Tag Archives: anna tsygankova

No Download Queue for DonQ

18 Jul

Having media “on demand” is all the rage these days, isn’t it? While I’m still nostalgic for the bygone era of going to the local Blockbuster with your two best friends and spending over an hour just trying to pick a movie to rent because the three of you can’t unanimously agree on anything (or one of them cheated by seeing the movie beforehand), I must concede that this time honored tradition is defunct. I’m not necessarily complaining though, because the convenience is quite worth it, and the borrowing experience with its serendipitous treasures and impossibly bad finds is easily replaced by using libraries anyway. Even paying my overdue fees fulfills a certain sense of sentimentality—though I like to call them “accumulating donations,” because when you really think about it, giving the library that money means you’re receiving due date extensions as “donor benefits.”

A video-on-demand source like Amazon’s Instant Video doesn’t offer such a courtesy, but it is a great resource nonetheless, and several ballets have already been made available. One of the newest is Alexei Ratmansky’s version of Don Quichot, performed by the Dutch National Ballet and filmed just in September of 2010. Now, if you have a Twitter and Amazon account, this is the part where you check out this link here, where a simple Tweet will earn you a $5 credit towards an online video rental! It’s totally legitimate and I myself did it in order to watch Don Quichot for free! I repeat—this is not a scam, but you must hurry because it does expire July 19th (11:59 PM, PST). Unfortunately, it’s likely this promotion isn’t available to overseas viewers, but you never know when similar deals will pop up. As an added bonus, after paying the $3.99 to rent Don Quichot for three days, you’ll even have $1.01 leftover to use towards something else!

While it’s no secret I’m not a fan of DonQ (I reviewed the old ABT production with Cynthia Harvey and Baryshnikov here ages ago, and since then have had no love for the Don), I did want to see Ratmansky’s staging because I enjoy his work, I adore the Dutch National Ballet, and Pacific Northwest Ballet will be doing the American premiere of his choreography next season. Unfortunately, not even Ratmansky could make me change my mind completely, though not for a lack of trying. In fact, I think this is an excellent DonQ, as Ratmansky has created a vibrant, tasteful production that breathes life into all characters, and makes one of the most illogical stories in all of ballet almost semi-tolerable. It’s weird because you would think I would have no problem with a comedic ballet and I have certainly have no qualms with the idea of it (hello, Ashton junkie here!) but there’s a disconnect in DonQ that I can’t seem to overcome. While I enjoy the technical fireworks at every turn, I think what’s missing for me is that the comedy really isn’t told through the steps (which is exactly where Ashton excelled). The comedy is grounded in the mime, and although Peter de Jong (Don Quichot) and Karel de Rooij (Sancho Panza) are outstanding actors (really, some of the best I’ve seen in ballet), my sanity needs just one thread of relevance to tie it all together, which is never given. Even Ratmansky admits that the story makes no sense and is really just to be taken as an evening of entertainment, but when you think as much as I do, there’s only so much aimless fun you can tolerate before asking questions like “why should I care about these characters interacting in a series of unrelated events?”

An interview with Alexei Ratmansky about the story of Don Quichot:

 

 

If anything, one should care when the principal roles of Kitri and Basilio are danced by Anna Tsygankova and Matthew Golding, who share a wonderful chemistry together. I’ve praised Tsygankova before for her performance in Giselle, and she is a beacon of charisma in the role of Kitri as well. I find myself loving her even more now that I’ve seen her versatility as an artist, because I think Kitri is often relegated to a rather shallow portrayal of a youthful girl with a huge grin splashed upon her face, but Tsygankova has such a full presence on stage she weaves an aura of maturity with mischief into the character. Her technique is of course marvelous; there were moments in the first act right before Basilio’s entrance where she lingered in these balances in attitude, just a hair longer than most dancers can manage, putting on a show of her dexterity but in the most refined way. Her movements are always so clear, her facial expressions so perfect, and she has an uncanny ability to find these fifth positions on pointe that don’t move at all, and it makes an enormous difference in the way she’s able to shape the phrases because there’s no little shifts of the feet or rolling off the box a bit. Though Tsygankova may not have the highest extensions, the springiest jumps, or the most difficult bravura steps in her arsenal (though fouettés into double pirouettes while opening and closing a fan are no insignificant feat!), she is just so damn well rounded that when I watch her I really think to myself “this…is ballet.”

Matthew Golding is a new face for me (unless he’s hidden somewhere in Giselle) and it’s a face that bears a remarkable resemblance to Brad Pitt—though Golding is better looking, and more talented in my humble opinion (I’m guessing taller too). True to the aesthetic and artistic values of the Dutch National Ballet, Golding has sublime technique, a beautiful line with enviable feet, and a genteel charm that suits him as Basilio. Though he is an expressive performer, it surely isn’t all an act for him because apparently he’s valorous in life too—when Roberto Bolle cancelled guest appearances in the Tokyo Ballet’s production of Swan Lake due to the ongoing nuclear crisis as a result of the disastrous tsunami that hit the Tohoku region, Golding stepped in to give the Japanese people inspirational performance art in dark times. What a guy! Can’t say chivalry is dead with the likes of Golding around (and while I’m not judging Bolle, I might be raising an eyebrow…this isn’t the first and surely won’t be the last time he cancels a performance for personal reasons). Golding’s Basilio channels some of his lionhearted quality, and is virtually impossible not to love because he’s so genuine and unpresumptuous. A virtuoso and a gracious partner, the beastly one-armed lifts he does in the first act are beyond impressive. I know masculinity need not be defined purely in terms of brute strength, but all credit to him and the hours spent in the gym!
A nice interview with Tsygankova and Golding:

 

There’s a lot to love about this DonQ, including a fun moment where Don Quichot sees his vision of Dulcinea for the first time in a window, which I thought was like a little nod to La Sylphide, and while other characters like Espada, Mercedes, etc. have no legitimate relevance to the story, I enjoyed each dancer’s performance, from the soloists to the corps. The only thing I outright disliked was Cupid’s wig, which just looked too much like it was plucked out of a 70’s sitcom. Overall, I feel comfortable recommending Don Quichot to others because I really do think it’s a good one (even if I still dislike the libretto and the score), and I can enjoy watching it even if I’ll never love it, so don’t let my sourness deter you from watching what is in fact a fun ballet. Ratmansky certainly had a clear vision of what he wanted and really just succeeded in making DonQ exactly what it is and needs to be.

She’s Just a Small Town Girl

27 May

A staging of Giselle is like a family recipe for apple pie—sweet, simple, and familiar.  However, there are of course unique touches that make each production distinct, and probably the most recent one to have been filmed for a DVD release is the Dutch National Ballet’s staging, with additional choreography by Rachel Beaujean and Ricardo Bustamente.  This was filmed in February of 2009, with Anna Tsygankova in the title role and Jozef Varga as Albrecht.  Admittedly, I knew very little about the ‘Het Nationale Ballet,’ though I’m sure 99% of people who have ever procrastinated by watching ballet videos on YouTube have of course seen that short video clip of Sofiane Sylve (now with San Francisco Ballet) performing some of the most spectacular pirouettes ever, in William Forsythe’s Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude and the coda from The Nutcracker.  I don’t have to post it…but here you go (at least, for those readers who actually have lives and honestly haven’t seen this before):

I really wish both of these performances were on DVD…you can see Marcelo Gomes was her partner in Nutcracker for a split second at the very end, and he simply isn’t filmed enough and I love, no, LOVE what I’ve seen of Vertiginous (it’s to the Finale of Schubert’s Symphony no.9 in C! Hi, amazing!).

At any rate, it’s possible that the company simply hasn’t had a lot of exposure to international audiences, as DVDs are fairly new for them, having only released a handful thus far: Sleeping Beauty (2004), Giselle (2009), and most recently a recording of Alexei Ratmansky’s Don Quichot (2011) in addition to Hans van Manen Festival and Hans van Manen: Nederlands Dans Theater, HET Nationale Ballet, which obviously feature works by Hans van Manen, a famous Dutch choreographer who really ought to have more recognition outside of Europe.  Both NDT and the Het have been in the news as of late though, due to funding cuts proposed by the Dutch government, as much as 26% for the Het, which is a huge blow, and even worse is cutting 50% for Nederlands Dans Theatre, Jiří Kylián’s contemporary dance company.  It’s devastating for both companies for different reasons…an insult to downgrade NDT to a “regional company” when his choreography is seen worldwide (Pacific Northwest Ballet included!), and for Dutch National Ballet, a diminishment of status as one of the top international ballet companies.  The Dutch National Ballet has eighty dancers, which is just under a top tier company like American Ballet Theater boasting just over ninety, and the effort to release these films has them just on the edge to gain more notoriety. Hup hup, Holland! Get it together and support the legacy of your arts…they are far greater than you may know! (Petitions for the NDT and Het can be found here and here, respectively, and I encourage you to show your support!).

I have to say that I was incredibly impressed with the Dutch National Ballet’s production of Giselle, and that they deserve every ounce of support available, not only to help them preserve what they have, but also to push them further into the international spotlight.  I would even say that while different, the quality of it is on par with the Royal Ballet. They’re certainly not lacking in talent and I definitely got a sense of their company’s identity throughout their Giselle…they prize exceptionally clean technique, squareness in the pelvis and torso, a lot of emphasis on épaulement, and some of the most marvelously articulate feet I’ve ever seen.  It’s clear in their choice of technique that they train a lot of “rolling” through the feet. A dancer can either spring up onto pointe, or roll through every little joint and muscle to get there, and perhaps harder (and often neglected) is rolling down, which requires incredible resistance in order to not plunk down onto your heels.  Though both techniques are acceptable, rolling does make pointe work much softer.  The Russians that train Vaganova technique favor springing, so they don’t often exhibit as much control in that minute but important transition.  What I found interesting was that distinguishing demi-pointe and full pointe was further exhibited when any of the dancers did what’s called a ‘tombé piqué en dehors’ (or more colloquially, a ‘step-over turn’ or ‘lame duck’). A popular technique is to fall in the tombé into a demi-plié, but the Dutch keep their heels up and step onto demi-pointe. Not all of the dancers were entirely comfortable with this, but the effect is very smooth, and the award for best feet definitely goes to Michele Jimenez and her delightful solo in the Peasant Pas de Quatre…she’s ridiculously good.

The Dutch certainly prefer a more sophisticated Giselle with a rustic feel.  While other productions are quaint, borderline hammy, or even a little too moony, this Giselle is toned down, mature, and very elegant.  Tsygankova found a great balance of portraying a character that is shy and naïve, but with a little more woman to her rather than young girl.  Her mad scene was extremely convincing, and there were a lot of moments before that where gestures cautiously alluded to her heart condition (this one is not a suicide Giselle, or one that dies solely of a broken heart).  I loved her in Act II, where she favored good placement instead of hiked up her hips for higher extensions.  For example, in the short adagio before the iconic pas de deux, Giselle performs a simple arabesque penché with her arms gently crossed in front of her, and Tsygankova really stays over her supporting leg, taking care not to hyper-extend her knee and “sit back” in her penché.  By keeping her pelvis square and her back even, her leg does not go to 180°, but the line between her back and leg was just perfect.

Not Act II, but a lovely variation from Anna Tsygankova:

Vargas is a fantastic Albrecht, electing to portray a version that requires some sympathy, rather than the lusty cad often seen in other stagings. In an interview that’s part of the additional features, Varga discusses why he doesn’t think of Albrecht as a bad person—he’s someone that is caught between love and obligations due to social status.  Albrecht is also a victim of his own naïveté, a sort of “the grass is greener on the other side of the fence” situation where he sees these jovial villagers but doesn’t fully understand what the life of a peasant entails.  Logically speaking, I like this because in other productions one has to wonder if the impetus for Albrecht’s remorse is simply a sense of responsibility over a girl’s death, due to his promiscuity.  Varga’s Albrecht was truly in love with Giselle, and feels regret that he never had a chance to explain the truth himself. With strong acting skills and technical brilliance, Varga just looks so natural and calm. I really like his arabesque line, and also during his Albrecht variation, there’s a double attitude turn en dehors, quite possibly one of the most heinous steps in all of ballet…there’s no other way to describe it than difficult, because the whole time your leg just wants to fly away from you.

Exceptional soloists in the Peasant Pas de Quatre…I already mentioned Jimenez, and the others were Maia Makhateli, Mathieu Gremillet, and Arthur Shesterikov (Gremillet did a double tour in his variation where he landed in a perfect fifth and didn’t budge…my jaw dropped—no shifting feet or bouncing out of it!).  The corps de ballet was also superb throughout, an utter joy to watch but one of the things that really made this production was Igone de Jongh’s Myrtha—absolutely steely presence and this was one area where clarity in her épaulement really accentuated the character.  The Dutch épaulement (or perhaps Beaujean and Bustamente’s choreography) really finds interesting facings, and it’s another aspect of training that is sometimes neglected, and in some cases considered a lost art.  In fact, a lot of what the Dutch do in terms of épaulement, working through the feet, square hips, and even the body types of the dancers seemed more of a throwback to Romantic era ballet.  The only beanpole was Jan Zerer as Hilarion, who I really enjoyed watching in Act I, but something was off in Act II…I could see the desperation and fear, but there just wasn’t enough oomph for me. Though it’s unfair for me to say this, my current theory is that his height worked against him a bit because when you have that much more to work with, you have to be all the more expressive.

Peasant Pas de Quatre

Overall, the Dutch National Ballet does a very well balanced Giselle, emotional without being melodramatic and sophisticated is really the best way I can describe it. The only thing I honestly didn’t like was Bathilde’s costume, a monstrous blue and ivory striped dress (you may have caught a glimpse of it in the Peasant Pas) that I was incredibly resistant to.  Sometimes I like to see the thirty-two entrechat six for Albrecht in Act II (though I swear it’s usually more like twenty-four, if that) although Varga does two diagonals of brisés travelling forward followed by ten entrechat six, which I felt made sense because the diagonal of brisés heads straight towards Myrtha, kind of like a “Myrtha™ tractor beam” that’s pulling him in, which emphasizes her control over him and the “forcing him to dance to his death” thing.  There is an additional variation for Albrecht in Act I though, which is an interesting touch and kind of plays on his desire to have the same freedom as the peasants in the village, or perhaps that he thinks he can so easily live amongst them, when the truth is forgetting obligations doesn’t mean that they go away.

So friends, I highly recommend it, and if you get a chance to watch it (or you already have, live too!) I would love to hear your thoughts and see if you had the same positive reaction to it as I did…occasionally, I need confirmation that I’m not crazy. Meanwhile, check out some Act II highlights while you’re at it: