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Bolshoi in DC - Bayadere 6/14


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There was some very good dancing and a more coherent performance in general Friday night. The KC audience has not taken to this ballet -- people left after the second act near me, and there were lots of grumbles of "kitsch" and "camp" in intermission chatter.

But Maria Alexandrovna (as Gamzatti) blew the roof off with her final variation in the second act and during the Shades scene, it was so quiet, it seemed no one was breathing.

The leads were Anastasia Volochkova and Evgeny Ivanchenko (the latter a guest on loan from the Kirov). Perhaps because both Volochkova and Ivanchenko are Kirov-trained and grew up watching a production of La Bayaderer that made sense, they pulled the story together more. It wasn't just an excuse to do a Dance of Pain here or a Star Turn there.

I didn't expect to like Volochkova in this at all, and she's not my idea of a Nikia. I sensed no vulnerability; her spirituality in the third act comes from -- another surprise considering her Don Q at the gala -- a very pure approach to classical technique. I can't remember when I've seen so many 90 degree arabesques!

Ivanchenko was another surprise. I hadn't thought his Don Q (with AV, at the gala) very strong, and so didn't expect his Solor to be so powerful. All three men on view here this week have huge, beautiful jumps and secure turns, but Ivanchenko pays attention to the steps in between the big tricks, too, and, just as important for me, he was alive in the story, unlike Tsiiskaridze the night before, who'd dash out of the wings to do a variation and dash back again, but I was hardly aware of him when he wasn't dancing.

It's interesting to listen to all the different points of view about these dancers -- I wish more of our posters had attended so we'd have some of them here. There's a definite Battle of the Ballerinos here. I've talked to several people who'd vote for Tsiskaridze -- best technician, most exciting performer -- and who find Uvarov dull. And others (including me) who prefer Uvarov and find Tsiskaridze self-indulgent and sloppy.

And then there's Ivanchenko, brought in to partner Volochkova, and turning out a star performance in his own right.

I was interested to read Jean Battey Lewis's review in The Washington Times today. She felt the dancing as a whole was inelegant. I wouldn't use that word, but there's a definite difference in refinement between Bolshoi and Kirov -- and this has been noted for decades. Watching the corps last night, and thinking of the difference betwen Uvarov and Ivanchenko, I think the difference is that the Kirov's goal is to dance while showing the classical positions clearly and finishing steps, while the Bolshoi uses classical technique in expressive ways. (And I don't mean by that that the Kirov is inexpressive, just that you have to be expressive with the arms over your head en couronne in a way that looks like a picture in a textbook.) The Bolshoi Shades will do arms en couronne too, but they slide into it and don't make a snapshot out of the result. But it's done very carefully -- a stylistic choice, in my book, rather than sloppiness. The leg always hits the opposite knee in passe, right at the knee, not above, not halfway down the shinbone, but right on target. But it doesn't get there like an arrow, or snap into position.

I've been fascinated by their hands. I'd forgotten that loosely spread fingers were the norm here and it adds to the expressiveness.

The Shades are so crowded on the stage that dancing there must be like riding a bicycle home in a European capital at rush hour. One miscalculation and everybody's down.

I've overheard many complaints during my intermission prowls about the extreme thinness of the women with "those awful toothpick legs" usually turning up in the conversation. The legs look as though they have no strength, and are so thin that knees look knobby. The current company body seems to have been selected for the nightgown and unitard ballets, and so when a tutu is called for the result is, in my eyes, unfortunate.

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I was there last night, and agree very much with Alexandra, although not on a comparative basis, as I did not see the first night. However, I thought Maria Alexandrova was absolutely wonderful! I loved her last year in Don Q (as Mercedes, did not see her Kitri), and really wonder why she is still a soloist and not a principal. She is beautiful, incredibly strong, and does everything well. Her grand jetés are, to use the term my students would use, AWESOME!

I LOVED Ivanchenko! Everything he did was clean, his elevation astounding and the landings like on a pillow! Never a sound. He did not "sell", or shove the technique in your face, ever. It was easy and elegant. Beautiful!

Volochkova was a pleasant surprise, as, after reading some other things about her earlier, I was prepared to not like her. I liked her very much, except for the VERY noisy pointe shoes. Could not figure that out, because no one else made any noise at all. Either she has the world's worst shoes, or they were brand new in each act and not broken in, or, possibly she just does not use her feet well enough when walking or running, although it did not look like that. Anyway, she is very beautiful, and did a lovely job last night.

The corps was very fine in all of the classical work, although I did also notice how thin their legs were. Found that quite strange.

The production, in terms of the first two acts, is often over the top in unnecessary old-fashioned things like the Dance with the Drum, and the poorly done mime. My friend and I both thought it was reminiscent of Spartacus and other overacted Bolshoi work from the past. The drum dance was just horrendous, and that alone probably drove a number of people away before the third act. We were in the second row, way on the side, not good seats, but, after the second act we were able to move back a few rows and to see more of the stage and also the feet, which you cannot see from second row. We noticed several empty seats around at that time, which had not been there before.

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The negative reaction here to the Drum Dance is unfortunate, because my sense is that the dancers think they're not putting it over, and so amp it up a few hundred notches, and the More they do the more the audience recoils. I get the sense this is very popular at home, and they don't understand what's wrong with us, or them.

One of the things I find very endearing about this company is the way they want us to like them. With one or two exceptions, I don't view this as playing to the audience as much as paying us the courtesy of acknowledging our existence. The silent dialogue between dancer and audience is one of the things I love about Russian dancers. ("I thought you'd like that" Medvedev seemed to say of his sequence of pas de chat in the gala's "Fille" pas de deux.)

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Here's the good news: the Bolshoi's Bayadere is better than its Swan Lake.

Here's the rest of the news.

The Bolshoi's Bayadere is the dreariest production I've seen. Makarova's productions for ABT and the Royal, Vinogradov's (? I'm writing from memory here) for the Kirov (now superseded by the "historical" version), and Nureyev's for the POB (and his Shades scene for the Royal, now superseded by Makarova's full-length production), are/were all better. It can't all be laid at Grigorovich's door, although his excision of the mime and his troupe of marauding Indians (who in their red-brown body paint look more like MGM Old West Indians than Indian Indians, and who dance more like the wormy creeps in Prodigal Son) do a lot of damage. Their stab at historical accuracy in the costuming (the program notes that they were "reproduced according to the original design for the first performance of 1877") has yielded drab, tired-looking garments, with the odd exception of Solor's vivid turquoise outfit in the Shades scene, where it is badly out of place. The same effort with the scenery, however, produced happier results, especially in the first and second acts. I do question, though, whether the three ramps in the Shades scene are authentic. It strikes me as typical Bolshoi overkill, an attempt to substitute flashy effects for the simpler thrill of the choreography and dancing.

The most disappointing aspect of the production, however, was the lack of interest displayed by the dancers. They look as though they were unaware of the ballet's position in their native tradition (Russian, if not Bolshoi) and couldn't tell the difference between it and, say, Grigorovich's Legend of Love, which also employs a lot of hoochie-kooch dancing. They treat it as audience-pleasing kitsch. With such an attitude radiating from the stage, I kept thinking how the ballet was really just a retread of Giselle, plopped down in sexy India.

By contrast, ABT has always treated the ballet with respect. Whenever I watch them do it, I'm struck by the dancers' seriousness, their eagerness to understand and convey the grandeur of the Imperial style. They (and the other companies I've seen) make it look like there's much more substance to the ballet than there really is, and I leave the theater feeling nourished and uplifted.

Whatever became of the Bolshoi dancers' famous passionate commitment to everything they do? Last night's dancers performed their roles dutifully but without much understanding. Anastasia Volochkova was much better than I expected after Tuesday evening's Don Q divertissement, but her cool, remote manner—not just in the Shades scene but throughout the ballet, even in her scenes with Solor—left me feeling uninvolved and uncaring. By contrast, the lovely Maria Alexandrova was sunny, charming, and very likeable, and won over the audience completely. But since Gamzatti is a jealous, vindictive murderess, Alexandrova's performance made nonsense of the story.

Evgency Ivanchenko, like Volotchkova a guest from the Kirov (and why did the Bolshoi have to import stars from its rival?) was the humblest Solor I've ever seen. He obviously saw his role as nothing but a support to the two ballerinas. While he danced well, he never performed as though the audience would be interested in watching him; he dispatched his solos dutifully and then cleared the stage for the real stars.

The Shades scene used 32 dancers in the opening procession and 24 thereafter. I noticed some wobbly balances, but on the whole they were pretty good. The three solo shades (Elena Andrienko, Marianna Ryzhkina, and Maria Allash) all came up short in their variations.

Some Bayaderes (the Kirov's old production, for instance) end with the Shades scene; others (notably Makarova's) include the originally produced fourth act, in which Solor marries Gamzatti and the gods show their wrath by destroying the temple. Grigorovich compromises (is this man a politician, or what): there are only three acts, but the apotheosis is eliminated from the Shades scene, the corps disappears, Nikiya bourees offstage and the disconsolate Solor lies down and suffers. Then the scenery changes back to the palace, which crumbles (exactly why isn't clear).

After the excitement of its Washington season two years ago, the Bolshoi looked in sad shape this week. Is the new director, Boris Akimov (an acolyte of Grig's) to blame? I don't know, but this season didn't make me eager to see this December's Nutcracker.

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