If nuance and subtlety are high on your list of ballet priorities with La Sonnambula your favorite ballet, Mikhailovsky Ballet’s Don Quixote with Natalia Osipova (Thursday evening), Oksana Bondareva (Saturday evening) and Ivan Vasiliev is the last ballet you want to see. The work features full throttle bravura circus-style dancing with many “What did he/she do?” moments.
Dancing in the House of NYCB’s George Balanchine, where women ruled in his ballets with men as subordinate participants (“In my ballets, woman is first. Men are consorts,” he once said) and more than two pirouettes frowned upon, Ivan obviously didn’t get the message. He has a commanding stage presence with a bull in a China shop demeanor (he knocked over pottery on a table in one of his entrances Thursday) backed up by amazing leaping and turning abilities. He drew many gasps with his high, extended leaps and never ending turns.
His dancing Thursday was breathtaking, filled with unconventional innovations. In his first solo Thursday, he did five or six nicely controlled turns in attitude after pulling in from turns in second position. On his diagonal double tour section, he did a funky switching feet thing that I have never seen before followed by a double fouetté after landing on one leg, very unique. In his second solo, he did huge split double cabriole derriere to the knee, a nice coupé jeté en tournant en manège (split jumps in a circle), broken up by leaps in attitude, punctuated by a spectacular triple sauté de basque to the knee. At the end of the pas de deux, he pulled in from turns in second position to about eight to ten pirouettes, although turned in at the end. His solos Saturday evening were not as amazing as Thursday; he worked hard to save some of his extended turns and “only” did multiple consecutive double sauté de basques rather than a triple.
Give Ivan credit for going all out and not leaving anything in his gas tank at the end of a solo. I’ve heard critics complain about his heavy breathing after his solos; it’s never bothered me, given what he is doing. Hey, try doing coupé jeté en tournant ending with a triple sauté de basque in your backyard sometime without breathing heavily!
The 25-year old has been pulling heavy duty on the Mikhailovsy tour, performing the lead in three of the five Don Quixote performances and three out of the four Flames of Paris performances. Although he is young at 25 years of age, I wonder how much longer his body can take this pounding. Bravura steps are exciting, but exact a heavy toll on the body.
Ivan has special talents that fill a niche in bravura Don Quixote/Flames of Paris type roles, where an overpowering stage presence and circus style bravura are needed. In more nuanced roles such as Albrecht in Giselle where there are no pyrotechnics, his downsides come into sharper focus such as a not so perfect physique and technique that is sometimes lacking.
Natalia kept up with Ivan Thursday, playing a demur, hard to get Kitri. She has a powerful jump and extension, used effectively on her split jumps with her foot almost kicking her in the head. Natalia performed rapid single and double fouettés in her solo. The pas de deux with Ivan was nicely done and steady; in the first act, Ivan held her overhead in a one-hand lift as he punctuated it with an arabesque.
Oksana Bondareva pulled double duty Saturday in both Saturday matinee and evening performances, stepping in for Angelina Vorontsova in the evening (the announcement did not give a reason for Angelina’s absence). Oksana played a sweeter, more outgoing Kitri, always with an expressive, beautiful smile (except when Basil strayed and flirted with other village women). Her leaps were not outstanding, but her solo was solid, with nice phrasing with the music. She gave a nice turning exhibition during her fouetté section, with all doubles and triples, with nice balances on pointe during the pas de deux.
Ekaterina Borchenko was a subdued Queen of the Dryads. The long-legged Principal Dancer from Leningrad had nice developes, pausing in step with the music, followed up later with controlled turning fouetté.
Artistic Director Mikhail Messerer staged the production, which had its debut in 2012. It is similar to the Bolshoi version that the company performed at Koch Theater in July. The first and third acts of the Mikhailovsky and Bolshoi versions are similar to ABT’s. The second act differs as the Russian versions have a tavern scene where Kitri and Basilio hide and are discovered by Lorenzo, Gamanche, and Don Quixote. Here Basilio does his “suicide” act. Then on to the gypsy dance and Don Quixote’s dream scene.
A horse and donkey make an appearance on several occasions during the production and there were no accidents as there was last winter in NYCB’s Union Jack. The sets were colorful, particularly in Act I. The windmill effect was ridiculous where the tall (well over 6 feet) real life Don Quixote character (Marat Shemiunov) was replaced by a mannequin less than 4 feet stuck on the windmill.
The company will perform Flames of Paris at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Orange County, California from November 28-30.