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.

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).

Prague’s Queen of the Night

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At the Czech State Opera

The trip to Prague began with my mother leaving her phone charger and cash behind and B-cat’s printer running dry to spit out pale, dreamy Google maps for me.

I should be able to see everything anyway just by walking around, I thought.

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I’m not a fan of King’s Day (or researching local holidays before a trip)

After a 10-hour layover in Amsterdam (like what B-cat and I had last year, but with less map reading and more King’s Day), I abandoned my respectable plans of getting to the hotel by train, tram, and foot and hired a cab. The next morning, when my feet were no longer smooth piles of mush, I pulled out the faded maps and tickets and read that the first opera we were seeing would take place in June.

So I spent an hour apologising to the young man at reception as he played phone tag with the opera house on my behalf. Eventually we discovered that the Narodni Divadlo (National Theatre) had pushed back Rusalka from April to June without notice, emailed me the purchase confirmation with the original date, and switcheroo-ed the tiny-print dates on the .pdf tickets attached to the email. Very professional.

Thanks to my generally being lucky and good at walking (and so humble), my mother and I saw almost everything I wanted and official websites recommended, minus only a few distant sites — she decided the long train trips weren’t for her. Although we missed Dvorak’s very Czech piece on the first day, we caught Mozart’s Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute) at the State Opera on the last.

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I knew the music would’ve been good no matter what, but Jana Sibera as the Queen of the Night managed to improve upon it. Martin Srejma’s Tamino is decent and Milos Horak’s Papageno is endearing, but Sibera blows them off the stage with her powerful voice, with more energy than the sun. Even my mother, who’d never heard an opera before and echoed my brother’s “Why not see a movie?”, left praising Sibera’s performance.

We both marvelled at the flimsiness of the costumes the State Opera comissioned? borrowed? though — treasures like the semi-sheer dresses made of polyester lining material struggling to stretch over visible hoops that, for one of the Queen’s underlings, gave up and collapsed to one side during Act I. Papageno and Papagena’s outfits may belong on the hosts of some unpopular TV show for kids, but at least they seem to have sturdy construction and adequate amounts of fabric. And the paper plate sun medallion…

Really, the only time the shoddy wardrobe isn’t a distraction is when Sibera was on stage.

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Besides the opera, I saw three of the top libraries in Prague — two of which regularly appear in “World’s Most Beautiful Libraries” listicles — visited Konopiste Castle and the Kafka Museum, and fell into/crawled through a forest full of stinging nettle, among other things.

I’d recommend Prague to you for a culture-filled adventure in the cleanest city I’ve ever seen (that’s including Japan), but I want to go with B-cat in the near future and don’t want too many other tourists there. Haw haw.

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!

And When is This Free Thursday

Last Thursday I saw Vancouver Opera‘s free production of Stickboy tailored to high school students but performed for adults (under 35) at a wine reception. Jillian Christmas opened with a spoken word performance featuring two poems I’d heard at Vancouver Writers Fest.

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Wine and cheese: the lavender-streaked cheese that tasted of berries was best. (What was it?)

But first, I have updates on the hellish adventure that is VO customer service. As you may recall, the story began when a rep we shall call Doreen tried to get me to resubscribe to VO by being a bit of a thug. I complained at the next opera; someone told me to email; my email was ignored. In the next chapter, someone at VO saw that blog post and told me to contact them again; my email was ignored again.

Chapter 3: Someone at VO called to solicit donations. I summed up the above as refusal. She transferred me to her manager, who declared she’d look into this and get back to me for closure. Still no word a month later.

If there was any doubt about my tone here or on the phone, let me clarify that I find all this unprofessional and infuriating. I’m glad there’s nothing left in the season but a musical and the Orientalistastic Madama Butterfly, because screw VO.

 

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The stage

As for Stickboy, the music often weakens where it should affirm the words, and at times the piece is less opera than musical. The version we saw has a particularly small cast, which inspires clever stage setup and character changes, but again does not help the sound. The writer (Shane Koyczan) manages to portray the bullying experience among boys in a realistic and moving way, however. The most effective scenes are those that speak more universally of love, e.g. when the Boy and his grandmother pass each other notes under the door, and when the Boy graduates.

So, screw VO, but read about the good things they’re doing with Stickboy in schools.