On 25 and 26 April, Moscow’s two largest ballet troupes offered press conferences announcing their plans for the coming 2019-2020 season.

The Stanislavsky troupe will feature the premiere of Nureyev’s version of Don Quixote as set by Laurent Hilaire on 25 October. The spring will bring a ballet by Goyo Montero of the Nurnberg Ballet on 28 March. And Hilaire will also set Giselle, first to premiere on 5 December, but in Cannes, France and only near season’s end in Moscow.

In like fashion, this must be the “year of Giselle” for the Bolshoi is also offering Alexei Ratmansky’s version in November. The Bolshoi is offering a set of new works as well, beginning on 26 March with former Mariinsky dancer and now recognized choreographic talent Anton Pimonov’s new Made in Bolshoi. Edward Klug, whose Petrushka premiered on the Forsythe mixed bill last November (2018) will return with The Master and Margarita.

And for those eagerly awaiting some Russian dancing state-side, the Bolshoi will tour the US in the summer of 2020.

Having read at least 7 biographies on Rudolf Nureyev, VaganovaToday was interested to see White Crow, the film based on Judy Kavanaugh’s book which premiered this past weekend in Moscow. Academy Award nominee Ralph Fiennes produced and starred in White Crow, which also includes international ballet freelancer Sergey Polunin, among others.

The Mariinsky’s The Sleeping Beauty has received its share of controversial press, not for the quality of the productions –for there are two– but for the history behind them. When Sergey Vikarev’s version debuted in 1999, it divided the Mariinsky troupe in two, those both for and against the work. The “original” which was adjusted by Konstantin Sergeyev for the Soviet audience in 1952, and now also known as the “1890” production due to its roots in Petipa’s original, continues to rotate in the company repertoiire, while the Vikarev version has been quietly shelved.

As part of the XVIII Mariinsky Ballet Festival, which returned this year after a one-year hiatus (due to the anniversary of Petipa), the company presented the Sergeyev “original” with billing that included Lauren Cuthberthson from the Royal Ballet, along with Xander Parish, who got his start early on at the Royal but has become a principal by climbing through the ranks at the Mariinsky over the past 10 years.

George Balanchine’s Jewels dates back to 1967, but its composition is such that it is a timeless piece due to its depth of symbolism and pallet of both choreography and music. During this year’s Festival, the Mariinsky presented Jewels, exclusively using its own dancers, some of which are new and promising talents indeed.

The Young Choreographer’s Workshop has been held annually (except for 2018) during the Mariinsky Ballet festival as a means for amateur choreographers to present their creations in order to, in the best case, ignite or shift into a choreographic career. The best works from the festival are said to be adopted into the rotating repertoire (although in practice, those that are, run quite rarely). This year the workshop offered seven works by both known and unknown creators, starting with the more experienced Yuri Smekalov and ending with the promising Ilya Zhivoy.

In 2018, as Russia celebrated the “Year of Petipa” in honor of Marius Petipa’s 200th birthday, the annual Mariinsky Ballet festival was cancelled and replaced with a handful of Petipa works. This year, the festival returned to the Mariinsky stage in Russia’s northern capital on 21 March, issuing in 10 consecutive evenings of ballet.

Head of the troupe, Yuri Fateev, long ago stated he views the Mariinsky not as the holder of Russia’s Petipa traditions, or the recipient of the Vaganova Academy’s best graduates — although arguably it should include both– but aims to make it into the “ABT of Russia”. This festival has shown just how much he has moulded the company towards that vision since he took on his position in 2007. Gone is the all-Russian roster and in its place a conglomeration of international graduates, punctuated by international guest artists during this particular festival.

The Pharoah’s Daughter, one of Marius Petipa’s original ballets, is a work nearly unknown in American and European houses but that reigns supreme on the Bolshoi stage, where today it is almost exclusively performed. However, those performances occur quite rarely. A block of Pharoah revivals closed out last season in July 2018 for those Muscovites who had not already abandoned the city for vacation time. This week Moscow audiences enjoyed their only glimpse of the ballet for the current season in a series of 6 performances over the span of 4 days.

This large-scale work, in every sense of the word –from sets and costumes, to the large number of cast members and even animals required for all three acts– is a restoration by France’s Pierre Lacotte dating from 2000. The libretto sets the action in ancient Egypt, where a British explorer finds himself smoking opium and falling into a dream. Reminiscent then of the last act of Bayadère (Solor too smokes opium before his dream of the Shades), Pharoah also has components of Romeo and Juliet‘s star-crossed lovers: the heroine Aspicia throws herself in the Nile River when she cannot be wed to her beloved Taor. But in a true fairytale twist, she’s saved by the God of the Nile, who resembles Poseidon with a trident and long golden locks.

The March block of performances featured a series of debuts, including Margarita Shrainer next to Vyacheslav Lopatin in the leading roles and, on closing night, the ever-reliable Ekaterina Krysanova alongside Vladislav Lantratov in his debut as Taor.

The San Francisco Ballet, founded in 1933 as the first ballet company in America, opened its 86th repertory season with the annual gala concert featuring a champagne promenade in the lobby and a bill featuring two world premieres and several “house” ballets by resident choreographer/director Helgi Tomasson. Prior to curtain, Chairman of the Board of Trustees Carl Pasquerelli presented Dede Wilsey with the Lew Christensen award for her work as a trustee. Ms. Wilsey declared the company one of the best in the world, which many would agree is an apt characterisation for this West coast troupe.

VaganovaToday has been following the rehearsal process the last few weeks at the Bolshoi with Forsythe representatives Noah Gelber and Kathryn Bennetts, who have been setting Artefacte Suite on the Bolshoi. A full review will appear in Dance Europe magazine in the December/January issue. But the two-ballet programme, which also includes a new version of Petrushka by choreographer Edward Klug is a purely modern addition to the Moscow troupe’s repertoire that is challenging in terms of the speed and coordination required in these newer, non-classical forms of movement.

 

VaganovaToday wishes the casts all the best in the upcoming premiere on 20 November 2018. Merde!

In an ode to Russian literary classics, the Bolshoi presented a short marathon of four performances of John Cranko’s Evgeny Onegin in early October. Ekaterina Krysanova and Vladislav Lantratov danced the leading roles in the second of four performances, with Anastashia Stashkevich and Semyon Chudin as Olga and Lensky, respectively.

Cranko’s work is a genius depiction of the Russian poem-novel in visual, stage form. At the first curtain we view this Russian family on the lawn behind their countryside home, Olga preening in front of the mirror, and Tatiana quietly consumed in a book. The choreography expertly highlights the personality difference between the two sisters: Olga’s jubilant cheer, hopping around between the various ladies, and Tatiana’s dreamy and withdrawn nature. Stashkevich ebullience seemed endless as she teased Krysanova, stealing the book out of her hands. In turn, Krysanova’s calm pensiveness suggested an other-worldly girl, lost in her own thoughts.

As early as spring 2018, sidewalk signs and metro billboards held the poster for the International Ballet Stars Gala to be held at the Kremlin on 7 October. The list of international participants was impressive indeed, including stars from Berlin, Vienna, Norway, Saint Petersburg, and of course Moscow’s local Stanislavsky, Bolshoi, and Kremlin troupes. Sponsored by the Vinokur Fund, and filmed for Russia’s Kultura TV channel, the large-scale production required intense coordination by producer Mikhail Sheynin, best known for his work producing the controversial film “Mathilde” about the life of Mathilde Ksessinskaya, the pre-revolutionary ballerina who had a relationship with Tsarevich Nikolai.

Something fresh is always happening at the Stanislavsky. Between their new additions, the Grigorovich ballets, the classical repertoire, and the upcoming Balanchine premiere, the troupe is constantly engaged in developing their talents in both classical and modern works. One contemporary programme that debuted in April 2018 reappeared this past weekend, in late September. The triple bill with Dmitry Briantsev’s Illusive Ball, Marco Goecke’s Lonesome George, and Ohad Naharin’s clever Minus 16 drew a full house at start of the season.

Briantsev, a name little-known outside of Russia, is a classical genius who previously held the post of artistic director at the Stanislavsky Ballet, a post that Laurent Hilaire now holds. Briantsev disappeared in 2004 while on business in Prague at the age of 57, not returning to for his ballet season as planned, and he has not been seen since.

You graduated in 2011 from the Vaganova Academy under Ludmila Kovaleva, a pedagogue who has trained some of the biggest names in ballet, including Diana Vishneva. What was it like working with her?

I really love and respect Ludmila Valentinovna and am very thankful to her for all the knowledge and skills that she gave me. Even now, it is very interesting for me to work with her, not only on technique, but also on my roles. She has an uncanny ability to connect technical elements to the meaning of a ballet role, so that these elements become inseparable from the character and you no longer need to worry about them when you perform them, they just come to you naturally.

Following several nights of opera, the Bolshoi Theatre opened its 243rd ballet season on 18 September with the requisite performance of Swan Lake, featuring Svetlana Zakharova and Denis Rodkin in the leading roles. While no one, not even Soviet ballet icon Yuri Grigorovich, can improve upon the beauty of Petipa classics, Grigorovich’s choreographic talent comes through in the sections devoted to male dancing and his ability to pare down the classics to the bare minimum. There are elements that he retains in faithfulness to Petipa: the Bolshoi Lake style features soft elbows for the Prince, basic adherence to the “original” choreography for the White and Black adagios, and a focus on large corps sections throughout. Purists should be forewarned: the musical score is cut in numerous places so that 3 hour and 15 minute traditional 3-act version that runs at the Mariinsky Theatre is now just 2 acts that finish in 2 hours and 40 minutes.

You’ve been at the helm of the Stanislavsky over a season now. Have you noticed changes in the dancers since you arrived?

Yes. There is a certain consciousness about work, in a way. I think the company pays attention to work and they have learned and grown, they’ve gained maturity, they’ve become aware of what I want in terms of the form of work. The basis of academicism is the same everywhere, so that is unchanged. You can make it come alive in various ways, but the quality of work itself, that is what I demand of them.

In Russia, we have an extremely large ballet public and the classical traditions. In Europe they are things that are at the same afraid of speed and i think we have to pay attention to that. The young generation of Instagram and Facebook has a need to be able to identify with the large classical ballets. So its truly the quality and the way you make these ballets come to life that will allow us to preserve those links between the repertoire and the public of tomorrow.

 

Today Bolshoi Ballet soloist Igor Tsvirko bid an official farewell on Instagram to the theatre he has called his home for several years. Mr. Tsvirko has accepted a contract with the Hungarian State Opera and Ballet Theatre in Budapest. We wish him all the best in this next chapter of his life!

The main houses in Russia have devoted their spring seasons to Petipa, either highlighting warhorse classics that are, in this country, constantly in the rotating repertoire, or creating special gala evenings to honor the choreographer. In March, the Mariinsky began a series of performances honouring the great master, inviting artists from the Bolshoi and beyond to dance Petipa works. And after a series of Bayaderes last month, the Bolshoi held two gala concerts with mixed-bill divertissements including foreign guests as its own tribute.

Flora’s Awakening, graduates of the Vaganova Academy.
Photo by Natasha Razina.

By decree dated May 4, 1783, Empress Anna of the Russian Empire issued a decree establishing the first Imperial Theatre School in Saint Petersburg. This year marks the 280th anniversary of the Vaganova Academy, the very school that has trained top names in Russian and international ballet for centuries. The Academy devoted its annual graduation performances this month to the season-long celebration of what would have been the 200th birthday of Marius Petipa, offering a mainly Petipa-based program performed entirely by students with several former graduates.

The Grigorovich version of La Bayadère hails back to 1991, when the ballet returned to the Bolshoi stage after a 50-year absence. Its predecessor, a version created by Alexander Gorsky, rejected the Petipa original, focusing on the wedding celebration rather than the Shades scene, and including, as old records note, “flashes of arm” that destroyed the Petipa choreography.

Grigorovich’s approach, however, retains many of the Petipa basics, with the addition of his personal adjustments to both choreography and sets, but no significant alteration to the libretto. The overture that accompanies the curtain opening, for example, set to the dance of the fakirs, differs from the Petipa version that runs at the Mariinsky.

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