The Born-Again Balletomane's Blog

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Rose Adagios and New York, NY January 25, 2017

Went to YouTube last night and watched part of the Bolshoi’s Sleeping Beauty, which had initially been broadcast a few days before.  Olga Smirnova was Aurora…at least, she was dancing the role.  It’s always hard for me to get used to a Russian Aurora, since I’m  expecting that bubbly airhead and instead am faced with a stone-cold classicist who barely pays attention to her suitors unless one nearly drops her, or doesn’t quite get there in time during one of the balances.  Of course I’m kidding, but only just.

Smirnova was a quintessential Russian Aurora.  As Aurora gets more grown up as the ballet progresses ….I mean, she wakes up after something like 100 years…I’m sure Smirnova’s interpretation was just great by the end of the show.  But as it was, it seemed like she was taking class from a very strict teacher and wasn’t much worried about appearing to be a giddy teenager.

Whatever.  Sleeping Beauty puts me to sleep, anyway; it’s all those damn fairies.  Just when you think you’ve seen all the fairies it’s possible to behold…DAMN!  Another bloomin’ fairy.  It gets old very fast unless one is into looking closely at the soloists for future prima ballerina possibilities.

And on to other things…as ever, Joy Womack.  I wondered and wondered what was going on with her.  She left Russia in November and never went back except for one day — and that was to be her application day for a Russian green card.  Apparently she didn’t get one; she’s now stranded at her brother’s place in New York City, unable to return to Russia due to visa issues.

It’s turned out not to be such a bad thing.  Of course she probably won’t get an offer from ABT, as in one of her previous videos she didn’t really badmouth them, but she did mention that they do not generally promote their own dancers beyond soloist because they have so many guest artists.**  Not a great move if one is thinking of future job prospects; prospective employers generally don’t like to have their flaws pointed out.  But she’s taken class with them at least twice, so they’ve now seen her up close and personal.  And considering her newfound love for NYC…

…To be fair, she is not talking about joining ABT.  She’s having a ball taking classes at Steps on Broadway and is speaking almost like she works for Gaynor Minden.  What she did say about her future performing career was intriguing: she is thinking of “putting together a team,” whatever that means, and touring.

Judging from that, it sounds like she means to be a freelance ballerina.  Like I said, what she really meant by that remains to be seen.

It does sound like she is no longer obsessed with carrying on with her career in Russia (Katisized, you were right!).  It could be that she’s finally accepting the caustic reality that her situation there was never secure and didn’t look to improve beyond being a prima in a tiny company.  It could also be that she’s decided to look past Russia strictly because of the visa issue.  And it could also happen that when/if her visa finally comes through, all this NYC love will become a passing fancy and she’ll be back to trying to hammer her Russian dreams into reality, unhappy and drained as that seems to leave her.

I observed that she seems much, much happier right now than she’s ever been (almost like a giddy Aurora!) except for during one brief working trip to California a few years back.  If this is so, maybe there’s a message for her in that: forget your Russian dreams, kiddo; your bouquets are all right here at home.

Freelance possibilities aside, it would be most interesting to see her take a place in a U.S. company and watch how she looks in the same mirror as home-grown dancers.  Obviously if she got into ABT or the San Francisco Ballet, she would likely have to step down to soloist.  Would she be able to step up again?  That would be fascinating to see.  Plus, we would finally really get a chance to closely observe her dancing, live and in person on a steady basis, and make solid judgements based on that.

She is not famous for being clear about anything.  The only thing for certain right now is that she can’t go back to Russia at the moment, and maybe she shouldn’t even try.  There’s no use in continuing to try to build a house of cards, no matter how solid the foundation seems to be.

** That is true now, and has been for decades; it’s too early to tell whether having attended the JKO school will make any difference in an ABT corps member’s or soloist’s future, or if the company will ever stop relying so heavily on guests to fill out its principal roster if indeed it gets more than enough talented kids out of JKO.  It sure didn’t work with the previous ABT school, which folded in the early 1980’s — but then again, that school was never as serious and well-organized as JKO; it had no set ballet curriculum (the JKO school does), and no junior division to speak of; it consisted mainly of preprofessional classes, which may or may not have been open — meaning that anyone could attend (although I do remember seeing a call for auditions at that school).  The only really major dancer I can remember whose training was strongly attributed to that school was Fernando Bujones.  And I may not even be remembering that correctly.

Of course Womack never attended JKO, and she does not have enough standing as a prima ballerina to join ABT as a stellar guest artist, either.  And so she would have to start out as a soloist or worse, a member of the corps.

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Terrible photos January 15, 2017

Filed under: ballerina,ballet,Uncategorized — theworstat @ 1:20 am
Tags: , ,

Haven’t felt very inspired lately, so sorry for the quiet.  I did, as I periodically do, go to the websites of some major companies just to see who has been promoted, etc.  On the Bolshoi’s website I found a whole bunch of photos of primas, apparently new, and apparently shot by the same photographer.  They all made the primas in question look like they were at least my age (I’m pretty damn old).  Not that that’s a bad thing, except that professional ballet, especially at the elite level, is a young woman’s game.  While I’m at it, I have to mention that most of the Bolshoi’s primas are pretty women, and these photos make them look drop-dead plain on top of well past retirement age.  Take a look:

Bolshoi Primas’ New Headshots

See if you can pick out which photos I’m talking about.  Just for a giggle.

 

Stepanova promoted…3 times September 16, 2016

As everyone probably already knows, Yulia Stepanova has not only been promoted to prima at the Bolshoi, but in that achievement sailed over 2 promotions (she’ll never be a First Soloist or a Leading Soloist).  She catapulted straight from Soloist (better known as Coryphee in many companies) to Principal.

I kind of suspected that she would be promoted at the start of this season, but I never expected anything like that.  Instead I expected her to spend a brief time at First Soloist before languishing at the Leading Soloist level for a few years, kind of like Smirnova did.

Someone mentioned on another site that Stepanova’s promotion(s) is/are unprecedented.  If anyone has gone up three levels to the very top in one year, it hasn’t happened recently.

Certainly she must be much more remarkable than just having expressive arms.  It’s definitely not her feet, which like Smirova’s are rather uninteresting, (which should prove to some people that feet are not everything as there are now at least two Bolshoi primas with retro-feet — feet that would have been great in earlier decades but not now, in the banana-foot age). It’s how you use your feet, not so much what they look like, after all.  However, so far I haven’t seen anything really special in her use of her feet, or anything else but her upper body and arms.

I would like to see a full-length video of her dancing Swan Lake, and another of her dancing a contemporary ballet.  Then I’ll have a better idea.

Anyway, the judgement has been made by the powers-that-be at the Bolshoi, and once again this leaves the Mariinsky with egg on its face.  It seems that company is fading further and further from the limelight and may disappear altogether once the current generation of stars retires.  Fortunately a few of them are fairly young, and that could add another decade or so during which the Mariinsky has a chance to turn itself around.

If it doesn’t, it will serve as a harsh reminder of how fragile ballet is.  One lost generation, and the entire art could be lost forever.  The Bolshoi now seems to have realized this.  The Mariinsky had better wake up.

 

 

Rethinking Dmitrichenko August 29, 2016

Released from prison

I admit that I’m shaky on the history of the Dmitrichenko/Vorontsova/Tsiskaridze/Filin thing.  I’m even more confused after reading the above-captioned article, in which Dmitrichenko more or less denies anything happened.

At the time of the acid-throwing incident, I was having trouble reconciling the repeated statement that Vorontsova was Dmitrichenko’s common-law wife.  She was, after all, just 21.  In the U.S., in states where common-law marriage is recognized. it takes seven years to establish a such a union.  Of course, this is Russia we’re dealing with here, but…

Again I think of Joy Womack, and the endless controversy surrounding her time at the Bolshoi.  Will we ever get to the bottom of it?  Probably not.  (However, I was struck by the similarity of Womack’s situation to that of another Bolshoi outcast — Vorontsova.)  Again, this is Russia we’re dealing with here.  Lies are huge, and become the truth.  The problem is that there are so many of them that they seem to cancel each other.  In the end, we are left with nothing.

At the time of the incident, I remember being shocked by the callousness of Tsiskaridze claiming that Filin either wasn’t really injured, or was faking the extent of his injuries — I forget which.  But knowing the murky depths of Russian interpersonal politics…well, it’s impossible to arrive at a plausible truth that works for all the players.  Even now, there’s an oft-repeated rumor that Filin has been seen driving a car.  And he continues to work in ballet.  That requires sight.  Yet no less than the uber-honest Obraztsova says that yes, Filin’s injuries were and are real.

All that said — that is, the complete truth will never be known — I will focus on Dmitrichenko’s dancing (about which I know little except for a few videos), and his career.

There’s no doubt, based on the little I’ve seen, that Dmitrichenko has star power.  He seems to be the ultimate drama king, riveting to watch.  He definitely could have a career as a character dancer that would last decades.

The question of his career is the huge one, and it all hinges on whether or not the story of the acid attack and his involvement in it is even a bit true — and the extent of Filin’s support base within the Russian ballet community.

Dmitrichenko wants to get back into the Bolshoi.  Filin is still working there (with students now, apparently, and not directly with the main company).  Doubtless there are dozens or even hundreds at the Bolshoi who can’t stand each other, yet continue to work together…but attacking someone physically is another matter entirely.  The current director, or whatever his title is, says that Dmitrichenko can audition just like anyone else.  The question after that is how much influence Filin still has, and how much danger he would actually be in.  (My guess is not much — even if Dmitricheko got back into the Bolshoi, why would he repeat such an attack on someone who no longer wields much power within the main company — but what do I know?)

Could Dmitrichenko go elsewhere?  Who knows.  Womack did, and so did Vorontsova, (and both have done well in their new environments), which proves that there are those in the Russian ballet world who are willing to thumb their noses at the Bolshoi.  Of course, in Russia there are lots of other companies, and no doubt lots of strong souls like the director of Womack’s company.  But there are not many companies where Dmitrichenko’s considerable star power wouldn’t be wasted on a vastly reduced audience.

This is a situation I’ll be watching with interest.  Its outcome will give me a glimpse into the murky depths (and that’s what they are) of Russia’s ballet soul.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Too Many Bayaderes February 4, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — theworstat @ 6:47 pm
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I guess I’ll be doing this every February…remember when I spent a few days watching various versions of Swan Lake?  Well, this February it’s La Bayadere.  I’ve only watched two so far, and of course also watched a video of the death of Nikiya as portrayed by the newest Nikiya, Evgenia Obraztsova (very touching, but we expected this of her, didn’t we?).

I have to say that I don’t much like the Bolshoi’s La Bayadere.  One reason is that it cuts off after the Kingdom of the Shades.  The excuse given for this is that the Kingdom scene is almost a separate ballet and has “nothing to do with the rest of the story.”  I beg to differ.  The temple destruction scene brings the story to a proper conclusion.  The Kingdom of the Shades, awesome as it is, merely sets up that conclusion.  It is not a story in itself, although it does well as a stand-alone piece (as does the second act of Giselle, probably for the same reason).

I saw Natalia Makarova’s Bayadere live many, many years ago.  I believe Solar was Anthony Dowell, and Nikiya was definitely Natalia Makarova; Gamzatti may have been Magali Messac (as I remember it was not Cynthia Harvey, although she did originate that role in the Makarova production at ABT).  As I sat in the audience, I heard a steady stream of snide comments trickling from a very North Shore grande dame behind me.  She was making cracks about the over-wrought silent-movie acting and all the running around and gesturing rather than dancing.  I saw her point, even if I did not appreciate having to listen to her.

I also see the point that what’s portrayed in this ballet has nothing to do with India.  I’d be more comfortable if someone just set it in an “exotic land.”  There was a recent attempt in Europe to make Solar into a British officer and Gamzatti into a British colonial governor’s daughter.  This makes more sense to me than all this “Indians in India” pretense, since the story could then be told through Western eyes which are bound to get a lot of things wrong.

While watching these videos, I giggled when I finally realized, after all these years, that the High Brahman’s music is also used in the Beatles’ very silly movie Help!  After realizing that, I’m second-guessing my plan to see the Joffrey version of this ballet (opening later this year).  I might laugh out loud.

However, I still love this ballet and I love the WHOLE ballet.  Don’t like what the Bolshoi does to it; the truncation doesn’t work.  Having Solar appear to fall in love with Gamzatti doesn’t help anything.  Having Gamzatti be a helpless innocent just takes some drama out of the proceedings.  All in all, it’s not as much fun.

The versions I have watched so far were the recent Bolshoi broadcast starring (a somewhat weak-looking) Svetlana Zakharova as Nikiya and a powerful Maria Alexandrova as Gamzatti, and a 1991 version from the Royal Ballet with Altnai Asymuratnova as a hopelessly innocent and pure Nikiya and Darcey Bussell as a wonderfully acid spoiled-brat Gamzatti.  You definitely wouldn’t put it past this Gamzatti to kill someone for taking her toys away. Anthony Dowell’s Brahman went way over the top, but what a joy to watch!

Going on to the POB version next, IF I can get myself to sit through a Rudolph Nureyev production…

 

The Bolshoi Loses a Principal January 31, 2013

Filed under: ballerina — theworstat @ 5:40 am
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In a matter apparently unrelated to the attack on Sergey Filin, Bolshoi prima ballerina Svetlana Lunkina has moved to Canada to escape threats against her in Russia.

Lunkina

I wish her well in Canada.

 

Stunned January 18, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — theworstat @ 12:40 pm
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Special Post

I don’t know if it’s considered kosher for me to post a link to a ballet-discussion board that is not associated with this site, but here goes:
Ballet Alert

Now I’ll tell you why I did that.

Reader Jennifer commented on an earlier post that Sergei Filin, Artistic Director of the Bolshoi, has just been the victim of an acid attack that has left him nearly blind.  I quickly went to the search engines and came up with this:
BBC

I am stunned by this news, so stunned that anyone would do anything like that for any reason, let alone ballet, that at first I didn’t take in what was being said.  But then I searched further and found the thread about Tsiskaridze on Ballet Alert.

I am not saying Tsiskaridze had anything to do with the attack. Anyone making such an outrageous charge will be banned from this site.

Having said that, however, I have to add that suddenly a lot of things concerning the general atmosphere in Russia became very clear to me.  Take Eric Conrad’s comments of last summer, for instance.  Yes, I covered those in this blog; just put his name in the search box and you’ll find it.  I won’t dignify what he said by re-posting the link here.  Suffice it to say that at the time, I was bewildered.  Now I am less so.

There may be a thread of truth in what Conrad said – but that thread wouldn’t make him happy.  It doesn’t involve any inherent superiority in Russian ballet, but instead what seems to be really extreme xenophobia in Russia (and no, I am not claiming there is no similar xenophobia in the U.S….let’s not go there, this is not a political blog, and in the U.S. ballet is not directly involved with politics unless you count the fact that ABT is being propped up financially by the Koch brothers).  We’re already seeing that, as Jennifer pointed out, at the Maryinsky with Keenan Kampa.  The other frequently-attacked outsider, Oxana Skorik, is Ukrainian, I believe; many of the attacks on her center on her “foreign” training, the film that featured her in her student days, and the fact that she is more than a bit disaster-prone onstage.

I hadn’t been aware of such similar rancor at the Bolshoi; however, Tsiskaridze’s attacks on Hallberg seem pretty par for the course…for Tsiskaridze. I was somewhat aware of his eternal griping previously, but dismissed it as I was also aware that Tsiskaridze is a bit of a drama queen (for lack of a better way to put it).  Plus, in a company of 200 dancers, most of whom come from the same school, to suddenly have someone named Principal who not only came from outside the system, but also another country entirely…well, that’s adding fuel to the fire for sure.  Of course there’s going to be grumbling.  Such things are pretty predictable in almost any company in the world except for American Ballet Theater, where they’re used to it (and, perhaps, the Mikhailovsky and La Scala). But this?  No.  Someone out there is really sick, and it probably isn’t even a dancer.

What concerns me now is the safety of total innocents such as Joy Womack, Keenan Kampa, and yes, David Hallberg.  If the sentiment in Russia is that extreme, one has to worry.

In the meantime, I wish the best to Filin in his recovery.