Posts Tagged ‘Ivan Vasiliev’

Laurencia, with Osipova and Vasiliev, Mikhailovsky Ballet, London Coliseum, April 2013

3 April, 2013

Soviet Realism meets Don Quixote, with the good Don replaced by an evil Commander whom the peasants destroy. He abducts the beautiful Laurencia, imprisoning her lover Frondoso, and there is a nasty sexual assault by two soldiers on a peasant named Jacinta. The women are both badly used and emerge with dirty torn skirts, but there is plenty of wonderfully happy dancing by the peasants, choreographed by famous Georgian dancer and choreographer Vakhtang Chabukiani.

Frondoso and Laurencia, all images ©MikhailovskyTheatre

Frondoso and Laurencia, all images ©MikhailovskyTheatre

As a powerful presence on stage himself, he wrote steps for a strong male dancer in the leading role of Frondoso, and Ivan Vasiliev made the most of it. With his extraordinary ability to perform multiple pirouettes that slow down and come to a perfect stop, his brilliant leaps en tournant, and his fine stage presence, Vasiliev was well matched by the technical brilliance and musicality of Natalia Osipova. Did I see a quadruple fouetté en tournant? Certainly there were some triples, but it is her dramatic commitment and attention to detail that make her so exciting to watch. The two of them together are a marvel.

2.Laurencia. Natalia Osipova and Ivan VasilievYet the whole company gave this huge sparkle, and Sabina Yapparova as Pasquala was a delight. It was she and Osipova who cleverly scuttled away from the soldiers in Act I, and her classical dancing in Act II, when the village celebrates the union of Laurencia and Frondoso, was outstanding. At the other end of the pleasantry spectrum, Mikhail Venshchikov portrayed the Commander as a thoroughly nasty piece of work, and he stayed in character for the curtain calls to receive the welcoming boos.

If you want to see an old Soviet ballet, this one from 1939 is well worth the ticket, and if you want to see some spectacular male dancing this is a must-see, with Vasiliev and Osipova giving a second performance on April 3. Set and costume designs by Vadim Ryndin are lovely, and Valery Ovsyanikov in the orchestra pit gave a strong impetus to Alexander Krein’s music. This composer seems to have adapted rather well to the Soviet system, and his music serves its purpose, but the reason to go to this, and it’s an excellent reason, is to see Chabukiani’s choreography performed with enormous panache.

Following a second performance of Laurencia with Osipova and Vasiliev on April 3, the Mikhailovsky Ballet will perform other productions until April 7 — for details click here.

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Don Quixote, with Osipova and Vasiliev, Mikhailovsky Ballet, London Coliseum, March 2013

1 April, 2013

For classical ballet in glorious costumes with plenty of bouncy music it is hard to equal Don Quixote, and the Mikhailovsky Ballet did us proud with the feast they served up at the London Coliseum. The feel-good music by Minkus, plus some additions by Drigo, is a favourite of pianists in ballet class, and Lanchbery used parts of it in Tales of Beatrix Potter.

Osipova and Vasiliev, all images © Mikhailovsky Theatre

Osipova and Vasiliev, all images © Mikhailovsky Theatre

This dance-pantomime is not a recent favourite of British companies, though Carlos Acosta is staging a new version for the Royal Ballet in October 2013. That aside we have tended to rely on the Russians to bring it over, and they never fail to please. Originally created by Minkus and Petipa for Moscow in 1869, they expanded it for St. Petersburg two years later, and in 1900 and 1902 Alexander Gorsky restaged it in both cities. What we see here is due to Petipa and Gorsky.

2.Don Quixote. Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev2_The whole company gave a vivid portrayal of the choreography, led by the peerless Natalia Osipova as Kitri, who doesn’t merely use the music as background but feels it in all the small movements of her body. Ivan Vasiliev as her lover Basilio showed sensational leaps en tournant, hugely dramatic if sometimes untidy and his smaller jumps sometimes lacked classical poise. His strong partnering allowed him to perform an arabesque while holding her up with one hand, the orchestra falling silent for effect, and when they enter the tavern and he catches her as she flies horizontally through the air, he almost allows her head to sweep the floor. Wonderful fun.

Excellent solos from other dancers such as Nikolay Korypayev as the toreador, and Veronica Ignatyeva as Cupid in the dream scene. This white section, where Quixote dreams of his beloved Dulcinea in her enchanted garden of dryads, was beautifully performed and Natalia Osipova as Dulcinea was a delight.

Her exemplary dancing and musicality raised this joyous 2012 production to a seriously high level, and the Company responded in superb style. The glorious set and costume designs by Vyacheslav Okunev even had a horse and pony for the entrance of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in Act I. No expense spared, and the Mikhailovsky orchestra conducted by music director Pavel Bubelnikov played with great panache.

This London visit of the Mikhailovsky Ballet is a treat, and I look forward to their production of Laurencia on April 2. A Soviet era ballet, first danced by the Kirov in 1939, this is a village love story with a peasant rebellion against the wicked Commander who abducts the girl and imprisons her lover.

Performances of Laurencia take place on April 2 and 3, followed by other productions until April 7 — for details click here.

Giselle, with Osipova and Vasiliev, Mikhailovsky Ballet, London Coliseum, March 2013

27 March, 2013

What a pleasure this was. I’ve not seen the Mikhailovsky Giselle before, but it’s a fine production created in 2007 by Nikita Dolgushin, with excellent designs by Vyacheslav Okunev well lit by Mikhail Mekler. And the orchestra under Valery Ovsyanikov played with huge spirit, giving a performance far better than some of his work with the Royal Ballet. The dancing on the first night was led by Osipova and Vasiliev, who were both lured away from the Bolshoi in December 2011.

© Mikhailovsky Theatre

© Mikhailovsky Theatre

Natalia Osipova as Giselle was extraordinary. Her control, her wonderful jumps with gentle unhurried beats, and above all her musicality. Every tiny movement of her body showed how she felt the music. Of course, this is how it should be, but it so rarely is and even with some of the most brilliant dancers the music may be nothing but background. Here it is the essence. Yet it should not be supposed that Ms. Osipova is merely a very musical dancer with perfect technique — she is an actress, and her death in Act I following her shock that her lover is the Count, already betrothed to another, was heartbreaking.

As the Count himself, Ivan Vasiliev also showed fine dramatic talent, so sure of himself at first, yet horribly uncertain when the Gamekeeper, who adores Giselle, summons the hunting party to unmask him. In his powerful Act II solo, as fine fortissimos from the Russian orchestral brass demanded he dance to death, he showed himself to be almost exhausted before dawn rose at stage rear and the wilis power faded. The two of them together showed her to be a mere wisp, floating in the air as he moved on the ground, and her ability to float already showed itself with her solo dancing in Act I.

The other dancers gave fine support to these two principals, with good ensemble work from the corps in Act II, and full engagement by all dancers with the action in Act I. Ekaterina Borchenko as Queen of the Wilis in Act II performed fine jetés, and her borrées as she glided around the stage were a delight. Vladimir Tsal as the Gamekeeper was wonderful in his mime and his forceful interaction with the Count, and Anna Novosyolova as a rather young looking mother of Giselle showed grief at the end of Act I reminiscent of a Lady Capulet. And in the Act I peasant pas-de-deux, Sabina Yapparova showed glorious control and her musical dancing was a delight.

Altogether a terrific performance, and though you may not get the same two principals, this is a lovely production. Beautiful costumes, and the sets give a feeling of a world beyond, with a winding road to the castle in Act I, and a moonlit stream in Act II. The performance itself shows attention to detail that seems to have been lacking in some London shows by big Russian ballet companies in recent years. A great success for the Mikhailovsky ballet.

Performances of Giselle continue until March 29, followed by Don Quixote and other productions until April 7 — for details click here.

Petit Triple Bill: L’Arlésienne, Le jeune homme et la mort, Carmen, English National Ballet, ENB at the London Coliseum, July 2011

23 July, 2011

Roland Petit died less than two weeks ago, and the remarkable timing of this triple bill made it a wonderful tribute to his choreography. That I happened to go on July 22, rather than the first night was entirely fortuitous, and we were rewarded by an incredible performance of Le jeune homme brilliantly danced by guest artist Ivan Vasiliev, shown in the photo below and making his debut with the company.

Ivan Vasiliev in Jeune Homme, photo by Laurent Liotardo

I’ll come back to this wholly unexpected treat later, but things started more gently with L’Arlésienne, based on a short story and play by Alphonse Daudet. It expresses the anguish and eventual suicide of a young man who cannot forget a woman in Arles. Despite having a lovely fiancée and a group of peasant friends who try to support him, he descends into madness and ends up throwing himself out of a window. The choreography is intriguing, and reminiscent of that wonderful Ballets Russes work Les Noces, showing a wedding ceremony in a tightly knit peasant society. The music for L’Arlésienne was written by Bizet for the original play, and will be familiar from two orchestral suites that are often played. The ensemble dancing was excellent, and Erina Takehashi gave a lovely portrayal of the girl, so full of life. By contrast the young man is heading for death, and although Esteban Berlanga danced it with huge energy, warming to the agony as the ballet progressed, his emotion seemed unconvincing.

Esteban Berlanga in L'Arlésienne, photo by Simon Tomkinson

Carmen, the last item on the programme, is great fun, but to those who know Bizet’s opera the music is not always used for the same scenes in the ballet, and the characterisation is confusing. Don Jose with his cape looks more like a toreador than a simple soldier, and the Toreador himself, who comes in towards the end, is rather too camp. But Adela Ramirez as the Bandit girl was sexy, sassy and adorable, very well supported by Juan Rodriguez and Joshua McSherry-Gray as the bandits. Fabian Reimair was a stylish Don Jose, proudly assertive at the start yet showing a slow descent to desperation, and Begoña Cao was a fiercely cold Carmen. More warmth and emotion from the two main characters would have been welcome, but that had already come in bucketfuls from Ivan Vasiliev in the second item of the programme.

Begoña Cao and Fabian Reimair in Carmen, photo by Patrick Baldwin

Vasiliev was quite extraordinary, and apparently wanted to dance  Jeune Homme as a tribute to Roland Petit’s widow Zizi Jeanmaire. He gave it everything: enormous feeling, terrifying acrobatics, and hugely suppressed desire and emotion. His nemesis was Jia Zhang as the girl — the femme fatale who takes him to his death. She was superbly controlled and manipulative, and immensely desirable in her yellow dress. As he grasped her wrist he gave her a look of quiet desperation, and the two of them together created a glorious effect. In the final minute and a half the room vanishes and we see rooftops. It’s a fabulous set, costing an arm and a leg, but worth every penny, and this was a truly memorable occasion. Wonderful conducting by Benjamin Pope, particularly of the Bach music for Jeune Homme.

We don’t see enough of Roland Petit’s work in this country so go to this if you have the chance. Performances continue until July 24 — for details click here.

Ashton’s Romeo and Juliet, Peter Schaufuss Ballet, London Coliseum, July 2011

12 July, 2011

Frederick Ashton choreographed Romeo and Juliet for the Royal Danish Ballet in 1955, and it was on a smaller scale than the 1965 Kenneth MacMillan version familiar to Covent Garden audiences. Schaufuss’s mother and father danced Juliet and Mercutio in the original, so Peter Schaufuss is very much involved in this work, and he worked with Ashton on a new production for the English National Ballet in 1985 when he was artistic director. At that time they included ensemble pieces that enlarged the ballet, but in this production Schaufuss claims to have gone back to the original, including original costume designs by Peter Rice, which are wonderful.

Vasiliev and Osipova, photo by Charlotte MacMillan

He has also pared it down to fairly minimal sets by Luciano Melini, showing a large foreground with steps at the rear to a slightly higher level. This has the effect that the front curtain can remain open during scene changes, which are aided by clever alterations in the lighting and changing backdrops. Despite the London Coliseum’s large stage this production has a small cast, enlarged for the Gala on Tuesday, by including Lynn Seymour and David Wall as the Montague parents and Wayne Sleep as Peter the Page — this is what most of the press will review.

Vasiliev and Osipova in rehearsal, photo Tristram Kenton

However, the main couple, Ivan Vasiliev and Natalia Osipova, dance all week, and they’re outstanding. She shows huge emotion in the second part as she rejects Paris, flying around the stage in agony before going to see Friar Laurence, very calmly played by Peter Schaufuss himself. Vasiliev is equally terrific, dancing with perfection. His characterisation of the role shows real feeling, and his sword fight with Tybalt was superbly done. In fact the sword fights, to Ashton’s original choreography, are wonderful. Choreographically this has some glorious moments, and Vasiliev was well supported by Alban Lendorf as Mercutio who danced with great vigour and panache, and Peter Schaufuss’s daughter Tara as Mercutio’s girlfriend. Stephen Jefferies gave an immensely strong and cool portrayal of Lord Capulet, with Zoe Ashe-Browne as his wife.

If you’re looking for the balcony scene and those lovely bustling scenes in the square you’ll be disappointed, but this is a must-see for two reasons. One is that Ashton’s Romeo and Juliet is seldom performed in London, but the main reason is that Vasiliev and Osipova are incredible. How they will manage to dance every performance I don’t know, and their first night on Monday was spoiled by technical faults with an unmovable front curtain, adding an extra half-hour or more to the interval, while audience and orchestra remained patiently seated. But it was worth waiting because the English National Ballet Orchestra played Prokofiev’s music superbly under the direction of Graham Bond, so if you can get tickets, do go.

Performances continue every day with Vasiliev and Osipova as Romeo and Juliet — for details click here.

Don Quixote, Bolshoi Ballet, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, August 2010

7 August, 2010

This thrilling spectacle of classical dance was first performed at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in 1869, choreographed by Marius Petipa, who had just become artistic director of the Maryinsky Ballet in St. Petersburg. More than twenty years earlier he’d spent three years in Spain and learned to love Spanish dance — much celebrated in this ballet — though he left Spain rather suddenly to avoid a duel against a French marquis, a member of the French embassy, with whose wife he’d been having an affair. Petipa was quite a lad as a young dancer!

Don Q was revised by Alexander Gorsky in 1900, the year he became manager of the Bolshoi, and is a staple of their repertory. In fact it’s arguably their jewel in the crown, endowed with a mass of glorious costumes, and sets that allow ample room for the ballet’s choreographic pyrotechnics, which were on brilliant view here.

Vasiliev and Osipova, photo by M. Logvinov 2006

The main roles were danced by Ivan Vasiliev and Natalia Osipova, who were spectacular three years ago when the Bolshoi came to the London Coliseum. At that time Vasiliev was a mere 18 and Osipova 21, so both are still very young, and this time they were even more sensational. They are stars of the first magnitude. Not only can Vasiliev do corkscrew turns at 45 degrees and land perfectly into a half-kneeling position, he dances absolutely on the music. So does Osipova and her fouettés en tournant were superb, with repeated doubles, and even a triple. These two dancers have the flamboyance and technical wizardry that this ballet requires, and the one-hand overhead lift, with both dancers in arabesque, was quite remarkable, particularly when Vasiliev went up on demi-pointe at the end of it. They have to be seen to be believed, and it’s no surprise that on the way home, carrying a programme, I was greeted by other audience members saying, “Wasn’t that amazing!”

Natalia Osipova as Kitri, photo by Damir Yusopov 2009

Vasiliev and Osipova were out of this world, but they were only part of the story, and the whole company did a superb job. Just to mention a few, I thought Alexei Loparevich was wonderful as Don Q himself, and in the gypsy dance of Act III Anna Antropova was extraordinarily supple and admirably musical. Nina Kaptsova was an excellent Cupid in Act II, and Olga Stebletsova and Victoria Osipova were very good as Kitri’s friends in Act I, as was Anna Balukova as Mercedes. It’s difficult to apportion praise accurately because the cast-list was a little confusing — the main couple in the Act III Spanish dance were presumably two of the three people listed, but which two?  I hope the Bolshoi improve the casting information on their next visit.

The other problem was the music. This is great stuff by Minkus, only overshadowed later when Tchaikovsky came along, but the conducting in Acts I and II was a bit lifeless — I’ve heard excerpts from Act I done far more vivaciously by pianists in ballet class. The cast-list showed Pavel Klinichev as the conductor, but at the end of Act III, which was musically far better, the conductor who took the bows was Pavel Sorokin. When he conducted Don Q three years ago, he filled the music with vibrant energy, so did they switch conductors for Act III? Puzzling. Some people say they come for the dance not the music, but for dancers who are very musical — and Vasiliev and Osipova are certainly in that category — the conductor makes quite a difference.

Finally, dancing and music aside, this is a wonderful production of Don Q, with very effective designs by Sergei Barkhin. The costumes, based on sketches from 1906 by Vasily Dyanchkov, realised by Tatiana Artamonova and Elena Merkurova, are glorious, with fine lighting design by Mikhail Sokolov.

Le Corsaire, Bolshoi Ballet, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, August 2010

3 August, 2010

This ballet, like Verdi’s opera Il Corsaro, is inspired by Byron’s poem The Corsair, but although the names of the main characters are the same, the plot of the ballet is very different. The poem inspired several choreographers and composers until in 1856, Joseph Mazilier presented it at the Paris Opéra to music by Adolphe Adam. There were later additions by other composers, and in the 1860s, Marius Petipa produced a new version, which towards the end of the century included some excellent music by Riccardo Drigo for an Act III pas-de-deux by two slaves.

The slave pas-de-deux but with other dancers, photo by Elena Fetisova

In 2007 the Bolshoi brought forth this new production with Petipa’s choreography partly recreated by Alexei Ratmansky and Yuri Burlaka, and extra music by Uncle Tom Cobley and all: Tchaikovsky, Delibes, Minkus, among them. Some of this music was part of Petipa’s 1899 version, but most was surely not, and the trouble is that it lacks focus. The whole evening lasted until 10:55, but if you’re inclined to leave before the end, I recommend staying for the very effective final scene of Act III, which shows the pirate ship in a storm. In the midst of a fight on board, the ship breaks up, but Conrad and his lover Medora do not die — this is a happy ending as they make it to shore, looking wonderful.

As for the dancing, some of it was very good, and I liked Vitaly Biktimirov as the rebellious Corsaire, Birbanto. He was absolutely on the music, as was one of the three girls in the pas-de-trois of the odalisques — I think it was Anna Leonova — but being on the music is not one of the Bolshoi’s strong points. The conductor Pavel Klinichev could have helped by keeping up the tempo, but he frequently went at a snail’s pace, particularly in the solos, and Act II was dire in this respect. Lovely costumes and sets, but when I sit at the ballet I want to see dancing, not a series of poses. Excitement was sadly lacking, and the soloists seemed to expect more applause than they received during the performance. Although I liked the sets they did not suit the Covent Garden stage, leaving less than an ideal space for dancing, even with the proscenium arch widened to its full extent. The stage is very deep but the sets seemed designed more for width than depth.

The main roles of Conrad and Medora were danced by Nikolai Tsiskaridze and Maria Alexandrova, with Marianna Ryzhkina as Gulnare, and the slave pas-de-deux was danced by Ivan Vasiliev and Nina Kaptsova, so it should have been terrific, but the slow tempo of Kilinichev’s conducting did not allow it.

After seeing an excellent Spartacus when the Bolshoi opened their London season, this was a let-down, but I look forward to a thrilling Don Quixote, which I have seen this company do before to great effect.

Spartacus, Bolshoi Ballet, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, July 2010

20 July, 2010

A revolt by slaves against their Roman overlords is the theme for this ballet by Yuri Grigorovich, based on real events, but more on that later. There are four principal protagonists: Spartacus and his lover Phrygia against the Roman general Crassus and his lover Aegina. Crassus and Aegina were danced by Alexander Volchkov and Maria Allash, the same couple I saw three years ago at the London Coliseum. Volchkov is very strong — he gives a magnificent portrayal — and although she got off to a weak start, as did many members of the corps in Act I, things warmed up later and Acts II and III were powerfully danced by everyone.

Vasiliev as Spartacus, Bolshoi Theatre photo by Damir Yusupov

What really made it memorable, however, was Ivan Vasiliev as Spartacus. He was phenomenal. This is a ballet that gives us stage-devouring leaps and extraordinary lifts, performed to perfection by Vasiliev, with Nina Kaptsova as a captivating Phrygia, and their musicality made their performance a sublime experience. The brilliance of his dancing was breathtaking. The final tableau, when his body is retrieved from the battlefield, where he has been ‘crucified’ on the spears of the Romans, is a moment for her to show her grief, which she did well. No happy ending here, but what was Grigorovich thinking when he created this ballet in 1968, the year the Soviet army crushed the Prague Spring? Who represents the Soviet State: the brave Thracian slaves who rebel, or the fascist leaders of Rome? Grigorovich seems to have been sailing very close to the wind.

As for the real Spartacus, he lived about 120–70 BCE and was at one time a Roman auxiliary soldier, later sold into slavery and made a gladiator. The major revolt he helped to lead turned into the Third Servile War, and although Spartacus and his army won victories against the Roman forces, they were eventually defeated by Marcus Crassus, whose brutal leadership led him to decimate some of his own forces. In his victory over Spartacus, he captured 6,000 of his army of slaves and crucified them all on the Appian Way. No orders were given to take them down and they remained a stark reminder for years.

In this dramatic rendering of the story the orchestra under Pavel Sorokin played Khachaturian’s rambunctious score with evident enthusiasm, yielding art rather than bombast except at the beginning when the sound from the overture and parts of Act I was deafening, at least from the Amphitheatre. But they settled down later, and there were lovely moments of calm and tranquillity, as well as thunder. The costume designs by Simon Virsaladze are wonderful, and the lighting excellent. This is a fine start to the Bolshoi’s three-week season here, and Spartacus will have four more performances, the last two on 31st July.