Bolshoi Ballet Don Quixote Review,
July 23


Kristina Kretova and Mikhail Lobukhin, Don Quixote. Click for more photos.

I wondered why the Bolshoi cast a leading soloist, Kristina Kretova, in the principal role of Kitri in Don Quixote for the Wednesday evening performance at Koch Theater, Lincoln Center; after all, this is a tough principal role. After a great performance in which she stole the show, I wonder why the 30-year old is still a soloist as she captivated the crowd with her great technique, radiant smile, and exuberant confidence.

Kristina radiated energy, with exaggerated arm movements and expressiveness, punctuated by laughter. Technically, her balances and fouettés stood out in the third act pas de deux. On one occasion, she balanced in attitude and her partner, Mikhail Lobukhin, offered his hand. She rejected the offer as if to say, “I really don’t need your help.” There were several other nice balances, although none were freakishly long like Polina Semionova’s. Her fouettés started with a double pirouette, alternating with single and doubles for the first part, then singles for the remainder of the sequence, punctuated with a nice controlled double pirouette.

Pia Catton of The Wall Street Journal had a nice profile of her. Kristina graduated from the Bolshoi’s feeder school in 2002, but went to a lesser company, the Kremlin Ballet Theater as a soloist, for fear she would languish in the corps at the Bolshoi. She joined the Bolshoi in 2011 where she has danced lead roles in Giselle, Swan Lake, and Onegin.

Her partner Basilio was Mikhail Lobukhin, a Principal Dancer who joined the Bolshoi in 2010 from the Mariinsky. Mikhail was also in good form, showing off his bag of tricks including turning switch kicks, pirouettes, and a funky step from a coupe grand jete in which he does one turn in the air in a seated position (I’m not sure if this step has a name) that drew gasps from the audience. Somewhat unusual, he turns counterclockwise, fairly rare among men (see my post on direction preference in ballet). He had a conventional first solo with rapid double sautés in passé, turns in attitude and plié arabesque, a diagonal of double tours to the knee with great flair, finished off with a triple pirouette to a double tour. His second solo consisted of a diagonal of scissor kicks and unimpressive barrel turns in a circle. His turn sequence (after he adjusted his bullfighter vest) was turns à la seconde, pulling in to turns in arabesque in plié to the knee.

They were a nice pair as he matched her abundant energy. The partnering sections were smooth, although the one-handed lifts in the first act probably did not go as well as they originally planned.

It wasn’t just the leads that were great on Wednesday. The Bolshoi Don Quixote has many dancing roles and the company showed its great depth with numerous solid performances. Denis Rodkin showed substantial flair as Espada the bullfighter, dancing while tossing his cape with abandon, matched by Mercedes, Kristina Karasyova. Queen of the Dryads Anna Nikulina had a nice solo with controlled and effortless arms with a series of double pirouettes from first position with arms in fifth position (overhead).

I roll my eyes when people criticize the plot of Don Quixote. It’s not meant to be a great story; it’s designed to be a vehicle for bravura dancing. On this front, the Bolshoi succeeded Wednesday. As for the Bolshoi version, the first act in the village is similar to ABT’s. Act II consists of three scenes. The first is Basilio’s comic “suicide” in an effort to win over Kitri. The second scene takes place at a tavern. I really didn’t follow this part as there were several somber dances. Also, dances from Mercedes and A Street Dancer (Anna Tikhomirova), although I didn’t follow the relationship. Part three of the second act is Don Quixote’s dream, featuring dances from the Dryads. Act III is the wedding and grand pas de deux.

The Bolshoi has curtain call bows at the end of every act. I find this irritating and a waste of time. I don’t know if this is a Russian feature but find it unnecessary.

The sets were beautiful, particularly in Act I. One unique feature is numerous flags that flow in the wind, possibly accomplished by fans blowing off stage.

This was my second Bolshoi performance; the first was Swan Lake with Olga Smirnova and Semyon Chudin. It is difficult to assess a company after only two performances, but I found the company very deep, with solos nicely done by the leads. The Bolshoi’s Swan Lake, Don Quixote, and Spartacus are not the best versions as Robert Greskovic of the Wall Street Journal and Alastair Macaulay of the New York Times have noted. While one can complain about their repertory performed in New York, nobody can complain about the level of dancing.


Corella and Woetzel in Charge

Interesting articles on two great retired New York dancers, Angel Corella and Damien Woetzel. The article on Angel focuses on his plans as the new Artistic Director at Pennsylvania Ballet.

“I have a lot of plans,” he said, including closely coaching the dancers, touring more, giving outdoor public performances, organizing outreach programs with schools, and bringing in new choreographers. He listed Christopher Wheeldon, Wayne McGregor, Justin Peck, and Liam Scarlett as possibilities.”

His view on guest artists is much different than ABT Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie. ABT makes heavy use of guests, particularly in recent years.

“I think that before anything changes, the people and the environment have to feel secure,” he said. “We’re not going to become a completely different company; hopefully, we can always make it better.”

He has heard from outside dancers eager to work with him, but he said it was important to nurture the current crop and to promote from within.

“It’s easier to bring people from the outside and say, ‘Wow, you have a great company,’ but there are a lot of dancers who have been overlooked.””

Denver Westword Blog focuses on Damien’s post-retirement activities including his directorship of the Vail International Dance Festival since 2007.

“I investigate and celebrate what dance is today,” Woetzel says. “I want it to be a relevant part of our world. It’s not an artifact.” This year’s Vail program, named “Dance for 2014,” features everything from ballet to Memphis jookin’, he points out, and every seat is priced at $20.14. “It’s intended to break down barriers. A lot of that audience are first-timers, and we give them the opportunity to sample, so you’ll see a real mix of dance. That principle extends into the free events we do in town and the participatory events.”

Bolshoi Don Quixote, July 23


Kristina Kretova and Mikhail Lobukhin, Don Quixote. Click for more photos.

I posted curtain call photos of the Wednesday evening performance of the Bolshoi’s Don Quixote with Kristina Kretova and Mikhail Lobukhin on my photography website I really enjoyed the performance. Look for my review in the next few days.


Kristina Kretova and Mikhail Lobukhin, Don Quixote. Click for more photos.


Angel Corella Named Artistic Director of Pennsylvania Ballet


Angel Corella final ABT performance, June 28, 2012. Click for more photos.

Big news, former ABT Principal Dancer Angel Corella was named the Artistic Director of Pennsylvania Ballet according to I loved watching Angel at ABT; he was my favorite dancer with his great technique, endless pirouettes, and expressiveness. I wish him well in Philadelphia.


Angel Corella final ABT performance, June 28, 2012. Click for more photos.


Bolshoi Swan Lake Review,
July 18


Olga Smirnova and Semyon Chudin, Swan Lake. Click for more photos.

The Bolshoi Ballet’s Swan Lake, performed at Koch Theater at Lincoln Center this past week, has several unappealing features and plot lines, making it difficult to follow. I never thought I would say this, but the Bolshoi’s version makes the ABT version look good. However, great dancing Friday evening by Olga Smirnova and Semyon Chudin more than made up for the weak version.

This Swan Lake production, which debuted in 1969 and revised in 2001, is from Yuri Grigorovich, one of the leading Russian choreographers over the past 30 years and chief choreographer for the Bolshoi from 1964 to 1995. At age 88, he is currently the ballet master at the company.

In most Swan Lake versions, Odette, a beautiful princess, falls under the spell of von Rothbart, a wicked sorcerer. Throughout the story, von Rothbart controls Odette. In Grigorovich’s version, The Evil Genius focuses on Prince Sigfried rather than Odette. The Evil Genius first appears at the end of the first act out of nowhere. The Prince senses that a mysterious shadow, his alter ego, is at his side mimicking his movements. “The Prince gives in to the pull of his invisible companion and succumbs to the world of his dreams” according to the program notes. I found all of this confusing, not understanding what the Evil Genius represents. Is it Prince Siegfried’s dream? One would need training in Freudian dream interpretation to understand the meaning of all this.

In the concluding lakeside scene of the ABT version, Siegfried discovers Odette and begs her forgiveness after he swears fidelity to Odile. Odette must kill herself, or she will forever be a swan and Siegfried will die with her, breaking von Rothbart’s power over her. They both throw themselves into a lake, and von Rothbart’s power is ended; the lovers are united in life after death. In the Grigorovich version of the lakeside scene, Odette forgives Sigfried, but, in a flurry of activity, the Evil Genius separates the lovers and slams Odette, finishing her off. The curtain falls as Siegfried is alone, grieving the loss of Odette. It is a depressing, confusing, and bad ending.

Another Grigorovich feature is a jester (The Fool), who breaks into the action at inopportune times, disrupting any plot momentum. The dances are pointless and don’t relate to the story. However, I enjoyed Alexander Smoliyaninov’s dancing, with rapid chugs in second position and wide split jetes in Act I, hitch kicks along a diagonal with substantial leg separation, sauté de basques with both legs bent, and a nice 540-type step in Act II.

However, most ballet stories are silly anyway, even in great productions and I try not to take the plots seriously. I never let a disjointed production get in the way of my enjoyment of great dancing, which was on display Friday evening. Olga Smirnova was strong in the Odette role, with her long limbs, supple back, and amble extension. She was both frail and strong as she encountered Prince Siegfried, played by Semyon Chudin. They had a great connection, from the first moment he saw her, as her beauty captivated him. Semyon, who looks like former ABT Soloist Jared Matthews, has a nice line, punctuated by gorgeously pointed feet and great extension, allowing him 180-degree extension on his grand jetes. He looks the part of a regal prince. Interesting that he doesn’t have a gold-plated pedigree; according to the program, he graduated from the Novosibirsk Choreographic College and was a member of Seoul’s Universal Ballet company from 2003-2007. In 2007, he joined Zurich Ballet as a principal dancer and the Bolshoi in 2011.

Their Black Swan pas de deux (pirate videos are available on YouTube) went well and the two were generally expressive, interacting closely. Olga’s extension stood out with a vertical arabesque penchée. However, at times she compromised technique in her arabesque to achieve greater extension. Her turns were fine although she has distinctive arm carriage as she tends to place her arms low with her elbows down. Her fouetté section was fine, starting with a double pirouette followed by fast single fouettés. Semyon’s solos were smooth, starting with double cabrioles to the back, with adequate double tours to an arabesque, to smooth four pirouettes to the knee. He covers substantial ground in his impressive grand jetes and his split is substantial, looking like more than 180 degrees on his ménage grand jetes. He did not do turns a la seconde at the end of the pas de deux as is customary in performances I’ve seen in other companies. Solid and effortless best describe his dancing.

The Evil Genius Artemy Belyakov was entertaining, displaying turns in attitude and showing a sinister demeanor throughout. Friends of the Prince Kristina Kretova and Maria Vinogradova had beautiful solos with relaxed, flowing arms. The woman in the Spanish dance in Act II (no reference in the program) had substantial flair and stood out in the divertissements.

The corps danced in unison and was beautifully expressive. However, their spacing was cramped at times as they didn’t have enough room to dance in the tight Koch Theater stage. A better venue for such a grand production is the cavernous Metropolitan Opera House where ABT performs each spring.

Bolshoi Ballet at Lincoln Center, July 18


Olga Smirnova and Semyon Chudin of the Bolshoi Ballet. Click for more photos.

I posted photos of the Bolshoi Ballet’s Swan Lake Friday at Koch Theater, Lincoln Center on my photography website Leads were Olga Smirnova and Seymon Chudin. Look for my review tomorrow.


Olga Smirnova and Semyon Chudin of the Bolshoi Ballet. Click for more photos.