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Some 21st Century Etoiles .... and an Italian 'Graduate' Twist

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Over the past week I have had the pleasure to catch a couple of ballet programmes merely because of geographical co-location.  


Paris:  GALA-DES-ETOILES-DU-21è-SIECLE-2014 - Ref


What I felt made this gala particularly distinguished was the eloquence of its production.  Dancers and the audience were treated with the ultimate respect, barring, of course, the fact that each element was danced to a recorded score.  I assume this was due to the fact  that the overall programme was constructed of a wide range of both established (e.g., Act II pas de deux from Giselle, Black Swan pas, pas d'enclave from Le Corsaire, La Dames Aux Camellias, etc.) and more modern (and on occasion original) fare.  The musical range would have proved a challenge for any musical ensemble on short call I assume.  I, myself, was delighted when the lights went down EXACTLY on time within the art nouveau spendour that is the Theatre des Champs-Elysees and the interval was itself as precisely measured.  (The ROH could profit from such a tradition I think.)  Here there was in fact no need to buy one of those expensive programmes (unless, of course,you wished a hard copy souvenir).  Each element was oh-so-tastefully introduced via the operatic supertitle panel above.  In clear yellow lettering the name of each piece about to be danced was noted, the name of each dancer and their professional company association, the composer and the choreographer.  It stayed in place for approximately ten seconds and then dissolved as the lights came up on the work to be displayed.  It is, I think, a tactic that Ensemble Productions might well be advised to undertake for their seasonal 'Russian Icons Galas' or the admirable Ivan Putrov for his 'Men in Motion' incentives.  You didn't have lights flashing on and people scrawling through pages or people querying: 'what was that?' or 'what's next?'.  The programme was made up with wisely diversified couples (five balletic and one male modern duo) and ended with a defile for all to the strains of Piaf proclaiming ' je ne regrette rien'.  It was done with style and humour and after that had finished and each dancer had been presented with a bouquet (Joaquin de Luz graciously passed his to Maria Kotchekova who accepted whilst Lucia Lecarra simply smiled and shook her head when Marlon Dino attempted to do the same) all stepped forward with the producer in tow unto the generous lip of the Theatre's stage and tossed those same bouquets into the laps of their delighted audience.  It was a wonderfully impactful way to end what had been a well composed affair (as these things go) and I overheard several attendees still talking about that final throw as I made my way up along the Siene.    


Smirnova and Chudin had been advertised as appearing but obviously didn't make it at the last minute.  I, myself, was not disappointed in the slightest given their replacements,were the aforementioned Kotchekova from SFB and Joaquin de Luz from NYCB.  They danced an original piece by the upcoming POB director, Benjamin Milleapied and especially shone in a stunning rendition of the saucy Rubies pas.  Du Luz was particularly dazzling; easily bringing to mind those films of Villella in his enticing origination of the work with Patricia McBride such as are to be freely found in the NY Public Library's Jerome Robbins' Dance Collection.  Why I wonder has this dancer who has been a principal with both ABT and NYCB not been seen more often in London, that city which the much admired Alistair Spalding hails as 'a world mecca of dance'.  He is certainly deserving.  Nonetheless the real highlight of this event for me was the pairing of the now senior but ever glorious Lucia Lecarra and her partner the young God-like Marlon Dino, both principals with the Bavarian National Ballet.  (His extended one handed strolling lift at the end of the third of Ben Stevenson's masterly 'Trois Preludes' was chilling.  Indeed it fully rivaled my memories of Valdimir Vasiliev with Maximova and was executed with the masterful grace that Jose Manuel Carreno used to deploy whilst holding Ananashvilli aloft.  After just the first prelude the audience was ecstatic and the balletic tension and joy only built from there.  How one longs to see this stunning Apollo wrapped in the full Balanchinian glory.  There is no question but that he and Lecarra have the dramatic chops for that and more.  Certainly they proved as much in the Neumeier  Lecarra was a vivid theatrical show unto itself in her entrance alone. (How lucky I feel to have been to be able to see this creature so full of musical grace in a wide range of work both with SFB and in Munich.)  Together these dancers were finesse personified.  A Marguerite and Armand to the life; a breathing realisation of the kind of inter-generational thrill Fonteyn and Nureyev exhibited.  A true delight.    


Speaking of inter-generational thrills and Nureyev ... On Wednesday I found myself in Milan - again for work  ...


La Scala - Don Chisciotte 


Let there be no doubt.  This was Tamara Rojo's show.  She fashioned the piece in her own considerable lights ... chiding and bullying it into a new semblance of sense - and, you know, it worked.  She herself was a replacement for Zakarova and her partner (himself a replacement for the originally advertised Denis Mativenko) was to be none other than Ivan Vasiliev who sadly it seems is still suffering from a bout with pneumonia (one wonders if the ice drop had anything to do with it) and accordingly pulled out at the last minute.  His replacement was the same young dancer who had replaced him in Petit's 'Notre Dame': one Claudio Coviello,  Rojo had Coviello - (a appealing dancer with nice feet which are not always precise in placement but whose pas de basque is generous and leap healthy) - for proverbial lunch.  This made Nureyev's equally handsome take on the piece come alive.  Let me explain.


In this presentation Rojo's Kitri WAS Mrs Robinson.  Her seniority suddenly made sense of so much of the scenario and certainly let her be in control throughout.  There was no doubt about that whatsoever.  This was a woman made to wear trousers.  She was simply before her time.  Rojo's maturity as Kitri made clear both her own and her father's (a fine take by the never over-played/parted Matthew Endicott) desperation.  


Coviello's Basilio was HER Benjamin.  Never had he to act the innocent.  Oh, no.  His vastly dark doe eyes did that for him as did his naive take on a smile of rapier-spliced jocular bonhomie.  We watched as he fell into her trap.  Rojo was clearly delighted.  Gamache on this particular evening was but a compromised roue and not one of society's first order either.  His times had moved on.  There had, you were certain, been many others before him presented to Kitri.  You felt sorry for him as much as for her.  He was tarnished.  Act II was particularly vivid.  It opens with a pas de deux during which Lanchberry vividly steals even more from La Bayadere than Yates did in his oft muted orchestration for the current RB production.  Having stolen her prey away, Rojo manfully instructs.  (How one would have loved to have met her mother.)  Coviello's delight was touchingly chaste.  His smile burgeoned even as he took delight in Nureyev's thrilling solo, here allowing the stunning combination of entrechats and brises to be but an act of appreciation for his Kitri's dominance.  She had saved him the risk.  'Thank you, Ma'am' he seemed to be saying.  No wonder she looked so proud.  In the coda Rojo further taught her charge - 'you place your hand here like this' - and when she fell to the ground she provided for a moment where Coviello was forced to make the decision to actually corrupt his own probity.  That was heart wrenching.  Immediately thereafter Rojo grabs him for dear life and rolls in sensuous ecstasy in face of the brigands.  Her deal is now well and truly struck.  Her job is but to protect the same.  God help the woman who might come between her and her toy boy.  She waved him like a flag.  In my mind's eye I seemed to see Annie Bancroft smirk - as she was so enticingly wont to do - in pride.  Here Rojo's Kitri even provides the money to purchase their disguise as they dash off and Nureyev - much as he did in the POB's Bayadere - imaginatively delights with his own strikingly theatrical take on his own native character dances.  Rojo's veiled Kitri returns with her Benjamin in devoted tow.  She has plastered a fake beard on his face that surely could fool no one apart from herself.  Under her own dark veil she uses him as but a pawn to entice the Don in an act of perverted courtly instruction for her charge.  Quxiote's inspiration bites and he too responds as intended.  Rojo's Kitri then manipulates the dumb show of challenged valour with her Basilio/Benjamin emulating her every move on the other side of the platform.  She even gives notice that the windmill (here refreshingly only one) should turn.  The Don - much as the penny had before - drops.  In his delirium he imagines a vision of beauty which is of course Kitri and it is she who takes her now virgin-ally white veil off her own head to make a sling for his wounded arm.  More than that, this Don's vision sees Kitri as she might well see herself in a tale of her own imagined storybook youth.  Here she is dressed somewhat garishly like a Disney princess replete with a paste tiara and is surrounded by both Amour and a fairy queen (well danced by Nicoletta Manni replete with stunningly precise Italian fouettes).  


How wonderful it would be if ENB could borrow this production for a term - say in exchange for their own glorious Corsaire.  How this production might delight provincial tours throughout the UK ... and how I would love to see her tackle this role in London aside say Lendorf.  True the La Scala team gave overall shape to the proceedings but the current stealh of ENB under Rojo's charge would I know bring it into the full focus it not only needs but wholeheartedly deserves.  There are also just so many British connections to celebrate:  (i) Nureyev's relationship with LFB/ENB for one; (ii) Lanchberry; (iii) the fact that Mania Gielgud who oversaw this revival was late in ENB's employ and (iv) let us not forget that the production was, of course, done for Robert Helpmann, adulated not only in the world of British ballet but theatre itself.  Indeed, I was touched by the fact that the final curtain call was given to Giuseppe Conte's solid Don in that same memory.  When it was later repeated it appeared, I think, a trifle absurd.  The audience (even the woman a few boxes down from mine who filmed the entire performance on her ipad; her cinematography being quite good from what I could see) had obviously no understanding as to why this should be and the applause unfairly dipped.  Even I at that point thought that placement a mite unfair.  Rojo through Nureyev had after all triumphed - and not just because of her determined balances in the amazed face of her Benjamin/Basilio during the Act III pas nor her even more tumescent Spanish-spitfire quadruple fouettes finished in a perfect second.  Rojo had made this work (and just her Kitri) her own  That takes some doing.  'Brava', I imagined Rudolf mumbling.  'Bravissima' I cried. 

Edited by Bruce Wall
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I too enjoyed the Etoiles show in Paris last Saturday.  I agree the couple of the show were Lacarra and Dino.  I had seen their La Dame aux Camelias pdd in Berlin earlier this year but it was lovely to see it again. It was great to see Kochetkova whom I recall dancing in Alice with ENB years ago and thinking she was a star in the making.  I also enjoyed the Black Swan pdd (Skorik/Askerov) very much.  I must make special mention of the 2 Cuban dancers Manuela Navarro and Gian Carlo Perez Alvarez - I thought they were a breath of fresh air and I especially liked their latino piece "Sobre un Hilo" that was super.  I think Alvarez has a lot of potential and I think possibly he was under utilised - I think he could do well in Spartacus!

The use of surtitles to announce each piece was a stroke of genius and one I hope can be repeated in other theatres and yes the one thing that spoiled everything was the rammy piped music - it was dire!

I have to say I detested the modern version of L'Apres Midi d'un Faune "choreographed" by Thierry Malandain - what on earth Houette thought was artful about throwing himself head first into 2 bath scrub-like scrunchies is beyond me - I didn't know whether to tut or laugh out loud!!  Then there was the bed aka a box of paper tissues into which he disappeared at the end :unsure:

The grand finale to Piaff was great and lovely to have all the dancers on stage together to a rousing song, so overall a good evening in a beautiful art nouveau theatre.

Edited by Don Q Fan
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Yet another alteration.  Tamara Rojo has had to pull out of tonight's performance due to an emergency in London (fully understandable given her day job). She will be replaced by Natalia Osipova ... (who previously danced with Covellio in Swan Lake).  Ms. Osipova (who cancelled last night) will now dance two performances of Don Chisciotte in a row!!

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Very interesting comment on 'gamilano's website today  I will quote but three (obviously somewhat lengthy) sentences: 


And just to put the record straight, a little bird tells me that the La Scala man­age­ment have known since Easter that Nat­alia Osipova could not dance on the 22nd as her arrival in Milan couldn’t be until the 21st given her com­mit­ment to the Royal Bal­let. Was her name kept up just to sell more tick­ets? If so — and I hope it is just a stu­pid assump­tion on my part — it is a very short-sighted ges­ture, destined to ali­en­ate the pub­lic of bal­let fans, and turn the theatre into even more of a tour­ist attrac­tion where what hap­pens on stage is less import­ant than the selfie in front of the Royal Box.


This kind of behaviour - if true - is most distressing.  

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