The Happiest of Rothbarts

Fools always dance really well.

A few days ago I saw the broadcast of Bolshoi‘s Swan Lake, the most Rothbart-lovin’ production ever.

January was a bust, with heavy snow, B-cat’s injuries, and my cold and flu keeping us indoors. My blood pressure did return to normal (about 80/54)… soon after this phone conversation with the blood clinic:

Blood worker: Are you and B-cat planning to give blood in January?

B-cat: I’m planning to go when Monica does.

Me: Your website says I can’t donate again ’til mid-February.

Blood worker: Are you planning to donate again?

Me: Yeah, though I’ve been dizzy for more than a month and my blood pressure dropped to ##/##, so I’m not really looking forward to it.

Blood worker: Why don’t we delay yours ’til March? But is there any way to have B-cat come sooner?

Me: I could just go with him and watch.

Blood worker: That’d be great! You could even come in April, but we really need his blood type.

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Somehow this intermission photo managed to make the host, the translator, and Rothbart all look glum

It’s okay. No one needs Prince Siegfried, either.

In this production featuring Yuri Grigorovich‘s 2001 choreography, Denis Rodkin‘s Siegfried doesn’t get to dress or dance like a prince, and he knows it. He can only do so much with the boring choreo, it’s no wonder his emoti-meter is stuck at “fairly pleased”. Also, everyone in his court looks grim.

Ballet Friend S argues Svetlana Zakharova‘s Odette is as bland as her prince. I think Odette is tearful and not excessively bird-like, and Odile is lots of fun, with black swan friends who mingle with the white flock to form interesting patterns on stage. S and I bicker over the set design (I think it’s Impressionistic and cool; she thinks it’s bizarrely gothic and sloppy), but agree the costumes are lovely: goldleaf and silverleaf on romantic tutus and an all-silver pancake tutu with a silver filigree standing collar. Never mind the Fool’s cap is so tiny it makes him look like a bumblebee.

Me: “The Fool (Igor Tsvirko) dances really well!”

S: “Fools always dance really well.”

Pssht. Clearly I’m no fool.

Regardless, it’s Artemy Belyakov‘s Baron von Rothbart — here, “Evil Genius” — who’s the star in the eyes of Grigorovich and the costume designer. His choreo is more effective, his outfit more dashing. Even his pas de deux (!) with Siegfried is sexier than the prince’s dance with either swan. Of course the story ends with Belyakov getting his way. This means the audience doesn’t get the happy-ending bit of Tchaikovsky, but who can refuse such a handsome Rothbart?

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The Bolshoi will broadcast A Hero of Our Time live in cinemas on April 9.

PC Nutcracker

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S (the best dancer at one of the schools I go to… or went to, before the car accident) took me to Ballet BC & Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s last Nutcracker (on tour) of the season.

There’s lots to like about the production:

  1. RWB is a little different each year. This year’s Nutcracker takes place in 1910s Canada and includes hockey, people falling on icy sidewalks, and polar bears. So Canadian;
  2. Soft colours and fine painted details make lovely, realistic costumes and storybook backdrops;
  3. Makeup & costumes look good on the non-white dancers, too, and the “multicultural” bits are more balletic and less racist than most! (Incidentally, the Arabian costumes should’ve been First Nations);
  4. No more bear baiting or obvious favouritism among the kids. A bear comes into the house for food. So, so Canadian.

Conversely:

  1. S feels the 1930s opening is pointless if the Kingdom of Sweets is just business as usual;
  2. Smallest mice look like clones of Disney’s Goofy (same face and colour and all) while the Mouse King looks like a dog-headed man;
  3. Chinese/tea dancer still has double buns, arms forming permanent Ls, and hands fused in gesturing “1”s. At this point she may as well be using those fingers to push up the corners of her eyes, she’s such a stereotype;
  4. All the angels are blonde!… you want me to say. Actually, the wigs are so metallic gold I don’t give a damn.

No one was spectacularly good or bad, which perhaps makes for better holiday viewing than placing awesome virtuoso dancers alongside people who fall out of jumps. The choreography was too safe, though, wasn’t it?

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Photo from RWB, since my curtain call photo failed

On a side note, we sat dead centre in the lower balcony (as mentioned before, S has high standards for everything ballet). The view would’ve been perfect if the mother and child in front and two women another row down didn’t lean forward the entire time. Behind them, to S’s left, a man with a wedge-shaped head started playing with his little phone in the middle of Act I. After I asked him to turn it off, he squirmed and rustled wrappers for over an hour. S says she was afraid he was going to attack me, but he merely threw a fit from a safe distance at the end before running away.

If you think not being racist is being too PC, you wouldn’t like this production. Otherwise, you can still catch the RWB Nutcracker in Winnipeg later in December.

Only the Swans Prevail

Last week I took B-cat to see Coastal City Ballet‘s retelling of Swan Lake at Vancouver Playhouse. Compared with Europe, all ballets and operas in Vancouver are expensive, but Coastal City — being a pre-professional company — is the most affordable option here for classical (story) ballets.

That said, they never seem to have nice costumes. I usually attend their performances with S, and her first remark when the topic comes up is always:

They always dance in T-shirts and pants.

Well, S had to work that day, so she missed seeing Prince Siegfried in tights! And prince boots! The other dancers, though, still look as if they raided some five-year-old’s dress-up box.

Here’s an idea of the group composition in more than one scene:

  • Three men in modern dress shirts and pants
  • Two dancers in lamé ’80s clubwear
  • A handful of women in cheap ballet class dresses or those sundresses with legs (?)
  • One guy all in mesh
  • One guy in an elaborate Romeo shirt and khaki trousers
  • Too many people mixing pieces spanning all eras

It’s even part of the story this time — Siegfried’s entourage finds a chest of clothes in a castle, etc. — but only draws attention to how badly dressed they remain when the story doesn’t require it (and made for awkward on-stage changing). And the corps is more mismatched than their wardrobe. They extend their legs to different heights, wobble when they need to hold still, and fall out of pirouettes or jumps, unable to finish properly. It doesn’t look like they even rehearsed in the same room.

What happened, CCB?

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Maybe it’s bad for their morale that Sakura Inoue and her friends have pretty pancake tutus. As Odette the girl, Inoue is truly regal, i.e. proud, patient, and without arrogance. She dances beautifully. As the swan, she’s more bird-like and expressive than any I’ve seen. The cygnets, too, have surprising energy and perfect coordination; most professional ballerinas don’t manage to be as uniform as these four.

As for the men, what little Diego Ramalho’s Siegfried lacks in technique he makes up for in acting, and vice versa for his buddy (I think… For some reason the programme lists everyone alphabetically, making identification difficult). And poor Rothbart (Tyler Carver) may be the worst dressed, but he is flawless — turns out he’s a guest artist from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

It’s the really good dancers that keep this from becoming a disappointing experience. I wish B-cat’s first Swan Lake were better, but we’d definitely want to see Inoue in other lead roles in the future.

P.S. More than half of the dancers are non-white — how West Coast is that?

Coastal City Ballet’s next production is Swan Lake on June 10 (sold out, it appears).

Russia and… Prague?

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This past weekend B-cat took me to the live broadcast of the Bolshoi‘s production of Don Quixote, even though he should’ve been studying for his finals. He’s been invited to work full-time as a junior physicist this summer, so hopefully I haven’t destroyed his career prospects…

Alexei Fadeyechev’s staging of Petipa’s classic isn’t the most visually exciting, but the Russian dancers’ solid technique almost make up for that — some say DQ is a ballet for virtuosos anyway. Ekaterina Krysanova definitely grew on me over the course of three hours even if she might not have the right energy for Kitri, unlike the principals of the warmer, more human National Ballet of Cuba or Royal Ballet. Perhaps it’s how she and Semyon Chudin seem genuinely like a young couple in love (which they might very well be… I don’t care enough about ballet couples to look it up).

That’s why I’m surprised our ballet classmate, M, feels Chudin and Krysanova’s lack of chemistry is the weakest part of the production. Then again, she prizes technique (which the Russians definitely have) over artistry and believes Krysanova is versatile enough for any role.

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Apple blossoms in B-cat’s yard

The next live broadcast will be Giselle with the Royal Ballet this weekend.

Also, it looks like I’m going to Prague with my mother. This is rather last minute, like the only two trips I’ve taken as an adult with her, but I should be able to catch at least one opera there.

EDIT: We’re leaving at the end of the month. I’ve booked tickets to two operas!

Happy Nutcracker Season

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B-cat by S’s tree — with ballet ornaments

Seeing as Royal City Youth Ballet‘s ticket price has overtaken that of the professional companies, B-cat and I are only attending two productions of Nutcracker this year: Royal Ballet‘s live broadcast last weekend and Ballet BC’s production next week. (This year’s guest dancers are from Alberta Ballet.)

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B-cat and me; the glittery nutcracker I made out of scraps

We saw the first with S, who feels Royal Ballet’s costumes are “too drab” with the exception of the screaming pink harem pants she hates. I like the costumes precisely because they look like real clothing (again excluding those pants), but hey, she has much higher standards than I do about everything ballet.

Enough nitpicking: Royal Ballet’s backdrops are lavish in intricate details but muted in colour, with warm gold tones reminiscent of old books. And you can’t go wrong with Tchaikovsky. For next year, though, maybe they should leave out the grotesque Fu Manchu makeup and moustaches for the roles of Chinese tea.

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I’m the one in white. Flabby holidays!

The three of us also attended the last ballet class of the year at Scotiabank Dance Centre. There was even a pianist/melodica player who played us holiday songs and a photographer to capture our holiday weight.

Merry statutory Christmas, everyone!