (I am guessing). Nothing is black and white in this world.

 

 

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9 hours ago, MadameP said:

Yes, I think you are right that she would have wanted to dance her debut because that is what her father would have wanted, but that did not make it any easier for her. 

Probably made it excruciating. She has a very busy schedule ahead of her. I will drop her flowers in support on a night when she is dancing.

Edited by Fleurdelis

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On 02.02.2018 at 6:25 AM, Birdsall said:

The amount of applause does not necessarily mean the dancer or singer was having the best night of her career. Lack of applause also does not mean the dancer was terrible.

No, it doesn't. Applause is an indicator of audience response to the performance, obviously.

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49 minutes ago, volcanohunter said:

No, it doesn't. Applause is an indicator of audience response to the performance, obviously.

And the audience response is often baffling depending on the general mood. Due to her fame and reputation I always felt a certain atmosphere at Lopatkina's shows at the Mariinsky. There was a general feeling of excitement or buzz, and that is common when a very famous star appears, same in opera, but the actual performance isn't always one of the best. Sondra Radvanovsky is a case in point. Bellini turns over in his grave whenever she sings Norma, yet she gets huge applause. In contrast, you can have an amazing dancer like Victor Lebedev go unnoticed by a blind audience with polite applause. So my point was that audience reaction is not proof that someone did a good job or bad job.

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Also different venues bring about different audiences. For instance I've seen the Mariinsky at Kennedy Center and at BAM. KC audiences for whatever reason tend to be more restrained, whereas at BAM the large Russian emigre population turns out in droves and the applause is raucous. I went to what I thought was an amazing performance of La Bayadere at KC last fall and the applause was warm but not really enthusiastic. I also went to a rather piecemeal gala at BAM with Uliana Lopatkina and some other Mariinsky artists that was wildly applauded. Didn't make the KC performance inferior to the BAM gala.

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A claque can't stop an audience from responding positively.  Nor can uber-fans.  At least without behaving in ways that would justify them being kicked out of the theater. Both can encourage others to join in, but if the rest of the audience isn't interested in joining, the reaction is isolated and, to the point, sounds isolated.

There is a discernible audible difference between an audience reaction that is coming from across the house and sustained, and one that is sustained by a small number of vocal people, regardless of who the small number of vocal people are.  And those voices can be recognizable.

As much as they want applause, performers aren't entitled to it, especially, in my opinion, when the music is playing. It is up to an audience to respond, and dancers in the English-language press and in Q&A's say repeatedly that they can feel the audience's energy and attention beyond the audible responses, and they react to it.  It is in the audience's best interest to feed the energy of the dancers, who tend to feed that back in response, but there is no obligation beyond paying for a ticket and maintaining the minimum theater etiquette while in the theater.

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2 hours ago, canbelto said:

I went to what I thought was an amazing performance of La Bayadere at KC last fall and the applause was warm but not really enthusiastic. I also went to a rather piecemeal gala at BAM with Uliana Lopatkina and some other Mariinsky artists that was wildly applauded. Didn't make the KC performance inferior to the BAM gala.

Charisma is an element that can't be discounted. A hodge-podge gala with Lopatkina will have something that a beautiful Bayadere without her will not. Believe me, I know where you're coming from: I have a very long track record of being less than enamored of the most popular dancers of the day and loving many of their less starry colleagues fervently. Nevertheless, ballerina aura and star power are real things.

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There's also the "We are so grateful that you are gracing our shores, and we have the rare opportunity to see you, even if we are getting out-of-context excerpts" applause.

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