Posts Tagged ‘Denis Matvienko’

Review – Don Quixote – Mariinsky Ballet at Royal Opera House

August 3, 2011

I have seen “Don Quixote” – the ballet – twice before, once in Prague (where the dancers seemed weak, as if all the good ones had gone to the West) and one with Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle, where Kaori Nakamura was a great Kitri but the ballet just seemed so incoherent I wasn’t able to get into it. However, last year people raved endlessly about the Osipova/Vasiliev Bolshoi performance, and I kicked myself for not seeing them. What is it about this ballet that people like so much? What was I missing out on? I decided to buy tickets for the Mariinsky production and figure it out.

I think I’ve got it out now: Don Quixote is basically a plotless ballet (with a wedding scene at the end) that’s set up to enable a variety of exciting dances that allow a company to display the virtuosity of a wide number of its dancers. The theme is “We’re in Spain!” so you get colorful costumes (nearly no tutus), fake Flamenco dances, and all of the fans and swirling toreador capes you could ever hope for. I have a soft spot for Spain and Spanish dancing, so I was willing to accept this poetical vision, with the exception of the Eastern Dance in act 3 (Maria Shiviakova showing her wonderful arms but basically failing to do any dancing – and really, why was it there?) and the big dream sequence in Act II’s land of the Dryads, which looked like it had been rolled out of a dusty closet populated by an Edwardian Am-Dram club’s Iolanthe.

So what kind of fun dancing do you get (since there’s no point in us worrying about the plot – it’s basically La Fille Mal Gardee served with sangria)? There’s the fabulous role of Kitri (Anastasia Matvienko) and her lover Basil (Denis Matvienko) – she stamps beats on her toes and bends like a willow, while he leaps and does one-handed girl-overhead lifts (which I think would be far more challenging with me than Matvienko). The village people clap, slap their fans, play tambourines, and have mock knife-fights. There are more toreadors than could possibly be reasonable in a town of 300, all swinging their capes in time: star among them (and a rockin’ dancer) is Espada (Alexander Serveev), who gets to show off even more than Basil because he’s sprinting rather than marathoning. He is accompanied by the “street dancer” (Ekaterina Kondaurova), dressed in purple and SO elegant. But Kitri comes in and leaps through the air with her feet flying up to her head, so fast and strong it was truly electrifying. How can a human being even do that? There was also a great pas de trois with Basil and two girls (I assume the flower sellers, credited as Yana Selina and Viktoria Krasnokutskaya) that also cranked the volume up to eleven. How could they go up from this?

Act two means it’s gypsy time, so we go from knives to slapping whips and from walls of capes to men on all fours going from one diagonal hand-foot pair to the other in an amazing athletic display. It’s all a bit too Carmenesque – I expected fortune tellers any minute – but energetic and fun. This makes the slow dream sequence that follows even more irritating, because it breaks the mood, and we’d been promised giant spiders (in the synopsis) which never appeared – but since this whole show was about jumping the shark, I figured, why not? I want thirty foot tall eight legged creepy-crawlies! Gimmee!

By the end of Act 2, I had run out of energy, but had to wait through another half hour interval until act III started at 9:30. Aargh, fifty minutes to go and me worn out! For act 3 we had the most corny, comic death scene ever, a few “these people just come through the middle of town and dance any old time” performances, and then a fun crowd scene with tossing flowers – all a big build-up to the rather dry wedding scene, which had Kitri and Basil back in black and white formal ballet wear. Matvienko did such amazing turns in the air I thought he must be part gyroscope to have kept his balance – even hitting the scenery didn’t stop him. Still, I was done by this time, and I wish the whole thing could have been cut down a bit so that I could have maintained my enthusiasm. That said, despite this being the biggest pile of cheese I’ve seen on stage in ages, and clearly as old as the hills, it was a great ride to take and I can highly recommend it.

(This review is for a performance tht took plce on August 2nd 2011. It has one final performance tonight.)

Mini-review – Laurencia – Mikhailovsky Ballet at London Coliseum

July 21, 2010

After seeing last night’s London debut of the 1939 ballet Laurencia, I can’t in good conscience recommend it. I can accept that with my devotion to flamenco, this ballet’s pseudo-Spanish dance scenes were doomed to displease me (in fact, the castanet playing was so flaccid it made me giggle); but the choreography (Vakhtang Chabukiani as revived by Mikhail Messerer) was so broadly uninspiring and the mime so heavy-handed – and the overall feeling so very Snidely Whiplash – that I found it too low quality to be worth a watch, much less a revival.

The best dancing, to me, was the groomsmen’s duet (possibly Andrei Yakhnuyk and Nikolay Korypaev) in the wedding dance; their unison was good, their leaps strong, the energy high. Laurencia (Irina Perren), however, seemed painfully two dimensional; too cutesy early on, too obvious with her pointing fingers and waving fists in act two, and just generally not exciting dancing. Her friend Pascuala (Sabina Yaparova) actually had better choreography, and we switched to watching her dance during the wedding scene as, well, it was more interesting. I think she was a better dancer than Perren, but perhaps she was just focused more on dancing than acting. Male Lead Denis Matvienko showed unchallenged talent during his time onstage; he seemed to be capable of so much but the unimaginative choreography didn’t push him. His two wedding solos were just … flat. I’ll keep him in mind for another show. It was sad, really, to see so much talent so poorly used. At least it was short and I was able to get home in time to do some dishes. Overall, it also left me with a bit of a bad feeling about the Mikhailovsky – they don’t really seem to be in the “world class” level of companies, rather just in the “merely good” zone. Ah well, it was a nice week anyway.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesdya, July 20th, 2010. The show will be repeated on Wednesday, July 21st. For an alternate review, please see Ismene Brown.)

The plot is as such: in a cute Spanish town in “the distant past” (I’d guess 1600ish as the bad guy was dressed like a cross between Cortez and Caesar), Laurencia flirts with her admirer, Frondoso (Denis Matvienko). The happy villagers dance (as they always do). Eventually the army arrives with baddy Don Fernan “The Commander” Gomez (Mikhail Venshchikov, who looked ready to tie the heroine to the railroad tracks at any minute). He decides he’s going to have not just the proffered glass of wine, but Laurencia. She and Frondoso escape to the woods (scene 2). The other town girls appear and wash their laundry. They all leave, then a girl (Jacincta, Oksana Bondareva) appears chased by Fernan’s guards; he appears and allows them to ravage her (offstage thankfully). The villagers return and are suitably shocked by Bondareva’s dance of dismay. (Total time for these scenes: 45 minutes.)

Act 2 starts in the village, where Laurencia and Frondoso are celebrating their marriage. (This is the best scene in the ballet, with lots of fun dancing despite the horrid, posey, fake flamenco.) The Commander interrupts the fun, however, and takes both Laurencia and Frondoso away. The villagers follow them to (scene four) Don Fernan’s castle exterior, where, after some time, the newly ravaged bride emerges, crushed and disoriented, but then, in a scene straight from Les Miserables, incites the men to take their knives (and the women, their pitchforks) and rush the castle. Then a brief movie plays on the curtains (while the set is changed) shows the crowd rushing around inside, attacking guards and setting things on fire. It all ends (scene 5) in Don Fernan’s castle’s main hall, where the peasants appear, catch Fernan (after Laurencia refuses his offer of treasure) and kill him. Then they do a dance of triumph which seems to be a bit of a Russian exhortation to hold strong against the forces of oppression – very telling with the German invasion just around the corner. (Total time for this act approximately one hour.) Note that this ballet is based on Lope de Vega’s story “Fuente Ovejuna.”

Review – Giselle – Mikhailovsky Ballet at the London Coliseum 2010

July 26, 2008

I’ve realized there’s little point in posting a review of a show that’s already finished up as most people look for them to help determine whether or not to go, but I will say just a bit about this show, sparing you the details about trying to find someone to go with me when my date for the evening said, “But … but … I totally forgot about you buying me those tickets for my birthday!” (Grr!)

Last night we saw the Mikhailovsky Ballet performing Giselle at the London Coliseum, part of a five night/three show visit by this group. I’m not sure if they’ve ever been to London before, but I was pretty eager to check them out … I’ve enjoyed the visits by the Bolshoi and was quite sad when I found out they weren’t coming to London this summer. The prices were quite high (again), so I decided against seeing more than one show, but I’ve noted that they’ve had tickets available at the half price booth everyday so some concessions have been made to keeping ticket costs in the breathable part of the atmosphere. I guess part of the issue is also that the Coliseum is really just such a barn – it’s hard to fill every seat, and, really, many of them aren’t that good; still, I suspect there are far few crappy seats at the Coliseum than there are at the Opera house (and let me tell you, when they say “standing room, restricted view,” they mean “enjoy the music because for between 60 and 40 percent of the time, that’s all you’re getting). The Coliseum also just has more damned seats, but this is good as it means less sell outs (which is how I wound up in lame standing side seats at the ROH).

At any rate, due to having most of the rest of the week booked (notice the near daily postings here, and, truth be told, I’m actually a day behind as I’ve already seen another show but not had time to write about it yet), Giselle was the winning show. I had seen this done by the Cuban National Ballet in Seattle some years ago and loved it; the story is quite fun (young girl falls in love with prince and then dies of a broken/faulty heart; ghost of young girl finds prince in wood and tries to KILL KILL KILL him – or something close enough to that, basically act two has evil fairies, which is enough for me to love the show) and the music is good. The surviving 19th century ballets are really just quite good and since every company plays them differently, it never gets old to see them (especially when they have great scores).

The show starred Anastasya Matvienko, who is apparently famous. I, of course, didn’t know her, because I am not up to date on dancers around the world; I just try to learn the ones in the local groups. She was really just extremely good – light hearted and lovely as a young woman; beautiful and powerful as a Wili (evil fairy). I was really amazed by how expressive she was with her feet – watching her dance during the second half, after the prince has been caught by the Wilis, was really impressive. She also brilliantly captured the “mad scene” after the prince’s identity (and non-availability) was revealed. Suddenly with her big eyes and her thin face she looked every bit the broken hearted, out of control, sickly teenaged girl who really just wasn’t going to make it past the end of act one. So Matvienko pulled off the thing I rarely see in Russian dancers – great acting married to the (expected) excellent technique – and she didn’t show off so much that it distracted from the story being told. I applaud her, and add this: I could not take my eyes off of her when she was on stage. What a treat!

She was paired with Denis Matvienko, who did a good job of being both arrogant, fearful, and, finally, tender and loving. His bravado leaps in the first act (which I always tend to think of as “showing off to the girl to prove how virile he is”) were high and sharp, including the ones with the half-turn in the air (God, can I please talk to somebody who can actually help me learn more about ballet so I can describe what’s going on with the right words?), but he also seemed to really understand how his dance conveys character and situation, so when he’s being forced to dance by the Queen of the Wilis (Oksana Shestakova), the smoothness and, well, lack of passion in his dancing – a bit hard to convey when you’re also trying to show that you’re being forced to dance very hard – really nicely conveyed the idea of being bewitched. Good on you, Denis, and as a side note, very nice work by Roman Petukov in the role of the the man who does have to dance himself to death. Actually, I’m a bit amused, because both Giselle and “The gamekeeper” die, but instead of feeling moved at the tragedy, instead I was excited by how good their dancing was. It seemed morbid, but, what can I say, I loved watching them and they gave great performances!

Anyway, in short: gorgeous. My only complaint is the lighting design – it was irritating to watch the dancers walk from light into shadow when merely going across the stage, and some places in which the dancers were standing were positively dark. The follow spot operator also did a poor job of keeping the light on the person who was the center of attention in any given scene, something which would have helped overcome the deficiencies in the lighting of the set. And, truth be told, I preferred the choreography that the Ballet Nacional de Cuba used, which had much more forceful Wilis – I just didn’t get the kind of shivers up my spine that I did when watching theirs (though I was happy to say goodbye to the cheesy 70s sets). That said, I am sorry I am not going back to see the triple bill tomorrow but my wallet failed to make the grade. With luck we’ll see them again next year!

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, July 25th, 2008.)