REFLECTIONS: THE BOLSHOI WOMEN GO CONTEMPORARY
by Steven Woodruff
Reviewed by Steven Woodruff
REFLECTIONS at Segerstrom Center for the Arts
January 20, 2011
By the time the curtain came down on the very long evening of dance presented at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts for its collaborative program with dancers from the Bolshoi Ballet nearly thirty people had congregated on the stage to take in the applause and cheers of the assembled audience. The program titled REFLECTIONS had quite clearly been a hit and, as it turned out, another shrewd step in the creation of big business with ballet at its center. Assembled onstage were the eleven dancers who had made the marathon happen, a conductor, a counter tenor, pianist, a choreographer or two, presenters, régisseurs and producers. It looked a lot like the big winner night at the Academy Awards.
The program had been billed as a blockbuster that would unite a group of very talented, young Bolshoi trained dancers now in international companies with a host contemporary dancemakers (and George Balanchine) in an evening that would do all the things that these types of productions promise: blur lines, find new dialogues, push boundaries, create new alchemies, and fire the imagination. And while the program itself was indeed a curious hybrid of art, spectacle and business, the choreography and content proved to be the least evocative element of the three hours of dance, some of it very wearying.
Three of the works had been premiered prior to REFLECTIONS, including Nacho Duato’s REMANSOS (1997), the Balanchine Glinka PAS de TROIS (1955) and Renato Zanella’s STRAUSS INCONTRA VERDI (1995). The remaining works, including five sections of what was called ACT TWO were newly minted by various choreographers and custom fit to the current cast. STRAUSS and the PAS de TROIS were used as book ends to begin and end the suite. Concluding the evening was CINQUE by Mauro Bigonzetti, a freewheeling suite of dances in twelve sections, more if you count the multi-section La Folia variations which is included. The music is a well chosen potpourri of Vivaldi’s greatest hits and includes two sections from his Stabat Mater.
The program was laid out in three acts and titled as such, as if you were at the Bolshoi watching a story ballet. It was just one of the linkages to that great company that REFLECTIONS seeks to capitalize upon. I liked very much REMANSOS (ACT ONE) for the manner in which the choreography discovers the sincere sentimentality of the Enrique Granados’ piano miniatures, Danzas Españolas on which it is based. This version has been recast with three women added to the original configuration for three men. It is the transitions and evolving combinations of the six dancers which are so moving in REMANSOS (pools) as it moves from dance to dance. This effect is enhanced for the larger cast and adds the new dimension of traditional partnering. REMANSOS is theatrically appealing and the lighting by Nicolás Fischtel and Brad Fields (generally a darkened, somber environment) suits the interior world that Duato hints at in all the sections. It is beautiful, purposeful choreography that obliquely references the arresting imagery in Lorca‘s works. The only set is a wall (seven feet tall and large enough to hide three dancers) and a red rose, a kind of gift or talisman that passes from dancer to dancer. The pairs of dancers were Polina Semionova and Denis Savin, Natalia Osipova and Vyacheslav Lopatin, and Yekaterina Shipulina and Alexander Volchkov. They danced with big expressive style that lit up interior domains. The excellent atmospheric music was played by pianist Alexey Melentiev.
REFLECTIONS as a title should have been reserved for ACT TWO which was a sprawling collection of mostly solo pieces heavily informed by contemporary European sensibilities. The wildly diverse music ranged from electronica,Italian folk music with a jazz bent, to classicaland contemporary minimalism. It wasn’t the stuff you could easily make a cohesive work from but you didn’t get the sense that anyone was trying for that option. Mostly it became a review with each of the renown soloists taking a star turn on the wide open spaces of the Segerstrom stage. It had its appeal even if it did turn frequently indulgent. Faring best in this arrangement were Krysanova and Savin in FRACTUS ( music by Rhys Chatham and choreography by Karole Armitage). This relationship piece laced with desperation and brutality played well against the percussive score. The movement was punctuated with frequent blackouts and at the conclusion, the back curtain rises to reveal the bare bones of the stage’s landscape. It seemed to me a heavy handed statement. Something like: look folks, you’re watching industrial strength ballet here.The partnering was inventive, severe and showed that Krysanova could go modern in the Euro mold. Also interesting were Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev in SERENATA with wonderful music by Amerigo Ciervo. The piece from iMuusicalia was played by Amerigo and Marcello Ciervo on accordion and saxophone in a jazzy, gypsy folk vein. The partnering here was even riskier with lifts that were daring to the point of looking dangerous. The couple danced barefoot which gave the choreography a sense of freedom and abandon.Mauro Bigonzetti was the choreographer.
The remaining pieces in ACT TWO ( all of them on point) proved meandering and vainly conceived for the most part. In STRAUSS INCONTRA VERDI (Strauss meets Verdi) Semionova took her star turn playing off an instrumental operatic score (Verdi via Strauss) with her extreme verticality and some engaging humor. Her costume by designer Igor Chapurin (yes, the Russian Armani) made her look swell even though the overly long solo ran out of gas early on. Anastastia Stashkevich seemed mostly lost and looking for content in FROM THE BOOK OF HARMONY ( music by John Adams and choreography by Lucinda Childs). The opening gave us striking lighting (Elena Kopunova) with a band of blue across the cyclorama and a diagonal of white light on the floor. Stashkevich seemed caught in some foreign world where menace lurked but we never had a hint of what it was. At the conclusion of the romantically edged choreography an expressive running exit for no apparent reason only complicated the question of why she was there in first place. ONE OVERTURE danced by the diminutive powerhouse Maria Kochetkova paired music by Biber and Mozart and showed her to be a wonderful actress with uncanny ability to portray a character possessed. She wore a clever cut away tutu (Anja Mlakar) and danced tirelessly in the complex choreography by Jorma Elo. Yekaterina Shipulina was given full advantage of her amazing port de bras in Aszure Barton's DUMKA which used an on stage pianist (Vladimir Chukhnov) in the Tchaikovsky piano miniature. The one dimensional solo, all arms and pliant languid sensibility, could have been an intimate encounter between dancer and musician but was marred by the amplified piano. A clumsy arrangement of the music prompted a couple of false endings which encouraged the applause-ready audience to clap when it should have been quiet that prevailed. The concluding PAS DE TROIS (Glinka/Balanchine) finally looked out of place next to all the modernism that preceded it. The two women, Anastasia Stashkevich and Olga Malinovskaya, looked decidedly more classical than neo though they were well matched in physical ability and temperament. More watchable was Mr. Lopatin as their busy partner who managed all the difficulty of his solo variations and partnering roles with absolute security. It is a very long and demanding piece. I thought he was terrific.
Mauro Bigonzetti got a second shot with his choreography in CINQUE for five women which concluded the evening. His sprawling multi section piece uses a lot of very familiar Vivaldi for its score. The work borrows from some obvious sources. The opening in silence for the five women (in chairs with hard down lighting) has a Fosse feel or alternately something from every nuevo tango piece you’ve ever seen. The women are disguised (wigs) and play much of the movement as comedy. The second section reminds you of the theatrical effects of Kylian with costumes that descend on trapezes and onstage dressers that help with the intentionally lengthy costume change.
Thereafter the music rolls in a never ending sequence of solos, duos,ensembles and a whole lot of coming and going. It all has the feel of a hastily made thing to meet the demands of the program rather than choreography with its own undeniable message: Euro trash but the best sort of Euro trash, entertaining and watchable. At the heart of it were the La Folia variations but rather than revealing glimpses of the five principals doing what they do best we got the same wildly flailing arms and eccentric gestures from beginning to end. There are striking moments (one diving exit into the wings comes to mind) but they come with a lot of filler. The black tutus, abbreviated and with a wavy ribbon edge were stylish and hip. They were designed by Chapurin. Lighting design was by Carlo Cerri. The piece ends as it begins. The women return to the chairs which reappear and with the music concluded they finish with a bit of comedy (not exactly feigning being exhausted because certainly they are) and a hearty shout. Blackout, massive applause, let the party begin. The five powerhouse dancers voyaging through CINQUE were Natalia Osipova, Maria Kochetkova, Yekaterina Kryanova, Yekaterina Shipulina and Polina Seminova.
There is much to like in REFLECTIONS. It is a hugely generous show but you find that by the time CINQUE is drawing to a close you will be hard pressed to remember what happened in ACT TWO let alone be able to conjure up the true beauties of the opening REMANSOS. The real music was a blessing but the talented instrumental soloists in the Vivaldi were served poorly with an amplified sound that was truly a misery. If only they had simply unplugged themselves and played. The orchestra was conducted throughout by Igor Dronov. Look forward to future installments of big business and big time ballet. The REFLECTIONS franchise is just getting rolling.