Mariinsky at the Double
In May the great Petersburg theatre opened a second venue, modern but sumptuous, which augments the Mariinsky’s prestige and activity. The number of performances increase and so, too, does the size of the ballet company (ex-Kirov) which will now be serving two theatres simultaneously, as well as touring overseas. All under the authoritative aegis of its star-conductor, Valery Gergiev
A sparkling grand finale concluded the inaugural performance of the Mariinsky II, St Petersburg’s new opera house. It was an evening which will go down in the theatre’s history and which brought together onstage over 450 artists: the ballet company, the choir, the orchestra and various leading soloists. All of them singing “Happy Birthday” to conductor Valery Gergiev, who turned 60 on that same day.
While the rest of the world is cutting theatre subsidies and closing down ballet companies, in Russia, deep in the East of old Europe, no one pays attention to the word ‘crisis’ – that phantom that is disturbingly haunting much of the world. Instead, in St Petersburg a richly painted curtain rises on a theatre worthy of the tsars.
Costing about 530 million Euros (way above the initially-forecast 200 million), the theatre momentously heralds the city’s artistic and cultural future, with imperial pride and lavish means. A new construction of 80,000 square metres, adding to the previous 23,000 of the old Mariinsky Theatre which has inspired this new venue and faces it on the other bank of the Kriukov Canal. It was designed by the Canadian firm of architects Diamond Schmitt of Toronto (after Dominique Perrault’s project was dropped in 2003).
The result is a costly Italian-style theatre with beech-wood wainscoting, dark grey upholstery, and thin translucent onyx walls, lit-up from behind. The house is dominated by a stupendous central stage, in the style of the imperial theatres. Understated spotlights hang down from the ceiling, though complemented with a cascade of Swaroski crystal. A monumental spiral staircase, practically suspended in mid-air, dominates the spacious foyer; the façade is enhanced by another staircase, made of glass. as in a fairy-tale of old, marble and other semi-precious stones have been brought in from Asia, A 65 metre-high fly tower, soaring seven floors above-stage and with three below-stage levels, makes this one of today’s most prodigious theatres.
The Mariinsky II joins the famous the Mariinsky and its nearby concert-hall, inaugurated in 2006, thereby completing a preeminent trio of theatre buildings. It fills the gap left by the burning-down, halfway through the 19th century, of the old Bolshoi Theatre (Big Theatre) of St Petersburg.
Gergiev himself has pointed out that today the Mariinsky can count on a staff of 2,500 workers (artists plus technical personnel), which he hopes will eventually increase to 3,000, to keep these three buildings in activity 365 days a year. The forecast annual budget is of 115 million Euros. Not content with this, Gergiev proposes to reach 153 million in the next three years, with the supporting foundations, in New York and Russia itself, working flat-out in order to reach said target.
Of note, and clearly this is of special interest to us, the dancers of its prestigious ballet troupe (ex Kirov) will be increasing in number to enable them to split into two groups and double the number of performances offered, in the two theatres as well as on continual tours around the world.
All this is the result of an uphill effort. There was a great deal of opposition in Petersburg, with many considering this project of colossal proportions to be a senseless waste. But today’s visitor in the so-called ‘Venice of the North’ cannot fail to admire this imposing – yet insubstantial – mass of crystal which, without defacing the harmony of the city, reflects the sky and pastel colours of the 18th-century imperial city.
In the big theatre, which seats 2,000, we are greeted by a first tribute to the splendour of the past and the old Mariinsky: the proscenium curtain is an exact replica of the other theatre’s 18th-century original, with its plush antique gold braiding. Moreover, during the gala, the backdrop reproduced (in relief) the interior of the Mariinsky, with highly poetic stage-play.
Even if we are still in the early years of the 21st century I think the world has probably witnessed one of the biggest theatrical and cultural events of this century. In these present hard times, it is as if the Baltic and the other northern seas were the last bastions of culture. Over the last few years ballet and opera houses have been inaugurated in Helsinki, Oslo and Copenhagen. Now this massive new theatre and the boosting of its orchestra, chorus and ballet company propel the Mariinsky into a dimension and perspective that would be simply unthinkable in the West.
Two significant celebrities of the Mariinsky Ballet led the dancing at the inaugural gala: undisputed star Ulyana Lopatkina and the elegant and poetic Vladimir Shkliarov. Another famous ballerina, Diana Vishneva, danced Alberto Alonso’s Carmen, with refined sensuality (and in a red costume, just like Alicia Alonso in her heyday).
Among other things, we note that Russian ballet seems destined to attain a sort of world hegemony, overshadowing that of other countries. This is easy to forecast. Innovation already seems tangible and influential also on the choreography front. The 2013 edition of the “White Nights Festival” in June and July will present not only a new opera by Rodion Shchedrin but also Concerto DSCH by Alexei Ratmansky (created for New York City Ballet, to music by Dmitri Shostakovich, in 2008).
The Mariinsky is the shrine of ballet, yet it is as if its importance had now spread geometrically. Gergiev himself has expressed this clearly in the way he has conceived the programmes of the various inaugural performances which featured not only the classics, but also two guiding lights of 20th-century choreography: George Balanchine and Maurice Béjart.
Balanchine’s Jewels was performed in the new Mariinsky, with a splendid and commanding Lopatkina in “Diamonds” while, in “Rubies”, Vladimir Shklyarov showed himself to be the most remarkable Russian dancer of the moment. Diana Vishneva, another ‘star’ of the Petersburg troupe (who splits her time between the Mariinsky and American Ballet Theatre in New York) was the centrepiece of another evening at the Mariinsky II: she danced Béjart’s Boléro encircled by the male corps de ballet of Béjart Ballet Lausanne – which flew in specially for the occasion (personally rehearsed by their director Gil Roman). The closing ballet was Symphony in C, one of Balanchine’s masterpieces.
The enthronement in Petersburg (a process that began a few years ago) of the Russian choreographer of Georgian origin, who fled (the then) Petrograd in the 1920’s, is further proof that Russia is opening up to an entirely new world. The most appropriate place to dance Balanchine today seems to be precisely St Petersburg: even though his principal choreographies were created in the USA, they remain the works of an artist in exile who always yearned for this company and theatre, where he had studied and which were his birthright.
Meanwhile, in the old Mariinsky Theatre, other ballets were being performed, the most important of which, Don Quixote, also brought with it the promotion of a young Oxana Skorik, dancing Kitri for the first time, to the rank of prima ballerina. Petersburg public and critics were quite bewitched by Skorik and all, including the theatre management, see her as the company’s next stellar ballerina.
(BALLET2000 n°239 – June 2013)
Guillem, the Icy Divine
is without doubt the classical ballet "diva"
of our day, the only one that the public rushes to
see as soon as her name is announced, ready to adore
her beauty, her dazzling virtuoso technique and her
supreme assurance on stage. And yet, something is
missing. And as against so many who admire her without
reservations, there are those who emphasise the other
side of the coin. That’s what divas of either sex
have to expect.
asked "Who are the greatest ballerina and male
dancer in the world today?", most people would
reply, "Sylvie Guillem and Mikhail Baryshnikov".
Curiously enough, it is just these two artists who
make no impression on me whatsoever. I’ll try and
explain this unreasonable lack of appreciation, if
not animosity (to myself, too), conscious that the
fault is probably all mine.
already written about Baryshnikov (in Balletto
Oggi), and perhaps I’ll come back to him. So far
as Sylvie Guillem is concerned, my problem goes back
a long way, that is to say, to the day when, representing
Italy on the panel of judges some years ago, I arrived
in Bulgaria for the famous Varna competition for young
dancers. I got there a few days late: when the first
elimination round was over. Immediately, my friend
the late André-Philippe Hersin, the French
member of the panel for that year, before so much
as asking after my health, launched into a speech
of enthusiastic, overwhelming certainty that the young
French candidate would win hands down, because she
was miles better and better-looking than all the rest.
dear, my "relationship" at a distance with
Sylvie Guillem was starting very badly. I felt - even
if good-humouredly - oppressed and betrayed by André-Philippe
and by circumstances. As a result, when the day of
the semi-finals arrived, I looked out for another
young face and another exceptional technique to exalt.
I settled on Katherine Healy, a 15-year-old American
girl (who is at the moment a principal with the Vienna
Opera Ballet). She was dark, small and a bit plump
- the opposite of blonde, tall and slim Sylvie Guillem.
Little Kathy jumped about like a cricket and span
like a top, in the most virtuosic, acrobatic inventions
of the classical repertory. Sylvie Guillem, on the
other hand, had chosen a variation in a more lyrical
style, not something to show off her virtuosity: she
was real, very beautiful, and detached. Too detached,
I said to myself, with a certain amount of irritation.
the grand finale, if I remember aright, there was
the third stage of my negative relationship with Sylvie
Guillem, who performed Béjart’s La Luna
solo, which all Italians identify with Luciana
Savignano (who it was made for). Savignano was unsurpassed
in this piece - and in no way detached. On the contrary,
there was a vein of secret furies running through
her interpretation, under the frozen moonlike crust.
I said to myself that Sylvie Guillem showed only the
frozen outside, with nothing underneath. I voted for
Katherine Healy. Sylvie Guillem won by a large majority,
naturally, and was awarded the Gold Medal.
made me feel obliged, anyway, a few months later,
to invite Sylvie Guillem as well as Katherine Healy
to appear in the "Dance Marathon" that I
was in charge of until 1996 at the Spoleto Festival
in Italy. There were a lot of stars taking part in
that Marathon, including Rudolf Nureyev, Antonio Gades,
Peter Schaufuss, Carla Fracci, Kevin McKenzie, Ohad
Naharin, Vladimir Derevianko, and Elisabetta Terabust.
Sylvie Guillem arrived with Rudolf Nureyev, who had
shortly before become the director of the Paris Opéra
Ballet, to which Sylvie Guillem already belonged.
Nureyev followed her rehearsal with the attention
of a true ballet-master, correcting, demonstrating
and explaining. She received Nureyev’s teaching with
the same air of a disdainful queen, an icy goddess,
that she had shown at Varna. She asked me, in an autocratic
tone, not to place her after Katherine Healy in the
programme, but before her. She left me speechless,
almost afraid, with that tone of hers that did not
admit of a reply.
hastened to do as she asked. She danced the "Black
Swan" pas de deux: lovely to look at, perfect
and cold. I said to myself, partly to justify my irritation
and hostility, But the Black Swan shouldn’t be cold
towards the Prince, she should be seductive and full
of passion. She was very much applauded by everyone,
the public and the critics. So much for me.
that my difficulties with Sylvie Guillem were repeated
on several occasions. In the first place in Italy,
in various "Nureyev and Friends" performances.
The shows may have been a bit hastily staged, but
the technical standard was high. The cast was always
excellent, with the constant presence, apart from
Sylvie Guillem, of Charles Jude, Isabelle Guérin
and Manuel Legris (who was said at that time to be
her fiancé). I once had the chance to see her
with a different group of "Stars of the Paris
Opéra", headed by Patrick Dupond. Sylvie
Guillem enraptured the audience with her Esmeralda
variation, the one where she several times raises
her tambourine above her head and strikes it with
her foot. She was so pretty, so young, so acrobatic
and so impeccable. To myself I thought (through my
hostility, which I hid at the official level, amid
so much jubilation) on a vindictive note, "She
ought to go in for artistic gymnastics rather than
dance" (then I read somewhere that she had indeed
trained as a gymnast).
she’s out of reach: England has taken her over, like
a precious stone, and placed her on a throne. What
more can one ask? It’s as though the English were
to give her the position that was Margot Fonteyn’s,
and I couldn’t bear that thought.
then she reappeared, with Maurice Béjart holding
her by the hand at the end of his Bolero, proud
and excited, as if Sylvie Guillem were his daughter.
I remember nothing of that Bolero, except the
applause, the Titian red of her smooth hair, the fringe,
the dark red body stocking like a one-piece Jantzen
bathing costume of the 1930s, and her almost masculine-seeming
muscles. I was unable, in my secret thoughts, to chase
away the most unfair and excessive comment on her
new image. And when people asked me, after the performance,
"Isn’t she fantastic?" or "She’s divine,
don’t you think so?", I always replied in a soft
voice, "Yes, of course", feeling glad that
I didn’t have to write about the performance the next
now things are getting more complicated: I’m going
to be seeing Sylvie Guillem as choreographer and principal
dancer in Giselle, and balletomanes are looking
forward to the great event. With my head in the sand
like an ostrich, I’m trying not to think about it.
I can imagine her already: beautiful, acrobatic, very
elegant in the first act, and pale and as cold as
the moon, and with perfect steely pointwork in the
second act. And I can already foresee her triumph,
while I (being incapable of dealing with this further
blow) go home with my tail between my legs, thinking
of Yvette Chauviré, Noella Pontois, Carla Fracci,
Natalia Makarova, hiding my regret.
n°45 – Février/Mars 1999)
Swan of the Lakes
Lake" is the most enigmatic of the great repertory
ballets. Or at least, that is how it has been seen
by the many choreographers who have so far laid hands
on it in order to "reveal" its hidden meanings:
sometimes only by reinventing the setting and the
libretto, while preserving the substance of the choreography
by Petipa and Ivanov; at other times making a completely
new ballet. That is what Mats Ek, among others, has
done, and also Matthew Bourne, with unpredictable
is impossible to discuss seriously at the present
time the ballets of the classical repertory, without
feeling obliged to clear the ground of the errors
- I would call them theoretical if the term were not
too strong - and the nonsense spread about by a certain
class of fashionable critics. They form an obtuse,
evil brood with regard to the values that are specific
to dance, they look at a ballet just like cows watching
a train pass (the simile was originally André
Levinson’s), not understanding what it is and what
purpose it serves, they (I mean the cows and the train)
think - who knows? - that it is something to make
a noise with. And that is perhaps what they talk about
in their bovine gatherings.
the same way, those critics, who are unable to see
in a ballet what really counts, the dance - or it
seeming to them, as they do not understand it, something
of little importance - look for other material in
it: the literary plot, the "dramaturgy"
(as they like to say), or perhaps the music (but that
is a mistake that belongs to past generations, when
it was the music critics who wrote about dance; this
is an error that thouse dance critics do not make,
because of their lack of musical knowledge), the scenery
and costumes, or perhaps the physical or expressive
qualities of the dancers. The dancing, if they deign
to refer to it, is just an accessory to them.
now at last I have arrived at the subject of this
article. Which is Swan Lake, and the confused
manner in which people talk and write about the many
"versions", whether classical or contemporary.
If one does not clearly understand that a ballet is
a dance work, that it "consists" of dance,
just as an opera "consists" of music and
singing, one may well believe that the Swan Lake
of Petipa-Ivanov, the one by John Neumeier and the
one by Mats Ek are different versions of the same
ballet; or, at the most, that Ek’s is a "rereading"
of Petipa’s. This is nonsense that can only circulate
in an environment of dance criticism that is underdeveloped
from an intellectual point of view. Not even the least
informed opera-lover would talk about, let’s say,
Puccini’s Manon Lescaut as if it were a "rereading"
of Massenet’s Manon, and in fact everybody
realises that if what counts in the opera is the music
and if the music is different, they are two different
operas, which will have different merits in accordance
with their different musical value. That what
counts in a ballet is the choreography and not the
story is an elementary concept, but it it still far
from being understood and perceived.
if Swan Lake as a work of art is its choreography,
that is to say, its dance, it is clear that different
choreography (even if it has the same title, the same
music and the same or similar narrative subject) will
be a different ballet, a different, autonomous creation.
The critics who out of personal bias defend what they
call "rereadings of the classics" made by
their favourite contemporary choreographers (as if
Petipa and Ivanov’s Swan Lake were not beautiful
enough, so that it needed to be remade) and the "purists"
who are scandalised when Matthew Bourne takes the
title and the music and modifies the subject in order
to make a choreographic work that is completely modern
and all his own (as if by doing so he wanted or was
able to spoil the "classical" ballet, or
as if the sin of desecration stopped him from making
a fine ballet) are equally foolish.
sum up, there are different ballets by different choreographers
and belonging to different periods, that are called
Swan Lake to music by Tchaikovsky and on subjects
that derive, in various ways, from the same 19th century
libretto. Naturally, the same applies to all the other
repertory titles. I am talking here about Swan
Lake because its mysterious, symbolic subject
has lent itself more often and better than others
to stimulating the imaginations of choreographers.
by keeping hold of the criteria, which are in any
case very elementary, that I have set out in the preceding
paragraphs, it will be possible to put in order the
various productions of Swan Lake that are around
at the moment, dividing them into three categories,
which correspond with three objectives and choreographic
works that are very different one from another.
first, and most obvious, one concerns reproductions
of the "classic" Swan Lake. The
masterpiece that they all go back to is Marius Petipa
and Lev Ivanov’s ballet 1895 production - and that
not because it was historically the first. In fact
it was not. The first production dates from 1877,
in Moscow, with choreography by one Julius Reisinger,
which was probably mediocre and determined its lack
of success (confirming my criterion, according to
which a ballet is its choreography, and it is on that
that its value depends). Nor did the 1880 production
by Joseph Hansen fare better. It was necessary to
wait for the production by Petipa and Ivanov at St
Petersburg, which was a triumph, and on the basis
of that the ballet began its long career as a classic
of the repertory. That career has a Russian basis,
but the matter is complicated, and this is not the
place to discuss it. Dance is not written down (or
rather, was not written down, other than rarely and
vaguely), and the choreography of a 19th century ballet
reaches us today through a series - that is often
not even continuous - of revivals, reproductions,
adaptations in taste, and technical innovations, over
whole generations of ballet masters, teachers and
dancers who are sometimes concerned with fidelity
to the past, but not all of them, to a point where
it is possible to talk of "a masterpiece by accumulation".
The choreography of Swan Lake that we see today
could, therefore, be described as "by Petipa
and Ivanov and their century-long reconstructors".
a result, the qualitative differences in the numerous
productions of Swan Lake that can be seen around
the world today depend on the competence, the choreographic
culture and the stylistic taste of the choreographers
and répétiteurs who have staged them.
Among the most reliable productions the first place
must obviously be given to the Kirov Ballet, the company
of the Maryinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, where the
Petipa-Ivanov ballet was first performed, and where
the tradition of the Petipa repertory has been best
preserved, and with greatest continuity (not to mention
the quality of the dancers).
London Royal Ballet’s Swan Lake, which is by
now a distant descendant of the first, fundamental
production in Europe, by Nicholas Sergeyev for the
then Sadler’s Wells Ballet in 1934, has a claim to
authenticity. At the Paris Opéra, the most
familiar version is the one by Vladimir Bourmeister,
which has frequently been performed there, from 1960
down to the present day (also elsewhere). However,
it contains things that are not very convincing to
a present-day audience. At La Scala, Milan, for several
years a production by John Field, which was largely
based on the Royal Ballet one, was performed. In the
United States, American Ballet Theatre has always
possessed a good traditional production of Swan
Lake, which has now been revised by the current
director, Kevin McKenzie. Alicia Alonso produced an
authoritative Swan Lake for her Cuban company,
in which she also danced. At this point I must interrupt
what would become a real world tour.
second category is made up of reworkings of the
classic Swan Lake, with the choreography
remaining wholly or partly unchanged, and therefore
"traditional" in the sense clarified above.
The choreographer therefore usually modifies the scenario,
the setting and the characters, in order to make clear
certain symbolic or psychological points or to invent
new ones. The changes in the choreography come in
the mime and some secondary dances, while the famous
passages (such as the second act with the swan-maidens,
or the third-act pas de deux) are for the most part
it is this sort of operation that tends to attract
ex-dancers without choreographic talent, whom nobody
would ask to make an original ballet, but who, on
the other hand, do not wish to limit themselves to
reproducing a classical ballet. So they invent variations
on the story, they set it in a different time or place,
with fancy scenery and costumes, they mess up the
choreography a bit, they remake some of the dances
(making them less satisfactory, given the improbability
of improving the original masterpiece), and that way
they get their name in the programme (and also the
fee), as if they were real choreographers.
the many offerings of this kind that afflict dance
stages, the soggiest Swan Lake that has ever
come my way is the one by Yuri Vámos, in the
Düsseldorf repertory (this Hungarian dancer being
the director of the company there). Right from the
Prologue, in which the infant Prince (and the audience)
see the Queen Mother and the tutor making love without
any restraint, up to the last act, in which the neurotic
Prince kills the Swan – and the corpse falls on to
the stage looking like a sort of straw-stuffed cockerel
– there is such a series of pieces of nonsense that
it leaves you in a state of consternation. To start
with, it seems like a joke, but when you realise it
isn’t, and that the choreographer had very serious
and dramatic intentions, the whole thing takes on
a surreally comic air.
much more respectable production, which has met with
great success in several theatres, is the one made
by Rudolf Nureyev, which was reworked on various occasions
before reaching its definitive version, which is still
in the repertory of the Paris Opéra Ballet
and at La Scala, Milan. Nureyev changed above all
the role of the Prince, by enlarging it, as he did
that of von Rothbart (which he danced himself in later
years), and he made the ballet as a whole more elegant
and modern. His choreographic contributions are, as
always, unmusical and infelicitous, but they do not
have too negative an effect on the substance of the
ballet, which he had known very well in his youth,
from his time at the Kirov.
the masterpiece in this genre is John Neumeier’s Illusionen
- wie Schwanensee (literally, "Illusions
- like Swan Lake"), for the Hamburg Ballet, which
has its place in this category only because it retains
the classic choreography for Act 2, but which would
perhaps be more correctly considered an original ballet.
For a more extended comment, you can turn to the review
in this issue of the recent performances in Paris.
third group of my subdivision - which is not really
so neatly defined, but is theoretically not at all
arbitrary - is made up of original creations that
take their inspiration from the old Swan Lake,
retaining its music and title, but the choreography
of which is a completely new and personal invention
of the present-day author. Therefore, as I said earlier,
from the dance point of view it is absolutely improper
to consider these as new versions or "reworkings"
of the same ballet: they are, in effect, new ballets.
will just mention a post-modern Swan Lake made
for the Aix-en-Provence festival by the American choreographer
Andy Degroat in 1982, and the recent one by Bertrand
d’At for the Ballet du Rhin, and then I quote the
three most important contemporary ones.
Ek’s production for the Cullberg Ballet is called
in Swedish Svansjön, and although it is
not considered his masterpiece, it is the most fascinating
and personal modern Swan Lake, from a purely
choreographic standpoint, for the way it plays with
a poetic synthesis that is halfway between a non-literal
quoting of the classic and a pure creation, that being
the incomparable characteristic of Mats Ek’s work.
1995 up to the present, Matthew Bourne’s production
of Swan Lake for his Adventures in Motion Pictures
has enjoyed an extraordinary success worldwide. We
have devoted our cover to it, and it is written about
in this issue.
Le Lac des cygnes et ses maléfices,
made by Roland Petit for his Marseille company in
1998, shows another way of treating male swans, in
Petit’s classical-modern choreographic style, but
above all using his theatrical imagination, in which
the drama is always suffused with sensual irony.
n° 51 – March/April 2000)
Ballet Lausanne Without Its Pygmalion
the morrow of Maurice Béjart’s passing, the
world of dance wonders what future awaits his "child",
Béjart Ballet Lausanne. Béjart was the
life and soul of this company for twenty years, after
the glorious era of his Ballet du XXe Siècle,
in Brussels and throughout the world. Gil Roman, Béjart’s
last remaining "signature dancer", is his
heir apparent. Clearly, BBL must endeavour to keep
Béjart’s repertoire alive, but at the same
time it needs to open up to other choreographers.
The big question, as yet unanswered, is: will the
company cease to be attractive without its charismatic
founders pass away, their companies often undergo
hard times. Especially if the celebrities in question
carried most of the burden upon their shoulders. In
the world of haute couture many fashion houses did
not outlive the designers who invented their trademarks,
whereas others, like Dior or Chanel, were instead
able to continue their activities without too many
problems. The same applies to independent dance companies
whose repertoires are mostly made up of works by their
respective artistic directors. Alvin Ailey’s death
could easily have led to the dissolution of his American
Dance Theater. But a shrewd board of directors and
an inspired artistic director – Judith Jamison – allowed
this magnificent company to embark on a new and successful
Ballet Lausanne is now facing the same problem.
1987, when the city of Lausanne in Switzerland invited
Maurice Béjart to settle there, the offer was
not dictated by the wish to have a ballet company.
On the contrary, Lausanne seized the opportunity to
link its name to that of one of the most prominent
living choreographers, thereby allowing the name of
the city to tour the world together with the company.
Last November, as soon as the news of Béjart’s
passing became known, everything clearly changed and
the City of Lausanne gave itself three years to take
stock of the troupe’s artistic and economic state
of affairs and decide on its future.
BBL be successful in preserving the qualities with
which we associate it? And now that its "soul"
has flown, will it continue to attract young talent?
Now that the Béjart repertoire can no longer
be replenished, will it continue to be as attractive
as it was? Basically, the question is: will the company
stay alive or will interest dwindle to the extent
that it will eventually be forced out of the large
cities and end up performing only in the small towns?
discreetly, and notwithstanding his own belief (expressed
on numerous occasions) that when a creator is no longer
there to breathe life into his/her works, these are
deprived of their anima, Maurice Béjart left
instructions to ensure that his ballets would outlive
him. He had set up a foundation whose mandate is to
manage his repertoire. Its president is Gil Roman
and members include those who were closest to the
choreographer, such as his longtime friend, writer
François Weyergans, ballerina and company director
Maina Gielgud, the loyal Eidji Mihara and Marie-Claude
Jequier, a lawyer, as well as the City of Lausanne’s
former culture alderwoman. It will now be up to these
celebrities to decide whether or not to grant choreographic
rights to those companies that request permission
to perform Béjart ballets.
for Béjart Ballet Lausanne, it seems clear
that the course ahead is one of continuity. Gil Roman,
who used to be associate director but has always been
one of the troupe’s most influential personalities,
has officially taken over at its helm. Nobody knows
Béjart’s work and all the problems inherent
to the troupe’s tours (with which he has been dealing
for years) better than he does and there is no doubt
that it was Béjart’s wish that Roman pick up
his legacy; Roman has every right to take over as
successor. But we can legitimately ask ourselves whether,
being over forty, Roman can continue to dance and
be director at the same time. In any event, up until
now Gil Roman has done nothing to publicize his new
role… Unlike Béjart, Gil is not a communicator,
yet there is no doubt that the successful management
of a company also entails making it "visible".
Moreover, Roman, who has a stern and demanding personality,
has enemies as well as friends at BBL. It seems that
he is trying to knock the corners off his character.
So much the better. An ensemble is made up of human
beings that will give their best only if they are
Ballet Lausanne now has an intense schedule of tours
ahead. Obviously, the troupe is still in its "Homage
to Béjart" phase. But what is going to
happen in two or three years’ time? There is an ample
repertoire to draw from and there is also talk of
presently reviving Le Concours ("The Contest").
But shouldn’t companies also open up to new choreographic
works, like Alvin Ailey’s troupe has done? Gil Roman
appears so inclined. He himself has a background in
choreography and seems to wish to continue producing
new works of his own. Furthermore he does not rule
out the possibility of commissioning ballets from
established choreographers such as Jean-Christophe
Maillot. In the past even Béjart had called
on other choreographers, such as Olivier Perriguey
and Lar Lubovich.
this point the problem can be synthesized with this
conundrum: how to renew the company without loss of
identity. It is not going to be easy but – there are
precedents that prove this – it can indeed be done.
n°193 – June/July 2008)
Petit, Dance and Show, Drama and Feathers
La Scala to the Paris Opéra, From Russia to
Japan, 84 years old and 50 years after his best works,
Roland Petit is still one of those choreographers
that ballet companies most favour and that audiences
continue to love on account of his stories-in-ballet,
frivolous and dramatic at the same time, that cash-in
on the popularity of dance celebrities and stars of
seems almost banal, let alone a trifle embarrassing,
to write about Roland Petit yet again for the discerning
readers of a dance magazine. One feels naïve
if one speaks well of him; to speak ill of him would
be would be almost blasphemous..!
being said, a good journalist should necessarily commence
his/her task by recalling that Roland Petit was born
in 1924 and was the wonder boy of French ballet or,
rather, of its rebirth after the War. Petit trained
at the Paris Opéra with top ballet masters,
under Serge Lifar’s vigil eye; a lively youth and
a strong-willed choreographer-dancer, he left this
company to found troupes of his own, with young exceptional
dancers. His 1946 ballet Le Jeune Homme et la Mort
("The Young Man and Death"), based on an
idea by Jean Cocteau (thanks to his "Pygmalion"
Irène Lidova, the young Petit used to mix with
the "right" crowd), brought to the fore
a brilliant dancer, Jean Babilée; Carmen
(1947), a small masterpiece, launched Zizi Jeanmaire,
his muse and lifelong companion.
for his own and other troupes followed, as did a brief
American interlude and choreographies for films and
musicals (Hollywood was to influence him for good,
although it is unclear whether this was a good thing
or not); afterwards, still more ballets (over 150
to date) all over the world, both on serious or frivolous
subjects, to lofty or base music as the case may be,
often with scenery by famous painters and costumes
by renowned fashion designers. Mon truc en plumes
(1961) for the one and only Zizi, is a sparkling gem
of inanity; Notre Dame de Paris (1965), on
the other hand, is based on a classic of French literature
and marked his anointment at the Opéra as a
serious and dramatic choreographer – from then on,
he was designated as a quasi-institution of the French
ballet. In 1972 Petit was appointed director of the
National Ballet of Marseilles, over which he ruled
for 26 years as a despotic father-figure and as its
sole choreographer, producing myriad ballets, often
enhanced by guest-stars such as Makarova, Plisetskaya,
Vasiliev, Baryshnikov, Nureyev, Fracci, Dupond, Ferri
etc., in cleverly tailor-made roles.
retired about ten years ago and now officially resides
in Geneva, with Zizi, but he continues to revive or
produce new ballets in many theatres around the world,
from La Scala in Milan and the Paris Opéra,
to the Bolshoi in Moscow.
recorded the foregoing, and sprinkled in a few praises
here and there, any newspaper has officially done
its duty; and yet dance critic and competent reader
alike remain somewhat perplexed.
and beyond the admiration due to an artist who undoubtedly
has great talent, energy and charm, and who has been
one of the brightest personalities on the European
ballet scene during the last 60 years, the time has
come to ask ourselves a basic question: does the hefty
quantity of Roland Petit ballets featured on the playbills
of some of the world’s major ballet companies (altogether
out-of-proportion compared to works by other choreographers
from the same generation – and who are certainly of
greater choreographic consequence than Petit) make
sense? It is unclear why European audiences should
know the complete works of Roland Petit inside-out,
and get to see them time and time again, whilst almost
entirely ignoring those of Jerome Robbins, probably
the 20th century’s greatest choreographer after Balanchine,
or of another genius like Paul Taylor. Not to mention
Merce Cunningham (whose works however, when all is
said and done, are pretty unstageable by the subsidized
companies); or Hans Van Manen, a true choreographer
if ever there was one, who has had a fundamental influence
on modern ballet in Europe over the last four decades.
(On this subject, I hope nobody is so foolish as to
maintain that Roland Petit has influenced the choreography
of his times, with the exception of a few second-rate
already know what the answer to this question is going
to be: the choreographers I have just mentioned are
too complicated, the audiences love a Roland
Petit ballet any day – and if, in addition, a famous
star gets cast in the leading role, such a ballet
is bound to be a huge success.
might start by saying that "audience" is
an artificial concept which serves only to conceal
the apathy of artistic directors which, as it cannot
be cured, must be endured. Let us get one thing straight:
there is no such thing as "the" audience.
There are different kinds of audiences: there is an
audience for Bach’s Art of Fugue and one for
Madonna; an audience for Cunningham and one for TV
variety-show. First of all one needs to establish
which audience is being catered for. As a person who
is interested in the art of the dance and as a tax-payer,
I believe subsidized companies, which have a cultural
mission to fulfil and public funds allocated for this
purpose, should cater for the former, mould and widen
its horizons, leaving the latter audience to enterprises
that provide commercial entertainment. This is, by
and large, my point of view, although it is clear
that while Roland Petit’s ballets may not be pure
and sublime art, neither are they common entertainment.
And while a few of his works may have come close to
being classified as such a kind of entertainment,
many others are ballets of undeniable elegance and
Terabust, currently at the helm of the ballet company
of La Scala, Milan (from an artistic point of view,
the best director that this company has had in decades),
used to be a fabulous dancer – whom I particularly
loved and admired, if the reader will pardon my squeezing
in a personal note. She was also, for a long time,
one of Roland Petit’s stars and consequently knows
his style through and through. She did well to propose
a triple-bill of historically-significant Petit works:
Le Jeune Homme et la Mort, Carmen and L’Arlésienne;
however, in the course of the upcoming season we are
going to find it rather hard to fathom Pink Floyd
Ballet which Petit produced in Marseille 1972
and which, even back in those days, came across as
a contrived pastiche for fashionistas.
the same token, the Paris Opéra has every reason
in the world to keep Notre Dame de Paris in
its repertory, but hardly any to stage Clavigo,
a recent and futile work.
is true that a certain kind of audience wallows in
feathers and champagne (a foible of his that Petit
– I will concede – has since stopped indulging) and
in watching the likes of Ferri and Bolle performing
scenes of love, death and vaguely ambiguous and vapid
eroticism in ballets based on famous and dramatic
stories, but is not really interested in "dance"
itself. Even Petit has been known to admit this himself,
shrugging his shoulders with annoyance, like someone
who knows but can’t be bothered. He received a classical
training at the Opéra, studied with great ballet
masters, was always fascinated by modern dance and
his work is imaginative and inventive; yet, plainly,
choreographic creation, the craftsmanship in his art,
akin to that of the architect and of the musician
in theirs, is not his forte. Within his overall production,
Petit’s "abstract" ballets are of marginal
significance – and some are so clichéd they
are unworthy of a choreographer of such repute.
Lidova, a significant figure and a mover and shaker
on France’s post-War dance scene, discovered and was
a passionate supporter of Petit. On one occasion,
after watching the première of one of his works,
she jokingly asked him: "This is all very well,
Roland, but when are you going to make us a real ballet..?"
He never spoke to her again.
might avoid touching on this trait of Petit’s character
– I refer to his spiteful egocentricity, the feeling
that although he has had a lot in terms of success,
money, gratification and achievement, he has not had
as much as he deserved or was his due, to the resentful
rivalry with his colleagues (especially his nemesis
Béjart, his more triumphant contemporary and
fellow countryman whom he used to call "l’autre",
whereas Béjart did not bother calling him anything
at all…) – and leave it in the realms of Petit’s privacy,
were it not for the fact that this trait tells us
a lot about Petit the artist. It reveals him as an
impassioned artist who, however, obsessively expects
his memoirs (Roland Petit – j’ai dansé sur
les flots – Grasset 1993), which is far wittier
and unconventional than the majority of books written
by former dancers (although, like them, it too has
hardly any interesting ideas, is packed with curious
anecdotes and pathetic name-dropping of all the high-fluting
non-dance celebrities with whom he mixed, though with
very little about choreography), we come across the
left-wing intelligentsia, those who believe culture
should be spelt with a capital K, reproach me for
being a socialite artist. To them I represent the
Establishment. What does that mean exactly? That I
have been successful? What sort of success? That the
public appreciates my work? Is that something to be
from the bizarre idea that there is a left-wing vanguard
in the dance milieu, which still does not even have
coordinates for essential issues, let alone politics,
Petit’s point of view is quite clear. Here is another
peals of laughter, crying, sighing, regret, hatred,
goodness, frivolous glances, vengeance and love, not
forgetting death, all team up to produce theatre…"
is what Roland Petit is all about. But as Irène
Lidova wrote in 1952 (in her book 17 visages e
la danse française):
Petit does not belong to the world of ballet, he is
an artist apart, who draws his inspiration from the
most trendy and unprecedented aspects of theatre art.
He juggles with success, detests the trodden path,
wants to shock and amaze and often wastes his most
precious qualities. But when he finds his true identity
and grasps the seriousness of his mission, then he
will offer French ballet his authoritativeness and
his warm and vivacious talent."
the time Roland Petit was 28 years old. Today, after
a long career which has not yet ended, it is still
worth asking if he has fulfilled these expectations.
n°194 – August 2008)
The Proof of the Festival
were fewer international guest dancers than usual
at the 21st Havana International Ballet Festival,
held last November. This was not surprising given
the economic situation; however it still provided
a concentrated panorama of the work of the National
Ballet of Cuba and gave plenty of food for thought
for all those who care about the fate of this great
company, directed as ever by Alicia Alonso
long-term readers know that Ballet2000 – and
I in particular – have always had a soft spot for
the National Ballet of Cuba, its school, its festivals
and its star-director Alicia Alonso. Independently
of the special enjoyment and affection which the very
unusual character of the Cuban Ballet conjures up
for me, as for many others around the world, it has
always seemed nothing less than a miracle – in a world
in which the greed and squalor characteristic of economic
(and ethical) laissez-faire mean that the common
patrimony of mankind as exemplified by art and culture
is left very much to defend itself – how such a high-quality
ballet company and school could have arisen almost
from nothing in a far-away island of the Caribbean,
beset by economic, political and even military problems.
(Let’s not forget that 50 years after the revolution
led by Fidel Castro and his establishment of the régime
that is still in power, Cuba is in a permanent state
of defensiveness and hemmed in by economic sanctions,
above all since the falling apart of its ally, the
yet this is a State which has shown faith in its greatest
artist, Alicia Alonso, and given her the possibility
to form a company and a school which are not only
key institutions in Cuba, passionately followed by
Cubans, but have exported their own artists to theatres
half the world over.
though this were not enough, all the more so given
the state of the country, every two years they put
on the Havana International Ballet Festival in the
Cuban capital, earning enthusiastic plaudits from
the locals and attracting observers from all over
the guest artists, groups and choreographers invited,
often turning up interesting novelties for us Europeans,
our fellow Cuban enthusiast Elisa Guzzo speaks elsewhere
in this issue. The real focus of interest at the Festival,
however, remains the concentrated distillation of
the work of the National Ballet of Cuba, on show in
both its classical repertory and new productions.
The main question on everyone’s lips, therefore, has
always been – but now more than ever – the state of
health of the Cuban Ballet.
most critical (if not to say the enemies, also politically-speaking)
of the company claim that it has gone down in quality,
that its best dancers are obliged to flee abroad,
that its classical repertory is badly executed and
its creations insipid, that Alicia Alonso, from the
point of view of both age and health (it is well known
that she is virtually blind), is no longer able to
direct the company and that someone else should, therefore,
watching the Ballet of Cuba for so many years and,
therefore, knowing it so well, as well as having now
been able to judge its current state of health at
the most recent Festival, I think I have a clear idea
regarding these criticisms.
may be true that the company no longer has the personality
it had thirty years ago (but this is something that
may be said about many of the world’s ballet companies),
in particular because of the continual drain of its
most talented dancers, who go abroad, not as once
in search of "freedom" (an excusable minor
form of hypocrisy, designed to ensure a better welcome
in particular in the United States), but rather now
to look for higher earnings and greater personal success
and independence. Lorna and Lorena Feijóo,
José Manuel Carreño, Carlos Acosta (all
of whom, however, were legal emigrants) and others
have found these but for many it has been a mirage.
Since Rolando Sarabia – a marvellous dancer and perhaps
(if I may be permitted the exaggeration) the most
talented classical dancer in the world – "deserted"
Cuba three years ago, he has simply disappeared from
the international scene: a terrible disaster both
for him and his many fans in the ballet world. And
he is not the only one.
"remains" of the Ballet of Cuba is less
than what there might have been but it is still something.
Viengsay Valdés, the leading ballerina of this
Festival, may not have the perfect feet that are required
to-day but she has a stage presence that is nothing
short of illuminating and an amazing range of technical
virtuosity, both in terms of équilibre and
the endless turns she is called upon to execute. Her
"Black Swan" in Swan Lake (seen here
in a "popular" production in the Cathedral
Square of Havana) has few rivals anywhere in the world.
Another star of the moment is Annette Delgado, more
suitable in Giselle (considered the Cuban "classic",
in Alicia Alonso’s version, seen here in the magnificent
Gran Teatro). Côté garçons,
Yoel Carreño is the youthful but already established
leading danseur noble but also a brilliant
virtuoso, like all the Cubans; the same may be said
of the younger Romel Frómeta, who, while possessing
more power than Carreño, is, however, less
regards the company overall and its performance of
the repertory, I share the opinion of my good friend
Frank Andersen, hitherto Director of the Royal Danish
Ballet and, as such, a leading expert in classical-romantic
ballet, who for this Festival restaged Act III of
Bournonville’s Napoli for a fine group of young
Cuban dancers, with results that thrilled not only
him but also the spectators; and, as a spectator,
after an evening of Giselle, he told me with
complete conviction that, to his mind, no company
in the world to-day performs this ballet as well.
final issue for the critics concerns the succession
to Alicia Alonso (whom we found aware, lucid and authoritative
as always at the head of her company). In an exceptional
and much-discussed article in the New York Times
on the Ballet of Cuba, a couple of years ago, when
asked if she was thinking of handing over the reins,
Alicia Alonso replied bluntly that the question did
not arise, as the Ballet of Cuba already had a director.
Now, apart from the understandable possessiveness
of such a formidable character in relation to her
creation, the point here is not simply the change
of generation. If her successor were to be recruited
from among the senior members of the company, current
assistant ballet masters or choreographers (we do
not see how a foreigner could be appointed, since
that would lead to a loss of the characteristics of
Cuban ballet), and if they were to have the benefit
of sight without seeing the vulgar shortcomings of
taste, which could be easily put right, from which
Cuban productions suffer, then to make one of them
director would be to usher in a disaster far worse
than the current position.
Alicia Alonso’s flair for keeping people together,
her prestige and determination, the National Ballet
of Cuba runs the risk of becoming a mediocre company,
at the mercy of the stupidity of some ex-ballerina
or ballet master or the adventures of a dancer who
is still dancing, lacking the necessary cultural preparation,
(artistic and not just technical) skill and experience.
I am aware that my solution is hardly audacious but
it seems to me a risk best taken as late in the day
as possible, in the hope that in the meantime someone
will come to light able to return the Cuban company
to what it had become under the leadership of Alicia
n°198 – Février 2008)
Return of "Coppélia"
was first produced at the Paris Opéra by Arthur
Saint-Léon in 1870, to Léo Delibes’
splendid score, and subsequently went on to become
a strange case in classical ballet history. It has
been highly popular but equally – despite the fact
that the Franco-Russian tradition has handed it down
to us intact – a neglected ballet, often played down.
"Coppélia" has now come back into
the limelight thanks to two new productions, at La
Scala, Milan and the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. We
have asked "Coppéliologist" Roger
Salas to tell us the history of this late-Romantic
ballet, while Elisa Guzzo Vaccarino and Marc Haegeman
review the two new productions for us below.
productions of Coppélia have recently
been sprouting up in various cities of the world,
the latest being in Moscow and Milan. For what mysterious
reason has interest suddenly been rekindled in this
late-Romantic ballet which has often been considered
a minor work, or even snubbed? Apart from having one
of the loveliest ballet scores ever written (by Léo
Delibes), Coppélia has demonstrated
how a work’s essence and peculiarity can transcend
their times and continue to live today – and, thus,
be a guarantee for success. In the same way as Giselle
is a tragedy, Coppélia is a great comedy.
It is likely that today’s ballet-goers are better
disposed towards a comedy than towards a tragedy.
However, Coppélia is a comedy with a
curious and complex psychological setting: Charles-Louis-Étienne
Nuitter’s libretto for choreographer Arthur Saint-Léon’s
1870 ballet was based on Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann’s
Der Sandmann ("The Sandman"). Sigmund
Freud was also intrigued by this short story and discussed
it in his essay Das Unheimliche ("The
loves Coppélia: "discerning balletophiles"
and "fanatical balletomanes" alike. And
there is no doubt that the main characters, Swanilda
and Franz, are more akin to Lise and Colas of La
Fille mal gardée than to the heroes and
heroines of the Romantic era. They are young, light-hearted
and in love, involved in concrete actions, rather
than victims of magical dreams or tragic nightmares.
choreographic material of Coppélia is
well-known and clear, we know where it has come from
and how it has been handed down to us: which makes
the endeavours of those contemporary choreographers
who choose to ignore it at all costs (nay, who wish
to "improve" the long-standing French-Russian
tradition of wonderful dancing) utterly senseless.
its many other merits, Coppélia was
the first ballet to feature stylized yet fairly authentic
mazurkas and czardas, whereas until then only Spanish
Escuela Bolera dances had been included in
the choreography. But then Coppélia
too has its own short but exquisite Spanish bolero
dance in Act Two.
is a role in which the great Swanildas can revel in
their success: from Anna Pavlova to Alicia Alonso
(this was undoubtedly her most successful role), via
Alexandra Danilova, Natalia Makarova, Antoinette Sibley
and a magnificently bubbly Carla Fracci (who made
her début alongside Erik Bruhn in Enrique Martínez’s
version for American Ballet Theatre in 1968).
is said that Coppélia is jinxed: choreographer
Arthur Saint-Léon died of a heart-attack shortly
after its première; Giuseppina Bozzacchi, the
first Swanilda, died of smallpox during the Franco-Prussian
War three months later, as did others who participated
in the creation of this work. Is this not paradoxical,
considering that Coppélia is synonymous
with gaiety and mischievous pranks that have a happy
ending? That is how George Balanchine remembers the
ballet when, as a child (and later on, as a youth)
he used to dance the mazurka with the Imperial Ballet
of the Mariinsky Theatre of St. Petersburg. That is
why he chose to re-stage Coppélia for
New York City Ballet’s full-evening programme in 1974
(another good vintage year for Coppélia
productions all the world over) and asked Alexandra
Danilova to dance the leading role.
Coppélias we see today are the "grand-daughters"
of the versions of yesteryear. Suffice it to say that
when Cynthia Gregory and Ted Kivitt went to Havana
in 1974 to dance Coppélia, taking with
them the memory of the Martínez version which
they had learnt at ABT, they found themselves dancing
Alonso’s version which was 80% identical to Martínez’s.
It made perfect sense for both descended from the
same choreographic family-tree.
Nureyev (who danced Bruhn’s version) once said: "while
it may have been inspired by childish pleasures, Coppélia
is never juvenile". Here is another key which
explains contemporary interest in this ballet: the
plot is by no means illogical, apart from the fact
that mechanical dolls have gone out of fashion as
toys and have since been replaced by Gameboys and
other such electronic devices. On the other hand,
Coppélia never entirely disappeared
from the repertoire like many other historical ballets
did; indeed there are many modern, and highly respectable
Coppélias, such as Roland Petit’s
rendition, Maguy Marin’s version with its multiple
dolls, or Michel Descombey’s with its finale where
the heroine flies off with her beloved Franz in a
thanks to its superb music, partly to the simplicity
and poetic element of its plot, Coppélia
will never leave us.
n°200 – May 2009)
Ballet of China
Peony Pavilion – chor. Fei Bo, mus. Guo Wenjing
Hong Kong, Cultural Centre
National Ballet of China opened this year’s Hong Kong
Arts Festival with a new full-length ballet The
Peony Pavilion which was premièred in Beijing
in May 2008. Fei Bo, a talented young in-house choreographer
has adapted the famous 16th century play The Peony
Pavilion into a two-act ballet including a prologue
which lasts just under two hours.
story is about rich girl Du Liniang falling in love
with the handsome Liu Mengmei who appears in her dreams.
After her death, Du is tried in hell, but her love
moves the infernal judge who releases her back into
the mortal world to be married to Liu.
innovation was to add two additional female lead roles
representing the alter egos of Du – a flower goddess
as well as a Chinese opera singer. Fei’s choreography,
quite fluent and effective overall, is at its best
is in the two big duets. The dream pas de deux in
Act 1 is ecstatic with some high soaring lifts. And
the final reunion duet after Du’s release from hell
is tender and moving.
flowers corps de ballet dances in Act 1 are pleasant.
In the beginning of Act 2 there is a long and satisfying
solo for Liu in his search for Du. The trial scene
in hell is lively and theatrical. And the final wedding
tableau with the whole cast, set to excerpts from
Ottorino Respighi’s Feste Romane, is joyful
leading roles on the opening night were excellently
danced. In the demanding female lead role of Du, who
is constantly on stage and the focal point of the
drama, Zhu Yan was splendid. Hao Bin was outstanding
as her handsome lover Liu. Zhang Jian danced beautifully
as the flower goddess.
female corps de ballet danced gracefully with a uniformity
of line. The guest opera singer Zhang Yuanyuan was
impressive. GuoWenjing has composed quite good music
for this ballet as well as incorporating excerpts
from other composers including Claude Debussy and
Maurice Ravel. The sets designed by Michael Simon
are striking. Dominating Act 1 is a white platform
in the middle of the stage representing the peony
pavilion which is constantly raised or lowered or
tilted at different angles.
the success of its last Chinese-themed ballet "Raise
The Red Lantern" premiered in 2001, this is another
original Chinese ballet for the National Ballet, celebrating
its 50th anniversary this year.
n°200 – May 2009)
Swans at the Oslo Waterfront
Norwegian National Ballet has grown immensely in artistic
wing-span over the last twenty years. The company
which is the first and only classical ballet company
in Norway stood for many years in the shadow of the
Royal Danish Ballet and the Royal Swedish Ballet,
which both have their roots in the 18th century while
the Norwegian National Ballet is extremely young.
After some forerunners in the early 1950’s it was
officially established in 1958 and has thus just celebrated
its 50th anniversary. The celebration took place in
the most wonderful new Theatre for Opera and Ballet,
opened last year and placed on the Oslo waterfront
as a unique building. As an immense ice floe, it is
slanting towards the water and constructed so that
people can have a walk on the roof. And this walk,
which has been popular for Norwegians as well as for
tourists, gives lots of attention to both the opera
and the ballet performing inside the house.
the building the architects from Norwegian Snøhetta,
who won the competition between 280 participants,
have also made wonders in glass, white walls and wood.
Everything is askew, which is not a bad idea, when
you put the audience in the mood to experience art.
The building has three stages – the main stage with
room for 1,400 spectators.
repertory of the Norwegian National Ballet has always
balanced between the traditional classical ballets,
a modern international repertoire, while providing
modern Norwegian choreographers with opportunities.
An early milestone was Glen Tetley’s The Tempest
in 1980 which became the company’s trademark for the
next twenty years. Close associations with Jirí
Kylián and Paul Lightfoot have given the company
a modern touch and the 50th anniversary in the autumn
of 1958 was celebrated with the William Forsythe’s
directors such as Sonia Arova in the 1960’s, Anne
Borg twice in the 1970’s and 1980’s, Dinna Bjørn
over 12 years from 1990 and until 2002 when the Norwegian
Espen Giljane took over, have developed a company
able also to dance the great classical ballets. This
time I saw a Swan Lake, first performed in
Oslo in 1967 and since 1997, in the Anna-Marie Holmes’
mise en scène. The company does not
possess more than 54 dancers, but the quality is on
a high level. Guest Jurgita Dronina from Lithuania
danced as the Swan Princess. A beautiful, fragile
swan. Petite but with both poetry and authority in
her dance, together with a remarkable, soft and musical
technique. Dirk Weysershausen was a solid and handsome
prince, while the Japanese Gakuro Matsui, with his
dazzling technique, was most entertaining as the Jester.
Around them, a company with stage presence and precision:
which makes even a traditional Swan Lake an
experience that goes directly to the soul.
n°201 – June 2009)
and Ballets Russes
Ballets Russes/1: Les Sylphides – chor. Michel
Fokine, mus. Fryderyk Chopin; Cléopâtre
– chor. Michel Fokine, mus. Anton Arentsky; Les
Biches – chor. Bronislava Nijinska, mus. Francis
Poulenc; The Three-Cornered Hat – chor. Léonide
Massine, mus. Manuel de Falla; The Firebird
– chor. Michel Fokine, mus. Igor Stravinsky
Ballets Russes/2: Pulcinella – chor. Léonide
Massine, mus. Igor Stravinsky; La Chatte –
chor. George Balanchine, mus. Henri Sauguet; Parade
– chor. Léonide Massine, mus. Eric Satie; The
Rite of Spring – chor. Vaslav Nijinsky (reconstructed
by Millicent Hodson), mus. Igor Stravinsky
Ballets Russes/3: Petrushka – chor. Michel Fokine,
mus. Igor Stravinsky; Jeux – chor. Vaslav Nijinsky
(reconstructed by Millicent Hodson), mus. Claude Debussy;
L’Après-midi d’un faune – chor. Vaslav
Nijinsky, mus. Claude Debussy; Shéhérazade
– chor. Michel Fokine, mus. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
In April and May, over
a period of 28 days, the Rome Opera Ballet, under
the direction of Carla Fracci, presented a special
festival to celebrate the 100th
anniversary of the first Paris appearance of the "Ballets
Russes." This impressive undertaking, prepared
over the past nine years with ongoing revivals of
ballets from the Diaghilev repertory, included new
stagings especially for the festival (Les Sylphides,
Les Biches and a reconstruction of Cléopâtre.)
This is a project
that Fracci has personally overseen, directly taking
responsibility for the realization of Les Sylphides
(a perfectly accomplished task, following in the best
tradition of choreography being handed down from one
generation of interpreters to another) as well as
dancing in Jeux and L’Après-midi
In so little space it
is difficult to report on such an immense chorographical
and musical project. It would require a detailed report
to chronicle the various merits (other than the inevitable
historical interest) and weaknesses of reconstructing,
and in many cases reinventing, choreography that has
been long-lost. The general impression is that it
was a project of remarkable value, which galvanized
and highlighted the quality of the Roman company,
as well as a number of prestigious guest artists.
Moreover, these programmes consolidated the company’s
repertory (carefully rebuilt by Fracci over the past
10 years) and were well received by the public, performed
to full houses on some occasions. It also garnered
the company an invitation to New York for the revival
of Balachine’s La Chatte. The company was at
its best and took full advantage of the "Pax
Romana" which the Teatro dell’Opera has enjoyed
these last few years, after many wretched decades
which almost destroyed the tradition of ballet in
But despite the splendid
season, storm clouds are gathering once again and
the fate of the company hangs on a thread. One can
only hope that perhaps the international prestige
of an artist like Carla Fracci will save it.
n°201 – June 2009)
Pavilion of … Nijinsky
Prodigal Son – chor. George Balanchine, mus. Sergei
Prokofiev; Le Pavillon d’Armide –chor. John
Neumeier, mus. Nikolai Tcherepnin; Le Sacre du
printemps – chor. Millicent Hodson, after Vaslav
Nijinsky, mus. Igor Stravinsky
To bring the "Dance
Days" and its season to a close, the Hamburg
Ballet under the direction of John Neumeier, presented,
as well as the tradition "Nijinsky Gala",
an evening in homage to the Ballet Russes.
The evening included
the latest of Neumeier’s creations, Le Pavillon
d’Armide (the title of a ballet by Michel Fokine
which featured amongst the first works performed by
the Ballet Russes on May 19, 1909 in Paris, with Nijinsky
as protagonist). Encapsulated within the work, he
included the pas de trois from Pavillon
"reconstructed" by Alexandra Danilova in
1975 as well as the Siamese Dance from Les Orientales
(1910), again created by Fokine and a favoured showpiece
For Neumeier the pavilion
of the title is that of the Bellevue Sanatorium in
Kreuzlingen, Switzerland where Nijinsky was interned.
"Le Pavillon de… Nijinsky" is now the third
ballet that Neumeier has created inspired by the life
and personality of the great artist. The first was
Vaslav (1979), then Nijinsky (2000).
Sentimental? Nostalgic? Definitely emotional! It is
a genre of which Neumeier is the master and that he
knows how to convey with the smallest steps and gestures.
And as always he is aided by dancers who know and
meet his expressive desires: the powerful Otto Bubenicek
as Nijinsky, the willowy Joëlle Boulogne as both
his wife Romola and Anna Pavlova, the flexible Ivan
Urban in the role of first the Doctor and then Diaghilev,
as well the virtuosic Yohan Stegli in the "Siamese
Dance", not to mention the marvellous Alexandre
Riabko in the pas de trois.
Perhaps in comparison
with its predecessor Nijinsky, this Pavillon
could be seen as only a divertissement. But
what is important is that it works as a dance story,
the flashbacks finding their own logic, if not in
the present, then in the maze that was the human and
artistic enigma of the great dancer.
As for the rest, there
was nothing of significance other than the young Alexandr
Trustch in Balanchine’s The Prodigal Son (1929),
which is part of the company’s repertory. He was a
revelation. Though a bit short, he has an imposing
presence on stage.
And there was nothing
new in Le Sacre du printemps ("The Rite
of Spring") by Millicent Hodson (1987), inspired
by Nijinsky’s original choreography. But the contrast
in the programme between the pure structure of Balanchine,
the theatricality of Neumeier (punctuated by the classicism
of Danilova’s reconstruction) and finally, the radical
en dedans of Sacre with its 123 vertical
jumps for the Elected One, suggests that perhaps Nijinsky
proves to be the most modern of the three.
n°203 – October 2009)
Divas and Divos
Guillem yesterday and Roberto Bolle today: these dancers
have created a new type of ballet stardom, one that
is more akin to fashion than to art. They are good-looking,
have an admirable technique and are worshipped by
the public out of a sort of aesthetic adoration, regardless
of what they are dancing. Newspapers, TV and adverting
are the bulwark of their success. And books of photographs,
which celebrate only their physical beauty
could almost say that a genetic mutation has occurred.
Sylvie Guillem yesterday and Roberto Bolle today,
these two superstars have given rise to a Third Millennium-style
fan worship; the image of the fashionable ballerina/danseur
has assumed new characteristics. Suffice it to say
that there is an audience that will go and watch Sylvie
and Roberto, no matter what they are actually dancing.
We are referring to the devotees of their new type
of beauty, akin to that of the top models who populate
glossy-magazines and TV, enhanced by their special
dancing talent. The fans of today’s divos and divas
essentially worship their idols’ gorgeous, phenomenal
and slightly "monstrous" physiques.
and Roberto are miraculously and aesthetically perfect
dancers according to our current day standards, they
are unconditionally admired and imitated by the new
generations all the world over, including in a country
like Russia where, up until now, entirely different
values held sway and dancers were classified according
to their temperaments, physiques and role-suitability.
In other words, dancers here never used to be expected
to dance the entire repertoire, but only those roles
for which they were suited, lyrical or sparkling as
the case may be, taking into account their personal
characteristics. Definitely not the case in the West
though, where the name on the billboard is what counts
for the audience, with the star dancing whatever happens
to be on the programme, in his or her individual style.
the West Guillem, followed by Bolle, have taken this
to the extreme. The myriad images of them, published
in photographic volumes and in all the media, have
contributed to this state of affairs. Sylvie poses
as Terpsichore’s darling in her chic and widely-circulated
nude photographs, taken both by herself and by her
fiancé Gilles Tapie. Her portrait-tome Invitation,
which Sylvie launched in 2005 (when she was 40 years
old), weighs all of 5 kg. A real challenge to the
sturdiness of our book-shelves.
for Roberto, he has two such tomes, Roberto Bolle
alla Scala and the recent Roberto Bolle,
An Athlete in Tights (with photos by Bruce
Weber, a well-known fashion photographer), which celebrate
the ancient myth of Narcissus in a glossy, contemporary
being admitted to the Paris Opéra Ballet School,
Silvie trained in gymnastics; recently, Roberto seems
to have been spending a lot of time at the gym as
well as at the dance barre.
two of them flirt with advertising, be it for watches
or fashion designers. That’s why everybody knows who
they are, all over the world.
has a pert little French nose and long red hair, he
has blue eyes and black Italian curls; both are tall,
well-proportioned and with an elegant muscular structure.
Yet the twain are cold idols who do not convey emotion.
Suffice it to watch Béjart’s Boléro,
icily interpreted by the lofty Parisian (now London-based)
star. Both have technique and prowess and have been
trend-setters. Sylvie launched the fashion for long-limbed
ballerinas, with legs that go up an unprecedented
180° and over, no matter if she happens to be dancing
Giselle – where there is no requirement for
it, indeed it is totally out-of-place – or a ballet
by Forsythe who is her ideal choreographer because
he pushes the lines of classical ballet to their extreme
limits. It is of little consequence: all the audience
cares about is her, not her interpretation.
Bolle has danced roles from the classic-Romantic repertoire,
often in the versions by Rudolf Nureyev, with his
unchanging princely air, even when he should be concealing
it: such is the case of Albrecht, who may be noble
but is disguised as a peasant in the first act of
with a touch of naive arrogance, has taken it upon
herself to "modernize" the repertoire. In
this sense, her Grace Kelly-style Giselle has
been a box-office hit, but certainly can by no means
compete with the traditional ballet, nor with the
truly original and brilliant version by Mats Ek who,
incidentally, made a superb duet for her and Niklas
Ek entitled Smoke.
while Sylvie has sought out new openings for herself
in contemporary dance, alongside Russell Maliphant
and Akram Khan, Roberto does not seem at home in modern
ballet, not even in Roland Petit’s Le Jeune Homme
et la Mort ("The Young Man and Death").
He dances magnificently, but is devoid of the emotional
nuances which the piece requires. He is 35 years old
and has the physique of a "hunk" which is
difficult to preserve, should he not be worrying about
the future and seeking new horizons, over and beyond
the classical repertoire? I wonder if he ever asks
himself this question now, while he is at the height
of his popularity.
any case, both Sylvie Guillem and Roberto Bolle are
not really flexible to new forms of choreography:
they are always and solely cast in the roles of themselves,
with their bodies "tuned" in the same way
and with the same intellectual and psychological approach
– regardless of what they happen to be attacking at
a given performance.
is it that really distinguishes them from the stars
that came before them? In a way they reflect the new
requisites of the "market" and, especially,
of "communications". This consists in visibility,
bordering on the over-selling of one’s image; a touch
of controversy also helps, e.g. Sylvie’s difficult
character and Roberto’s revealed/concealed sexual
preferences, together with an aura of envious amazement
vis-à-vis their fees (at the top of the world
scale) and the fabulous, eternally on-the-road lives
that they lead.
any theatre that invites today’s superstars can be
sure to achieve a sold-out house, supported by media
campaigns advertising that "they" are the
world’s best, most stunning, most talented, most glamorous
dancers. Unconvincing interviews (it is hardly surprising
that people so concentrated on themselves, engaged
full-time in working-out their stage bodies, suffer
from aphasia) in which the interviewer attempts to
ask them how they spend their time when they are not
dancing, often – and comically – complete the planetary
diffusion of their legend.
the contrary of Rudolf Nureyev, who used to run away
from journalists and rip the film out of their cameras:
he was legendary because he avoided publicity and,
in so doing, was a true divo.
she was (and indeed still is)…but this word does not
say it all for the one and only Alicia Alonso: an
exceptional artist, devoted to her art to the point
of sacrificing her life and eyesight to it; and in
addition a spearheader of her country’s cultural policy,
choreographer, ballet school and company director:
Russian divos – Vassiliev, Plisetskaya, Makarova and
Baryshnikov – were elusive, on account of iron curtains
and a difficult language, not to mention the habit
of keeping quiet under the Soviet regime.
the stars of last century had a magical aura of unattainability
about them. Their art was what counted, not visibility
in the media. Even when Makarova and Baryshnikov became
American they did not drop their self-reserve, they
were far too busy remounting the classical repertory
(Natalia) or splendidly dancing contemporary works
what about the "divos" of today? In a sense
they are plastic stars, invented by the ballet market
(and not only). Could this be a good thing, could
it be a way of ensuring that ballet does not die out?
Perhaps, but the fact is that when an artist who dances
with her soul, like Uliana Lopatkina, appears on stage,
the difference is there for all to see. Thank goodness.
(BALLET2000 n°206 – January 2010)
of the Staatsoper Berlin
Péri – chor. Vladimir Malakhov, mus. Friedrich
Staatsoper Unter den Linden
their "versions" of 19th century ballets
there is little commonality in the approaches of Vladimir
Malakhov, dancer-star-director of the Ballet of the
Berlin Staatsoper, and of Pierre Lacotte, the master
of reconstructed Romantic choreography. Where Lacotte
works to literally reconstruct, as accurately as possible,
forgotten steps, Malakhov is faithful more to the
spirit than to the letter of the work.
says that he had been thinking for a long time of
staging La Péri (1843). The recent acquisition
of the Friedrich Burgmüller score allowed him
to make his dream a reality. That oscillation between
dream and reality are also characteristic of the Romantic
ballet. The plot of La Péri – to a libretto
by poet Théophile Gautier – is based
on the opposition of the earthly and the heavenly,
love sensual and love spiritual.
inspiration for his choreography Malakhov relied on
two main elements: the music, of course, by Burgmüller,
a German composer who spent most of his career in
Paris, and prints of the Romantic period which have
become more charming with age. Of Burgmüller,
we know little except the "peasant" or "
grape pickers" pas de deux which Adolphe
Adam inserted in the first act of his Giselle.
The most that can be said is that his music lacks
the finesse of Adam, and still less that of Tchaikovsky.
But the arrangement by Roland Bittmann and Torsten
Schlarbaum, with the insertion of orchestrated piano
pieces (conducted by Paul Connelly, director of the
Staatskapelle Berlin), served the work admirably.
a choreographic and dramatic work, this Péri
is hardly original. It is a beautiful work to
be sure, but one does not search too deeply for the
meaning of the rejection of carnal love (Nourmahal
danced by the voluptuous Beatrice Knop) in favour
of platonic love (the Péri of the divine
Diana Vishneva of the Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg).
character of Achmed (danced by Malakhov himself) does
not differ significantly from any of the major male
figures of the Romantic ballet: Albrecht, James, or
even later, Siegfried. The one difference being that
here the hero does not survive his spiritual love!
But in the understated and fine settings of Jordi
Roig – Assyrian references in the prison, "Turkish"
landscapes for the following two acts – and with the
support of a magnificent corps de ballet, this travel
back in time affords many pleasant moments. And most
particularly the dazzling trio of Malakhov, Vishneva,
Knop. No one can argue with that....
n°208 – Avril 2010)
at Home at the Paris Opéra
Preljocaj is one of the few choreographers in France
today who is also capable of creating works for a
ballet company. And so he has returned again to the
Paris Opéra where "Siddharta", his
fourth commission for the theatre, was recently premièred.
His love affair with the great Parisian company dates
back to 1994 and the highly successful "Le
Parc" But, judging from this new production,
the affair is undergoing a "crisis"…
choreographers nowadays are capable of producing both
for ballet and contemporary dancers (i.e. those who
did not study classical ballet). Angelin Preljocaj
is one such all-round choreographer. This is partly
thanks to his eclectic training: he started off in
classical ballet, switched to German expressionism
with Karin Waehner, then discovered American modern
dance thanks to Merce Cunningham – all of which before
joining the troupe of French "nouvelle danse"
choreographer Dominique Bagouet (who had himself studied
with Rosella Hightower).
is why Preljocaj’s works feature even in the repertoires
of the world’s major ballet companies and why such
companies do not hesitate to ask him to produce for
them – examples being New York City Ballet, for which
he created La Stravaganza in 1997, and (more
frequently) the Paris Opéra for whom he recently
produced his fourth work; not to mention ballets made
for other troupes and which have also been taken into
the Opéra’s repertoire.
seems to enjoy switching from one world to another
(often opposite) world; already back in 1990, while
he was busy creating for his own troupe (founded five
years earlier), he was concurrently producing for
the Lyon Opera Ballet an "on pointe" strip-cartoon
style Romeo and Juliet, to music by Sergei
Prokofiev. And right now he is making a ballet on
The Apocalypse of St. John for ten dancers
from his own troupe and ten from the Bolshoi Theatre
of Moscow. Quite a combination, and one which allows
him to mix the rigour of a longstanding classical
tradition with the ever-changing versatility of modern
it is at the Paris Opéra that Prejocaj has
found a very special osmosis.
Nureyev, at the time director of the Paris Opéra
Ballet, was struck in 1989 by Preljocaj’s revolutionary
revisitation of Les Noces, more similar to
a rape or war between sexes than to a wedding; thus
he invited Preljocaj to revisit two more Diaghilev
ballets in 1993, as part of the theatre’s tribute
to the Ballets Russes: Le Spectre de la Rose and
following year Brigitte Lefèvre, who had in
the meantime become director of the Parisian company,
commissioned from him a ballet for the Opéra
dancers, Le Parc ("The Park"). It
was an immediate hit! Set to music by Mozart, with
an additional score by Goran Vejvoda, and against
a pastoral backdrop – with temptation and love lurking
in the bushes – Preljocaj set out to discover a new
art of loving amidst the various aspects of love,
from the sublimation of libertinism, to the suppression
and liberation of passion.
Parc was unanimously acclaimed by critics and
public alike, was revived by other international companies
and awarded the Benois de la Danse.
years later, Casanova, also commissioned by
the Opéra, again provided an opportunity to
reflect on the nature of love of which, this time,
Preljocaj highlighted the melancholic and "ailing"
aspects. It was the time when the dance world was
still burying many of its members, killed off by a
"love sickness": AIDS. Preljocaj did not
dwell on the legendary character of Casanova, the
incorrigible debauchee, but rather on what goes on
underneath the skin, the juices that flow voluptuously
between bodies and the sexual satisfaction which inevitably
leads to the dissolution and decay of those very same
bodies. Another a big hit!
2004, with a new generation of dancers in the company’s
ranks, Preljocaj produced another work for the Paris
Opéra Ballet, as part of a shared programme
with British choreographer Wayne McGregor: Le Songe
de Médée ("Medea’s Dream").
Marie-Agnès Gillot, Delphine Moussin and, especially,
Alice Renavand who alternated in the role of the infanticidal
mother gave memorable interpretations. Once again,
Preljocaj looked at the love myth from an unusual
angle, examining the ambiguity of maternal love, rather
than the jealousy of the betrayed wife.
to these creations – but not forgetting also Annonciation
("Announciation") and Trait d’union,
respectively for two female and two male dancers,
as well as all-male work MC 14/22 "Ceci
est mon corps" ("Take, Eat: This is
my Body") for 12 dancers, all of which taken
into the Opéra’s repertory in 1996, 2003 and
2004 respectively – a deep relationship of trust and
mutual gratification exists between Preljocaj and
the Paris Opéra dancers. Their expectations
were therefore high for Siddharta as, presumably,
was the frustration which this work aroused in them,
if we are to judge by their half-hearted performance.
nothing should ever be taken for granted.
n°209 – May 2010)
Fille bien gardée… during 50 years
Fille mal gardée – chor. Frederick Ashton,
mus. Ferdinand Hérold
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
celebrate this year the golden jubilee of Frederick
Ashton’s comedy masterpiece, La Fille mal gardée.
It is a work that rivals Coppélia as
a triumph of balletic humour and its sunlit grace,
its joyous narrative, and even more joyous steps,
have won it a place in the repertories of major dance-troupes
round the world, not least the Paris Opéra
Ballet, the Moscow Bolshoi Ballet and the Royal Danish
remember – who could forget? – its first performance
on the stage of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden,
in January 1960. From those opening moments, as the
day begins and the cockerel leads his bevy of hens
in that happy little dance, the audience was enraptured.
There could be no doubt in our minds that we were
seeing something quite extraordinary: joyous, unfailing
in humour as in choreographic invention, radiant in
all its aspects.
old score had been skilfully revised by John Lanchbery.
Osbert Lancaster’s scenery and costumes were witty,
heart-touching, joyful. Ashton’s dances poured out
in a seemingly effortless and buoyant fashion, and
the dancers were radiant, shown with a kind of loving
delight in their gifts by Ashton’s ingenuities. Nadia
Nerina soared and sparkled and touched our hearts
by her sincerity as Lise. David Blair was all yeoman
worth and bravura as Colas. Alexander Grant made us
laugh and also won our sympathy as Alain, and Stanley
Holden made Widow Simone an authentically funny and
even touching figure in the great traditions of English
popular theatre, with the culminating delight of a
brilliant clog-dance. The cheers at curtain fall on
that first night have echoed down the years with unfailing
delight at every performance that I have seen – in
London and Paris and Moscow and Birmingham (where
that city’s branch of the Royal Ballet also honours
this splendid work of art).
March, The Royal Ballet marked this golden jubilee
with a revival led by Marianela Núñez,
who is a superlative interpreter of Lise’s dances
and emotions, with Carlos Acosta an engaging Colas,
and William Tuckett a sunny, fussy, genial and splendid
Simone. This masterpiece triumphed as it always does,
its sincerities as well as its humours properly shown.
And Frederick Ashton’s genius won our hearts yet again.
n°209 – May 2010)
of the World, but Russians Through and Through
Iron Curtain may have been torn down, but the myth
of the Russian dancer persists. The aura of mystery
which surrounded the Soviet idols of yesteryear has
now given way to the fascination and glamour of Russian
dance celebrities of today who, no longer confined
within the borders of ‘The Russias’, frequently ‘guest’
or are principals with the big companies of Europe
and America. And just like their predecessors, they
too are adored by enthusiastic balletomanes all over
summer, a young Russian dancer caused quite a sensation
at the Metropolitan Opera in New York during her début
appearance as Giselle with American Ballet Theatre.
There was tremendous enthusiasm on the part of audiences
and critics alike. Robert Gottlieb in The New York
Observer summed it up best of all: "There
hasn’t been an ABT debut performance this exciting
since Baryshnikov’s decades ago." This time it
was 23-year-old Natalia Osipova, a soloist of Moscow’s
Bolshoi Ballet, who had conquered ballet-minded New
indeed no denying that Russian dancers continue to
exert a special attraction. Even though fans no longer
spend the night on the street in order to catch a
ticket, the pulling power of a Russian guest "star"
– or not quite – remains a highly delectable and profitable
prospect for even the greatest ballet companies of
today. It suffices to browse internet ballet forums
to understand that Russian dancers are still able
to spark highly animated debates.
not so long ago Russian dancers were about as mythical
as Loch Ness or the Abominable Snow Man. Every ballet
lover in the West was talking about them, though very
few had actually seen them. The rare tours by Bolshoi
and Kirov which started in the late 1950’s/early 1960’s
and some notable defections (Nureyev, Baryshnikov,
Makarova and the Panovs, to name but a few of them)
only further fuelled their mystery and appeal.
the last two decades, however, the situation has changed
considerably. Towards the end of the 1980’s Soviet
dancers were finally allowed to appear as guests with
Western troupes – the Bolshoi’s Nina Ananiashvili
and Andris Liepa, the Kirov’s Altynai Asylmuratova
and Farukh Ruzimatov, young and gifted hopefuls at
the time, were among the first to benefit from the
changing political climate. The formula was set. The
dancers were signed up for some performances, yet
the ties with their home companies were never severed.
It gave an extra dimension to their careers, allowing
them to perform in productions or work with choreographers
they could only dream of at home, while bringing in
return their own, idiomatic style and approach to
the guest companies.
to 2010, the world has become a very different place.
Russian dancers can travel freely and several have
joined Western companies permanently. Others have
now largely built their careers by combining their
performances at home with more-or-less regular guest
appearances abroad. Glamour may have superseded the
mystery of yore, but the special attraction is still
every Russian dancer of repute has appeared in international
galas or performed as a guest abroad at least once
or twice, so any listing can only be restrictive.
if we consider the international dancescape of the
last ten years, there are very few Russian ballerinas
as popular and in demand as Svetlana Zakharova
(31). Best-known for her roles in Swan Lake
(which she has danced in at least nine different productions
around the world), La Bayadère and The
Sleeping Beauty, Zakharova epitomizes a post-Guillem
silk-and-steel glamour, combining enviable natural
physical qualities, a challenging performance style,
and an unquenchable artistic curiosity. Ukranian by
birth, she completed her training in St. Petersburg’s
Vaganova Academy to join the Mariinsky Theatre, becoming
principal ballerina and one of the most talked-about
dancers of her generation almost overnight. Collecting
multiple awards, but also multiple sceptical reactions
to her high extensions, in 2003 Zakharova moved to
the Bolshoi Theatre, now has her own gala-programme
("Zakharova and Friends") and boasts an
international career built upon invitations from virtually
every company of repute in the world (one exception:
London’s Royal Ballet). Her performances with the
Paris Opéra Ballet (which gave an immense boost
to her international career), La Scala in Milan (as
the first Russian to become étoile of that
company) and the New National Theatre in Tokyo have
especially proved extremely successful.
Vishneva (34) has equally established herself
a firm place on the international scene. Vishneva
also graduated from the Vaganova Academy and, along
with Zakharova, belongs to the crop of talented ballerinas
who emerged from the Mariinsky stage in the mid-Nineties.
Although in essence a soubrette, blending dark-eyed
expressiveness with mannerism and earthy charisma
and excelling in no-nonsense allegro work, Vishneva
has always denied the traditional Mariinsky categorization
and now boasts an impressively versatile repertoire.
Following invitations from La Scala and the Paris
Opéra, her career abroad took flight after
2002 when she became a regular principal guest artist
with Malakhov’s Berlin Ballet and, a year later, with
ABT. Multiple awards, plus the drool of a huge international
following, as well as (unlike Zakharova) the majority
of the critics at her feet, in 2008 she presented
her own ballet-programme, unequivocally dubbed "Diana
Vishneva: Beauty in Motion", in the USA.
younger ballerina from the Mariinsky who is gradually
making a name for herself is Evgenia Obraztsova
(26). A Vaganova graduate from 2002, gold medalist
at the 10th Moscow International Competition (2005)
and laureate from several other contests, Obraztsova
stands out from most of her colleagues at the Mariinsky
not only by combining the best from the traditional
St. Petersburg classicism with a contemporary projection,
but also by tons of natural charm and fine acting
skills. Petite and with a doll-like face she is the
ideal soubrette-ingénue, shining in
both Romantic and classical ballets. Interestingly,
Obraztsova’s international career took shape in Italy,
where since 2005 she performed repeatedly with Carla
Fracci’s Rome Opera Ballet, the Arena Ballet in Verona
and La Scala. More recently, she has appeared to great
acclaim with NBA Ballet in Tokyo and London’s Royal
already mentioned Natalia Osipova has quickly
developed into the most talked-about young dancer
in Moscow. This 2004 graduate from the Moscow Choreographic
Academy is a petite, raven-haired beauty boasting
the energy of an atomic power-plant, the carefree
spirit of a teenage girl, yet also the magnetism and
aplomb of a fully-fledged ballerina. Osipova’s artistry
is reminiscent of the old Muscovite performing tradition,
but shaped in a contemporary mould. She can handle
the most intricate terre-à-terre combinations
with virtuosic fluency and speed, possesses a breathtaking
leap and ballon, and does so with a rare communicative
sense of joy: she has already been described as "the
most brilliant and most Muscovite ballerina of the
last decade". The winner of numerous prizes at
home and abroad, her international career took off
last year thanks to her performances with ABT in Giselle
and La Sylphide. Earlier this year Osipova
also made her débuts with the Paris Opéra
Ballet in Nureyev’s Nutcracker and with La
Scala in Nureyev’s Don Quixote, reappearing
with ABT in its 2010 Spring Season at the Met.
ballerina of international fame, Polina Semionova
(26 years old), has been a star with the Berlin Ballet
since she was 18 and is Malakhov’s regular partner.
She trained at the Bolshoi Ballet School in Moscow
(her native city) and has won numerous competitions,
from Russia to Japan. She has exquisite lines and
has also danced in London, New York, Moscow, and at
La Scala, Milan.
for the male dancers, both Vladimir Malakhov
and Igor Zelensky are in their early forties
and can look back on successful international careers.
Malakhov especially, combining principal positions
at ABT, Vienna State Ballet and Berlin Ballet (of
which he has also been director since 2002), has garnered
a diehard fan-base on both sides of the Atlantic and
in Japan. Zelensky, who has been the Mariinsky’s foremost
principal for the last twenty years, is one of the
rare Russian artists who have also succeeded with
New York City Ballet.
Bolshoi’s Nikolai Tsiskaridze (36) is Russia’s
most famous ballet star. Flamboyant, exotic, effortlessly
charismatic and smirkingly self-aware, he leaves very
few indifferent. His international career remains
however comparatively modest, in spite of occasional
guest appearances with the Paris Opéra Ballet,
La Scala, New National Ballet Theatre in Tokyo, and
as a member of the "Kings of The Dance"
more prominent name is that of Denis Matvienko
(31) who graduated from the Kiev Choreographic School
and has been a member of various Russian troupes,
including Bolshoi, Mikhailovsky and Mariinsky. He
is a familiar face in galas worldwide and has performed
as a guest principal with La Scala, New National Theatre
in Tokyo and Paris Opéra Ballet, among others.
A frequent partner of Svetlana Zakharova, or of his
own wife Anastasia, whatever Matvienko may lack in
polish he amply makes up in technique and charisma.
Mariinsky star Leonid Sarafanov, originally
from Kiev, boasts a virtuosistic yet subtle technique;
he has danced in La Sylphide and Don Quixote
at La Scala, Milan and is expected back there during
the coming season.
young Russian dancers have become surefooted guests
at galas around the globe. One of these is Daniil
Simkin (23), a sparkling virtuoso and puckish
heartthrob who was taught by his mother and struck
gold in Jackson and Varna among others. Formerly a
member of the Vienna State Ballet, Simkin is now with
ABT. The Bolshoi’s young whiz kid Ivan Vasiliev
(20), is also barely at the outset of his career,
yet has been wowing gala-audiences worldwide.
the dancers who are well-established stars with international
troupes we should at least mention the following three
Ukrainians: Ivan Putrov (The Royal Ballet of
London) and couple Irina Dvorovenko-Maxim
Beloserkovsky (American Ballet Theatre).
n°211 – July/August 2010)
one has influenced choreography during the last twenty
years more than American William Forsythe who has
been active since the early 1970’s in Germany. He
is now the director of his "The Forsythe Company".
His ballets are sought after both by traditional companies
such as La Scala, Milan or the Paris Opéra
and by more modern-minded troupes such as the Lyon
Opera Ballet. It is at La Scala and in Lyon that we
shall be seeing the latest "Forsythe programmes"
– though they are in fact revivals of previous works
of his, now considered "classics" of the
A great artist inevitably
becomes a point of reference for his or her generation;
however when admiration is so extreme that one ends
up identifying with the model, personal creativity
is jeopardized. That is why the dance scene saw a
myriad of pseudo-Balanchines in the Fifties and Sixties
and of pseudo-Béjarts in Eastern Europe, while
some years later it was Cunningham who became a model
for many contemporary choreographers. Twenty years
have gone by and now it is 61-year-old William Forsythe
who has the largest number of disciples.
We should point out
that Forsythe’s working method – like his generous
personality – is in no way dictatorial; on the contrary,
he would be the first to say that it is not his intention
to impose anything on anyone. Indeed, nowadays he
works with a reduced troupe (The Forsythe Company),
leaving wide scope to his dancers and the works he
produces are completely different from the large-scale
ballets he made in the Eighties and Nineties. Forsythe
has strongly influenced his contemporaries, to the
point that he alone has been capable of bringing together
the lovers of classical ballet with the modern or
contemporary dance hardliners – and at times he has
even succeeded in reconciling them. Classic companies
such as those of the Mariinsky Theatre of St. Petersburg,
the Paris Opéra and New York City Ballet have
taken his ballets in their repertoires, but then so
have more contemporary troupes, such as the Lyon Opera
How did this American,
who lives and works in Germany, become the star of
all the main international festivals, regardless of
the type of dance offered thereat?
In the first place
because Forsythe has positioned himself at the confluence
of all the existing streams of dance. He has a deep
knowledge of ballet and its history: The Vertiginous
Thrill of Exactitude could well be seen as his
personal tribute to Marius Petipa and George Balanchine;
He also learnt his American lesson (Trisha Brown is
one of his favourite choreographers). Upon arriving
in Germany, Forsythe studied Rudolf Laban’s theories
on space and subsequently developed and applied them
to his choreography. Lately, conceptual artists like
Christian Rizzo and Jérôme Bel have fascinated
him and nowadays his own works are halfway between
being performances and installations. His ravenous
curiosity picks up every single trend on the dance
He is firmly rooted
in his time, extraordinarily sensitive and attentive
(and by no means merely in a formal manner, I might
add) not only to current notions on extreme speed
and imbalance, but also to the intellectual theories
of his generation, particularly those of contemporary
French philosophers – Michel Foucault and, particularly,
Jacques Derrida. He had the brilliant idea of applying
to dance Derrida’s method for analyzing literature
and philosophy, a method which consists in ferreting
beneath the apparent rationality and well-presented
logical arguments in order to bring out all those
concealed elements (e.g. a repressed idea) that could
lead one to question the coherence of purpose. Derrida’s
"deconstructivism" is also an attempt to
unmask whatever seems obvious and natural.
classical ballet using this very method. He delves
into its unspoken or forgotten aspects, brings out
the cracks and works with "the fragments or residues",
as he calls them. In In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated
he preserves the traditional "theme and variations"
format, yet aims to show us that which is normally
hidden in the classical technique – with the dancer
hopelessly seeking to balance himself before he can
undertake a jump.
has its devotees in architecture and one of these,
Daniel Libeskind, is in sync with Forsythe. Both use
fragmentation, dislocation, interruption etc. to create
forms that alter our normal perception of space. Libeskind’s
zigzag design for the Jewish Museum in Berlin leaves
empty spaces between walls; in the same way, Forsythe
plays with discontinuity, intermittences and fractures,
thereby dismantling the codes that have hitherto applied
to performing. His 1984 ballet Artifact intermittently
disappears from the spectators’ view, with the curtain
coming down abruptly in the middle of the performance:
unperturbed, the dancers continue dancing and the
audience wonders what on earth is going on.
Both in architecture
and dance the aim of this subverting process is to
reveal rather than conceal and it has asserted itself
as a positive and inventive trend. Thanks to his unstable
geometry and his destructed codes, Forsythe has taken
traditional classical ballet and multiplied its possible
combinations. It is difficult to remain indifferent
to this choreographer who is a veritable physical/intellectual
machine. Little does it matter that these days Forsythe’s
work has taken a different direction, more experimental,
n°212 – September 2010)
& Co., Spanish Dance is the star
traditional dance is undergoing a period of profound
change. This varied and complex genre is popular abroad
with its two contemporary stars, Joaquín Cortés
and Aída Gómez, respectively representing
modern stage flamenco and traditional Spanish dancing
at its most refined
While ballet in Spain
is riven by power games and bureaucratic hitches,
Spanish dancing (which aside from the traditional
classical 19th century "Escuela Bolera"
also comprises flamenco in its most modern denominations)
is undergoing a sort of internal revolution which
is bringing about profound changes in both concept
The reign of José
Antonio Ruiz, artistic director of the Ballet Nacional
de España (BNE), seems to be coming to a close
after over six years (the duration of his second mandate
at the company’s helm). Everyone agrees that BNE needs
a thorough revamping and change of direction. On another
front, contemporary "cross-over" flamenco
is growing in popularity and is increasingly in international
demand. Medium-size troupes are sprouting up and the
absence of prominent personalities – rising stars
that could one day take over from those great artists
who are now in the full ripeness of their years –
The New York Flamenco
Festival, which is now into its 10th year, has a major
influence on the Spanish scene. This festival began
as a fairly modest affair but has gradually grown.
It is subsidized by the Spanish Ministry of Culture
and Regions and has "offshoots" in Washington,
Chicago and Miami. To perform at this festival is
a "must" for Spanish dancers today, but
what is to become of this event in the future remains
a mystery that its organizers do not intend to disclose.
One of the festival’s regulars is María Pagés
who is highly respected in the USA. Recently Mikhail
Baryshnikov invited her to his choreography centre
and together they co-authored various projects. This
year Miss Pagés debuted in a controversial
work with Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. We must mention here
Israel Galván who has become highly popular
abroad, but not so in Spain where there are those
who adore him but others who consider him nothing
but a passing fad. After the successful performances
of his El final de este estado de cosas, Redux
in Lyon and Montpellier, the work was recently restaged
in Madrid with predictable results. Galván
is an argumentative, authoritarian, surreal and unique
artist that goes against the mainstream yet fits in
admirably on the current scene: he does what he likes
and so it is very hard to assess his work from a conventional
La Escuela Bolera,
performed in soft slippers and with castenets, is
the Spanish dancing style that is closest to classical
ballet, as well as the most difficult one. Its popularity
is declining and its future is shrouded in mystery.
Some specialists maintain that the fact that it is
badly taught even in the conservatoires is jeopardizing
its preservation. The leading celebrity of this Spanish
form of ballet, Aída Gómez, has realized
an ambitious project entitled Permíteme
bailarte which has been presented amost everywhere
in Spain. It is an anthology of styles and dances,
with choreography by herself and Mariemma, that pays
tribute to Pilar López and Antonio Ruiz Soler,
the two pillars of Spanish dance. We have to give
credit to Aída Gómez for having been
the first artiste of the 21st century to devote attention
to this important tradition and its styles. Indeed,
bolero has become her battlehorse. She is now touring
her Carmen, the first version created by a
woman according to the rules of Spanish dancing –
and this has allowed her to approach the subject from
a different angle. Using the well-known music from
Georges Bizet’s opera, Aída Gómez has
produced a contemporary rendition of Carmen
which has breadth and is dynamic: a work that reveals
a modern theatricality and goes beyond those stereotypes
(so rife in other renderings of the story of the legendary
cigar-factory worker from Seville).
Following in Gómez’s
footsteps, BNE has produced its own Escuela Bolera
programme (currently showing), the lynchpins of which
are the resurrected masterpieces by Antonio Ruiz Soler
and Ángel Pericet. These include Eritaña
(music by Isaac Albéniz) which "grande
Antonio" made in 1958 and revived for BNE in
1981. The programme also includes Seis sonatas
para la Reina de España by Ángel
Pericet to music by Domenico Scarlatti which has not
been performed since it debuted at Spoleto in 1985.
The point is that it is very hard to dance the bolero
style in a correct fashion and this explains why the
new forms of flamenco, so self-assured, showy and
over-the-top, tend (alas) to dominate the scene.
trend which became the rage in the 1990’s ended up
by prevailing over the traditional repertoire, analagously
to what happened in some of the big ballet companies
(including the Paris Opéra) where works that
were deemed "old-fashioned" began to be
cast aside in favour of new creations which, paradoxically,
were no sooner created than forgotten. This trend
subsequently subsided or became more balanced. However,
it is clear that flamenco and all Spanish dancing
should shake off this imperative which prevents one
from distinguishing between "obsolete" and
"ancient" and between what needs to be refreshed
and what needs to be preserved without losing its
trend, however, goes beyond and taps into the richness
and variety of Spanish dancing of yore, wisely avoiding
that destructive minimalism that has been so harmful
to dance in general. Very rarely has simplification
yielded worthwhile aesthetic results, and even more
rarely when it comes to ballet. Flamenco, for example,
has tended to resort to just three elements in the
composition of its shows: taconeo, a stark
stage and ethnic percussions sometimes cross-bred
with jazz ones. Hopefully this tendency is dying out
and today’s choreographers have understood that there
is nothing outdated about looking back and scouring
the recesses of collective memory. This is now leading
to a "vintage" trend such as that followed
by Ángel Rojas and Carlos Rodríguez
with their Nuevo Ballet Español, or by Antonio
Najarro, a former principal of the Ballet Nacional
de España, who is making a name for himself
and his troupe on the international scene. This "vintage"
propensity can be seen both in costuming and in the
exhumation of certain archaic bailes that were
no longer being performed (but had lived on only in
period films or in the memories of the old teachers).
A similar trend is gaining ground in the theatre.
Recently, a flamenco dancer of quality, José
Merino, and a well-known ballet dancer, Jesús
Pastor, came together in what turned out to be a truly
exciting show: Encontra2. The graceful ballerina
body of Selene Muñoz endeavours to find ways
of achieving aesthetic renewal and greater plasticity.
We should also mention dancers like Jonathan Miró
and David Coria.
change with the times but Joaquín Cortés
continues undisputedly to be in the vanguard. Notwithstanding
his somewhat unprofessional aspects – Cortés
is Spain’s one and only world-famous media celebrity,
whose fame as a dancer is comparable to that enjoyed
by the legendary Rudolf Nureyev in his heyday – Cortés
has resuscitated with vigour the new version of his
iconic work Calé (a Gitano word) in
which he surrounds himself with an all-female corps
de ballet, highly skilled and highly spectacular.
This energetic dance of the Amazons, centred around
the figure of a triumphant Achilles, shows the true
colours of the artiste from Cordoba: he is the best
and most international Spanish dancer of his generation.
Cortés has always been obsessed with extracting
flamenco from its traditional and repetitive context
and he is now consequently working on a complex project
for his troupe: establishing a school and choreography
centre in Madrid the purpose of which will be to change,
yet again, the aesthetic direction of Spanish dance
and its international reverberation. Since the days
of Antonio Gades, no one has ever exerted as much
influence as Cortés.
Antonio Gades was
the key personality who preceded him and his spirit,
together with his production, live on thanks to the
troupe subsidized by the Fundación Antonio
Gades, an institution that has administered the legacy
of the great dancer/choreographer who died about ten
years ago. The Compañía Antonio Gades
continues to perform those five works which can be
restaged with rigorous observance of their original
style: Bodas de sangre (Gades’ most widely-performed
work which has also featured in the repertoires of
classical companies such as the Rome Opera Ballet,
the Ballet de Nancy and the National Ballet of Cuba),
Carmen, El Amor Brujo, Suite flamenca
and his final creation, Fuenteovejuna. In May
2011 the company will present all these titles at
the Teatro Real de Madrid, in a billing that has the
air of being a well-deserved posthumous tribute to
this great artist – though in fact his works are more
alive than ever. The thought of them makes it all
the more evident that the ever mysterious and corporal
Spanish dance is currently undergoing a creativity
n°213 – October 2010)
was recently presented at the Venice Film Festival
and will be on release next March. The White Swan
and the Black Swan: two popular actresses "doubled"
by two ballet dancers. Although there are several
films about dance or featuring dancing, not many of
these are actually set in the ballet world like "Black
Swan"; those that are, tend to be sentimental
American movies where the ballet milieu is so stereotyped
that it comes across as being totally phony
unding devotion, impossible loves – for ballet has
no place for loves other then for itself – but above
all, the allure of a universe where passions are super-human,
nay inhuman. Ballet dancers come from Ballet in the
same way as Martians come from Mars; it is a world
apart, indeed so out-of-this-world that it provides
excellent fictitious subject matter.
Yet if there was ever
a world unsuitable as the setting of a good film,
that world is surely the fascinating and mysterious
world of tutus and pointe shoes, work-out and sweat,
talented choreographers and dancers who join forces
to give birth to the art of ballet. This is a world
that is hard to describe in an authentic way from
the inside – exception made for documentaries, normally
celebrating someone or something, but nonetheless
highly useful – without resorting to banal dialogue
and stereotypes in the scripts, whether they be tinted
with the colours of a thriller or those of a drama
Discussions on the triviality
of films on ballet or ballet dancers, with screenplays
that adapt their intrinsic stories, are underway again
as we await the release of Darren Aronofsky’s Black
Swan which opened the 67th Venice International
After The Wrestler
– about another entertainment "monster"
– with the beautiful and damned Mickey Rourke, Aronofsky
has taken the dual and infernal myth of the black/white
swan and turned it into a psychological thriller set
in the world of New York ballet. Natalie Portman stars
in the role of prima ballerina Nina entrapped in a
scary web of fierce competition against her new and
inevitable rival, played by Mila Kunis. The choreography
is by Benjamin Millepied – who also appears as partner
of the two ballerinas (Millepied trained in France,
in Bordeaux and Lyon and is at present a principal
with New York City Ballet as well as a much sought-after
choreographer, both in the Big Apple and in Europe).
The dancing doubles of the two actresses are Sarah
Lane, from San Francisco, and Uruguayan Maria Riccetto,
both of whom are young promising soloists with American
Ballet Theatre. The two were coached by ABT’s revered
ballet mistress Georgina Parkinson, a former Royal
Ballet of London ballerina who passed away last December
while the film was still being shot. Obviously the
credits on the playbill mention none of the above-mentioned,
thereby feeding the illusion that it is Portman and
Kunis themselves who perform the frenzied fouettés
before our eyes.
But also in "top
of the pops" video-clips there is no mention
of choreographers and dancers, all that counts is
the pop star, with or without doubles or stunts.
In the Black Swan
trailer Vincent Cassel, the choreographer, shouts
to his ballerina: "Seduce us, attack it!"
Here we go again with the "blood, sweat and tears"
of Terpsichore’s victims – in this case with the added
bonus of nightmarish lesbian relations between the
two she-swans thrown in for good measure. We have
gone full-circle back to a 19th century tale of two
ballerinas: one white and gentle, the other black
and ferocious, bloodshot vampire-like eyes and all.
These fearsome ideas
descend directly from the ancestor of all ballet films:
The Red Shoes (1948), directed by Michael Powell
and Emeric Pressburger and starring Léonide
Massine and Moira Shearer. The latter is the ballerina
who is not permitted to have a normal love-life because
her talent condemns her to sacrifice body, mind and
heart to the cruel goddess of dance, as imposed by
the Russian impresario who has discovered her. The
bewitched red shoes, given to her by the ruthless
Devil/Choreographer (Massine), send her dancing to
her death. An "infernal" story which still
smacks of Ballets Russes aesthetics, with numberless
allusions to their ruthless impresario Sergei Diaghilev.
Other films with ballet
stars followed and fell into the inevitable trap of
stereotypes of ballet as a special place of virtuoso
technique, doping, muscular physiques and creatures
divorced from everyday lives. We are fascinated and
try to discover their secrets as we watch them in
class: the men are seeking to achieve personal and
artistic freedom by taking talent to its extreme limits,
the women are totally devoted to their master and
choreographer and will fight to death in order to
remain his favourite or win his love.
A typical example
was The Turning Point (1977), starring Mikhail
Baryshnikov and Leslie Brown (at the time a young
soloist with ABT) and directed by Herbert Ross (who
was married to ballerina Nora Kaye). In this film,
Shirley MacLaine has had to give up her dancing career
(while her rival Anne Bancroft has made it to the
top but now envies her former rival’s quiet domestic
life) yet she fulfils her ambitions through her daughter.
The latter, however, is seduced by a Russian dancer
– the fair-haired Misha, of course. Baryshnikov’s
variation in the final pas de deux from Don
Quixote is one of his most dazzling displays of
bravura, superbly filmed and edited.
Herbert Ross was also
the director of 1980 film Nijinsky, starring
George de la Peña in the title role, Leslie
Brown as his wife Romola, Carla Fracci as Tamara Karsavina
and Anton Dolin as Maestro Cecchetti.
White Nights (1985) has a political slant and
tells the story of a Russian ballet dancer (Mikhail
Baryshnikov) who has defected to the USA and of an
Afro-American Communist who has sought asylum in the
Soviet Russia (tap dancer Gregory Hines). Following
a plane accident, Misha ends up in the USSR again
and is dramatically forced to flee the country for
the second time (this magazine devoted its March 1986
cover-story to Baryshnikov and this film).
also by Herbert Ross, is a romantic film which takes
place in the wings of the Teatro Petruzzelli in Bari,
Italy: a troupe is rehearsing a new production of
Giselle, with Alessandra Ferri in the title
role and Julie Kent as a young dancer who has got
a crush on the company’s artistic director (Baryshnikov,
yet again) who in turn has had affairs with other
dancers – including Ferri. Leslie Brown is a cynical
Myrtha, while Canadian ballerina Lynn Seymour (from
the Royal Ballet of London) is the ballet mistress.
We have to wait until
2000 for the next two ballet-themed films. The first
is a highly-successful British film by Stephen Daldry
entitled Billy Elliot, a charming and "politically
correct" story about a young boy whose father
(a Yorkshire miner on strike during the Thatcher era)
wants him to learn boxing. Billy, however, stubbornly
takes ballet lessons and ultimately becomes the star
of Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake. The second,
Center Stage, is directed by Steven Jacobson
and is about the usual group of would-be ballerinas,
some more talented than others, all of whom in search
of fame. There are two real ballet stars in the cast:
Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel from American Ballet
Theatre; the latter plays the role of the principal
who competes with the choreographer as to who is more
creative and has greater appeal vis-à-vis the
It was expected that
Robert Altman’s The Company (2003) would be
hard-hitting, like his Ready to Wear film about
the fashion world; instead the film turned out to
be a portrait of the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, albeit
laced with irony here and there, and the main character
alludes to choreographer/director Gerald Arpino. Starring
former ballet dancer and producer Neve Campbell, The
Company features excerpts from no less than17
ballets, including Light Rain, a lyrical piece
by Arpino, Tensile Involvement by Alwin Nikolais,
an extract from La Vivandière and Blue
Snake by Canadian choreographer Robert Desrosiers.
Lisa Niemi’s One
Last Dance (2003) is also about a company:
Niemi, Patrick Swayze and George de la Peña
are its three principals who, when the brilliant artistic
director dies, try to save it by resurrecting a dance
piece that was created for them some years earlier.
A documentary – a
much more accurate, serious and plausible genre –
has recently been made by Frederick Wiseman and is
entitled La Danse, Le Ballet de l’Opéra
de Paris. It follows the daily routine of the
Parisian troupe with its classes, rehearsals, discussions
on administrative matters and performances. The camera
wanders through the troupe’s theatre, the grand Palais
Garnier, "capturing" its étoiles
– particularly Nicolas Le Riche, Marie-Agnès
Gillot, Delphine Moussin and Agnès Letestu
– as they rehearse or dance various pieces on stage,
including Genus by Wayne McGregor, Paquita,
The Nutcracker, Le Songe de Médée
by Angelin Preljocaj, Romeo and Juliet by Sasha
Waltz and Pina Bausch’s Orpheus and Eurydice.
We have purposely
mentioned only films about life in the ballet. There
are many dance films (see website www.ballet connections.com/balletanddancefilms
which delves into the relationship between dance and
cinema) and this is hardly surprising. After all,
what better subject can there be for the camera to
film than human bodies moving in structured, rhythmical,
graceful and communicative ways?
n°214 – November 2010)
Stuttgart Miracle: 50 Years On
to international fame by John Cranko in the 1960’s,
the Stuttgart Ballet is still one of the world’s major
troupes thanks to the high quality of its dancers
and to its rich and varied repertoire. In February
the company is holding a big festival to celebrate
its 50th birthday
years ago the Württemberg National Theatre (Germany)
appointed John Cranko as director of its ballet company.
In just few years, this young South African choreographer
of English origin who had begun his career with The
Royal Ballet of London, was to make the Stuttgart
Ballet a company of international repute. Critics
called this ballet miracle "das Stuttgart Balletwunder"
and three key factors made it possible. First of all,
Cranko’s talent as a choreographer, particularly for
narrative ballets: suffice it to mention his ultra-famous
Romeo and Juliet (1962), Onegin (1965)
and The Taming of the Shrew (1969). Secondly,
thanks to the talent of the troupe’s dancers, especially
the charismatic Márcia Haydée. The third
factor was the ‘talent of the public’ (as Jean Cocteau
used to call it) which was able to appreciate the
outstanding quality of what was being offered in Stuttgart
and flocked to see it.
Cranko died prematurely in1973, the Stuttgart Ballet
lived on because he had endowed it with solid foundations
on which to continue building up its future. After
a short tenure by Glen Tetley, Márcia Haydée
took over at its helm. Nor should we forget that already
in Cranko’s time, one of the Stuttgart Ballet’s vocations
was to mould young choreographers and the Noverre-Gesellschaft
(the Noverre Society) was established for this very
purpose. From this powerhouse emerged choreographers
of the stature of John Neumeier (who created his celebrated
Lady of the Camellias for Márcia Haydée),
Jirí Kylián, William Forythe and, later
on, Uwe Scholz; ballets by these authors remain in
the company’s repertoire to this day.
Anderson has successfully been at the Stuttgart Ballet’s
helm since 1996. Anderson, who used to be a soloist
when Cranko was director here, has kept the latter’s
legacy alive: he invites outside choreographers to
create for the company and has appointed two young
choreographers as the Stuttgart Ballet’s resident
choreographers (Christian Spuck, who is to take over
as director of the Zurich Ballet in 2012, and Marco
Goecke). The company members are comfortable in all
styles, with a predilection for the most demanding
of styles: academic ballet. Unsurprisingly, Balanchine’s
works feature prominently in the repertoire.
to its celebrated school, this 60-strong ensemble
(plus 10 extras) continues to boast an excellent standard
and superb principals and soloists. The 7 female principals
are headed up by Alicia Amatriain and the delicately-built
Sue Jin Kang who is an ideal interpreter of Márcia
Haydée’s legendary roles. There are 8 male
principals, among whom Marijn Rademaker, Jason Reilly,
Friedemann Vogel and Alexander Zaitesv. 7 soloists
are ‘in the wings’ waiting to be promoted, while 10
demi-solistes are hot on their heels. It is
worth mentioning at least one up-and-coming talent,
singled out by choreographers that have recently been
working with the company, who definitely seems propelled
towards a successful career: his name is Daniel Camargo.
4 to 27 February 2011 the Stuttgart Ballet is organizing
a long festival to celebrate its 50th anniversary.
Nederlands Dans Theater II, the Hamburg Ballet and
the Royal Ballet of Flanders have been invited to
appear. The programme features works by "home-grown"
choreographers, such as Orlando by Marco Goecke
(based on Virginia Woolf’s novel by the same name)
and Leonce und Lena by Christian Spuck (after
Georg Büchner’s homonymous play). The Stuttgart
Ballet itself is offering various programmes: a mixed
bill made up of works by Maurice Béjart, Cranko
and Hans van Manen, a reprise of Mauro Bigonzetti’s
ballet I Fratelli ("The Brothers")
based on Luchino Visconti’s film Rocco and his
Brothers. A more intimate programme will comprise
a revival of Kenneth MacMillan’s Las Hermanas,
after Federico García Lorca, and works by seven
other choreographers, including Song of my
People (which Cranko made for the Batsheva
Company in Israel in 1971) and Glen Tetley’s Ricercare.
Gala performances with international stars are scheduled
on 12 and 13 February.
celebrations also include seminars, a roundtable with
leading international ballet company directors, events
for youngsters and children and a big reception for
all former dancers and collaborators of the Stuttgart
n°216 – January 2011)
Emperor Titus and Berenice
Valse – chor. Frederick Ashton, mus. Maurice Ravel;
Invitus Invitam – chor. Kim Brandstrup, mus.
François Couperin; Winter Dreams – chor.
Kenneth MacMillan, mus. Pyotr I. Tchaikovsky; Theme
and Variations – chor. George Balanchine, mus.
Pyotr I. Tchaikovsky
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Kim Brandstrup, who is mostly active in London, frequently
chooses complex themes based on literary subjects.
His latest work for the London Royal Ballet (lasting
only 16 minutes) follows this trend, originating in
a single sentence from the Roman historian Svetonius
including the words "Invitus Invitam", filtered
through Racine’s famous 1670 tragedy Bérénice.
The most striking
feature in the ballet is the set, by Richard Hudson,
of a double brick wall, sometimes resembling a castle,
sometimes blank, at the beginning showing two doors,
one marked "Titus" and the other one "Berenice",
with white markings occasionally appearing as if by
magic. The work is sub-titled "Against his Will
– Against her Will", encapsulating the reluctance
of the Emperor Titus and his mistress Berenice to
part. It is fundamentally a pas de deux, interrupted
by distressed departures and returns, the choreography
largely composed of lifts, some quite hazardous. Their
frustration is clearly shown through the excellent
performance by Leanne Benjamin and Edward Watson,
but it has to be admitted that this new work is something
of a disappointment, though the music is very apt.
There are also two
dancers (Christina Aresti and Bennet Gartside, in
black practice clothes) who sometimes make brief appearances;
altogether it was rather mystifying.
scintillating La Valse (made originally for
the ballet company of La Scala, Milan in 1958) entered
the Royal Ballet repertory a year later; it made a
very satisfying opening to the programme, with just
the right atmosphere, with the requisite touch of
mystery in the waltzing couples led by Lauren Cuthbertson
and newcomer principal Nehemiah Kish. André
Levasseur’s elegant costumes against his ballroom
set are a perfect choice.
Winter Dreams, loosely based on Chekhov’s play
Three Sisters, is not one of his most successful
works, so it is hard to see why the company decided
to revive it: its 55 minutes seemed even longer. On
the first night Cuban dancer Carlos Acosta was miscast
in the role of Vershinin (perhaps given him because
of the presence in the theatre of Alicia Alonso, his
"patronne"), but Marianela Núñez,
Laura Morera, Edward Watson and the others all did
What a relief when
the curtain went up on Peter Farmer’s imposing set
for Balanchine’s wonderful Theme and Variations!
Tamara Rojo danced very well in the role created by
Alonso but her thunder was stolen by Sergei Polunin
in his magnificently virtuosic variation. On the following
day, Sarah Lamb, brilliant and radiant, and Steven
McRae gave equally impressive performances.
n°216 – January 2011)
comes to London
– chor. Kenneth MacMillan, mus. Dmitri Shostakovich;
Slaughter on Tenth Avenue – chor. George Balanchine,
mus. Richard Rodgers; In the Upper Room – chor.
Twyla Tharp. mus. Philip Glass
Sadler’s Wells Theatre
Birmingham Royal Ballet
turned to Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London with a
varied triple bill that satisfyingly showed off the
versatile talents of the dancers.
Kenneth MacMillan made
his Concerto, to Dmitri Shostakovich’s 2nd
Piano Concerto, in 1966 for
the ballet company of the Deutsche Oper in Berlin;
an instant success, it has entered the repertory of
numerous companies. The lyrical slow movement with
a pas de deux at its heart is particularly impressive,
but the other movements are equally inspired, demanding
speed and accuracy.
It was quite odd to
me to see on the same day George Balanchine’s great
1947 Theme and Variations at The Royal Opera
House in London and his 1939 spoof Slaughter on
Tenth Avenue at Sadler’s Wells. It was hard to
recognize that the same choreographer was the author
of both. Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, set in
a sleazy bar, was originally part of the Richard Rodgers
and Lorenz Hart musical On Your Toes. The comic
parody involves a gangster, a gun man, a striptease
girl, policemen and, above all, a Hoofer protagonist
who exhausts himself continuing to dance to stave
off his death. It is all rather complicated and not
at all edifying, but it is also very funny. Alexander
Campbell made an endearing Hoofer and all the cast
– including Ambra Vallo as the striptease girl and
Mathias Dingman as the gangster – seemed to enjoy
themselves as much as the audience.
All the company’s
brightest dancers took part in the revival of Twyla
Tharp’s In the Upper Room, to Philip Glass’s
score. They all danced their heart out in Tharp’s
diabolically demanding choreography, requiring exceptional
stamina as well as superb technique. The nine sections
feature differing numbers of dancers, only the final
section using the whole group of sixteen. They would
all deserve praise, but I would at least pick out
Elisha Willis, Carol-Anne Millar, Ambra Vallo, Robert
Parker, Chi Cao, Joseph Caley, Angela Paul and Gaylene
n°216 – Janvier 2011)
a "Classic" for Today
have been following 38-year-old Christopher Wheeldon’s
brilliant career from its early days. This English
choreographer is outwardly more "classical"
than any other choreographer today, yet he is so greatly
in demand all over the world that he can afford to
play hard-to-get with the big companies and even to
walk out on his own New York-based troupe. A full-evening
ballet of his will be premièred shortly at
The Royal Ballet in London; in the meantime Wheeldon
has created a new "Sleeping Beauty" for
The Royal Danish Ballet
are in London awaiting the opening performances by
The Royal Ballet of Christopher Wheeldon’s Alice
in Wonderland, his first full-evening ballet for
the company. It is, in any event, a significant creation,
since this is the first full-length staging that the
company has produced in 16 years, the most recent
having been Kenneth MacMillan’s 1989 Prince of
the Pagodas and Twyla Tharp’s Mr Worldly Wise
of 1995 (a piece both confused and confusing, long
and incoherent, and wholly misjudged for the Covent
has, since his earliest creations, been hailed as
a classical choreographer for today, possessing a
talent for making dance in the academic style which
both refreshes and renews the manner. His gifts are
undeniable, and his decade’s sojourn as a choreographer
and dancer with New York City Ballet has made very
clear and very splendid this identification with the
grand manner of ballet, with the renewal of a style
which needs just this injection of fresh ideas sprung
(as such ideas should spring) from the long and noble
traditions of his art. Of his many early works, Polyphonia
which he made for New York City Ballet during its
2000-2001 season and which explores piano works by
György Ligeti, is a brilliant and commanding
statement of his talent, not least in its sure and
inherent musicality, that rare skill to clothe a score
in well-fitting movement.
his career has been, one might say, somewhat uneven:
I have a sense that he has been over-used, over-extended
in his creative process. From his earliest years as
a dance-maker, commissions for new work were abundant,
typically taking him from New York to Moscow to Hamburg
to San Francisco and Boston and London. There have
also been ventures on to Broadway to make dances for
a musical, The Sweet Smell of Success, and
a commission to provide the dances in a film, Center
Stage. Too much attention, perhaps, and even too
much work, attended by enthusiastic acclaim, and,
inevitably, some disappointments voiced by public
and professional commentators, have made his progress
decision a few years ago to create his own company,
Morphoses, was brave, idealistic, and he produced
fascinating works for the troupe. But Morphoses had
no permanent base other than regularly scheduled seasons,
notably in London and New York, no permanent ensemble,
and his choice of other choreographers to help build
the repertory was less than encouraging (and in some
instances perfectly dreadful), while certain of the
dancers were less than compelling, albeit such stars
as Wendy Whelan, Leanne Benjamin, Maria Kowrowski,
Edward Watson guested with the troupe and were admirably
shown in the always-interesting works that Wheeldon
made for them.
has also made stagings of two of the great nineteenth-century
classics: a Swan Lake for the Pennsylvania
Ballet, which I found confused and somewhat at the
mercy of the Pennsylvania troupe’s forces, and latterly
a Sleeping Beauty for the Royal Danish Ballet,
about which a commentary by Erik Aschengreen is also
to be found in this issue.
has achieved a great deal in his 38 years, and must
be seen as the most successful and widely regarded
classical choreographer of his generation. He has,
as his creations continually assert, a musical sensibility,
a fluency of imagination, resourcefulness in finding
themes and the dance-means to realise those themes
that mark him as a grandly gifted dance-maker. His
years as resident choreographer with the New York
City Ballet (from 2001-2008) asserted his merits,
his undeniable talent. His creations, then as now,
are marked by a questioning and highly responsive
musical intelligence – his ballets seem to spring
without strain from their score – and a manner that
can seem plotless yet conveys strong emotional or
narrative meaning. What he has made thus far augurs
wonderfully for what is to come.
n°217 – February 2011)
– chor. Yuri Ng, Yuh Egami, mus. Pyotr I. Tchaikovsky
Kong, Cultural Centre
Kong Ballet is one of the most important classical
ballet companies in Asia, whose artistic director
is the Swedish Madeleine Onne. Beside the great ballet
classics, the company dances George Balanchine, William
Forsythe, Rudi van Dantzing, Krzysztof Pastor, Nils
the Chinese New Year in February, Hong Kong Ballet
revived Firecracker, based on Tchaikovsky’s
The Nutcracker. This ballet, premièred
last year, is choreographed by Yuri Ng, the city’s
leading classical choreographer, and Yuh Egami, a
dancer of the company.
is an intelligent nostalgic recreation of Hong Kong
around 1967, when the then British colony was rocked
by months of violent riots in support of the Cultural
Revolution in China. The title Firecracker
is doubly apt since firecrackers, which are traditionally
let off during the Lunar New Year, were actually banned
by the colonial government after the 1967 riots.
devised a new and original libretto which fits pretty
well into Tchaikovsky’s music, making some minor changes
to his choreography this year. The central protagonist
is no longer the young Clara but instead Uncle Drosselmeyer
who is recast as Uncle Tak, a retired manager of a
Hong Kong film studio. Tak is visited by Clara during
the Lunar New Year and starts reminiscing about his
glorious past career.
Act 1 of this production the Stahlbaums’ Christmas
Eve party is, as expected, changed to a New Year reunion.
And the battle scene between the toy soldiers and
the mice has been adapted to show a confrontation
between policemen and a rioter in 1967. The choreography
is too tame however for this scene; the snow scene,
which is reset in a hospital where Uncle Tak is recovering
from his illness, is much better. The white corps
de ballet of snowflakes has been imaginatively replaced
by a team of six white-clad nurses tending to Tak.
This witty hospital scene has the most original choreography
in the whole ballet.
Act 2 the national dances have been transformed into
humorous vignettes paying tribute to the golden age
of Hong Kong cinema in the 1960s. The choreography
is all pretty effective. The Waltz of the Flowers
is turned into an amusing sketch depicting the local
euphoria during a visit by a member of British royalty.
final pas de deux is danced with great fun by two
movie stars who are shooting a movie. The Sugar Plum
solo, danced by the movie actress at a faster tempo
than usual, has choreography adapted from Lev Ivanov’s
great original choreography.
showed off the Hong Kong Ballet dancers at their best.
Kenji Hidaka was warm as the elderly Tak, while his
youthful incarnation was nimbly danced by a very talented
corps de ballet dancer, Shen Jie. Liu Yu-Yao exuded
glamour as the movie star, while Li Jia-Bo was hilarious
as her onscreen lover. Chen Qing impressed as the
sinister black figure representing time past.
can be a suitable Chinese-themed work for the company
to show on its overseas tours.
n°219 – April 2011)
under Legris’s wing
Quixote – chor. Rudolf Nureyev (after Marius Petipa-Alexandr
Gorsky), mus. Ludwig Minkus
danseur-étoile of the Paris Opéra
Ballet Manuel Legris (47) seems to be doing a good
job with his company since becoming the director of
the Vienna Opera Ballet in September 2010 (the company
has been re-christened Wiener Staatsballett, Vienna
State Ballet). He himself had Rudolf Nureyev’s version
of Don Quixote remounted and the dancers showed
an almost impeccable mastery of classical technique.
that the Viennese company lacked brilliancy or a certain
technical quality in the past, but Legris aims at
taking it to an even higher level.
he enlarged the repertory with sundry acquisitions
(George Balanchine, William Forsythe, Twyla Tharp,
as well as works by young choreographers including
Jirí Bubenícek, Paul Lightfoot and Sol
León) and with a creation, Marie Antoinette,
by choreographer Patrick de Bana (who used to dance
with Béjart and, in Madrid, with Nacho Duato).
His efforts continue with the revival of this Don
Quixote by Nureyev which had been missing from
the Vienna Opera for 26 years (the great Russian dancer
created it in this theatre in 1966, on the basis of
Marius Petipa’s ballet that had been later reworked
by Alexandr Gorsky).
relationship with the Vienna Opera was important and
studded with successful results. He never directed
it, though; yet destiny has ordained that that post
should be assumed by one of his "disciples".
Yakovleva’s blazing Kitri sparkled more with technical
bravura than with interpretative prowess, showing
more and more élan as Act 3 approached. She’s
got everything it takes: extensions, tours
(double and triple in the fouettés)
and jetés leaps – the famous en diagonale
ones in Act 1 being quite daring.
Basil, young Russian Denys Cherevychko who has accurate
lines (one appreciates Legris’ Parisian "trademark"),
formed a harmonious couple with her.
he showed a more brilliant temperament than she did
from the beginning, in the pas de deux their entente
was obvious. Though not very tall (as is the case
with other vituoso dancers of the Russian school),
he compensates with his ballon, his brilliant
doubles cabrioles, his sauts de basque
and his pirouettes à la seconde.
Esina, the other principal dancer in the company,
was an impeccable Dryad Queen, confident in her (sustained)
leaps on pointe, as-light-as-a-feather in her sauts
de chats, and, above all, elegant, lovely and
haughty. In the "Dream" scene the precision
and uniformity of the female corps de ballet were
noteworthy. The corps boasts a sound technique and
lovely lines (maybe the French influence again, but
coupled with the sensitivity of the Russian school
where most of the troupe’s dancers were groomed).
the same quality and precision is to be found also
in the male corps de ballet of this large company
must also mention Ketevan Papava as the "Street
Dancer" and Eno Peci’s Espada the Bullfighter.
They danced with brio and commitment like all the
interpreters of the secondary roles. Such energy clearly
spilled over to the audience and made this Don
Quixote a treat.
Legris goes on working like this, the Wiener Staatsballett
will reach a level that will arouse the envy of many
other prestigious companies.
n°219 – April 2011)
Company of La Scala
Raymonda of errors
– chor. Sergei Vikharev after Marius
Petipa, mus. Alexander Glazunov
Teatro alla Scala
of the few 19th century ballets to have remained in
the repertoire to this day, in more or less authentic
shape, Raymonda is one of the least performed.
Yet it is not only one the best preserved (thanks
to the Kirov-Mariinsky tradition of St Petersburg),
it is also a real masterpiece, the last the genius
of Marius Petipa produced; indeed perhaps his purest
and most perfect ballet for it brings to maturity
the choreographic art of his century (it dates from
1898) and looks towards the ballet of the new century,
bypassing the experience of the Ballets Russes (which
was in a way a deviation) and ideally opening up the
way to George Balanchine.
La Scala was completely right in accepting its ballet
director Makhar Vaziev’s idea and staging a production
of Raymonda that boasts philological intentions;
it entrusted the choreography to 50-year-old former
Kirov dancer Sergei Vikharev who has gained renown
in recent years as a "reconstructor" of
ballets of the Russian tradition.
though, is the rub: Vikharev is a respectable professional
of classical dance, but he seems to limit himself
to a naïve idea of ballet "philology"
(in spite of his habitual collaboration with Pavel
Gershenzon as history consultant, a serious scholar
who writes interesting and not trite ideas in La Scala’s
programme; but I found that such ideas were not followed-up
in the realisation of the ballet).
world of music has been reckoning with philology,
i.e. discovery, reconstruction and critical revision
of old operas, for decades, and is still struggling
with the problems – more theoretical than technical
– that such activities entail. This is all the more
true as far as dance is concerned as here we are still
at a primeval, not to say primitive, stage.
seems that the intellectual approach is not yet that
of a mature "philologist" who reconstructs
the works of the past critically so as to understand
their original artistic truth, over and above the
appearances under which they have been handed down
to us; it is rather the naïve attitude of the
antiquarian who means to recuperate them "exactly
as they were at the time of their creation",
so as to display them and smile at them with tenderness.
an aim cannot be attained in the ballet. Even in a
relatively felicitous case as Raymonda, the
choreography of that distant première is practically
lost. Vikharev states that he made use of the choreographic
notations of Nikolai Sergeyev, who had been a dancer
with the Imperial Theatre in St Petersburg and afterwards,
from 1904 onwards, a ballet régisseur.
Sergeyev’s notations are now in the Harvard Theatre
Collection (USA). Apparently they enable one to reconstruct,
with a certain degree of precision, the mime and various
dances of the principal characters, as well as a few
of the other women soloists’ variations. This is not
much. Moreover, Vikharev candidly admits that this
scarce material corresponded largely to the choreography
that had been used for decades at the Kirov in Leningrad,
in Konstantin Sergeyev’s 1948 version (available on
a VAI DVD filmed in 1980, starring the great Irina
means that the serious and valuable work that must
be acknowledged by the responsible of this Raymonda
at La Scala is to be found in the choreographic essentials,
i.e. the dances; but they are nothing but the integration
of the basic Kirov version with the newly-found documents.
far as the ballet as a whole is concerned – the so-called
"dramaturgy" and, especially, the meaning
of the work in the spirit of its author and in the
history of dance – "objectivity" is an ingenuous
mirage. One should have chosen and interpreted, in
fact one should have performed a "critical"
operation, in the knowledge that the Raymonda
of tradition is the result of a series of reworkings
in the course of a century in Soviet Russia: a century
and a country in which artistic ideals have come a
long way from the author’s original ones.
plot is as elemental as they come, therefore perfect
for a ballet. The young protagonist is a Hungarian
aristocratic damsel in a fairy-tale Middle Ages; she
is engaged to a knight who has left for the Crusades,
she is waiting for him and dreams of him; but in the
dream, evoked by the spirit of a protecting White
Lady, a fiery Saracen appears who desires her. He
then also turns up in reality, but the knight comes
back and defeats him. Wedding and celebrations.
trifling plot, then, for a sequence of dances of magisterial
structure that are often highly poetic choreographically-speaking:
pas de deux and variations, classical or demi-caractère
solos or ensembles, and a final grand pas that
makes us understand why George Balanchine called himself
a perpetuator of Petipa’s work.
is the point. In this last masterpiece of his, Marius
Petipa no longer looks backwards to the pantomimic
ballet of Romanticism, to Perrot and to Saint-Léon,
but forwards, towards the future, to a dance free
from the bonds of narration, of theatrical characters,
of "expression" and naturalism.
this he was misunderstood (it could not be otherwise)
and criticised by his contemporaries, forced almost
to abjure and swear his faith in old habits, to add
mime scenes so as to satisfy an old dancer, beloved
by the public (Pavel Gerdt, in the role of Saracen
Abderakhman). "The main thing is lacking: dramatic
content", affirmed painter Alexandre Benois,
without suspecting that the main thing in a ballet
is dance (but this is a discovery that was still to
come in the future and even today is not clear to
years later André Levinson, possibly the first
great dance critic of the 20th century, wrote that
the aristocratic or bourgeois audience of the Russian
Imperial Theatres watched a choreography of a genius
like a cow watches a passing train (exactly the same
can be said of many dance critics today – especially
the Italian and French ones).
Soviet era naturally went on criticising and adapting
Raymonda to make it look realistic and thus
this ballet, in which Petipa foresaw the liberation
of dance into an autonomous art, was tamely brought
back to comply with the dramatic criteria of the theatre.
Yuri Grigorovich’s version is a good example, but
even a great dancer such as Nureyev, in his own Raymonda
at the Paris Opéra, showed himself to be blinded
by this same prejudice.
I think that the big mistake of this latest Raymonda
at La Scala is that instead of revealing Petipa’s
genius and novelty, its "reconstructors"
have taken up the criticism of the past and pushed
his ballet backward, towards the Romantic ballet from
which it was instead consciously emerging.
we have all that fussy mime again (today less palatable
than ever), a fiendish Saracen, an all-explaining
White Lady, soldiers and duels, and the wish to give
an impossible stage "truth" even to Raymonda
herself, who is not a "character" but a
choreographic role, and one of the longest, most complex
and demanding roles in the whole history of ballet.
as we said, the dancing has been preserved and it
is still the substance of this ballet; the spectator
must concentrate on it and not let him/herself be
swayed by ridiculous scenes and costumes that evoke
the medieval pavilion in Disneyland. The authors tell
us that they were based on original sketches and designs
made in1898; they do not stop to consider (how is
this possible?) that those colours and sketches on
a stage lit by the lights of hundred years ago, had
a very different effect on the perception of the audience
of that time, from the childish, garish one that we
perceive today, in our highly changed conditions and
accustomed as we are to different visuals.
should mention the dancers of the Milan première.
Olesia Novikova (a guest from the Mariinsky) has the
natural sense of style which she learnt in the "home"
of Petipa, is elegant and graceful, but certainly
does not possess the sovereign musicality and luminous
dance of the Ballerina with capital B that such a
part requires. Friedemann Vogel (from the Stuttgart
Ballet) is the perfect fairy-tale knight, but also
an excellent classical dancer and partner – albeit
in the reduced scope the role gives him.
for the other soloists and the company, the alert
spectator has known for many years whether or not
they are capable of dancing a great ballet classic
at a level that the great name of La Scala would require.
But we shall discuss the home dancers again on the
occasion of the next (and hoped-for) revivals of Raymonda.
n°224 – November 2011)
Cunningham Dance Company
Merce Cunningham Dance Company gave its final performance,
a very last "Event", in New York last December. Thus,
the production of a genius of modern and contemporary
dance, who considered each of his works to be unrepeatable
acts of creation, risks extinction according to his
own last will and testament. But the Merce Cunningham
Trust has no intention of dying and grants rights
for some "repertoire" pieces to other companies
I asked Merce Cunningham if he wanted his works performed
100 years from now, he laughed and said, "No,
dancing will be completely different then." And
so the Merce Cunningham Dance Company closed down
at the end of December after six performances during
three days in New York. But that is not the end of
the story, as the Merce Cunningham Trust, an organization
formed in 2003, made clear in announcing its plans
for the future.
these performances as well as the company’s preceding
season at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (featuring
a welcome revival of the rarely seen Roaratorio)
and Merce Fair, a somewhat academic survey of Cunningham’s
career at Lincoln Center Festival last summer, all
constituted a continuous and varied homage by New
York to one of its great artists.
however was as thrilling as the first of these tributes
– the passionate and vibrant memorial performance
by current young members and older former dancers
from the troupe who performed together shortly after
Cunningham died at 90 on July 26, 2009. Both the first
and final December performances (with a two-year world
tour in between) took place in the cavernous space
of a former officers’ marching hall in the Park Avenue
Armory, a 19th century military building now mainly
used for exhibitions and large-scale spectacles.
And both the 2009 and final appearances were organised
as an "Event", the name Cunningham gave
to his assemblage of excerpts (sometimes combined
with segments of new choreography) that are seen without
their usual context.
the Armory, these collage pieces became a magnified
Event. In 2009, the dancers performed within perimeters
delineated on the floor and the audience easily walked
from one space to the another, sometimes following
the dancers. Despite Cunningham’s then-recent death,
the mood was joyful and offered a celebration of his
life. In this three-ring circus, the Event captured
the essence of Cunningham – a mix of concept and playfulness,
of discipline and anarchy.
Swinston, the company’s senior dancer and now the
Trust’s Director of Choreography did a magnificent
job of assembling the segments and structure of both
Armory Events. But in December, the mood was sober
and formal. The dancers performed on three raised
platforms instead of on the floor. The visual impact
was strong, even if viewers saw two of three stages
at a distance. In some parts of the hall, the artist
Daniel Arsham hung his clusters of small white balls.
Some viewers stood for nearly an hour on raised galleries,
surveying all three stages. Most sat near one and
rarely saw all three platforms at once.
took an effort to see how the choreography on two
of the three stages related to the one close to the
viewer although its was obvious that the dancers moved
from one stage to another, that group segments on
one stage contrasted with solos on another.
created a typical Cunningham exercise in perception
and simultaneity, enhanced wonderfully by trombone
and trumpet soloists positioned high around the hall;
below, on one side, electronic or conventional instruments
provided the sound score by longtime Cunningham composers
Takehisa Kosugi, David Behrman, John King,and Christian
unlike the 2009 celebration, this Event seemed less
original, less wild, more dedicated to a formula.
Many ideas associated with Cunningham were present
– his love of the non-linear, his search for possibility
and flexibility – the startling alogic of the choreography
(often created through chance procedures). Attracted
by the huge publicity surrounding the final Events,
newcomers to Cunningham seemed as baffled as audiences
were 50 years ago.
he did not want his company to continue, he did not
oppose plans to have his works performed by groups
and students not trained at his school. The Trust
is closing the Cunningham school, yet it will sponsor
technique classes and workshops. It will send Cunningham
dancers to stage works in college dance departments
and for other companies. The demand is there. Benjamin
Millepied has already asked for a Cunningham work
for his new company in Los Angeles. But how will it
was imitated by young choreographers for years (especially
in France). But today this is no longer true and no
one throws coins now to determine which direction
to face. Yet whatever his methods, Cunningham taught
us to look at dance in a new way. By the end, he worked
in splendid isolation, loyal to himself. One can preserve
Cunningham’s repertory but not his unique creativity.
n°227 February 2012)
Lidova was a dance critic and organiser, a personality
who was important in various fields and over many
generations, and, besides, an especially faithful
and affectionate contributor to our magazine; and,
lastly, for as little as it matters, my friend and
absolute adviser on all matters throughout this activity
that I have chosen, or that has fallen to me.
Kaminskaya – Lidova after her marriage to Serge Lido
(a French adaptation of the Russian Sergey Lidov)
– was born in Moscow in 1907. Therefore, her loss
should have for us the serenity of a natural conclusion,
and of a nature that was very generous not so much
in granting her a long life as in preserving (and
even increasing) up to the last an intelligence of
life and such a great love for it (to that extent,
perhaps being cruel) that no-one who did not know
her well could believe.
would take more than this note, but I will give a
brief account of what I learnt about her in twenty-seven
years of friendship, in person in Paris or around
the ballet world, or through our daily telephone conversations.
a child, during the years of the Bolshevik revolution
she emigrated from St Petersburg to Paris, leaving
Russia in a state of devastation by crossing a frozen
lake in Finland, hidden in a sledge. In the French
capital, where she was awaited by relations, the family
was installed in a quiet flat in rue Chernoviz, where
Irène lived, later with her husband, and finally
alone, until now.
many daughters of Russian émigrés, she
had lessons in classical ballet in the small Paris
studios where, in order to survive, some of the ex-Imperial
ballerinas, including the great Olga Preobrajenska,
taught. She was only an amateur student, but the passion
for dance took hold of her for ever. After studying
art and literature, she entered the world of journalism
as a sub-editor of a news magazine, Vu. There
she managed to slip in her first dance pieces, in
that way beginning to get to know the artists. Serge
Lifar, who reigned over the ballet at the Paris Opéra,
was her first idol (she once said to me, "I’ve
been a fan of a lot of dancers, but Lifar was the
only one I adored"), and it was the first sign
of that symptom of balletomania that is the dedicated
and passionate falling in love with dancers (which
she not only recognised but cultivated, with a strange
mixture of lucidity and abandon). She met a compatriot
who was studying economics, they got married, she
infected him with her passion and transformed him
into one of the most famous dance photographers of
the 20th century. The twenty-five albums of photographs,
one a year, by Serge Lido, with the comments (and
above all, the choices) of Irène Lidova are
an extraordinary witness to a whole ballet epoch.
were hard years - the war, the Occupation, the immediate
post-war period - but they were full of life, and
creative. One day at the Paris Opéra school,
she chose three boys to be photographed by Serge Lido:
they were Roland Petit, Jean Babilée and Jean
Guélis. An infallible eye was one of her most
important gifts: at the theatre, even in her last
year, when she had limited sight, she would immediately
pick out a talented youngster from a whole corps de
ballet - even in the back row; and the evening was
illuminated by the enthusiasm of her discovery.
placed beside Roland Petit an infant prodigy of a
dancer and choreographer, Janine Charrat, she took
them round to her friend Jean Cocteau, and they thought
up a group, with Jean Babilée, Ethéry
Pagava, then Renée (later Zizi) Jeanmaire and
other protégés of Irène, and
thus the first masterpieces of French 20th century
ballet were born. Later on, among those she worked
with was the Marquis de Cuevas’ famous and adventurous
was faithful in her artistic loves, but her judgments
were very decided. One day, many years after those
poor and happy beginnings, she asked Roland Petit
at the end of a performance, "Well, Roland, when
are you going to make a real ballet for us?".
I can understand now what she meant, but he took it
badly and never spoke to her again. Artists are like
that, all the best you do is taken for granted, one
unwelcome word is an irreparable betrayal. Irène
knew that better than anybody; she went on loving
him and saying and writing that Roland Petit was the
greatest talent she had ever met with.
her circle there were also lasting friends, and in
the rue Chernoviz flat large numbers of people from
the dance world called their regularly, while the
telephone was the remedy when there were no visitors
in the sitting-room. Nina Vyroubova, Yvette Chauviré,
Janine Charrat, Joseph Lazzini, Mario Porcile (the
director of the Nervi Ballet Festival - a place that
Lidova loved, and where we spent memorable summers),
the impresario Paul Szilard, Lilavati and Bengt Häger,
John Taras, Carla Fracci, the critic John Percival
and the film director Dominique Delouche were among
the most assiduous visitors, up to the last days.
Even Rudolf Nureyev, in his early Paris days, was
a regular guest for Irène’s Russian suppers;
but he soon forgot. She had a particular passion for
Russian ballet and Russian artists; perhaps it was
a way of rediscovering her roots, at least in the
art that she loved, feeling herself to be Russian
and speaking her native language. She was proud of
being to a certain extent their "ambassadress"
in the West, above all in the years during which contacts
were rare and difficult. She became friends with some
of them: Maya Plisetskaya, her beloved Katia and Volodia
(Maximova and Vasiliev), then the younger Vladimir
Derevianko and Vladimir Malakhov, one of her discoveries.
her closest friends, there had come into being a family
of chosen members, above all after the unexpected
death of her husband in 1984, which distressed her
greatly. There was above all Milorad Miskovitch, another
protégé of hers in the happy times,
an admired dancer and a friend for ever; he was a
kind of son, and as such he received the friends at
the funeral on 31 May, in the Russian church in Paris.
The other "son", more recently acquired,
was myself. And another Italian, of a later generation,
Toni Candeloro, who lived in the same house in the
years when he danced in Paris, forming with her whenever
she went out, a strange couple; as we all know, you
can sometimes get irritated with children, but with
nephews the understanding is absolute.
nearly forgot to mention, because it was so well-known,
that she possessed an uncommon intelligence, an intelligence
that was not conventional, cultured but intuitive,
that went straight to the heart of things in art and
life and was solidly based on her formidable memory.
At ninety, she was able to remember the complete cast
of a performance that had taken place fifty years
earlier, or she could tell you in a few precise strokes
about the career and personality of a dancer who had
been forgotten by everyone else. But hers was not
the old person’s eccentric memory, fixed in the past;
she remembered a day from fifty years ago as she remembered
the day before, she was interested in the present
and curious about the future. To discover a young
choreographer or a gifted dancer was more important
to her than having known Lifar or Robbins or having
often seen Alicia Markova dance. On the other hand,
she did not, like some pathetic elderly people, have
the affectation of always wanting to seem up-to-date;
in her last years, she really was above all such things,
secure in her ancient wisdom and very aware of the
present. Classical, modern, contemporary seemed to
her senseless words. She loved Giselle but
had encouraged and defended the young Merce Cunningham
in France when nobody was yet taking any notice of
realise that I am writing one of her "rencontres":
the speciality that she had devoted to Ballet2000
for so many years. Perhaps it is because I read,
translated and corrected so many of them that I have
now written one myself. I shall miss it a great deal
- and I am sure, dear reader, that you will also miss
- that page towards the end of the magazine, with
that old spectacled, smiling face ("c’est votre
journaliste américaine", she would joke),
with her tightly written piece, all short, incisive
sentences, framed by one of Serge Lido’s lovely pictures.
I can’t imagine not being able to life the telephone
every evening at about seven o’clock, to discuss our
little dance matters, or to ask her something that
from now on I’ll have to look for, to no purpose,
in books. There is one more void, in the dance world,
and in the world.
n. 67 – July 2002
The Kirov of yesterday and today on DVD
In his account of the Kirov Ballet’s 1961 London début, Clement Crisp recalls two great dancers of the Soviet ballet, Alla Sizova and Yuri Soloviev. Today we can still watch them both in a 1965 film of The Sleeping Beauty (available on a Kultur DVD). Another iconic dancer can be seen in this film: Natalia Dudinskaya as Carabosse (not the usual traditional mime role in this production but, on the contrary, a highly-demanding technical one).
Another Sleeping Beauty on DVD (likewise on a Kultur label), dated 1982, brings us the then almost 50-year-old Irina Kolpakova, nonetheless radiant and fresh. The extraordinary stage vitality of this dazzling ballerina can also be appreciated on a VAI DVD of a 1980 production of Raymonda.
To continue our tour d’horizon of the ‘classics’ (which constitute the Kirov’s priceless legacy), viewers will be able to admire Galina Mezentseva in Giselle on a 1983 video available on DVD (Kultur); partnered by Konstantin Zaklinsky, she may not be an entirely traditional Giselle, stylistically speaking, yet she is certainly impressive and touching. The Mezentseva-Zaklinsky couple also star on a DVD of Swan Lake released by Kultur – who have also released a more recent (1990) Kirov version of this ballet with Yulia Makhalina, a modern, understated yet sensual Odette.
Lopatkina’s Swan Queen, on the other hand, is neither modern nor ancient, as can be seen on a Decca DVD; this ballerina’s interpretative genius comes across at its best in Swan Lake, giving viewersa mesmerizing aesthetic experience. Fans of the Mariinsky Theatre’s “diva” will certainly not wish to miss Bel Air’s “2006 New Year’s Eve Gala” DVD which features her in The Dying Swan (and also carries a divertissement from The Sleeping Beauty in Serghei Vikharev’s “choreological” reworking of this classic).
A 1977 video of La Bayadère is available on a Kultur DVD with Gabriela Komleva as Nikya; this great tragédienne, but who is also in her element in the “Act of the Shades”, is partnered here by Rejen Abdyev (not the best of Solors). This video allows us especially to appreciate both the superb technique of Tatiana Terekhova as Gamzatti, in an astounding grand pas, and the beguiling corps de ballet in the “white act”. VAI has released a 1989 recording of the Kirov in Le Corsaire, starring Altynai Asylmuratova, Elena Pankova, Evgheny Neff, Farukh Ruzimatov and Zaklinsky. When it comes to The Nutcracker, I recommend a Philips DVD of the traditional Vasili Vainonen version, with Larissa Lezhnina in the main role, rather than Kirill Simonov’s new version (available on a Decca label) which, apart from Leonid Sarafanov’s presence, is far less interesting.
The numerous fans of this former Mariinsky dancer will, no doubt, prefer to see him on another Decca DVD: in the Kirov’s production of Don Quixote where his velvety, refined and unfussy technique shines, devoid of gratuitous showiness. On the same video we can admire Olesia Novikova as Kitri, Alina Somova as the Dryad Queen and Evghenia Obraztsova as an enticing Cupid. Another Don Quixote, more dated but nevertheless highly attractive, is the version starring Terekhova and Ruzimatov, available on a Kultur DVD. She seduces us with her remarkable leaps and stunning fouettés, he with his exuberance and pirouettes and tours galore.
Kultur’s DVD of Oleg Vinogradov’s Coppélia, on the other hand, is not a ‘must’, while that of Yuri Grigorovich’s The Stone Flower (2005), with Anna Polikarpova (who has since joined the Hamburg Ballet) and Alexandr Gulyaev, may appeal to those who are interested in the iconic Soviet ballets.
And now we come to the Ballets Russes repertory. An Arthaus DVD entitled “Kirov Celebrates Nijinsky” brings us a Fokine evening filmed in 2002 at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris (where Diaghilev’s troupe actually debuted in 1909). The ballets include: Shéhérazade (with Svetlana Zakharova, before she transferred to the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, and Ruzimatov); Le Spectre de la rose (with Igor Kolb); the Polovtsian Dances and The Firebird (with an intriguing Diana Vishneva). The Firebird (but with Ekaterina Kondaurova)is also featured on a Bel Air DVD, together with Vaslav Nijinsky’s The Rite of Spring (“reconstructed” by Millicent Hodson). Another DVD (Immortal), entitled “Ballet Miniatures”, features two more Fokine ballets: Carnaval and Une nuit d’Égypte (“Egyptian Nights”, later entitled “Cleopatra”), starring Asylmuratova as an icy Cleopatra and Ruzimatov.
Amidst miscellanea, the most invaluable DVD is undoubtedly Arthaus’ “Kirov Classics”. Of particular interest are Chopiniana, breathtakingly danced by soloists and corps de ballet alike, and, above all, the sumptuous grand pas from Paquita, with Yulia Makhalina and Igor Zelensky. Diamond-pure classicism, sparkling virtuosism and imperial grandeur. The Kirov hallmark.
(BALLET2000 n. 222, September 2011)