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Quinten

Bolshoi La Bayadere in Cinema January 2018

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To be fair, the casting is still not on the Bolshoi website, but after Yulia was cut out of the La Scala tour  the handwriting was on the wall: Smirnova had vanquished her only real competition for the role. 

Obviously, in casting Yulia in this beautiful trailer, Vaziev's original intention had been to give Yulia this role.  Yulia has that air of mystery and romanticism that works so well in this ballet, plus the purest classical technique of any of the Bolshoi ballerinas. She conveys the humility and sorrow of Nikya so persuasively that people in the audience find themselves in tears.  Physically, she is a beautiful Nikiya, gentle and girlish in the first act, filled with grief in the second and merciful in the last. These are genuine emotions, not "acting". Smirnova on the other hand is too modern, too hard, too, well, fake (in my opinion) for this iconic role. (I know that many admire Smirnova and that she is an artist, but I find her as warm as a python.)

Back to Yulia, this is the second time she has been featured in a trailer, and the second time she has been pushed aside.  In my opinion she is too much of a threat to the favorites for the Bolshoi to give her a platform to show how wonderful she really is.  She has many years of dancing ahead of her, however, and I predict that during that time she will overcome the obstacles being placed in her way and will eventually be regarded as one of Russia's truly beloved ballerinas.

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4 hours ago, Quinten said:

Obviously, in casting Yulia in this beautiful trailer, Vaziev's original intention had been to give Yulia this role.  Yulia has that air of mystery and romanticism that works so well in this ballet, plus the purest classical technique of any of the Bolshoi ballerinas [...]

Back to Yulia, this is the second time she has been featured in a trailer, and the second time she has been pushed aside.  In my opinion she is too much of a threat to the favorites for the Bolshoi to give her a platform to show how wonderful she really is.  She has many years of dancing ahead of her, however, and I predict that during that time she will overcome the obstacles being placed in her way and will eventually be regarded as one of Russia's truly beloved ballerinas.

Hmm....Often the trailers for the Bolshoi in cinema broadcasts feature dancers different from the ones who actually dance in the broadcast itself. (That happened recently with the Coppelia trailer. For a couple of seasons, it seemed to happen with almost every broadcast.)  So I'm not sure Stepanova dancing in the Bayadere trailer but not dancing in the broadcast means she has been "pushed aside" or that the trailer reflects Vaziev's original casting intentions. That just seems to be the way the company does the trailer sometimes. You could be right, but one can imagine other reasons as well.

I'd have enjoyed an opportunity to see Stepanova in the broadcast--Nikiya and Raymonda are the two roles I would most like to see her dance. (Smirnova too as it happens.)

 

Edited by Drew

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The Bolshoi's cinema trailers are filmed toward the end of the preceding season, long before casting decisions are made, and don't reflect actual casting more often than not. The trailer for the repeat broadcast of Don Quixote featured Margarita Shrainer, even though the performance starred Ekaterina Krysanova. And the original trailer for the live broadcast featured Maria Alexandrova, not Krysanova. The promotional material for the forthcoming repeat of Sleeping Beauty features Evgenia Obraztsova, despite the fact that Aurora was danced by Olga Smirnova in that broadcast. The trailer for this season's La Sylphide featured Daria Khokhlova and Artemy Belyakov, while the actual performance did not include Belyakov, and Khokhlova danced the first sylph, not the lead. This has been the pattern for years. The trailers are totally unreliable indicators of who will actually dance and probably reflect who was available and/or fit to film them at the time they were shot.

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Smirnova's website indicates she is dancing Nikiya on Jan.20.  Perhaps this is the same performance as the live broadcast?

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The published casting confirms what Smirnova preemptively recorded on her website, that she will dance Nikiya on the broadcast.  Interestingly, her Solor will be Artemy Belyakov and Gamzatti will be danced by Olga Marchenkova.  

Here are some interesting facts: In 2016, 2017 and 2018, Olga has danced Nikiya on the BT stage 6 times.  Her Solor has been Semyon Chudin 5 times (the 6th was Tissi) and she has never danced this role with Belyakov.  During these same years, Yulia danced the role 6 times.  She debuted in the Belyakov/Marchenkova combination and repeated that once, had two outings with Lantratov and two with Lobukhin.

Smirnova rarely dances with anybody but Chudin, especially in the classics, so why is Smirnova dancing with Belyakov on the broadcast, and not Chudin? Chudin is healthy and dancing, so it's not that he's unavailable. In my opinion, it is because the cast for the broadcast at first replicated earlier Stepanova/Belyakov/Marchenkova casting.  Smirnova was having none of that, clearly. The powers that be couldn't change the entire cast, or perhaps had promised Belyakov he could do it, so instead they booted Stepanova off.  

In virtually every ballet company politics impacts casting, and that's what happened here.  

Here's a clip of what we will be missing in the Shadows scene (the entire video is worth viewing not only for Stepanova's dancing but also the great Bolshoi corps and orchestra):

 

 

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Or perhaps management has woken up to the fact that Stepanova isn't actually that good?

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Yes, every company has politics, but I think both Smirnova and Stepanova are wonderful ballerinas.  Personally, I consider Stepanova to be the better - her movement is far more  musical, lyrical and flowing, and her acting natural and expressive.  I like Olga Smirnova very much also: I do appreciate the care she takes with every aspect of every role - of course, this is seen by some as being "too careful" but I think every ballerina has her own way of interpreting a role and they cannot all be the same.  However,  Olga Smirnova is clearly the up and coming Prima stepping into Zakharova's shoes and perceived as senior to Yulia Stepanova.  I think she is hardly hard done by having Belyakov as a partner - it surely can't be long until he is made principal and he is outstanding.  Certainly his Solor debut was outstanding in my opinion - dynamic and well acted.  I actually take far more issue with  Marchenkova being cast as Gamzatti.  

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Both ballerinas are equipped for the role. Ballet lovers may prefer one over the other or find both equally pleasing. However, significant differences between them have produced this head scratching replacement. One ballerina is known to be extremely ambitious, very well connected and supported by a claque on social media and irl apparently willing to forward her career by any means. The other ballerina, far more humble and dedicated to her art for sake of the art,  is only now developing a fan base in Moscow after a rough start not of her own doing, but has a passionate international following. The former will undoubtedly achieve her goal of assoluta of the Bolshoi but it is the latter who will find her way into the hearts of people all over the world.  What quality one lacks the other provides. Both ballerinas can share that big stage without one destroying the other if the Bolshoi exerts firm control to treat both fairly. 

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9 hours ago, Mashinka said:

Or perhaps management has woken up to the fact that Stepanova isn't actually that good?

LOL like Bolshoi never casts dancers who aren't actually that good.  Stepanova would be a refreshing change, an artist who can actually do the steps.

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Achieving an international following is a hard ask, the aesthetics currently in vogue in Moscow cut less ice outside of Russia.  I'm seriously thinking of missing this year's London Bolshoi season if it's to be led by those two indifferent 'talents' as neither covered herself in glory on the last London outing.  The Royal Ballet has far superior dancers at present, so unless some young unfamiliar dancer is pulled out of the hat to delight us I'm predicting a falling out of love with the company.

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Quinten, I prefer Yulia Stepanova myself, but I do think it is wrong to state or to imply that Olga Smirnova uses a claque or that she is not "dedicated to her art for the sake of art."    There have been many features and documentaries illustrating Olga's work ethic and the way in which she has dedicated herself to her ballet.  I can attest to this myself, in some small way, as I was fortunate to watch her rehearsing with her coach Marina Kondratieva, and her professionalism and hard work/attention to every single detail, whether artistic, acting or technical was absolute.  She is very different from Yulia Stepanova, but not less dedicated to her art.  I think she displays more of a prima presence on stage than Stepanova though.  She has a certain old fashioned glamorous aloof allure about her, whereas Yulia Stepanova is gentler and more feminine.  However, as you say, there should be room at Bolshoi for both these ballerinas to be given ample opportunities, and at the moment these are all going to Smirnova.  Yulia Stepanova was long ago promised the roles of Aegina and Giselle, but they have not materialised.  That is a very great shame.

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Posted (edited)

Stepanova has many supporters on social media, and was promoted to principal at the Bolshoi with some swiftness. She has faced career obstacles or, at least, complications, but she is not exactly a hard luck story--in part because she took matters into her own hands by leaving the Mariinsky, a company that is her natural home. If Stepanova had no "ambition" to dance more roles or to be promoted then she would have had no reason to leave the Mariinsky, which--as it happens--was a very smart move for her both as an artist (giving her more opportunities) and as a professional (becoming a principal dancer with a company of comparable prestige and, indeed, greater fame than the Mariinsky).  It also took some nerve since there was no guarantee it would work out as well as it has or that she would end up at the Bolshoi at all. I can't read into people's hearts, but still can't help but feel that no-one becomes a principal dancer with the Bolshoi, without both dedication to the art for its own sake and ambition. It demands too much of one--not just in physical terms, but in terms of character, emotion, and grit. I would say this even of ballerinas at the Bolshoi I don't particularly respond to or like.

Edited by Drew

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@MadameP your points are well taken.  I think I should have used the term "media operation" rather than "claque", because of course Olga has no need of an in-theatre claque.  And I'm definitely not saying that Olga personally directs all the actions taken by her media operation, which would include not only her management but also free lancers. These days, an effective media operation is essential to success, and Olga's is very successful both outside and inside the Bolshoi.  Many of Bolshoi's promotional materials including the Bolshoi Theatre Magazine Online https://www.bolshoi.ru/upload/medialibrary/bbb/bbbe9d446576cd9b1616335011c282f3.pdf and the English language Bolshoi News  http://bolshoinews.com/images/Newsletter/2018_2019/issue03.pdf feature photos of Olga and reports of her Bolshoi performances and international engagements. The reports are somewhat slanted in her favor: for example, the report of the Korea SL tour last summer mentions only Smirnova, leaving out Stepanova and Kovaleva, who were also there. Other dancers including Lantratov, Zakharova, Kovaleva, etc. are prominently represented in these publications.  In contrast, Yulia is rarely mentioned, perhaps in a cast or birthday listing, and I have yet to see a photograph of her, which is odd considering how photogenic she is. The foreign press is kinder to her.  This lack of coverage in the Moscow press may reflect the fact that Yulia has not had an effective media team more than anything else and this is impacting her ability to convey the image of a prima ballerina and to garner the roles she deserves.  It's too bad that sheer talent and ability are not enough to prevail against or perhaps even survive a colleague's successful media campaign. It would be nice if they could give her some room.

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Drew said:

I can't read into people's hearts, but still can't help but feel that no-one becomes a principal dancer with the Bolshoi, without both dedication to the art for its own sake and ambition. It demands too much of one--not just in physical terms, but in terms of character, emotion, and grit. I would say this even of ballerinas at the Bolshoi I don't particularly respond to or like.

You're right of course, Drew.  I don't think I said that Olga was not dedicated to her art, which obviously she is, but rather that her drive to become assoluta is primary, perhaps even more important to her than dancing. While Stepanova is also driven, seeking excellence at great cost, she has said she doesn't want to be a star, she just wants to dance.  It's a matter of priorities. That's the distinction I was trying to make. 

I do think it's sad that she was not given the Bayadere broadcast, or the lead in any broadcast since she joined the company in 2015. (Her largest role was Lilac Fairy). All the other primas have been broadcast in lead roles -- this was her long-awaited chance and luck was not with her. I also think it's sad that she was cast only once in December, as a last minute replacement for Zakharova in Carmen, graciously helping Belyakov with his hastily prepared debut. Most of her performances this year have not been on the Bolshoi stage, but on tour (China, Japan, Korea, Turkey or in privately arranged appearances (London Swan Lake, Dortmund, Novosibirsk SL, Israel Bayadere). It's sad that Bolshoi is putting on fewer performances of the classics in which she excels.  Maybe not a  true "hard luck case" because she is after all a Bolshoi prima with all the perks, but still, for a woman who only wants to dance and seems to love her home stage, pretty sad. 

Edited by Quinten

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3 hours ago, Quinten said:

I do think it's sad that she was not given the Bayadere broadcast, or the lead in any broadcast since she joined the company in 2015. (Her largest role was Lilac Fairy). 

That isn;t technically true -- she was cast as the lead bride in Ratmansky's Russian Seasons. 

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I find all this talk about 'media operations' extraordinary, should propaganda methods be deployed in an artistic organization?  It can work of course, here in the UK the career of Darcey Bussell was entirely media driven, much to the irritation of the fans.  However it is Stepanova whose name comes up ad nauseam on social media, not Smirnova's.  I've always, perhaps naively, believed that in a ballet company a spirit of camaraderie should exist, all this rubbish about 'assolutas'  I find frankly ludicrous.  Ultimately it is the public that decides, usually at the end of a career, not at the beginning.

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:offtopic:I think Macmillan played a more important role in Bussell’s career than media —casting her and creating roles for her—as did her own powers of musical responsiveness. That she also got media attention is certainly true, but I don’t agree that that her career in the UK was “entirely” media driven.

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1 hour ago, Drew said:

I think Macmillan played a more important role in Bussell’s career than media —casting her and creating roles for her

Bussell was a mere 23 years when MacMillan died and although his early interest catapulted her into the spotlight, she employed other means to stay there.  I can't think of any current UK dancer that courts the media, it seems the situation in Russia is very different.

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Marketing through traditional and social media unfortunately rules virtually everything in the public sphere these days, from politics to art.  Some of it is naturally generated by public interest in personalities, to which those personalities respond as individuals in seemingly innocuous Facebook and Instagram-type postings.  This is basically how Stepanova utilizes social media.  (Some of her fans over the years have engaged in more aggressive promotion with a profoundly negative effect on her image.) On Instagram she is @yuliastepanova_bt where she posts both ballet and non-ballet related images and responds to fan posts in her own words, personally thanking/responding to each person who comments. Stepanova apparently has no apparatus at this time for enhancing her traditional media image, and her positive English language press seems to come from writers unconnected with her in any way (eg Bachtrack and Beckmesser's Quill).  Smirnova, in contrast, has a media operation that places positive mentions, reviews and photos in print/online publications (as described in a previous post) and creates carefully crafted social media posts. Her Instagram presence @leka.spb.ballet is tightly controlled, has few non-ballet posts and does not seem to be in her own voice for the most part. (In a couple of recent posts she seems to be moving towards a more informal approach, a clever thing to do). In my opinion the Smirnova "phenomenon" (which is not about her achievement as a dancer though supported by it) is due in large part to her (or her management's) understanding of media and her early (in her career) adoption of a media strategy that has made her seem the inevitable successor to Zakharova.  Divas throughout history (eg Callas, Pavlova, Sarah Bernhardt) have achieved that status through knowing how to project an image and work the press.  Modern media makes it possible for amateurs to compete for public attention, but those who use it with professional skill wind up as the winners, at least in the short run.

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Posted (edited)
5 hours ago, Mashinka said:

Bussell was a mere 23 years when MacMillan died and although his early interest catapulted her into the spotlight, she employed other means to stay there.  I can't think of any current UK dancer that courts the media, it seems the situation in Russia is very different.

I found Bussell's dancing quite wonderful--sometimes even extraordinary--and her spotlight never bothered me. For the rest I can't speak to whether there is some vast cultural difference between how dancers court the media in Russia and in the UK, but I'm hesitant to conclude the situations are altogether different. But mostly I'm wary of trying to fix exactly what the line is between reasonable attention to one's career  (in any country) and excessive trolling for publicity.  And I suspect it's mostly when one has reservations about a dancer that the appearance of a publicity machine seems most irritating or problematic.

Edited by Drew
Cut a lot...

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I’m thrilled Smirnova is dancing the broadcast, her Diamonds was one of the highlights of ballet watching for me.  I can’t wait to see her Nikiya.

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On ‎1‎/‎3‎/‎2019 at 8:28 PM, Quinten said:

Smirnova, in contrast, has a media operation that places positive mentions, reviews and photos in print/online publications (as described in a previous post) and creates carefully crafted social media posts.

Smirnova literally owns the Russian media. Her husband is the head of Goldman-Sachs Russia, in the local configuration of power this is a very significant person; in Bolchoï she wields enormous power, it is her, not Vaziev, who has the final say who "can" who "cannot" be shown in the cinema broadcasts. Only Zakharova and Smirnova decide what, when, and with whom they will be dancing.

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