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Bolshoi and Ashton

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According to a piece in yesterday's edition of Scotland on Sunday, the Bolshoi is to devote a third of its repertoire to works by foreign choreographers. Roland Petit's ballet version of Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades will be premiered in October. The piece went on to say that the Bolshoi would perform an Ashton ballet in February. There were no further details. I wondered if balletalerters could shed further light? The original article is at http://www.scotlandonsunday.com/world.cfm?...&keyword=ballet

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I have to wonder at this quote in the story:

"Nor is the Bolshoi about to bring in less swan-like dancers, like the "short and fat" New York ballerinas derided by a former director."

What "short and fat" New York ballerinas are they talking about? I can't think of any. There have been a few full-figured ladies, but they've been tall, not short. Strange. And which former director could this be? Haven't New York ballerinas earned the bad rap of being too thin? :)

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The Ashton ballet to be taken into the Bolshoi repertory is La Fille Mal Gardee. There is also supposed to be a new creation from Yuri Grigorovitch based on Bulgakov's novel The Master and Margarita.

It's not a Ballet Alert topic but I'm intrigued by the remarks in trhe Scotland on Sunday piece about the poor state of the Bolsho opera. When it came to London two summers ago it received deservedly wonderful reviews. We've just had two weeks of Verdi from the Kirov. I didn't see any of it - the prices were horrific - but I doubt that Gergiev has ever received such a critical pasting in his life. I think it will be a while before the Kirov Opera comes to London again with a Verdi repertoire.

[ 07-23-2001: Message edited by: Alymer ]

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The thought of the Bolshoi dancing Ashton brings us back to internationalism. Although "Fille" may stand the translation, to my way of thinking, the Bolshoi dancing Ashton is like NYCB doing "Spartacus." It's not that they can't, it's that I don't want them to!

In the old DanceView, when it was Washington DanceView in tabloid format, I once did a column on funny ballets -- most of them have since happened -- and one was to propose a "Sacre de Printemps" festival, matching the least likely Sacre choreographers (Tudor, Ashton) with the company most likely to do justice to such a work. I forget whether I gave Tudor or Ashton to the Bolshoi, but I think it was Ashton :)

Your sidelight about Gergiev and the Kirov and Bolshoi operas is relevant to ballet in these troubled times, I think, Alymer, as criticism of the opera -- if it's justified and if it will ring true at home -- may have an effect on who will manage ballet companies.

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Your point about internationalism and not wanting to see NYCB dancing Spartacus is a good one Alexandra. I remember shuddering when it was proposed that the Royal Ballet should take it into their repertory in the 1970s. Would Nureyev have danced Crassus or Spartacus do you suppose? And what about Fonteyn? The good girl or the bad?

But while watching the Bolshoi's recent London season and before I had heard about the proposal to dance Ashton's Fille, my husband and I were commenting on how well they could have cast The Dream, given just the dancers they brought with them to Drury Lane. Not something I would ever have thought of in the past.

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I was thinking about this issue in conjunction with Marc's interview with Patrice Bart in the print issue of Dance View. If a company is in a healthy state (their direction is grounded, the dancers getting good training and repertory and the artistic vision of the company clear) excursions from the base are no problem. POB can do an all Forysthe evening or Mats Ek's Giselle and it doesn't deteriorate company style at all; they find things to learn.

It's when there is no home base that the sirens go off. I think that can be the danger in eclecticism, a company needs to have a style and vision. If they have one, a temporary departure from it is of interest rather than of concern. It might be ridiculous for NYCB to do Spartacus (casting, anybody? Yoohoo, Manhattnik. . .) but it wouldn't damage them permanently - until they thought (as a company) that they ought to be a company that did Spartacus.

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Theoretically, I agree with Leigh (especially as to the points made by Bart; he's so utterly confident of POB classicism that his "let them dance anything; they'll make it look better and they'll come back to the classics refreshed" not only makes sense, but actually works in practice.

I picked Spartacus and NYCB not to insult either (please) but that the aesthetics are so diametrically opposed that it doesn't make sense for them to mate, I think.

I think the New Bolshoi would make a better stab at Ashton than the old, and one might make the point that since there's no convincing Ashton style left anywhere, except in a few chance performances, it doesn't matter. But somewhere, there's a line. It used to be clear in ballet, as clear as the thought of an the Ailey company doing "Beach Birds" or Cunningham dancing "Esplanade." Now, the Bolshoi just might be able to get away with "Revelations...." The Old Bolshoi, anyway.

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Doesn't this idea of the Bolshoi adopting Ashton's "Fille" fit in the now common tendency of Russian companies to try to please western audiences before everything else? "See, we can dance the great western choreographers too!" Let's not forget also that the Russians have their own version(s) of "Fille" (Gorsky).

Good point about the opera's Alymer - after all, the "sick" Bolshoi brought Russian repertoire and was praised for it, the "healthy" Kirov brought "a tribute to Verdi" and was severely criticized.

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Marc, I think that's a good point -- although they may, too, be excited by something "exotic." I think I'd rather see the Bolshoi in something by Gorsky -- I'd be curious, for one thing. Perhaps we could have an Endangered Species list for ballet choreographers....

Brendan, do you have any more cheery news? :D

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In the recent biography of Frederick Ashton, “ Secret Muses”, the author speculates on the possible outcome for Soviet ballet had Ashton (as a serving member of the armed forces) been posted to Moscow during WW2. As a Russian speaker Ashton had been considered for a posting as some sort of liaison officer in Russia, but the idea was dropped. What sort of balletic hybrids would have emerged at the Bolshoi had the plan gone ahead, we can only fantasize about !

The Royal Ballet got to dance in Moscow in 1961 and the then Bolshoi director, Leonid Lavrovsky, was reportedly very taken with Ashton’s “Two Pigeons” and is rumoured to have wanted to acquire it for the company. Sadly political considerations made that impossible but I actually think the Russians would have made of very good job of that particular ballet because when it comes to dancing gipsies the Bolshoi reigns supreme – and there are an awful lot of gipsies in Two Pigeons.

The current ballet director, Boris Akimov now works regularly with the Royal Ballet as a teacher and is said to be a great admirer of Ashton’s work. I think the company will make a success of Fille. When Nina Ananiashvili danced the role at Covent Garden, the older critics noted that no one had jumped like that since the original Lise, Nadia Nerina, (who actually guested with the Bolshoi at one time). I would love to see Anastasia Goriacheva and Dmitri Goudanov in the leading roles and look forward to seeing the Bolshoi’s Fille in London.

The only Grigorovitch ballet performed by a non Russian company was Ivan the Terrible which I believe was danced at one time by the Paris Opera Ballet, though I never saw them dance it.

The comments about the Bolshoi and Kirov Opera companies are spot on. For some time now the Bolshoi has been used as a kind of political football by a number of interested parties in Russia, I would like to think that the appointment of a new director will put a stop to the intrigues, but perhaps I'm being optimistic.

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Mashinka, In fact, as well as taking Ivan the Terrible into the repertory the Paris Opera gave the premier of his Romeo and Juliet with Bessmertnova dancing on the second night. I was there and remember it only too well!

I'm not sure I agree with you about Pigeons. It's a very delicate piece and I I always think at its best when danced by a young company. When I've seen the gypsies danced realistically it seems to unbalance the ballet. I have the idea that they are not real gypsies but spiteful children and in fact all the characters are children, until the last pas de deux when the lovers finally reach maturity.

I saw Ananiashvilli dance Lise and she was pretty good - but there have been an awful lot of good Lises. As to her jumping higher than anyone since Nerina - categorically no.I can think of at least one who jumped even higher than Nerina herself.

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The idea of any Russian ballet company doing Ashton's La Fille Mal Gardee is amazing. This is the most English of all English ballet, gentle, subtle and with restraint - ie everything what the Russian are not (est the Bolshoi).

And what will the Russians make of the the happy peasants, clog dancing and the romanticized view of the English countryside.

Not even Sylvie Gulliem who has been dancing in England for years can truly relate to it -"too long, too difficult, too stupid"

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It's meant to be French countryside, isn't it? Not that that destroys your argument, and I admit I always think of it as English myself - it certainly is in spirit.

The thought of Sylvie in Fille is worrying!

I think the Russians would love it - how could they fail to? How they would respond to the subtleties is another matter, but this is a problem when any company dances another country's choreography.

[ 08-01-2001: Message edited by: Helena ]

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I should think the Russian audiences will adore Fille - they certainly did in 1961. (Interestingly, many of them saw it as 'Alexander Grant's ballet' rather than Nerina's or Blair's - I wonder if they'll still see it like that today?)And Ashton was happy for the Bolshoi to do it - there was a plan after the Bolshoi's 1963 London season for them to take Fille and the RB to take Lavrovsky's Romeo and Juliet in exchange - which might have completely changed the course of the RB's history. It's said, too, that Ashton was strongly influenced by the Bolshoi's first visit when he was choroegraphing, especially for Colas, and I know people today who strongly prefer a tougher, more 'Russian' approach to the role than the pastoral English perormances of dancers like Bruce Sansom. So maybe it will be all right?

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