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The Bolshoi under Vaziev

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Post scriptum: I didn't say "I always sit close", I said "I always try to sit close". There is a big difference. Circumstances force me regularly to watch the performance from a certain distance, but after experiencing at Covent Garden what they call there "Amphitheatre", I will never-ever again sit there. You barely could see who was on the stage, with zero nuance visible, and it still cost me a lot of money. I would rather leave such pleasures to others.

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17 hours ago, Quinten said:

Vaziev undoubtedly has a talent for spotting real talent and a strong desire to nourish it.  He's acutely aware of the brevity of dancers' careers and cites that as a reason for bringing them along as quickly as possible. Historically dancers have both benefited and suffered under Vaziev's guidance.   His extraordinary promotion of Stepanova to prima from soloist, however much deserved, made her a target of anger and resentment.

One needs to ask: "a target of anger and resentment" by whom? By fans of other dancers? This is completely irrelevant from the professional perspective, with their angry internet denunciations those fans may at most mislead not well informed ballet goers who spend too much time reading what others write. In the end, if a dancer in question is indeed exceptional, such denunciations will be later funny to read. Like the denunciations of Marie Taglioni by a certain jealous, toxic Parisian critic in the 1830-ies. More important is what other dancers in the troupe may think, and most of them are professional, unlike their fans they can easily determine who has huge talent and who owes his position due to somebody's strong backing. The promotion of Stepanova was "extraordinary" perhaps for some of the fans of Bolshoi, outside Russia this happens all the time and is considered to make a lot of sense when applied in exceptional cases, of course. Her promotion has also another side to it, there are situations that dancers accept employment at the rank significantly lower than what they represent, I have absolutely no doubt that her initial rank of "Soloist" was not reflecting what she actually represented, it was neither a result of her advancement within the company. It wasn't that she so "dramatically improved" within a half year that Vaziev was in charge, for anybody in the trade she was already exceptional before. The case of Somova was different. I am not sure, however, there would be much backlash today, because in the last 15 years the steady erosion of the classical danse in the West proceeded so far that to find a good classical ballerina nowadays anywhere in Europe or in America becomes increasingly difficult.

Edited by Laurent
corrected two words

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On 1/20/2018 at 2:44 PM, Laurent said:

 Also her approach to the roles, too rational, too calculated, she is unable to shed this "I have taken care of everything" image when she is on stage. Such is her Aurora, a business lady who planned her life before she was born, such is her Odette which is really more like Odile "en blanc", such was also her Carmen. I prefer the dancers who are capable of drawing me into their world because there is something magnetic and perhaps very pure in them.

I would think that "theater" is where one would typically want to see acting take place. And Smirnova, in my view, is one of the best actresses of her generation in ballet, if not the best. She does not draw people into her world, she draws the audience into the world of the play, into the world of her character. This is what at least I come to see in a theater. But others may prefer other things, what do I know?

As for the specific roles, I have seen her Aurora, Odette / Odile and Carmen, and saw absolutely nothing of what you saw there, quite the opposite actually.

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Olga Smirnova is interesting.  She is interesting because she has something to show. Most dancers, including some truly accomplished technically ballerinas, have not much to show besides being able to go through the prescribed text "without setting a foot wrong", with some tricks thrown in here and there, quite a number of them are, what we call, "empty". This sets Smirnova apart. She is most successful in the repertoire like Maillot or Cranko, where she is not forced to act through the medium of classical dance idiom. I mean "academically" classical, not "almost", "somehow", or "approximately", classical. You may not care about the canons of the classical dance, you may not know them, but they do exist. The dancers with natural flow of movement, who dance as they breathe, who don't need to constantly try to harness their hands and shoulders that refuse proper placement, have a significant advantage over those who do. The most ambitious of the latter category can, of course, with a lot of luck and enormous determination, have very successful careers. This is how I see her. I don't think she was successful, however, in drawing the audience "into the world of the play", as you say, in "Sleeping Beauty" or "Swan Lake", even as an actress, precisely because she was expressing herself. Every single ballerina who has anything to show always expresses herself in every piece she dances-acts. She is always willingly or not, drawing the audience into her world.

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9 hours ago, Laurent said:

If you don't sit close to the performing artists, you have no chance observing all the nuances and details of their performance.

Strongly disagree, if an artist is unable to project they're not much of an artist.  The beauty of the ballet is the choreography that can be seen from every part of the theatre.

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"Strongly disagree" with what? With saying that "you have no chance observing all the nuances and details of their performance" if you decide to sit far from the stage? 

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11 hours ago, Laurent said:

"Strongly disagree" with what? With saying that "you have no chance observing all the nuances and details of their performance" if you decide to sit far from the stage? 

And are you saying ballet goers unless sufficiently well-heeled to sit in the front stalls should simply pack up and go home?

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On 1/21/2018 at 3:51 PM, Laurent said:

"Strongly disagree" with what? With saying that "you have no chance observing all the nuances and details of their performance" if you decide to sit far from the stage? 

IMO if you always sit in the first few rows of the orchestra near the stage (and not farther back in the orchestra), or in the first balcony/tier, then you miss so much from sitting so close to the stage, namely, the patterns of the corps. You need to be IMO at least eye length with the stage in order to have an idea of the corps formations. The first two or three rows puts you UNDER the stage so you are basically looking up at the dancers.  There's a reason why in theaters the first row is often marked "partial view." Maybe first few rows would work for a gala of pas de deux. 

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Not every ballet has a Balanchine corps.  It's always a trade-off.  I wouldn't have seen Krysanova's expressions in yesterday's Bolshoi Romeo and Juliet transmission if I had been sitting in the back of the house admiring the corps patterns.   (I also got to see that Krysanova's physically resembles Ferri in some ways.)

IMO, the only reason someone else's personal preferences should matter is if you're attending with them, and they want you to sit with them.  

Otherwise, other people prefer to sit somewhere else? More tickets available in your section for you.

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Some theaters have really lousy sightlines from the orchestra level, so there it's either the first row or one of the upper levels. For example, the opera house of the National Arts Centre in Ottawa has horrible sightlines on the orchestra level, even though the incline is pronounced. In the front row the view is certainly not from underneath the stage and everything is visible. (I'm assuming that the orchestra pit is in use and not converted into an additional seating area.) Of course there's also the option of multiple balconies or their side boxes. Personally I like to see ballets from multiple vantage points. And I'll admit to sitting up close for favorite dancers and further away to look at floor patterns when the lead dancers are less to my liking. At Covent Garden I love row G centre, but I have no objection to the front area of the amphitheatre either. I don't find it's far from the stage at all and don't use magnification while seated there. Because yes, good dancers do project without overdoing it. My objection to seats further up in the amphitheatre relates to the muffled sound, but not the view. I have no use for side boxes where ballet is concerned, and I don't much care for them for opera either.

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I tend to prefer sitting close up for classical ballet which is basically hierarchical in nature (the leads are more important than the corps and minor soloists although the corps is also very important when it is a company like the Mariinsky). Anyway, imo when watching the leads in classical ballet I usually do want to see the facial expressions and nuances close up. For Balanchine I like to sit higher up to see the patterns of the corps. To me in many of Balanchine's ballets the leads are not as important as in classical ballet and often they are not acting because it is an abstract ballet, so I don't have to see their expressions. In opera it is a very hard issue for me, because when the singers are huge stars I do like to sit close up to see their expressions and how they act. However, sound is often way better far away (you get to hear how big a voice is). I tend to vary it from time to time or choose a halfway point in opera hoping I get a feel for the size of the voice as well as facial expressions (and binoculars help too).

I sometimes think what we think is an artist projecting can sometimes be our own excitement of the experience. Big stars often seem to project because the house is buzzing with anticipation, and the live experience of hearing or seeing a "star" in a signature role makes us want to feel that we have seen a performance of a lifetime. I have often seen a performance and found it "electric" and then found a bootleg audio recording or video and then felt it wasn't quite what I felt in the house. I think we get wrapped up in the moment and enjoying a fun time with people around us. This is all my opinion, but I have never sat in the very back row of a balcony and experienced someone projecting who I could not see well.......I need to be somewhat close to feel I am seeing the real deal. And I have seen Leontyne Price, Placido Domingo (when he was in his prime and not an embarrassment), Montserrat Caballe......just to name a few. I am not saying some stars can not project. Maybe they can. I think they can certainly project their voices and create a visceral thrill with the voice alone. However, I am in doubt about projecting acting or face or anything.......if I can barely see the person on stage to me he or she is not projecting no matter how big the personality is.

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7 hours ago, Helene said:

(I also got to see that Krysanova's physically resembles Ferri in some ways.)

Come to think of it - yes indeed !  I admired Krysanova as a dancer, but after seeing her as Juliet and Catherine recently I admire her even more as an actress.

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San Francisco Opera has the perfect solution: Operavision.  It's up in the Balcony (top section) of War Memorial.  There are two screens towards the sides, and the performance is "broadcast" visually through cameras, including close-ups, with subtitles on the screens.  But if you look through the middle, you see it live, and you're always hearing the sound live.

The first time I experienced it was for Kaneko's Magic Flute in San Francisco, where the transitions between the different projections were worth seeing live, but the close-ups were great when the background was static.

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Actually, we have a policy against discussing the discussion and each other.

So don't do it.

 

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On 1/21/2018 at 10:01 PM, Laurent said:

 You may not care about the canons of the classical dance, you may not know them, but they do exist. The dancers with natural flow of movement, who dance as they breathe, who don't need to constantly try to harness their hands and shoulders that refuse proper placement, have a significant advantage over those who do. The most ambitious of the latter category can, of course, with a lot of luck and enormous determination, have very successful careers. This is how I see her.

Canon of classical dance is not a set of rigid narrowly prescribed rules, it may be far from a free-for-all, but still allows for quite a range of styles and expressions. Otherwise we would not have had such a plethora of amazing, legendary, yet very different dancers. One can simply compare and contrast how different such stars as Plisetskaya, Semenova, Ulanova, Kolpakova or Kurgapkina were in classical roles to see this plainly. Smirnova's hands and shoulders (her generous epaulement, the expressive, the defined and finished movements of her arms and hands, the way her arm movements start at the back) are what I find particularly spectacular about her, and this is what favorably distinguishes her, a thing of mesmerizing beauty.

On 1/21/2018 at 10:01 PM, Laurent said:

I don't think she was successful, however, in drawing the audience "into the world of the play", as you say, in "Sleeping Beauty" or "Swan Lake", even as an actress, precisely because she was expressing herself. Every single ballerina who has anything to show always expresses herself in every piece she dances-acts. She is always willingly or not, drawing the audience into her world.

It may be very tempting to associate one's own judgment or impressions with those of an entire audience, but is best avoided, as it is almost always a fallacious illusion. And my point was that, as someone who is also a member of the audience, I am impressed precisely by her ability of making an entire play happen, acquire a greater significance and meaning, rather than showcasing just her own individual performance.

Having seen her in both Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake, I found the characterizations so different, that I would find it impossible to tell in which one, if any, she was actually be expressing herself, rather than giving her interpretation of Aurora, Odile or Odette. I call it having a wide range, which is what great actors are admired for. And while I feel that more often than not dancers do not fare well when they step outside their emploi, she is one of those very rare artists who do it incredibly well.

Edited by Fleurdelis

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Horrible hands, lack of natural, harmonious movement. She has worked a lot trying to correct it, unfortunately such things are very difficult, often impossible to correct if they weren't corrected at school. I saw her recently twice, the worst is still there, the only thing she can do is to try to "mask it" through all of these elaborate mannerisms. I can't watch it.

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The graceful hands, arms and epaulement that Smirnova demonstrates in classical works are one of the most exquisite, fluid, harmonious and expressive things in ballet today, they are what makes one revel at and revere the classical ballet tradition, and have been so since school. Depending on the work and the character in question, her movements would also change (after all, a long mournful adagio does call for different movement than a perky allegro piece), so the manner of doing them will vary, but this is not a mannerism, but rather another demonstration of considerable acting range and careful application of the language of classical ballet for the purposes of creating a believable character and a compelling artistic impression. 

Sure, people are perfectly entitled to like or dislike things (I once had someone, an arts student, no less!!!, try to convince me that Michelangelo's David was actually an ugly disproportionate figure, so, go figure!), and there is no point in arguing over matters of taste. 

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I may be less qualified than most other members to evaluate execution, but the Smirnova I saw live so far at the Bolshoy as Nikiya, Aurora, Odette/Odile, and memorably in the Grand Pas Classique on two consecutive gala evenings in October 2016 was "beauty in motion" imho.

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Admin warning:  do not discuss each other, however veiled, or the discussion.  

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Aesthetics in dance seem to have shifted, just as technique has become vulgarized, for me both Smirnova and Stepanova are vastly inferior to past generations of Bolshoi principals.  To get back to Vaziev, what is he going to do about it?  Demoting Alexandrova and Kaptsova doesn't inspire faith in his judgement  

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5 hours ago, Mashinka said:

Aesthetics in dance seem to have shifted, just as technique has become vulgarized, for me both Smirnova and Stepanova are vastly inferior to past generations of Bolshoi principals.  To get back to Vaziev, what is he going to do about it?  Demoting Alexandrova and Kaptsova doesn't inspire faith in his judgement  

Don't know how technique can be vulgarized. It is delivery or character representation that can be vulgar or not.

And, of course, railing against vulgarity while at the same time hailing Alexandrova is as much of a contradiction as there can be. So, I am with Vaziev on this one.  But not on Kaptsova.

All IMHO, of course. 

5 hours ago, mnacenani said:

Oh dear dear ....... our Stepanova fans will respond to this with "fire and fury" ...... if they don't have a heart attack first !

Gets quite partisan, even sectarian. Fan wars are almost as old a tradition as ballet itself, at least in Russia.

Edited by Fleurdelis

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3 minutes ago, Fleurdelis said:

railing against vulgarity while at the same time hailing Alexandrova is as much of a contradiction as there can be.

Now my heart is broken ..... :crying:  don't you dare "vulgarise" my beloved Masha !!  :angry2::angry2:  Joking aside, I really think Masha is an excellent dancer and a "character" - the moment she walks out on stage, or is in a crowd somewhere, or taking class on World Ballet Day there is no mistaking her for anyone else.

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She is indeed a superb technician, one of the best there has ever been, and owns one of the biggest jumps in Bolshoi's history. In the right role it works to a great effect. I retract any inference of considering her vulgar, but in many roles I prefer to see a more finesse approach. 

Edited by Fleurdelis

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 "You keep seeing open mouths, hunched shoulders, jutted chins, arms turned inside out at the socket and avidly reaching; you keep seeing elbows bent stiff or stretched stiff, hands crooked at the waist, impatient arms, agitated hands, bobbing heads."
 

That was Edwin Denby's reaction upon seeing the Bolshoi in 1959. The Bolshoi having a dash of vulgarity and inelegance is nothing new.

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2 hours ago, Fleurdelis said:

Don't know how technique can be vulgarized. It is delivery or character representation that can be vulgar or not

When jumping technique is taught so that the standard is a 190 degree split with a dropped crotch, for example, that is an example of the way that technique can be considered vulgarized.  When extensions are taught to be so high, and dancers weeded out because they can't/won't, that the music has to be slowed down to accommodate them, that is another way that technique can be considered vulgarized.  When Balanchine demanded open and raised hips in arabesque as a technical element, that was considered vulgarized technique for quite a while.

In Catherine Pawlick's book, she describes how Vaganova herself was pressured to change technique to respond to the demand of choreographers, and at some point, Vaganova refused, having decided that it was too circus-like and crossed the line.

 

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