Posts Tagged ‘Oksana Bondareva’

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 – Swan Lake – Mikhailovsky at London Coliseum 2010

July 13, 2010

The Mikhailovsky’ Swan Lake has corrected all of the flaws of the recent Ballet Nacional De Cuba production and kept none of its charms. The curtain raises on a glowing scene; courtiers primarily dressed in white parade around a lovely tan and cream drop, designedwith a hint of autumn yet all overlaid by a blinding snowiness that said to me, “Swans!” The tutor (Andrey Bregvaze) appears and then the jester (Denis Tolmachev), who, unlike the BNC version, seems to serve an almost entirely decorative function with just a bit of show-offy dancing. At last our Siegfried (Marat Shemiunov) appears; stunningly long-legged, he towers over the other dancers and appears gawky because of his horrible, homely shoes. Clearly he will never find a bride amongst this crowd of Liliputians; we must wait for Act 2 for love to come his way. Meanwhile there is much Young Werther style moping to be done while the courtiers limpidly parade around the stage and Mom (Zvezdana Martina) arrives to chastize him and give him a nice crossbow.

Energy finally comes to this scene as the Pas De Trois kicks off, with Anastasia Lomachenkova, Oksana Bondareva, and Anton Ploom strutting their stuff. Ultimately the women seemed to have little to add (no help from the missing follow spot here), leaving Ploom to steal the entire act with his bold leaps and effervescence. Q’s shorter, first solo in act 3 confirmed my guess that he wasn’t going to display the verve I always hope for in my male leads; he turned rather than whirled, landed firmly but somehow not decisively, and generally lacked “spring.” I wished for Steve McRae to leap in from the wings and show him how to do it with life. It’s a problem I think may have come with Shemiunov’s legs; the longer levers work against dancers when it comes to lift.

Act one ended on a bit of a comic note for me, as Siegfried’s sudden interest in shooting pretty things made me flash back to the Prospect Park goose cull written up in today’s New York Times. Goose Lake: how would this ballet be told? A break between acts and my reverie was broken by the sudden hope of glitter, glamour, beauty and tragedy for Act 2. What I did get was twenty four women dressed in white tutus and an Odette who appeared to have no bones and double joints; but all of the back-bends in the world could not compensate for the lack of chemistry between the two leads. Was he excited to find her? Was she bowled over by true love? Or were they each dancing their own ballets, simultaneously? Von Rothbart (er, “Evil Genius,” Vladimir Tsal), appearing in a black costume with attractively short wings but an appallingly tall headpiece, crept on behind the pair and suddenly gave me a repressed urge to say, “It’s behind you!” This was especially sad because Tsal danced well, but the spell of Swan Lake had failed to be cast by the end of Act 2, and I knew the rest of the evening might be tragic but I was never going to care enough for it to be a tragedy.

Act three was gorgeous, with fantastic costumes that had me distracted by the detailing used to define the soloists in each of the group dance scenes. I adored the painted feathers on the Mazurkas’ dresses (hoping I got the name of the dance right!), and the mantillas and mirrored black/grey/white dresses the Spanish dancers wore were nab-worthy. (Von Rothbart, however, seemed to have stepped right out of World of Warcraft.) But Odile failed at being evil and gleeful, and neither she nor Siegfried showed the sexual energy I see as key to this act. Were they just nervous because it was opening night, or were they merely bored? Where was the electricity? Where was the seduction, and then the triumph? Instead we got our requisite fouettes as if that was the highlight of the entire show. I was crushed.

My disappointment was cemented at last with act 4, which had the ending I hate the most the one that totally lacks emotional punch: It’s simple; if Odette doesn’t die because of Siegfried’s mistake, this ballet loses its power. Ultimately, this Swan Lake has nearly perfect production values … and a complete lack of passion in any of the dancing. I longed for Ballet Nacional de Cuba’s creaky toe shoes and dusty sets. Technical skill we may have seen, but I must advise against “Swan Lake: Escape from the Black Cockatoo” in favor of a production with a heart. Here’s hoping the company is redeemed on Saturday when I return for Cipollino.

(This review is for the opening night performance that took place on July 13th, 2010. Running time for Act 1 & 2 is about one hour: act 3 ended at 9:40 and we hit the sidewalk outside the Coliseum at about 10:30.)