Posts Tagged ‘Dmitri Gudanov’

Review – Ballets Russes program- English National Ballet at Sadler’s Wells

June 18, 2009

Attending the English National Ballet’s Ballets Russes program so soon after the Diaghilev one at the Royal Ballet Opera House was actually far more fun than I’d expected it to be. Part of my reason for wanting to attend each of them was that I am fascinated by the Ballets Russes – the costumes! Nijinsky! – but have only had the most limited opportunities to see the ballets themselves, despite their legendary status (Firebird being the notable exception, as I’ve seen it twice – and while I’ve seen a few versions of Rite of Spring none have been the Diaghilev choreography). The list of productions I’ve heard about that were being featured was tremendous (woo Le Spectre de la Rose!) and sure to fill in some real gaps in my knowledge. And, fortunately, as it turned out, the ROH show was only extracts, meaning that as I arrived at Sadler’s Wells, I had developed a real thirst to see the whole of Scheheradaze. (I was actually a little confused about how one show had 20 pieces in it and the other only 5 – but I can say now that the ENB evening is all complete works – though I didn’t realize that it wasn’t “ Diaghilev’s “L’Apres-midi d’un Faune” that was presented, but a new work, “Faune(e), using the same music.) With two programs to choose from, I went for the one with more new works, program I (Apollo, Le Spectre de la Rose, The Dying Swan, Faun(e), Schéhérazade). I didn’t realize at the time about Faun(e), but I did see that program II‘s Rite was the MacMillan one, so not worth getting fussed about missing. My tickets were main floor, row R, about second from the back – and if you were wondering, they were great – my view was in no way obstructed. Win! (This is also a much better venue to see ENB than the London Coliseum – it’s so much more intimate. I hope ENB sticks to Sadler’s Wells – I’ll go see them more often if they do.)

I was excited to get to Sadler’s Wells and discover the night was sold out. I like the energy of a full house. Oddly, though there was a bunch of photographers outside, too! Apparently due to there being a premiere that night (and opening night) , a bunch of celebs had got free tickets for the show, including Stephen Fry and Jeremy Irons (photos here). I was actually surprised about all of the fuss (especially as I was worried for a bit that they weren’t going to let us in as we didn’t already have our tickets with us and were obviously not particularly important). I think these people ought to come to the ballet all the time, an not just when they have free tickets. Shame on them for coming so rarely that it warranted cameras! Ballet deserves better.

First up was “Apollo.” It’s hard for me to review this production because I just don’t like it. The cheesy props (the lute, the scroll, the mask, etc.) are corny and look like a Man Ray “Rayogram” – they make a pretty (static) picture but look painfully dated. I also loathe the worshipful way the women look at Apollo – it’s so over the top it’s like something out of a panto. Furthermore, the movement on heels makes the dancers look like clowns. There are a few pretty images – Apollo being led by the “chariot horses,” the bit where the three girls stand so their legs come out from Apollo like the rays of the sun – but mostly it just grates on me.

This performance also had its own issues. The three muses were gorgeous with their blonde (Agnes Oaks), brunette (Daria Klimentova), and raven (Erina Takahashi) hair, but they didn’t do well at dancing in unison, even failing to keep an even distance between them in some sections. Apollo (Thomas Edur) couldn’t lift two muses (not very God-like) without effort, and then when he was balancing Terpsichore (Oaks) on the back of his neck, he seemed to be struggling with her, like he was trying to arrange a sack of potatoes to take to market. This led to him putting her into position to lean against him, and he also was fumbling around getting her into place. It seemed kind of inexcusable. Terpsichore had great form – I loved how she held the curve of her body when he lifted her up over his shoulder and then rolled her back down to the ground – but Apollo was, sadly, not. It’s always the men that show the greatness of a ballet company, and Edur left ENB a little short. Perhaps some more rehearsal time and a few sessions at the gym would help.

As a side note – it was quite the deal that Karl Lagerflield had designed new costumes for this show. I liked Apollo’s all white look (goodbye to that corny gold belt!), with the sort of arrow-sling over his chest – but the ragged skirts of the muses looked sloppy. Goddesses know how to keep their skirts straight, especially when Mr. B set them dancing. Ah well.

Next up was Le Spectre de la Rose, with Gina Brescianini as “the young girl” and Daniel Gaudiello as the spirit of the rose. At first I was highly enthused about seeing this in a full production, with the bedroom set so nicely done and the open window. Brescianini’s costume still had an unfortunate Mrs. Tiggywinkle effect (thanks to the bonnet), but Gaudiello’s was … hmm. The flowers on the head seemed less pronounced, less pink, and the overall effect was … less like he’d just arisen fresh out of a pond scattered with petals than the one I’d seen at the Diaghilev gala. Even though the green leotard made him still look substantially undressed, it still just was not as sexy as the other one. And as he danced, rather than seeming like a wild spirit, he began to seem more like he had his smile painted on him. A lot of his leaps required minor readjustments after landing that … well, made me wish for the version I’d seen previously. Maybe it’s really hard to follow in Dmitri Gudanov’s steps. The performance still had the sense of a young woman being called into her passionate self by a supernatural creature, but the set didn’t make nearly as much of a difference in the end.

The Dying Swan (Elena Glurdjidze) I had high hopes for, after finding Uliana Lopatkina looking rather a bit too fresh out of chemotherapy for me to enjoy her performance wholeheartedly. It started well, despite the bizarre furry collar and the ill-fitting bodice (this was Chanel? – I thought maybe it had actually been made for someone else, it hung so poorly), but once she got on the floor … it was like she’d lost her concentration. Lopatkina was fully involved in the role, but Glurdjidze looked like she was thinking about what she needed to do. I understand that this was opening night, but, really, she should have been letting go a little bit more. I was disappointed.

Next was Faun(e), exciting because it was a world premiere (choreography by David Dawson) and something I wanted to see. The curtain opened on a bare set, stripped back to show the walls and some bits of set, with two pianos (Kevin Darvas and Chris Swithinbank) set up to perform the music. A tall man dressed in a green kilty-thing and an open necked shirt stood on stage, sliding his feet across the stage, then moving his legs, almost lazily … it was almost the direct opposite of what men are normally allowed to do on stage. It’s usually LEAPS and LEAPS AND TURNS and LIFTS and generally being macho. But he was graceful, showing that he had as much music in him as any female dancer did. He seemed to be dreaming along with the music. And as the music continued, he was joined by another man, and they danced together, with some lifts and some leaps, but, to me, mostly it was about expressing the pure joy of the music and not about doing showy male dancer moves. I liked it, but, to be honest, I don’t think it’s go the “oomph” to hold up against the other dances set to this music.

This left the final piece, Scheherazade, and let me tell you did they ever make the right choice in having this be the piece that closed the night. It had all of the pageantry and excesses of Firebird, then topped them further with, um, an onstage orgy (of course it was only simulated but it was really just the utter opposite of Ye Olde White Skirt Ballet). It was an Orientalist/Odalisque/harem fantasy, with gorgeous women dripping with sexuality (and wearing fantasy costumes that did appear to have a bit in common with traditional Turkish/central Asian looks) and apparently having nothing else on their minds once their overlord had left than satisfying their desires with something a little better than the palace eunuch (Daniel Jones, such a riot). Elena Glurdjidze was much more fun in this role (Zobeide), and displayed the incredible flexibility that I think is probably vital to this completely not-on-pointe ballet; and while her Golden Slave (Dmitri Gruzdyev if I’m not mistaken) and she didn’t create the painfully intense effect Lopatkina and Igor Zelensky had at the ROH (the bending and twisting were more exquisite, and Zelensky had no trouble lifting and balancing Lopatkina – yes, this problem reoccured here), still the overall emotional impact of this dance, ending with the death of all of the harem women and the male slaves with whom they had shared a few moments of joy, was far greater than it had been in the extract. I left feeling exhilirated and thinking I’d like nothing more than to sneak back on Thursday or Saturday and see this program again.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, June 16th, 2009. English National Ballet’s two Ballets Russes programs continue at Sadler’s Wellls through Saturday, June 20th. For alternate reviews of this program, please see The Guardian, the Telegraph, or tweeter @GWDanceWriter – Graham Watts – at LondonDance.com.)

Review – Tribute to Diaghilev – “International Stars” and Royal Ballet members at Royal Opera House

June 8, 2009

The Sunday “Tribute to Diaghilev” event at the Royal Opera House seemed a bit of a mystery to me, best summarized as “Flashy Russian Dancers” and “Flashy Russian Ballet!” rather than “Some Particular Company” doing “Any Ballet, Really.” I had no idea what was going to happen. Were there going to be speeches? Was it a way of promoting Russian culture? Was everything going to go Fa Lun Gung and leave me sneaking out the back between sets? I couldn’t tell, but since I love flashy Russian ballet and flashy Russian dancers (and really wanted to flesh out some more of my Diaghilev knowledge – so much that I’ve only ever seen photos of still!), I decided to go ahead and fork out for the rather expensive privilege of attending this show.

God knows why the tickets were so high – not a single set came with the dancers (leaving poor Petrushka fighting to escape from an invisible prison), the orchestra was provided by the Royal Ballet, and based on the pathetic handling of curtain calls (Bow on the stage! No, come in front of the curtain!) and props (I’ve never seen the “Apollo’s Lute” variation of Les Sylphides before) it was clear they hadn’t bothered with a dress rehearsal to work out the kinks beforehand. That left us with the Diaghilev tribute element – thankfully limited to one short burst of film that was maybe 5 minutes long and sloppily narrated – and the dancing, which consisted of gorgeous ones and twos of people doing “K-Tel’s Power Duets and Solos Snippets a la Ballet Russes,” fully costumed, no holds barred and no silly plot to tire them out or get in the way of the dancing. In short, there was lots of great dancing, which was what I came for, but the snippets were so short I found them a bit difficult to digest. On the other hand, wow, dancers just doing the memorable highlights while they’re all fresh, ZOWIE! It was a format I was comletely unused to (since for me a night of shorts usually means no more than 4 ballets, not 15), but once I’d mentally adjusted to it as a taster of ballets I didn’t know performed by people who were going to rock my socks off, I was good.

As for the program, mystery as it was, here it is reproduced to the best of my typing abilities (after the first, assume by Mikhail Fokine unless I say otherwise, * for dancers not in RB, bold for new shows for me):

Scheherazade (by Fokine, danced by Uliana Lopatkina*, Igor Zelensky*), Daphnis and Chloe (by Ashton, danced by Natasha Oughtred, Federico Bonelli), Petrushka (danced by Dmitri Gruzdyev), La Chatte (by Ashton, danced by Alexandra Ansanelli), Giselle (danced by Mathilde Froustey*, Mathias Heyman* – not originally in program), Tamar (by Smoriginas, danced by Irma Nioradze*, Ilya Kuznetsov – ditto), Le Spectre de la Rose (danced by Yevgenia Obraztsova*, Dmitri Gudanov*), interval, Apollo (by Balanchine, danced by Maria Kowroski*, Igor Zelenski*), Les Sylphides (danced by Tamara Rojo, David Makhateli), Le Tricorne (by Myassin, danced by Dmitri Gudanov*), The Firebird (danced by Irma Nioradze*, Ilya Kuznetsov*), Les Biches (by Nijinska, danced by Mara Galeazzi, Bennet Gartside), Swan Lake (by Petipa, danced by Marianela Nunez, Thiago Soares), Le Carnaval (danced by Yevgenia Obraztsova*, Andrei Batalov*) and The Dying Swan (danced by Uliana Lopatkina*) Oddly not included was “The Rite of Spring,” a damned shame as I’d like to see how it was originally done.

Of the various short performances, my very favorite was Andrea Ansanelli (retiring? No!) in “La Chatte,” a sweet little bonbon of a dance that was just perfect from start to finish. Wearing a cute (but not face obliterating) mask with white ears and a feathered dress, Ansanelli groomed, preened, stretched, flirted, did impossible things with her legs, clawed the furniture, and pirouetted off after a mouse. I thought it was just lovely – perhaps not the most technically challenging of the night but very memorable.

My second favorite (and winner of the “shows I’d like to see in full” award, though perhaps this is all there is to it) was “Le Spectre de la Rose,” a piece originally choreographed for Nijinski. The costume, a pink half-body leotard with flowers on the shoulders, head, and here and there was both androgynous and very male and just distractingly sexy. I could only imagine Edwardian matrons swooning in their chair at this piece. Who would have thought that this would be the spirit hiding within a rose? (Fortunately I’ll get to see it again when English National Ballet do their own Diaghilev performance at Sadler’s Wells – I can’t wait!)

The third best moment was … well, gosh, not the Russians, and not even Fokine! No, it was hometown company members Marianela Nunez and Thiago Soares rocking out with Odile’s duet with Prince Siegfried, in which she confirms her hold over him and her utter triumph over her rival (with a thrusting down of her arms at the very end – it just seems to say, “You’re cursed forever!” in my books). It is a very Russian moment, the bit of the ballet with the thirty-two fouettés en tournant (I didn’t count) that basically provides the unimaginative with a chance to evaluate ballerinas in the same way sopranos would be measured against the Queen of the Night’s high F – not a moment that really determines artistry but something measurable and, for many, memorable. I would imagine in the pure Russian style that this would be a dancer’s whole performance, making this tiny bit so memorable, with but Nunez we had the entire character of Odile there, the entire story accompanying her in a cloud. She was so sharp, so smooth, so seductive … so vicious, and Soares was just so the drugged-out-on-promises-of-sex aristocrat I always see Siegfried as in this scene (I always wind up hating him for being so ignorant and easily led astray) – BRRR there was clearly no need to import talent to this stage. Of course, I had the advantage of knowing this story just a little bit too well. AHEM.

Among the rest, I enjoyed Schehezade (once again, full of sex, perhaps this was how Diaghilev sold ballet to the masses?), with its costumes looking fresh out of a James Bond movie and athletic moves for Igor Zelensky (including a leap with a spin and a back kick – I wonder if it has a name?); Le Tricorne, a sort of Spanish flamenco/bullfighter thing that had Dmitri Gudanov practically leaping from a kneeling position into a high kick, very strong and impressive; and the pretty, pretty Le Carnaval, which had a Neapolitan couple (as I saw it) playing catch with each others hearts, Yevgenia Obraztsova and Andrei Batalov completely inhabiting their characters. My husband loved Ulyana Lopatkina’s Dying Swan, but she had so much elbow on display I couldn’t focus on her dancing (in short, she was so very thin I found it distracting); and Dmitri Gruzdyev was a strong Petrushka, giving me a chance to see the dance I may have ignored before but suffering from a lack of context.

None of the others were horrible, though I found Tamar boring and couldn’t help but laugh at Apollo (it’s the lute, it just looks ridiculous). It was a very good evening and my appetite is whetted for more. Too bad dance always looks so awful on the screen – I’d really like to see these works done in full!

(This show was a one time only performance that took place on Sunday, June 7th, 2009.)

* are people who aren’t in the Royal Ballet – I think. They are listed in the original cast list.