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Archive for August, 2009

The Mariinsky visit to London a few weeks ago and in particular the fact that they brought mime-less Soviet adaptations of ballet classics with them, generated much discussion among Covent Garden audiences about the importance of mime in ballet. When Konstantin Sergeyev revisited works such as Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty and Le Corsaire in the 50’s, balletic mime was largely scrapped in Russia as it was considered that new audiences did not need to be exposed to something as old fashioned and reminiscent from Tsarist times. The West would follow suit later on when it considered that dancing should be a complete means of storytelling with no additional form of narration.  Mime became moot.

But well performed balletic mime can be as artistic and as beautiful to watch as the dance itself. It carries forth the story, putting it into context. For instance audiences watching the Mariinsky’s Sleeping Beauty will be given no clues that the Lilac Fairy reverts Carabosse’s curse to princess Aurora by reassuring the whole court that if she pricks her finger she will fall into deep sleep but not die. Of course there is an argument that many of us will be  familiar with this fairy tale and that we do not need such level of detail in performance. On the other hand, omitting the Lilac Fairy mime means depriving audiences of one of ballet’s most moving sequences as this passage assists in developing her character, conveying a full sense of the Lilac Fairys warmth, kindness and wisdom as well as the contrast between good and evil, her calming gestures opposing Carabosse’s jerky, angry movements. All this is achieved by working the upper body, with face, arms and hand gestures that are completely integrated to Tchaikovsky’s beautiful score. Balletic mime is a stylish work of art.

Deirdre Chapman as Carabosse Photo: Johan Person/Royal Ballet © Source: Dansomanie

Deirdre Chapman as Carabosse Photo: Johan Person/Royal Ballet © Source: Dansomanie

Although we hardly ever see mime in modern pieces, classic works that have been preserved or reconstructed by ballet companies such as ABT, the Royal Ballet and the Royal Danish Ballet (the latter boasting a pure mime tradition that goes back to the Bournonville schooling) tend to contain substantial mime sequences. As we just wrote a post on going to the ballet for the first time we thought the mime basics would also help prepare you for the performance ahead. Chances are you will come across lengthy declamatory, narrative or conversational mime passages if you are going to see a 19th century ballet classic and if you know the basics you won’t be left scratching your head:

Most commonly seen mime gestures:

  • Dance

Hands circle one another above the head, the arms moving from first to third position.

Ex: in The Sleeping Beauty, just before Aurora’s solo, when King Florestan asks his daughter “will you dance for us?”

  • Forget/Think

Character touches the forehead with the index finger.

Ex1: in The Sleeping Beauty, when the evil fairy Carabosse asks the King and the Queen “did you forget to invite me?”

Ex2: in Giselle, before Hilarion calls Albrechts bluff he asks a bewildered Giselledo you really think he loves you?”

  • Die

Crosses arms in front of body in a low position.

Ex: when Giselle‘s mom (Berthe) says to the villagers “the Wilis will make wandering men dance till they die.”

  • Beautiful

Character makes a circle around the face with the palm of the hand.

Ex: in The Sleeping Beauty, before showing Prince Florimund (or Desiré) a vision of Aurora, the Lilac Fairy asks him “do you want to see something beautiful?”

  • Promise

Point two fingers, held together (like a peace sign) upwards in the audience’s direction.

Ex: in Swan Lake, when Prince Siegfried promises to Odette that he will marry her and thus break the swan curse.

And also:

  • Why – both arms open outwards towards the other character
  • King/Queen – taps forehead with hand three times
  • Princess – taps forehead with hand two times
  • I/Me – point to own chest
  • You – point to the other person
  • Love – crosses hands over heart
  • Listen/Listening – cups hand over ear leaning towards the sound or taps the face close to the ears
  • Anger/Angry – bend elbows with fists pointed towards the sky, shaking them
  • Stop – Palm out
  • Engaged or Married – Point to the ring finger

A brief mime dictionary can be downloaded from the Pennsylvania Ballet website from this link

See balletic mime in action:

  • Giselle: Berthe narrates the legend of the Wilis

Move forward to 2:30 to see the full mime sequence where Berthe (Genesia Rosato) tries to warn Giselle (Alina Cojocaru) about the dangers of  too much dancing. She will tell all villagers of the presence of Wilis in the forest who come out late at night to prey on wandering men. Note the miming of: cemetery/burial grounds (the crosses), wilis (the wings, the hand on her chin) dance and die.

  • The Sleeping Beauty: Carabosse and the Lilac Fairy

In the prologue of the Royal Ballet’s current production of  The Sleeping Beauty you can see the complete sequence where Carabosse crashes Aurora’s christening and curses her, miming the gestures: forgot, listen, say, grow up, beautiful, die. The Lilac Fairy interrupts (“now you listen to what I have to say“) miming that if Aurora pricks her finger she will sleep until awakened by a kiss from a faraway land Prince.

  • Swan Lake: Odette and Siegfried
  • Move to 1:40 to see the full mime sequence in this video of Kevin McKenzie’s Swan Lake production for ABT. The promise sign is mimed twice, first by Odette (Gillian Murphy) when she is telling her story to Prince Siegfried (Ángel Corella) and then by the Prince. Odette also uses mime to explain she is the Queen of the swans.

    • La Sylphide: Madge, Effie & her friends

    Royal Ballet’s Johan Kobborg characterised as Madge tells James’s fiance Effie and her friends their fortunes in this Bolshoi staging of La Sylphide (Move forward to 0:35). Notice how Madge predicts that Effie shall marry Gurn instead of James.

    See Mime Rehearsals:

    Sources and Further information:

    1. The NYCB website contains useful learning materials for the same Nutcracker mime sequence shown above [link]
    2. Pennsylvania Ballet [link]
    3. Ballet 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving the Ballet by Robert Greskovic. [link]
    4. Ballet Mime for Little Ones via Neo Blog [link]

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    The Royal Ballet Autumn Season is getting closer and if you are addicted like us then you are probably busy filling your bags with tickets to start it full-throttle. Look away if you belong in this category. This post is for those of you that feel intrigued about going to the ballet, having watched some videos or discussed with friends and heard about their experiences. You feel curious but don’t know what to expect from a ballet performance, how best to prepare (body and mind) or what to do when you get to the theatre. Help is at hand and although we will be focusing on “an evening with the Royal Ballet, our home company, you can easily apply these guidelines to any other ballet company/theatre.

    Royal Opera House. Photo: Russ London © Source: Wikipedia

    Royal Opera House. Photo: Russ London © Source: Wikipedia

    Before the Performance

    Of course the first thing you need is a ticket! The Royal Opera House box office sells tickets to all performances on a season basis (autumn/winter/spring/summer) and those can be purchased in person, by phone or web, the latter being the easiest, most secure and pain free option (unless you are booking on the first day of ticket sales!). If you go in person, the box office assistants will show you a seating chart whereas online you can select your seats from a virtual one. Note that the box office will, by default, always offer you those tickets located in the centre and with 100% unrestricted view, regardless that these may be in row Z. However, there are many “restricted view” seats with better views than those which are central-yet-far (particularly in the  amphitheatre area).

    Since it is your first time at the ballet, casting will probably not be very important but if you are adamant about seeing the starrier performers, you can ask the box office which casts are more popular.

    Do Your Homework

    The next step is: “do your research” that’s right research. We cannot recommend it enough, as it will greatly enhance your experience. There is nothing more frustrating than leaving a performance without having understood anything, especially in the case of story-based ballets. Synopses tend to be available in the ballet company’s website, but since they may elude some people, best practice in this information rich era is to go with Google or Wikipedia. You might also like to try our own website – over the next few months we will be boosting the ballet fact cards we have in our Bag of Ballets to feature those to be staged by the Royal Ballet this season. With more time, and if you are a music fan, you can also listen to the ballet score (try Spotify, Imeem, Last.fm, Pandora, etc.). This is particularly important in plotless ballets which are more focused on the music, for instance as in most ballets by Balanchine. Finally, you can try YouTube for a preview of what you will be seeing.

    Arriving at the Performance

    It is advisable to arrive at the theatre at least half an hour before the performance (one hour if your tickets are held at the box office). Due to heavy London traffic and lack of parking spots near Covent Garden, going by car is a no-no.  If you are a Londoner you probably know the Tube is not reliable and that you should check live updates via Transport for London. On arrival you may want to browse the Royal Opera House Shop, accessible via the Covent Garden market entrance. Here, as well as inside the theatre, you will find ballet programmes (£5) containing the full synopsis, gorgeous pictures, historical notes for the choreographer/composer and full dancer biographies.

    There is no dress code at the Royal Opera House, but we are partial to dressing smart, after all this is a night out in town (Ladies, see our “fashion at the ballet” post here. Gents, you can never go wrong with a suit or dressy trousers and a jacket). The rule of thumb is: the more expensive your ticket, the dressier you should look, although there is no need to dust off the old Tux/Evening Gown! The Royal Opera House has a Cloak Room at no extra charge, so you can leave your coat there (if you are coming directly from school/office as we usually are, big bulky bags can also be held there).

    After you present your ticket at the entrance your bags will be checked. If you arrived early, you can now have a drink at the Floral Hall (upstairs, in front the Cloak Room) or the Amphitheatre Bar. Announcements are made when it’s time to take your seats. Before you go, pick a free cast sheet from the ushers at the Floral Hall or Amphitheatre end corners where ice cream is sold, to check the latest cast information (since dancers can get ill/injured), as well as performance structure/intervals, duration and credits. Many people don’t usually bother picking one up, but if you decide not to buy a programme (as you feel very confident after all that research!) then glancing over the cast sheet and finding out the performer’s names is the least you can do –  just like in a social event, it’s nice to put “a name to a dancer’s face”.

    Contingencies

    If you arrive late, the ushers will lead you to a room where the live performance is relayed onto a screen. You will be admitted in the auditorium after a suitable pause (usually after the 1st act in a full-length ballet or after the 1st ballet in a mixed bill). If you are early but forgot your ticket, go to the box office and give them your name and credit/debit card, they will be able to get a reprint for you.

    Main Auditorium at the Royal Opera House. Photo: Yakinodi © Source: Flickr

    Main Auditorium at the Royal Opera House. Photo: Yakinodi © Source: Flickr

    During the Performance

    The moment you’ve been waiting for! The conductor enters and bows to the audience, a surge of applause, the music starts and the red velvet curtains open to reveal….

    … well, this is where your personal experience really starts. The eminent FT critic, Mr. Clement Crisp says that you will know if you like a ballet after 2 minutes of seeing it. Here are just a few of so many things one can look out for during the performance:

    • In story based ballets one can focus on how the various characters are interpreted and how the dancers convey their persona through movement. In abstract, plotless pieces, one can focus on how the dancer interprets the music and how this makes you feel.

    • The ballet mime: in classical ballets notice how certain actions are represented by mime, which gestures tend to be repeated throughout the performance and how the dancers respond to these gestures. (we will feature more on this topic soon)
    • The technical aspects: jumps, spins, lifts, etc. How do these fit within that particular ballet’s context and how they are performed: height, soft landing, precision, quickness, floating (or ballon), grace & elegance of the movements, etc. If there is a large ensemble of dancers (corps de ballet) notice how they move together and whether they dance “as one” in perfect unison.

    • The choreography. Which shapes are drawn through dance, how the various dancers come together and what is the overall “look” and “feel”.

    • If you are attending a mixed bill, there might be a common theme linking them all (in many occasions the pieces are by the same choreographer, etc). Try to analyse the connections between the different pieces in the programme.

    Sometimes dancers will stop after a solo packed with jaw dropping technical feats and the audience will burst into applause. In ballet, unlike classical music concerts or opera, you don’t have to wait for the performance to end to show your appreciation and it is  normal to cheer and clap after a particularly well executed variation. However, you should take note of the key applause moments in ballet: at the beginning, when the conductor takes his stand and when the performance restarts after an interval; and at the end, when the company take their bows and during the curtain calls, when the principals and soloists come to thank the public individually.

    Intervals

    During the intervals (typically 20-25 mins each) you can leave the auditorium and treat yourself to drinks and nibbles at the Floral Hall (Paul Hamlyn Hall Bar), the Amphi Bar or one of the other smaller restaurants and bars in the theatre. Food can be pre-ordered to be eaten during intervals. Many people choose to gather around the outside the Orchestra Stalls entrance area (the Pit Lobby) to chat and read the programmes.

    ROHs Floral Hall (Paul Hamlyn Hall). Source: ROH ©. Copyright belongs to its respective owners.

    ROH's Floral Hall (Paul Hamlyn Hall). Source: ROH ©. Copyright belongs to its respective owners.

    After the performance

    When the ballet ends and after the company takes their bows (reverence), there might be a series of curtain calls, where the principal dancers come to receive further applause, the length of which will depend on how the public gauged that performance, more calls indicating a particularly excellent one. You will see that at this point some people start to rush to the exits, usually those who need to rush back to a train station. Whether you should rush or not is a topic for another post, but it is fun to stay for the calls. Once they are over, you leave the auditorium, pick your coat up and leave.

    It is very hard to hail a taxi at the nearby stop in Russell Street, since you will have to compete with many other West End theatre goers just out from their plays and musicals. It is advisable to either pre-book a cab or walk to Holborn to find one. Otherwise, it is best to take the bus or the tube.

    We hope that these notes assist in making your evening a very enjoyable experience. We would love to hear from any first timers how your experience was, if you will be going back and why. Best advice is to plunge into it. On your way out, you’ll know exactly what did it for you.

    Further Information

    1. Royal Opera House Attendance Guidelines [link]
    2. Birmingham Royal Ballet‘s Guide to Attending a Ballet Performance for the First Time [link]

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    This is the first post devoted to small jumps, the main components of what is known as petit allégro. Used in training they assist in the development of musicality, coordination, and quick footwork (stressing the use of the lower leg) while onstage, they are widely used in variations and/or character dances in full-length ballets, most prominently in Bournonville.

    Soubresaut

    A straight up jump from fifth, with both legs and arches extended. Starting from a demi-plié to gain impulse, the dancer springs into the air, being careful not to brush one calf against the other. In some schools, this may also be a travelling jump, ie. the dancer moves from its original departure point.

    Temps de Poisson (or Sissone Soubresaut)

    Means “fish movement”. This is a particular form of soubresaut in which the dancer bends its back at the height of the jump, feet placed together and pointes crossing to form a fishtail. The dancer lands in one leg in demi-plié (fondu) with the opposite leg stretched back in the air. This step, also referred to as sissonne soubresaut, are the distinctive soubresauts in act 2 of Giselle:

    Bolshoi’s Nelli Kobakhidze performs a series of sissonne soubresauts in act 2 of Giselle. Move forward to 6:27.

    Temps de L’Ange

    If while performing a sissone soubresaut the dancer’s legs are bent in attitude, the jump becomes known as temps de l’ange.

    Échappé sauté

    It literally means a “jumping, escaping movement”. The dancer starts in fifth position and jumps to finish in a demi-plié in second position or fourth position, with both feet traveling in equal distance from the original centre.

    Changement

    A jump where the feet change positions. The dancer starts in fifth position and jumps straight up and down, getting impulse from a plié and changing feet in the air to land back in fifth, opposite foot in front.

    Royale

    It is a type of changement where one calf beats against the other before the feet change position to land in fifth. Because of this it can also be referred to as changement battú (ie. battú=beaten).

    Here is a masterclass in allegro, featuring all the steps above described, although all of them – not just the Royales – are beaten, meaning that the calves touch before landing.

    Johan Kobborg as James in Bournonville‘s La Sylphide. Notice the échappés around 1.20 (with a beat) and royales everywhere.

    Entrechat

    Stands for braiding (or interlacing). It is a straight up jump from fifth, in which the dancer crosses its legs rapidly while in the air by switching opposite fifth positions.

    Each crossing counts as two movements and depending on the landing, one can have even-numbered entrechats (landing with both feet in fifth) or odd-numbered entrechats (landing on one foot), thus:

    • Landing on both feet: entrechats deux, quatre, six, huit, dix.
    • Landing on one foot: entrechats trois, cinq, sept, neuf.

    Royal Ballet’s Johan Kobborg does the famous series of entrechats-six in the coda of Giselle Act II. Move forward to the 5:07 mark.

    Pas de Chat

    Means “Step of the cat”. The dancer starts in fifth position and the front leg is lifted through retiré as the other leg pushes off the floor and is also raised into a retiré. The first leg lands first, with the second leg following to close in fifth.

    The Cygnets (small swans) in Mariinsky’s production of Swan Lake doing a series of pas de chats in a diagonal around the 1.36 mark. There’s also a series of entrechats-quatre before.

    The Russian Pas de Chat is a variant of this step in which both legs are positioned in attitude derrière rather than retiré

    Mariinsky’s Maya Dumchenko does some Russian Pas de Chats at 0:17, while dancing the Paquita 4th Variation.

    Glissade

    A small jump which is mainly used to power a big one, or to connect another step. Starting from fifth position, the dancer does a demi-plié and springs slightly upwards. Front leg glides along the floor towards second position, the whole body traveling towards this extended leg, while the back leg glides onto fifth position, so the dancer is again in demi-plié, ready for the subsequent step.

    Glissades can be done in all directions (en avant = forward, en arrière = backwards, à la seconde, etc.), with the feet changing accordingly when closing into the final plié.

    Assemblé

    Assembler means “to put together” or “to assemble”. One starts from fifth position and plié. The back leg slides off to a 45 degree angle battement (beating) on the side, while the front leg (now turned supporting leg) pushes and extends off the floor. The working leg closes in front fifth position, with both legs coming to the ground at the same time. Done in this way, the assemblé is said to have been executed dessus (from the back to the front) but can also be done dessous (from the front to the back).

    This step does not travel, ie. the dancer remains in its original position.

    Paris Opera Ballet dancers Emmanuel Thibault, Nolwenn Daniel and Mélanie Hurel do assemblés around the 0:33 & 0:40 mark in this beautiful pas de trois from Paquita. Look out for glissades at 1.29 & 1:35, changements at 2:53 & 2:57, entrechats at 4:30 & pas de chats at 4:38 & 4.40.

    Brisé

    Brisé stands for “broken”. This step is like a “beaten and travelled” version of the assemblé. It can be done en avant and en arrière: en avant, the dancer starts from fifth, back leg brushing in effacé devant and supporting leg pushing from the floor to beat the other leg from behind and front, finishing in fifth position (demi-plié), body arched towards the front throughout. En arriére, all positions are reversed (now the working leg is thrown to effacé derriere), body arched towards the back throughout.

    Royal Ballet’s Alina Cojocaru (with Johan Kobborg) in a series of brisés in a diagonal, at around 4:52 in this Flower Festival in Genzano Pas de Deux.

    Sources and Further Information:

    Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet by Gail Grant. BN Publishing. ISBN 1607960311.

    Note: Whilst we have used widely known names for these jumps, note that terminology might vary slightly from school to school.

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    Igor Kolb. Source: Mariinsky.ru Copyright Mariinsky Theatre ©.

    Igor Kolb. Source: Mariinsky.ru Copyright Mariinsky Theatre ©.

    If you follow us on Twitter or Facebook or if you have been reading our posts here you will know that, balletwise, the past two weeks have been “all about the Mariinsky in London, their stylish dancing and the impressive array of performers they have fielded to wow us in the classics Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, Romeo & Juliet and in sexy Balanchine.

    We were particularly impressed with the very charismatic Igor Kolb, a 32 year old principal dancer, now in his 13th season with the Mariinsky. Igor’s artistry is remarkable, he’s blessed with an expressive handsome face, strong dramatic skills, effortless and fluid dancing and a beautiful line. His naturalistic Romeo left us at the edge of our seats and dying to know where all this dramatic juice comes from. We were delighted when he agreed to spare a few minutes between rehearsals to talk to us:

    How do you cope with the mix of different roles on tour?

    IK: It’s very interesting for me to dance a mix of roles on tour because they are all different roles from different eras. If I were to do Swan Lake every day it would be in some respects easier but psychologically, just impossible. Having said that, as a dancer you always want to make something more interesting out of the same role, even when you’ve danced it for a long time.

    How long have you been with the Mariinsky and when did you become a principal dancer?

    IK: This is my 13th season with the company. I started dancing principal roles very early, Prince Désiré from “The Sleeping Beauty”, the central adagio in Balanchine’s Scotch Symphony, and the poet in Chopiniana [Les Sylphides] so in a way the appointment to principal a few years later was a mere formality as I was already dancing all these big roles from the start.

    You began your career dancing in the classics but how have you matured into a more dramatic dancer – the critic Jeffery Taylor said last week your Romeo was “heart-piercing” – lately?

    IK: I really like the theatre, I go when I can in St. Petersburg, old plays new productions, I go see them all. I also like cinema and literature too [Igor is currently reading Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov]. Maybe it’s because I am a bit older now but I refused to dance Romeo initially. I had Zeffirelli’s Romeo in my mind’s eye and in this film there is a pretty girl and a pretty boy [Leonard Whiting]. I used to look at myself in the mirror and did not feel I was like that at all, the movie is like a beautiful fairy tale and I was definitely not like the boy in that film!

    But then there was the [Baz Luhrmann] more recent version with Leonardo DiCaprio and I did not like him in the role. I started to compare both versions and that’s when I began to think maybe I could tackle the role. I understood that I just had to be myself, that I should behave as if I would behave in that situation. I am not as naïve as the boy in the first film, naivety is such a difficult thing to show on stage. For me it’s the tragic side that comes more naturally and I want people to believe in me. If you go onstage and you are not convincing then people can feel it, and as a dancer you can feel when the audience does not believe you, it shows in their reaction, in the atmosphere. Here I felt people were looking forward to seeing me as Romeo, as the London audience knows me already.

    What are your favorite roles & your dream roles?

    IK: I like everything that I do in the Mariinsky repertoire, I am very lucky because I haven’t had to dance things I don’t enjoy! Of course there have been roles that I have tried and did not like as much but then the Company is ok if I don’t want to revisit those.

    Outside the Mariinsky repertoire there are very many dream roles, of course. I would like very much to work with Mats Ek’s wife, Ana Laguna. She came to see me perform as Romeo and I was so glad as I greatly admire the Ek piece she has danced with Baryshnikov. Other than Ana and Mats Ek, I would love to work with Jiří Kylián.

    How about MacMillan roles?

    IK: Yes, very much. Manon for instance is one of two ballets I only danced once in my life  [the other being Balanchine’s Scotch Symphony which the Mariinsky is set to perform again next season]. I debuted as Des Grieux at the Bolshoi theatre just as the Mariinsky’s performance rights for this ballet were expiring so that was a double tragedy for me, onstage and backstage, as I knew I could not do it again!

    Igor Kolb in Swan Lake. Photo: Gene Schiavone ©. Source: geneschiavone.com

    Igor Kolb in Swan Lake. Photo: Gene Schiavone ©. Source: geneschiavone.com

    Do you think there is a right balance at the moment between old and modern repertoire at the Mariinsky?

    IK: I think the old repertoire, ie. Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, are like the calling cards of the Mariinsky theatre, they are the face of the theatre and that tradition should not change even though there might be other versions in other companies. It’s our tradition, like tea in London. When you look at Balanchine for instance, all companies around the world are expected to dance his works in exactly the same way as the NYCB. I think it’s fine if done in small chunks but if overly done it feels like everyone out there is eating the same dish over and over again.

    How important is it to have new works created for the company?

    IK: We’d like someone in demand like Christopher Wheeldon for example to come over to create new work for the company, original pieces of work tailor-made for us. I think that in England it’s very good that the Royal Ballet uses the smaller theatre, the Linbury studio to get new work tried and tested. There’s also a similar project at the Wiener-Staatsoper, you see lots of different choreographers, see what you want to do, try different things out. Over in St. Petersburg we don’t have anything like that or like choreographic workshops.

    When Marc Haegeman interviewed you a few years ago you mentioned having auditioned for the Mariinsky 6 times within 6 months, what is about this particular company that made you perseve?

    IK: I studied ballet in Minsk and was not planning to go anywhere then as I liked the city and because it’s my country [Belarus]. Then I was invited to take part in the Vaganova Prix in St. Petersburg [where Igor took third prize], after which I understood that if I wanted to do something serious in ballet I ought to leave Minsk. As a result of the competition I was also asked to consider joining the Royal Ballet so everything could have turned out very differently! But I wanted to be close to home and to me the Mariinsky seemed like the top.

    Speaking of the Royal Ballet, you danced Swan Lake with Tamara Rojo last year, how did you find dancing with her?

    IK: It wasn’t difficult for us to dance together. Right from the first rehearsal we understood each other immediately, so it was in a sense, very easy for us and we danced together again last April in Tokyo, we did Roland Petit’s Proust (“Proust ou Les Intermittences du Coeur”) as part of the “Roland Petit Gala”. There might also be future opportunities to dance with Tamara again.

    Tell us about Tokyo!

    IK: I adore Tokyo, it’s my favourite city, along with London and St. Petersburg. I had a gala there ealier this year, Igor Kolb & Friends, where I danced Christian Spuck’s spoof “Le Grand Pas de Deux”, [Ukranian choreographer] Radu Poklitaru’s “Two on a Swing” a one act ballet he created for me and longtime Mariinsky principal Yulia Makhalina, as well as some more Roland Petit.

    And the Japanese fans?

    IK: I am so grateful to them, they spoil me when I am in Japan, they keep sending huge boxes of food, coffee, tea, sugar, everything, to the hotel, but lovely messages too. I always make a point of writing back to thank them, it’s pleasant that people take the time and it’s nice to feel that people appreciate me as a dancer, that they appreciate what I am doing as an artist. In Japan and England fans are really polite, very gentle. There was this lady over here, a long time ballet regular from Oxford, who knitted two matching vests with the initials IK, one for me, and the other for [soloist] Ilya Kuznetsov.

    It’s a sharp contrast to St. Petersburg, the most difficult place to dance, the coldest public. It’s not just my opinion but people who work in the theatre generally feel that the public has changed, become more jaded. The tickets are now very expensive and it does not seem to draw the real enthusiasts anymore, they have been driven away, the theatre may be full but it’s now a very different crowd.

    What’s in your Ballet Bag?

    IK: When I came into the Mariinsky 13 years ago I did not even have a bag, only a towel, I was so badly off! But now I do have one and I carry around some knee tape, towels, a stock of fresh t-shirts and some foot rollers, plus any goodies that people give me!

    With a big Спасибо/Spasibo to Igor from two appreciative and admiring Bag Ladies & kudos to Alice Lagnado for her impressive simultaneous translation skills!

    Igor Kolb in a Nutshell:

    He was born in Pinsk, Belarus (then Belorussia) in 1977 and started dancing at age 13. He attended the Belorussia State Ballet School in Minsk where he trained with Alexander Kolidenko & Vera Shveisova, and graduated as part of the 1996 class. During his final years at school, he was already dancing for the company in Minsk and under the tutelage of Kolidenko, he participated in the 1995 Vaganova Prix, where he won the third prize.

    The prize brought him some deserved attention and motivated him to audition for the Mariinsky. It took him several attempts to obtain a contract, which he finally did just as he was graduating.

    Arriving in St. Peterburg, Igor worked with Yuri Fateyev (though his current coach is Gennadi Selyutski) who helped him adapt his skills to the company’s style. Soon he was seen in principal roles, making his debut as Prince Désiré in The Sleeping Beauty in June 1997, as Swan Lake’s Siegfried in 2000 and as Solor in Vikharev‘s reconstruction of Petipa’s La Bayadère in 2002. In 2003 he was promoted to Principal Dancer.

    Igor is known for his impeccable classical style and admits feeling closer to the company’s classical repertory (Albrecht in Giselle, Prince Désiré in The Sleeping Beauty, Siegfried in Swan Lake, etc.). He was filmed in Fokine‘s Spectre de la Rose, which is available as part of the DVD The Kirov Celebrates Nijinsky (Arthaus-Musik 2004).

    He does not have a regular partner at the Mariinsky, having danced throughout his career with Diana Vishneva, Svetlana Zakharova, Sofia Gumerova, Daria Pavlenko, Zhanna Ayupova. Some of his more recent partners include Alina Somova, Ekaterina Kondaurova, Yevgenia Obraztsova and Irina Golub.

    Videos

    • Igor dances Solor’s Variation in La Bayadère (Vikharev’s Reconstruction) [link]
    • As the “poet” in Chopiniana, partnering Svetlana Zakharova [link]
    • Igor Kolb and Diana Vishneva in the Paquita Grand Pas. Links to parts [1] and [2]
    • As Romeo in Lavrovsky’s version of Romeo & Juliet. With Yevgenia Obraztsova. Links to parts [1] and [2].
    • Igor Kolb and Ulyana Lopatkina, perform in Christian Spuck’s “Le Grand Pas de Deux” [link]
    • Igor Kolb and Zhanna Ayupova in Fokine‘s Le Spectre de la Rose [link]
    • As Siegfried in Swan Lake, partnering Royal Ballet Principal Tamara Rojo [link]
    • As Albrecht, in Giselle, partnering Alina Somova. Links to parts [1] and [2].

    Extract of Reviews and Praise:

    Of his Solor in Vikharev’s reconstructed La Bayadère (Covent Garden, 2003)

    They were, however, having to follow the superb act of Kolb. His huge jump and flaring line are pure Kirov, but it’s his unusual modesty that clinches his power. Kolb’s technical feats look all the more amazing because he never tries to juice up the audience before he whirls into action or hog the applause when he has finished. Judith Mackrell at The Guardian [link]

    Kolb is an immensely appealing Solor, a honey of a warrior who declares his undying love for Nikiya yet falls under the spell of Gamzatti, the Rajah’s beautiful, scheming daughter. So appealing, in fact, that you almost forgive him. His dancing, meanwhile, is splendidly realised, strong and flexible. Debra Craine at The Times [link]

    Of his Prince in Ratmansky’s Cinderella (Kennedy Center, 2005)

    Kolb’s dancing is strong, clear, pure to the point where it might provide textbook illustration, and yet informed with grace.  He does a dutiful job of creating a character, but you can tell that his real raison d’être is to display the abstract beauty of classical dancing, step by step. Tobi Tobias at ArtsJournal [link]

    Of his role in Ballet Imperial (Covent Garden 2005)

    Ballet Imperial, which closed their Balanchine triple bill, looks back to Imperial Russia, its grand sweeping contours matching the massive chords of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 2. It demands huge and virtuoso dancing, which of course the Kirov delivers, led by Igor Kolb, who has perfect lines, amplitude, power – perfect everything. Nadine Meisner at The Independent [link]

    Of his role in Steptext (Forsythe Programme, Sadler’s Wells 2008)

    Steptext, a quartet, sets out Forsythe’s stall. Here is the essence of his drastic style: the provocative blend of nonchalance and intense commitment in the moves; the impatience with the strict rules of classical technique; the annoying eccentricity in presentation (switching lights on and off, playing games with Bach). Igor Kolb brought muscular grace to his dancing, while Ekaterina Kondaurova brought assertive glamour to hers. Debra Craine at The Times [link]

    Of his Romeo (Romeo & Juliet, Covent Garden, 2009)

    …the evening’s saviour is Igor Kolb’s Romeo. His performance is passionate and breathlessly enthusiastic; Kolb just dances the steps as Prokofiev’s music tells him to and pierces all our hearts. Jeffery Taylor at The Daily Express [link]

    Sources and Further Information

    1. Biography written by Marc Haegeman, Igor Kolb’s Official Website [link]
    2. An Interview with Igor Kolb, by Marc Haegeman. First published in Dance International, Fall 2003 and reproduced at For Ballet Lovers Only. December 2002 [link]
    3. Wikipedia Entry for Igor Kolb [link]
    4. Interview with Igor Kolb by Cassandra, at Critical Dance. August 2003 [link]
    5. Danila Korsuntsev and Igor Kolb. Kirov Stars. Interview by Kevin Ng. Ballet.co Magazine, December 2000. [link]

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    In the August edition of Dancing Times Magazine there is an interesting article which looks back on the history of the “Soviet Sleeping Beauty”, the version the Mariinsky have brought to this tour in London (they also have a Vikharev reconstruction of Petipa’s older version which is currently shelved though perhaps not permanently). According to Nadine Meisner, author of the article,  the version we now see is a collage of the 1952 Konstantin Sergeyev work which replaced Petipa’s original to better appeal to the demands of that era. Thus, large chunks of ballet mime have been cut, the fairies given new steps to dance and the Panorama/Aurora Vision scene recreated entirely.

    Olesya Novikova as Aurora, in Mariinskys The Sleeping Beauty. Photo: Cal Performances © Source: Voice of Dance.

    Ekaterina Osmolkina as Aurora, in Mariinsky's The Sleeping Beauty. Photo: Cal Performances © Source: Voice of Dance.

    The Sleeping Beauty is a ballet that can easily fall into overly sweet & cute territory and Sergeyev’s version seems not ashamed of going into full twee mode, with the garland waltz a parade of cherub-like children, too many fairy tale characters (most of them do not get a solo) crowding the festivities in the final act and with less layers of symbolism to compensate. The lack of sensitive handling of the tale is for me its biggest letdown. Take for instance the fairies in the prologue. What I adore about the Royal Ballet’s version is that choreographic allusions from each of these fairy variations are discreetly built into 16 year old Aurora’s solos showing us that she is the sum of all gifts bestowed on her: purity, grace, generosity, musicality, etc. Here Aurora’s bond with the fairies goes unnoticed.

    The critic Clive Barnes had noted after seeing it in 1961 that “the Kirov take a less dramatic view of the ballet than we in England”. There is less delicacy, no doubt due to the historical context in which it was conceived, and this shows in the toned down mime which omits the Lilac Fairy’s reassurances that should Aurora prick her finger she will merely fall asleep, not die. Or in the beginning of the vision scene where the Lilac Fairy does not have to convince Prince Desiré that she has a cure for his blues, it’s almost as if he knows she is a woman on a mission and he’s onboard immediately. Aurora’s development from playful adolescence to mature woman at her wedding is never fully revealed to the audience either.

    The spindle – or the lack thereof – is another issue I take with the Konstantin Sergeyev text. It is the object of Carabosse’s curse to Aurora: she will prick her finger on a spindle and die. To avoid this, the King banishes all prickly objects from his kingdom. Fast forward 16 years and we see Aurora triumphing as the center of all attentions in her birthday party until she sees this shiny, pointy object that she has never seen before; think of all psychological connotations that are fitting here, the allure of danger, teenage rebellion. She has got to have that spindle, grabs it enthusiastically to the dismay of her parents, pricks self, brings about the curse. In Sergeyev’s version all this wonderful symbology is lost to us because Carabosse hides the spindle in a flower bouquet which she offers to the princess, just like Gamzatti does to Nikiya in La Bayadère. Aurora never even registers the presence of a spindle. And how insensitive this is.

    Lilac Fairy in Mariinskys The Sleeping Beauty. Source: Mariinsky Theatre

    Lilac Fairy in Mariinsky's The Sleeping Beauty. Source: Mariinsky Theatre.

    But I don’t wish to imply that the production is entirely devoid of virtues. Ekaterina Kondaurova is a warm Lilac fairy and her dancing is magic in itself, so secure and at the same time so fluid, the choreography giving her more to do than elsewhere. I find the Panorama scene  ideal (despite its early conclusion due to the Lilac Fairy’s boat malfunctioning!). It’s here that we can marvel at the Mariinsky’s solid corps and where Evgenia Obraztsova looks like a true vision which Igor Kolb’s prince Désiré treats as the most precious thing he has ever laid eyes on. There are a lot more opportunities for Prince Désiré to display his bravura and drive, as he vividly responds to the vision of Aurora and battles with Carabosse (superbly played by Islom Baimuradov) and minions. This prince will do whatever it takes to find the princess of his dreams, Kolb’s every step and gesture indicating this urge.

    Sergeyev also treats us to a wonderful version of the wedding pas de deux:  this particular choreography of Aurora’s variation, beginning with the hops on pointe and arms that sing, is the moment I long for the most all evening and here, thanks to Obraztsova, it is full of musicality and grace. Obraztsova & Kolb are elegant, noble and entirely convincing. If there’s little symbolism at least there’s plenty of classicism for us to take home.

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    August Bournonville around 1830. Source: NYTimes. Copyright belongs to its respective owners.

    August Bournonville around 1830. Source: NYTimes. Copyright belongs to its respective owners.

    Few ballet companies boast as pure a lineage as the Royal Danish Ballet. The company can trace their heritage, their look and unique style back to the teachings and choreographies of one single person: August Bournonville, the Danish ballet master who brought into the country the best of the 19th century French school technique and used it as a basis to develop his own teaching method.

    Bournonville was born in Copenhagen in 1805. He started to take dance lessons  influenced by his father, dancer Antoine Bournonville. August first entered Copenhagen’s Royal Theatre in 1811 where he was taught by Vincenzo Galeotti, an Italian choreographer. Following Galeotti’s death and the appointment of Antoine as artistic director of the Royal Danish Ballet, August was sent to Paris, the ballet mecca in those days, to study with Auguste Vestris. There he remained, dancing for the Paris Opera until 1830, when he returned to Denmark as a Royal Danish Ballet soloist, eventually suceeding his father as Artistic Director. Bournonville had already started choreographing the year before his return and continued working for over 40 years. He created more than 50 ballets for the company,  all under the guiding principles of beauty, effortlessness, footwork that is active and joyous, and at a time when it was all about “the cult of the ballerina”, he made sure to position the male dancer on equal terms with the female.

    During his Royal Danish Ballet tenure Bournonville taught company class every day and developed a series of classroom combinations (enchaînements) which were arranged into a weekly sequence, and later registered by his successor Hans Beck. The exercises were taught by assimilation: new students would learn by observing their seniors. In 1979, under the directorship of Kirsten Ralov, these enchaînements were officialy published along with their matching music  (composed by L.T. Schmidt).

    A number of key features are associated with the Bournonville training. There is an emphasis on épaulement, despite arms being normally passive, round and often carried close to the body, so that when they move, they follow the rest of the body. The Bournonville trained dancer bends the upper body towards the working left to punctuate the movement, hence the low  placement of the head, with eyes following the moving leg as inviting the viewer to follow it too. Some of these characteristics can be observed in the below picture. Notice the rounded arms and the inclination of the back towards the supporting leg.

    Gitte Lindstrøm, Thomas Lund, and Gudrun Bojesen in Bournonvilles Konservatoriet Photo: Martin Mydtskov Rønne © Source: ArtsJournal

    Gitte Lindstrøm, Thomas Lund, and Gudrun Bojesen in Bournonville's Konservatoriet Photo: Martin Mydtskov Rønne © Source: ArtsJournal

    Many steps in the Bournonville choreography involve low positions of the foot, or sur le cou de pied. Pirouettes are usually done in this position, and arabesques are also low, since Romantic tutus were all the rage at the time.

    However, the real trademark of the Bournonville style is perhaps the enthusiastic quick footwork, beaten jumps and batterie. It is thought that because of the diminutive stage in which Bournonville worked, “diagonals” were never used in his choreography, with dancers moving forwards and backwards instead, repeating the same variation. Overall, the dancing style should look effortless and full of grace, which is why for instance the plié before and after a jump is deeper than in other schools, giving the dancer enough momentum to use it as a connecting step and to keep the dancing flowing. Choreographic phrases composed of large jumps intertwined with smaller steps are also part of his style.

    Bournonville’s aesthetic ideal of movement was harmony above all. He wanted his dancers to be graceful, not allowing the choreography’s complexities to get in the way. He believed dance should be an expression of joy. For that reason he reserved the music’s allegro movements for dancing and the other parts of the score for mime, a key differential of his school, since he expected his dancers to express their innermost feelings in an almost natural, simple gesture. In this respect he was inspired by the ideas of the French Ballet Master Jean-Georges Noverre, who claimed that a ballet should be framed from a series of pictures connected by actions. Bournonville represented gestures as a series of pictorial positions taken from nature and classical figures but imbued them with clear intention, which the audience could see from body posture, facial expression and pauses in the movement.

    You can observe Bournonville’s style of mime in the opening sequence of La Sylphide as the Sylph draws closer and closer to James asleep in his chair. Notice how she pauses and advances, with soft gestures to indicate hesitation & calm just before falling into a frenzied urge to approach and kiss him.

    Tina Højlund and Thomas Lund in Napoli. Photo: Martin Mydtskov Rønne © Source: ArtsJournal

    Tina Højlund and Thomas Lund in Napoli. Photo: Martin Mydtskov Rønne © Source: ArtsJournal

    Even though the basis of the Bournonville style remains, it was slightly modified by ideas from abroad. The arrival of Vera Volkova at the Royal Danish Ballet School, introduced many ideas from the Vaganova school of training, doing away with the set of Bournonville classes, which then disappeared from the school curriculum. These were later reinstated as it was clear that the Bournonville repertoire was harder to approach without its specific method of training.

    Here Johan Kobborg, Royal Ballet Principal, former Principal of the Royal Danish Ballet, talks about his Bournonville training:

    You get very strong, especially from the preparations for jumps…Out of nowhere you have to do a double turn. With Russian technique, you do a step, then you walk up to a corner and do another step. But with Bournonville, you do a step, then dance up to a corner.

    With some ballets, you can show it’s hard, but with Bournonville, it’s joy. You shouldn’t see any strain. It’s kind of hard, but that’s what’s fun about it.

    Famous Bournonville Ballets we Love

    La Sylphide, Napoli, Flower Festival in Genzano

    Bournonville Ballets on YouTube:

    Sources and Further Information

    1. Bournonville Website [link] – An amazing source of information on Bournonville’s life and work.
    2. Wikipedia Entry for August Bournonville [link]
    3. Wikipedia Entry for the Bournonville School [link]
    4. Johan Kobborg: Vibrant Virtuoso. Dance Magazine, 1995. Via the Free Library [link]
    5. Thomas Lund interviewed by Katharine Kanter for Ibykus Magazin, via In the Name of Auguste Vestris [link]
    6. The Bournonville School. Dance Magazine, 1996. Via the Free Library [link]
    7. A step in time: Bournonvile class at the school of the Royal Danish Ballet by Tobi Tobias, Dance Magazine 1997 [link]
    8. Bournonville Ballet Technique: Fifty Enchainements by Vivi Flindt and Knud Arne Jurgensen. Dance Books LTD. ISBN-10 1852730358. [link]
    9. Bournonville Ballet Technique: Fifty Enchainements with Rose Gad & Johan Kobborg. DVD. [link]
    10. Bournonville’s Rebirth and What It Reveals by John Rockwell. NYTimes, 2005.
    11. Total Immersion Index on the performances at the Bournonville Festival by Tobi Tobias [link]

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    Thinking of Lavrovsky’s Romeo and Juliet as completely obsolete is like saying German Expressionist cinema has no more value in a post Hitchcock world.  The latter could not have existed without the former and it is always interesting to revisit original works and old schools, observing where choreographers like Cranko and MacMillan would have drawn inspiration from. With that hat on I went to see the Mariinsky’s Romeo and Juliet on Thursday, also thinking back about how much I used to enjoy Galina Ulanova in the Bolshoi’s filmed version, a staple in my hometown’s art house cinemas as I was growing up.

    While I side with those who think the Lavrovsky version feels like pantomime blended with dance, that the market scenes and the sword fighting are too tidy, the balcony pas de deux not passionate enough and the constant change of scenery & props distracting (do they really need all those tables and chairs at the Capulet’s ball when these are cleared away within minutes?), there are many things to admire here. The clearer narrative, for instance, which shows us the moment where Romeo learns of Juliet’s death – the MacMillan version always makes me doubt the logic of Romeo getting to Juliet’s tomb so quickly, poison-in-pocket – and an extended wedding ceremony where Romeo covers Juliet’s path with lilies, the young couple mirroring each other’s movements in the balances they take and in the display of their line, in readiness for life together.

    First night reviews (such as this one by Mr. Clement Crisp), while critical of production values and dated text, have been unanimous about Vladimir Shklyarov’s ardent Romeo. I don’t think the reviews exaggerate Shklyarov’s abilities, having seen him dance last autumn in London, but I do suspect there’s more to it and that some of this Romeo outpour is connected with Lavrovsky’s shaping of his romantic hero, as again on Thursday it was Igor Kolb‘s performance which registered the most.

    Kolb has been on my “to watch” list for sometime. Generally praised for his classicism and technical abilities, coupled with strong dramatic skills, he seems on a league of his own. During the Mariinsky tour to London he will be dancing Romeo and then princes Siegfried & Desiré. Not being able to treat myself to multiple performances due to the somewhat steep prices for this tour, and wishing to limit my exposure to the opening night Juliet, the controversial Alina Somova whom I intend to see in the Balanchine triple bill (perhaps the ideal habitat for her much discussed edgy line), I decided to go with Kolb’s date, more so as his Juliet was initially supposed to be the lovely Evgenia Obraztsova.

    Igor Kolb and Yevgenia Obraztsova in Mariinsky's Romeo & Juliet. Photo: Marc Haegeman /Mariinsky © Source: Mariinsky Theatre

    Igor Kolb and Yevgenia Obraztsova in Mariinsky's Romeo & Juliet. Photo: Marc Haegeman /Mariinsky © Source: Mariinsky Theatre

    But the same unmerciful casting gods which did not allow Evgenia to be paired with Shklyarov in the London tour (she was cast and then withdrawn from his matinee performance of The Sleeping Beauty) also took her out of Kolb’s performance. Instead I saw soloist Irina Golub, a lovely dancer of expressive eyes, beautiful line and fast feet who does not make liberal use of extensions unlike some of her colleagues. Never trying to bend Lavrovsky’s regimental choreography, Golub dances Juliet understatedly and as true to form as I would imagine it to be, but while the style is pure it exposes the choreographer’s basic sketch of Juliet. Over and over again she is seen dancing the same steps, the dance not revealing much about her character. At least not until the final act when Juliet finally shows her determination to be with Romeo at any cost.

    Kolb’s presence on the other hand is never understated and all the better for it. It is a shame that Lavrovsky did not give Romeo any dancing until the balcony pas de deux (which is more of a reserved, bodies apart kind, not the emotional powerhouse we know from MacMillan) and that he and pals Mercutio and Benvolio interact mostly through pantomime. Kolb is vivid in acting (though slightly over the top in the Mantua scene, which requires him to throw a tantrum), gentle and romantic with Irina’s Juliet yet with a powerful sense of the tragedy which is to unfold (flaring up those exotic eyes!); his dancing is fluid, with sharp lines and complete commitment to the steps – including a “leap of faith” collapse to the ground which made me fear for his safety and wonder how amazing he must be in Albrecht’s variation- his are the evening’s most instense moments. I can’t wait to see him again – hopefully paired with Obraztsova – in The Sleeping Beauty next week.

    Mariinskys Romeo & Juliet. Source: Mariinsky Theatre. Copyright belongs to its respective owners.

    Mariinsky's Romeo & Juliet. Source: Mariinsky Theatre. Copyright belongs to its respective owners.

    Choreographic shortcomings aside, it is a delight to see the stylish work of the Mariinsky corps and to hear the superb orchestra under Gruzin’s conducting (the brass never sounds that sharp in the Royal Ballet’s performances). The costumes have been much criticized in the press and true, Tybalt is almost a cartoon character lost in a ballet and Lady Capulet shifts from intense grief over her nephew’s death to complete inertia upon discovering her daughter’s. But neither of these things, nor the ugly polyester wigs worn by some of the men, spoiled my enjoyment of this vintage ballet classic, which still has so much to say about Shakespeare’s timeless story.

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