By Patricia Boccadoro
PARIS, 14 SEPTEMBER 2011 For those of us born in the 1950s,
when the Bolshoi Ballet astonished audiences in London and New York, the
very names of Ulanova and Bolshoi became synonyms for dance, conjuring up
whole new worlds of brilliance, excitement and glamour. However, despite
the creation of such explosive works as Igor
Grigorovitch's Spartacus, exhausted by heavy foreign tours
when the ballet was performed repeatedly along with Ivan the
Terrible and The Golden Age, to which such legendary artists
as Maya Plisetskaya were excluded, the 1960s proved to be the Golden Age
of London's Royal Ballet rather than of the famous Russian troupe whose
reputation was slowly tarnishing. The directorship of Grigorovitch, whose
stagings of the classics were extremely heavy-handed, became openly
criticised, and his star performers, Maximova and Vasiliev, began to
appear with Western companies such as American Ballet Theatre, Béjart's
Ballet of the 20th century, and the Ballet of Marseilles.
By 1990, the year when the outstanding Bolshoi dancer, Irek Mukhamedov,
creator of The Golden Age, left to work in the West, standards of
performances were falling. Little use was being made of the companys
enormous reserves of talent, and by the time Vasiliev himself took over
the ballet and opera company after Grigorovitchs thirty year reign, there
was little money available and matters went from bad to worse. The
once beautiful theatre in Moscow, badly in need of restoration, and the
magnificence of the orchestra did not make up for the mediocre performance
of The Nutcracker I saw there, accompanied as it was by tacky
costumes and a doubtful décor. Lack of funding might have been one of the
reasons for this sorry display, but did not explain everything.
Bolshoi Ballet: Don Quixote
However, when the troupe arrived in Paris in 2008, a revolution had
taken place, for this was the Bolshoi of bygone years, full of vitality
and life. Fabulous new dancers including Maria Alexandrova and Natalia
Osipova as well as the established Svetlana Lunkina and Sergei Filin
danced with their hearts as well as their perfectly trained bodies, the
man responsible for this dramatic change being Alexei
Ratmanski who had been appointed artistic director in January, 2004.
He revitalised the company, bringing in new works and a regain of
confidence alongside the new dancers and the company blossomed, regaining
much of its former glories. Now resident artist at American Ballet
Theatre, his principal dancer, Filin, has taken over the directorship and
hopefully will continue the same trajectory.
The results at the Palais Garnier in Paris recently were mixed. Four
performances of Don Quixote, in the new, 1999 version by Alexei
Fadeyechev, were programmed. Originally created for the Moscow public in
1869 by the French choreographer, Marius Petipa, at the beginning of his
career, Don Quixote is a light-hearted piece full of fun, ideally
suited to bring out the brilliance and sensational technique of the
Russian dancers. Taken from the second volume of Cervantes' novel, it is
centred around the love-affair of Basilio and Kitri and their attempts to
avoid Kitri's arranged marriage to the foppish but wealthy Gamache.
Bolshoi Ballet: Don Quixote
While Act 1 was most enjoyable, one wondered just what was happening at
the beginning of Act 2, when a relentless succession of stunningly
beautiful dancers came on one by one performing showy solos which had
little to do with the ballet. One could admire their high, light leaps and
supple backs, and the gymnastic quality they brought to their dancing with
their legs in the air knocking their noses, but it was all faintly boring.
However, Don Quixotes dream of his ideal woman, resulting in the lyrical
vision scene with the Driads, bringing the wonderful surprise of the
exquisite Anna Nikulina as their Queen, was beautifully danced. Nikulina,
who floated rather than jumped, would, one felt, have made a most lovable
Kitri. Anastasia Stashkevich, smiling, young and full of charm, was
an enchanting Cupidon.
Disappointment set in with the third act which took place in a palace
devoid of atmosphere. What was Fadeychev thinking of? Kitri is an
innkeeper's daughter and Basilio is a barber. What were they doing in such
opulent yet empty surroundings? The ballet was much more credible, more
lively and colourful when the wedding took place in the village square
where it rightly belonged.
Bolshoi Ballet: Don Quixote
However, the dancing of Ekaterina Shipulina as Kitri with Alexander
Volchkov as Basilio could not be faulted. The dazzling rapidity of
Volchkovs spins and turns had the audience gasping in amazement and he
soared high above the stage in a series of exceptional leaps and bounds.
The trouble was that as a couple they were ill-assorted. Volchkov
was too slender and lacked the height necessary for Shipulina, a tall,
willowy ballerina. He had trouble with his lifts, his arm actually
trembling on the one-arm lift resulting in her slithering gently down his
chest onto the floor, albeit gracefully. Indeed, he carried a worried look
on his face from beginning to end, the only true smile being when the
curtain came down.
Shipulina, although technically gifted, lacked the humour, vivacity and
warmth so important to Kitri; she would have been better cast as the Queen
of the Driads, a role she frequently interprets. One simply did not
believe in their love affair.
The star of the show was Andrei Merkuriev, a larger-than-life Espada.
Tall, blond, handsome, the charismatic Andrei stole all hearts. Completely
at ease with the choreography, a mixture of Spanish dance and the purely
classic, he possesses the humour and charm which would have made him an
But even with the unequal casting, it was nevertheless an entertaining
evening despite the fact that a change of cast prevented me from seeing
Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vassiliev, a couple on stage and off, who danced
to such enthusiastic audiences in London and whose dancing was sublime in
the recent live transmission of the 6th of March from the Bolshoi Theatre
Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She has
contributed to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance
consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Based in
Paris, Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for
Culturekiosque. She last wrote on the Spanish danseur
étoile José Martinez.
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