Review – Giselle, Moscow City Ballet, Royal and Derngate, 12th January 2015

GiselleThe Moscow City Ballet regularly tour in the UK – in fact I don’t think they ever go anywhere near Mother Russia – and this is the third time we’ve seen them at the Royal and Derngate. They normally perform two ballets in the same week – this week they’re doing Swan Lake and Giselle. Having seen some pretty ropey classical ballet here in Northampton on occasions, the Moscow City Ballet is more or less the only company currently touring where you can have absolute confidence that they will do justice to a big show with technical excellence. It’s entertainment on a grand scale. Whilst the sets are more practical than elaborate (to be honest the Big Bad Wolf could blow them down with a small sneeze), and the props have an element of fancy-dress shop about them, no expense is spared on the lavish costumes, so it all looks lush and plush. It’s a large company, so a big stage like the Derngate is a good match for a corps de ballet of 18 ballerinas, let alone their male suitors; and the performances benefit from a gutsy live performance by a full orchestra, under the baton of Igor Shavruk.

Fun Dance in Act OneFew things are more elegant, refined, and, let’s face it, anachronistic, than the whole culture of Russian Classical Ballet. Don’t get me wrong – I love it. I love everything about it; may it never cease. The skill, the artistry, the music, the Petipa-style choreography; but above all, the amusing little conventions. Ever since we first saw the Trocks, I cannot help but smile at all the tell-tale rituals that form part of a classical ballet performance. I love how a dancer will do a solo and then stop the flow of the performance to come back on for a round of applause. I love how the story-telling aspects of any ballet will inevitably include asking whether someone is married by pointing at their ring finger. I love how a “no” is indicated by a frown and two arms crossing each other outwards. And I love how the guys hanging around the edges of the stage floatily wave their arms in recognition and admiration whenever a more senior dancer gets anywhere near them. Wouldn’t it be great to adopt that practice in the office? Stand by the photocopier and whenever anyone wants to use it, wave magnanimously at them. When you’re asked if you want sugar in your coffee, frown and cross your arms outwards. I think this could have legs.

Giselle and AlbrechtMrs Chrisparkle and I have seen Giselle once before, performed by the Birmingham Royal Ballet, probably at least ten years ago, but I’d forgotten the story and structure. It’s definitely a game of two halves, with the first act being the story of how innocent, delicate, feeble of health Giselle is wooed by Duke Albrecht, thinking he is but a mere peasant boy; but also pursued by a gamekeeper called Hilarion. She falls for Albrecht but when she discovers He Is Not Who He Appears To Be, she loses her mind, has a heart-attack and dies. Limited scope for humour here. In the second act, we visit Giselle’s grave, where Hilarion mourns her death but he gets a dose of the Wilis (that’s the spirits of women jilted at the altar, if you were in doubt), who have a tendency to dance men to death in an act of choreographic revenge. That’s precisely what happens to the hapless Hilarion, but when they turn on Albrecht, also mourning at the grave, he gets an inner strength because the spirit of Giselle forgives him; thus he dances his way out of danger, and her spirit is released from the hold of the Wilis. And they all die happily ever after, you might say.

Death of HilarionIn the same way that you don’t go to Shakespeare for the madrigals, you don’t really go to the ballet for the story. You go to admire the beautiful dancing, the emotions, the pointe work, the angles, the stamina, the precision, the speed, the stillness, the balance… you get the picture. I really enjoyed their Don Quixote last year, but I would say the overall quality of the performance in this year’s Giselle is even better.

High emotionAny production of Giselle relies heavily on an excellent performance from the dancer playing that lead role, and on Monday night’s performance, Liliya Orekhova was outstanding. Innocence personified, incredibly elegant, she created beautiful clear lines, performed remarkable solos and made it all look effortless. But Mrs C and I were both also really impressed with Ekaterina Tokareva as Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, who absolutely commanded the entire second act with her amazing pointe work, and incredible stage presence.

Wilis everywhereTalgat Kozhabaev gave a really top quality performance as Albrecht, full of power and accuracy, tempered with grace and personality. He and Miss Orekhova are perfectly matched and their pas de deux were always impressively controlled whilst still full of life and emotion. I was also impressed with Artem Minakov’s performance as Hilarion, especially in the second act when his “death dance” was really stunning. In the first act pas de deux we thought Andrei Zhuravlev gave a great performance, even if his white tights made it look as though his legs had been tippexed all over. However, we did feel that Miss Yuliya Zhuravleva was perhaps a little under-warmed-up; not quite a pas de don’t, but rather tentative at times. Nevertheless, when she returned as one of the Wilis, she performed with incredible grace, strength and elegance. The corps de ballet were on great form throughout, and the overall effect of their work together and the images they created in the second act were magnificent.

Albrecht rescuedAs always, a very rewarding and exhilarating night of classical dance. You can’t go wrong with this really reliable company. They’re touring until April, and I’d thoroughly recommend them.

PS. Stop Press – Coming Very Soon – The Fifth Annual Chrisparkle Awards!

Review – Don Quixote, Moscow City Ballet, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 20th January 2014

IMG_4830Two years ago we saw the Moscow City Ballet perform Swan Lake, and looking back over the statistics, it’s been a constant source of interest, being my most-read blog post of all time. At the time we really enjoyed their “traditional classical” take on what is probably the most “traditionally classic” ballet of all. The company are performing both Swan Lake and other regular favourite The Nutcracker this week at the Royal and Derngate, but we thought we’d take the opportunity to see something we hadn’t seen before – and for one night only, on Monday, they performed Ludwig Minkus’ Don Quixote; it’s always good to experience new things.

Kitri and BasilMinkus isn’t a name that instantly comes to mind when you think of Russian classical composers, and I certainly didn’t know the music to this ballet before seeing the performance; but I found it really enjoyable. It’s perfectly suited to balletic movement, being somewhat stately, somewhat reserved, somewhat polite, but also with some upbeat jolly tunes too; making it a wonderful accompaniment to the traditional dance you see on the stage. The Moscow City Ballet orchestra conducted by Igor Shavruk were on excellent form on Monday night and played Minkus’ entertaining score with elegance, style and panache.

Don QuixoteWe’ve been lucky enough to see a number of touring companies over the years performing ballet and opera but few (if any) maintain such high standards of tradition and production values as the Moscow City Ballet. Not only do we have a talented orchestra to enjoy, but also the sets and the costumes are beautiful and of high quality. The dancers, of course, are graceful and skilful. My only slight quibble, as when we saw Swan Lake two years ago, is that you sense they are just a little under-rehearsed.

DryadsThe tale of Don Quixote, the ballet, is much shorter and simpler than the tale of Don Quixote, the novel. The ballet is based on just two chapters of the book (I haven’t read it, I’m afraid) and concerns the aforementioned Knight Errant, together with his faithful servant Sancho Panza, chancing upon an innkeeper’s daughter (Kitri) in a village courtyard, together with her lover (Basil), and the foppish nobleman (Gamash) whom her father wants her to marry. Don Quixote mistakes Kitri for his beloved Dulcinea (easy mistake) and dreams of her surrounded by a team of beautiful Dryads (as you do). Basil tricks the innkeeper into blessing his marriage to Kitri by pretending to kill himself (always a good idea), Gamash goes off in a huff and Don Quixote blunders on in search of more hilarious adventures. As you may gather, this is one of those ballets that doesn’t have that much of a plot.

Mariya MyshevaBut that doesn’t matter because it’s so entertaining to watch. It’s danced with a great sense of fun and wit, with some good comedy moments, lots of knowing glances between the characters and it’s also good to see that the dancers are genuinely enjoying themselves. The role of Kitri was danced by Ekaterina Odarenko, and she is staggeringly good given the fact that she’s only 18 years old; God only knows how good she’ll be in five years’ time. Immaculate on point, and beautiful in her solo work and also in pas de deux with Talgat Kozhabaev as Basil. A little more mature, he joined the Moscow City Ballet when Miss Odarenko was only five years old! He’s full of character on stage, in fact acting like a right jack the lad much of the time – think Rudolph Nureyev reincarnated as Liverpool comic John Bishop. He did some of those slow elegant walks across the stage to get to where the next dance sequence was to start, as superbly lampooned by the Trocks, but his dancing was very charismatic and entertaining even if he did travel a bit during his fouettés. There was an amusing moment where he threw his guitar into the corps de ballet, but it didn’t quite land where it was expected and thus almost brained the poor chap who was meant to catch it; and the otherwise exquisite pas de deux with Miss Odarenko that cemented their relationship finished with a slip of perilous uncertainty (hence my suspicion of their being under-rehearsed), that could have ended up in A&E if he’d dropped her. But they really were very good together; and the secondary pairing of Mariya Mysheva as the Street Dancer with Kanat Nadyrbek as Espada the Toreador also worked extremely well, both being very talented and highly watchable dancers who didn’t put a foot wrong as far as I could tell.

Those guitars have a life of their ownThe comic roles were also very enjoyable. Dmitriy Trukhachev was an amusing but still credible Gamash, posing pretentiously, gently leching after the beautiful girls surrounding him, and nicely overreacting to the trickery that put an end to his betrothal to Kitri. Lorenzo the innkeeper was danced with great gusto and humour by Yaroslav Alekhnovich; and Valerii Kravtsov, as an apparently lame Sancho Panza, turns in some wonderfully tricksy dance steps and laughter-inducing shapes. I remarked on his lively performance in Swan Lake two years ago and said surely he should be promoted to soloist soon – and now I see he has been! Together these dancers performed a charming and memorable pas de trois during the engagement celebrations. The eponymous knight doesn’t have to do much as the action largely revolves around him rather than involving him, but Aleksandr Gavrilov (also credited as Stage Manager) as Don Quixote can wield an obscenely long spear with the best of them.

GamashThere’s something so refined and quietly amusing about observing all the traditional Russian ballet etiquette. In a fantasy existence I’d like to be one of those guys who sits at the corner of the stage, watching the action and smiling benevolently at the dancers, and when one of them comes anywhere near they give them a respectful smile and generous wave of recognition as if to say, “keep it up fella, you’re doing great”. If it’s a ballerina, their smile and wave is a little warmer and means more “phwoar, looking gorgeous, honey”. There was a lot of that going on in the final act. That would be a great job. I could do that.

It’s a pleasure to see such a high quality production and committed, skilful dancers. The company’s tour goes on to mid-March, although the only other Don Quixote date left is at Crawley. But it’s well worth catching!