Sunday, February 21, 2016

Bolshoi Balet Episode 5, Part 1

The theme of this week’s episode is the solo. Unsurprisingly that means that the contestants are performing solos rather than duets, so there are twice as many points available in this week’s episode than in the previous ones.

We have two guest judges this time. Toomas Edur steps in for Farukh Ruzimatov, and Vladimir Vasiliev is the guest judge. As Ilze points out during the interview with Batoeva and Latypov, this changes the entire atmosphere in the hall and particularly at the judging table. Vladimir Vasiliev is considered one of the greatest dancers of the 20th century, and he had a lot more to say about artistry and choreographic style to the dancers. And his comments certainly galvanized the other judges to say something interesting, which I appreciated. At the same time, they were all a lot harsher towards the dancers, and the dancers seemed to be really feeling it - perhaps because in previous weeks they were treated so differently.

Ekaterina Bulgutova
Russian dance from Swan Lake
music: Tchaikovsky
choreography: Sergei Bobrov

My impression of Bulgutova as a dancer remains the same as in previous weeks. She moves beautifully - smoothly and proportionally (no garish leg lifts). But she gives very little accent or character to her dancing. In the little intro to this number, her teacher even talked about how much contrast there should be in this solo between the lyrical sections and the happier ones, but I don’t see that in Bulgutova’s performance. Her legs and arms are always moving in the same way, with the same amount of accent, no matter what’s going on in the choreography or music.

Yuri Kudryavtsev
“Jonathan Seagull”
music: Philip Glass
choreography: Dmitri Antipov

Kudryavtsev has similar issues to Bulgutova, though by the end of this solo he seemed to be breaking out of them. The violence required by the choreography in the second half forces Kudryavtsev to create big, bold gestures with his arms. Now I just wish he could do something similar in the earlier sections, when there’s less movement required.

Vasiliev starts out by giving his vote to both dancers. But he still wants to say to Ekaterina that there should be more difference between the beginning and end of the dance. He then tells Kudryavtsev that he didn’t see a seagull as he’s used to seeing them, with their big unfurling wings. (Y) (Y)

Lefèvre first of all wants to compliment Vasiliev for his words. She has spent a lot of time at the sea and looked at seagulls. They are insanely strong birds. There must, of course, be fragility and lightness, but one shouldn’t forget the power in the seagull’s wing. To Bulgutova she comments that the Russian dance has great music, but she performed it in small, constrained way. She wants to see Russia’s breadth in the dance. She was a little disappointed. But this is a real pair, they support each other in good characteristics and in their inadequacies. (Y) (Y)

Xiao Suhua is complete in agreement with Lefèvre. He wanted to see more Russian femininity in Bulgutova’s performance. He also did not think there was enough movement in the body in Kudryavtsev’s performance. (N) (N)

Toomas Edur saw depths in the eyes of the performers. Bulgutova needs to use her body more and to move more from the hip. She needs to use more space and to live more onstage.  He can see in her eyes that she does have this capability. (Y) Kudryavtsev’s performance touched him. He performed from the soul and truth, but it wasn’t detailed enough. But he really liked how Kudryavtsev moved. (Y)

Bulgutova: 3/4
Kudryavtsev: 3/4

My scores:
Bulgutova: 6
Kudryavtsev: 7

Anastasia Soboleva
Mazurka from Scriabiniana
music: Scriabin
choroegraphy: Goleizovsky

What a lovely performance! I’ve been quite skeptical of Soboleva since her Swan Lake in week 1. Well, call me a convert. This performance was delicate and expressive - there was a great contrast between her movement in the A and B sections of the music. In the lighter portions, she plays with the musical accents and the movement almost all originates from her feet. In the more somber sections, she leads with her torso, and in particular her shoulders, creating rippling effects in her arms.

Viktor Lebedev
variation from Grand Pas Classique
music: Daniel Francois Esprit Aube
choreography: Viktor Gzovsky

Lebedev has a very smooth performance style. He’s perfectly controlled, even in the very virtuosic bits. At the same time, much like Bulgutova, there’s a sense of sameness to the whole performance. I think that in previous rounds, to some degree, he’s been relying on Soboleva to supply all the personality. I realize there’s not a lot of character to the Grand Pas Classique, but there’s still musical and choreographic emphasis that can be put on certain steps. For instance, in the series of jumps in a circle, the really good dancers put more emphasis on the turning steps on the ground, almost dragging their bodies into position for the jumps. This makes the eventual jump into the air more spectacular and freeing, because it’s juxtaposed with the weight and drag of the steps on the ground. Nevertheless, Viktor’s turns at the end are excellent, and I especially enjoyed his little smile when he realized he was going to make it through the entire performance without any real mistakes.


Xiao Suhua says that Soboleva won him over with her poetry. It was like a little choreographic poem. She performed it excellently - her taste and movement and accent. (Y) Viktor is very elegant. This is one of his favorite pas de deux. Then he criticizes Viktor’s legs (I think his pointe) in the pirouette. (Y)

Lefèvre says that from the first notes of Scriabin's music, she suddenly remembered all the performers who have done this variation, including of course the great Maximova, and it is impossible to forget her performance, particularly in the presence of Vasiliev. In Soboleva, we see a brilliant dancer, very moving, who performs with intelligence. But there should be choreographic phrases, just as there are musical phrases, and she doesn’t think she really saw the correspondence between them that she wanted. (N) To Viktor she says that of course there are a million things on which one could always work. All professionals (and here she gestures to Xiao Suhua in reference to his comments) know that one must work and work. Viktor danced very sympathetically and elegantly, but she has a little advice to give him: he tends to look down or away when doing something difficult - dancers should always be bold and look forward. (Y)

Vasiliev tells Nadezhda that she forgot the most important thing, which is that this is the dance of a little girl - not a young woman. It is a memory of the sweetness of childhood. Each step must be on pointe but also as if it were playing with adulthood. He thanks her for bringing attention to this Mazurka, of course it’s important that we don’t forgot the masterpieces that were staged in the past, of course we must see new performances. But, at the same time, Soboleva missed it. We (the audience is implied) must dance together with our bodies, we must experience that which we hear. We are forgetting the whole time that we don’t dance under music, we don’t go behind it, but rather we should be intertwined with it. So Viktor, for example, (he then sings the music for the circle of jumps and demonstrates a bit) every movement should be legato. (N) (N)

(Nadezhda very graciously thanks Vasiliev for his words and says they will work on it.) 

Edur says that he admires Soboleva’s fragility. She has courage and there was a deeper thought in the performance. (Y) As for Lebedev, he thinks the solo is the spirit of flying, it should express something. There was too much attention to the technique. He wants to see the dancer fly, especially in the manege. It’s not about the floor, in the grand pirouettes, we lose the sense of the soul, the great emotions. (N)

Soboleva: 2/4
Lebedev: 2/4

My scores:
Soboleva: 10
Lebedev: 6

Nadezhda Batoeva
Etruscan dance from Spartacus
music: Khachaturian
choreography: Yakobson

I can see why the Mariinsky keeps putting Batoeva in these orientalist numbers - basically, she’s really pretty and thin and she’s quite flexible. But I just don’t think she’s right for these roles. There are some very interesting aspects to Yakobson’s Spartacus choreography, enough that I think it’s worth restaging for all of its political problems with regard to exoticism. The production in the 1950s was adventurous in its blatant sexuality, and in the use of flowing, Isadora Duncan-like arms and legs. In other sections of the ballet, Yakobson tells the story and demonstrates the personalities of his main characters through innovative movements, and he staged a lot of the climactic moments in the ballet as friezes that are supposed to invoke ancient Greek and Roman art. Indeed, I’ve seen this production at the Mariinsky and I think the theater does a good job of restaging it while contextualizing it as a historical artifact, so that it doesn’t just present orientalism for audience enjoyment and titillation but rather as an interesting aspect of this 1960s production.

But it’s not possible to see any of that in Batoeva’s performance. In particular, her facial expressions for this dance are painfully unaware - a sort of frozen grin. I wonder if she’s actually comfortable performing this. Moreover, she doesn’t seem to understand the rhythmic play in Khachaturian’s music or in the dance. Her two fellow dancers have a sharper way of showing off the syncopations in the music and the strangeness of the choreographic gestures. If she were on the stage alone, there’s no way you could tell this production apart from any of your garden-variety Nutcracker Arabian dances.

Ernest Latypov
Jose Solo from Carmen
music: Bizet
choroegraphy: Roland Petit

Latypov’s performance was a little awkward. He does a great job with choreographic accent, but sometimes the movements are a little uncoordinated in between major steps, and sometimes he’s out of synch with the music. It’s good to see him stretching himself as an artist, though, and performing something so unusual.


Edur says that their professionalism is obvious. Batoeva’s performance needs more dynamic, more play. (Y) Latypov is clearly a hard-working person. The only problem is that the action is in Spanish, movement there is from the hip. So the movement needs to be heavier. He needs to fill up the space. His body should be like a hawk, like a buffalo. (Y)

Xiao Suhua liked Batoeva’s performance. In the first part she had a marble-like coldness. Then, when the music changed, suddenly went into another tempo, another rhythm, she was more feeling and more sensual with her partners. (Y) He didn't like Latypov’s characterization of Jose enough. It is a Spanish dance, there should be а fire burning in a ring of paper [I think that's what he said - seriously the comments this week are really hard to translate] It burns and then goes off into the air - it burns but one sees it. He wanted more of the character of the toreador. But nevertheless, he still gives his vote. (Y)

Lefèvre says that she saw two very different selections, the Yakobson she knows very little and the other by Petipa is a masterwork that she knows by heart. Of course, when you take apart a style there are more and less important elements. But she can’t deny the pleasure she had in watching Batoeva. It was a real number, that let us relate to a certain period, a certain feeling. She only wishes Batoeva had done even more. And she knows that Batoeva has that capability. Batoeva did show ardor and reserve. (Y) It was a great pleasure to watch Latypov in this solo. Of course, this is about Spain, but it is not about Spain at the same time, because it was staged by Roland Petit, and she isn’t sure that Petit wanted it to be only about Spanish dance. She says she agrees with her colleagues that it’s about fire but also reserve. But Latypov had both these things in his performance, and moreover she really liked that there were lots of exacting details and nuances in his performance. At the same time, she can understand why some people wouldn’t like this variation. It's not expressive, it’s more founded on inner experiences. (Y)

Vasiliev goes last. I was interested in hearing what he had to say about Spartacus, because he performed in Yakobson’s version of this for the Bolshoi in 1962. In fact, before Vasiliev was the most famous Spartacus of all time in Grigorovich’s production of 1968, he impressed everyone as the slave in Yakobson’s Spartacus. It's a different part than the one that Batoeva is dancing (obviously) but it has a similar type of line and expression. Vasiliev begins his comments by reminding Batoeva that the entire dance should be on high half-pointe and that there's a particular type of beauty in that. The hip shaking (which he demonstrates) should not be - bam bam bam - but rather gentle. Batoeva didn't have enough delicacy, femininity. (N) On the topic of Latypov he thinks he is brilliant, beautiful, he has excellent bearing. But there wasn't enough of the character, the man, Jose in it. It's not about heaviness but rootedness. He demonstrates that when there a note and Jose stands straight - the note continues on and goes out and the dancer should have in his entire body. Jose is closed. (N)

Batoeva: 3/4
Latypov: 3/4

My scores:
Batoeva: 6
Latypov: 7

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