Tag Archives: ekaterina kondaurova

2011: Giselle’s Space Odyssey

13 Jul

Yesterday, like many around the country, I watched the 3-D broadcast of the Mariinsky’s production of Giselle, with Natalia Osipova in the title role and Leonid Sarafanov as Count Albrecht. First of all, it was quite an ordeal to get to this theater in a city forty minutes outside of Seattle, and thanks to faulty directions from Google maps, my friend (and fellow dance writer for SeattleDances) Mariko and I somehow wound up in a residential area. Luckily, I have no shame in asking for directions and we eventually found the theater, though we were twenty minutes late and missed some key moments, so I haven’t anything to say in regards to Giselle and Albrecht’s first meeting or the peasant pas de deux. To be honest, at some point during our tardy approach, I thought that if we could at least get there in time for Act II it would be worth it, since for me, that’s the bread and butter of any Giselle. In the end, I was grateful to even make it in time for Giselle’s Act I variation, and of course the ubiquitous mad scene.

Watching a ballet in 3-D on a movie screen proved to be an odd experience though. It’s a brave new world without an established etiquette, and made me wonder what appropriate behavior would be for things like eating during the film. Snacks are perfectly acceptable in movies, but never for a live ballet performance, so where does this middle ground fit into the picture? At first I was a little annoyed with noshing noises, a similarly visceral reaction not unlike the one the Londoners who saw the Royal Ballet perform Romeo and Juliet at the massive O2 coliseum had, but I suppose it’s fair, considering the facts that it is a movie theater and a film, instead of a live performance (and let’s be frank, I’d be lying if I said I never feast on fruit and cookies while watching ballet at home). So if we qualify this as a viewing of a filmed performance, what about applause? I don’t applaud in private, but a movie theater is a more special, public occasion. Then again…does applause mean anything if dancers don’t hear it? If there’s no live connection between performer and audience, what exactly does a show of appreciation accomplish? This was particularly awkward for me as my mind raced to find an answer and never did. Regardless, to munch or not to munch, to clap or not to clap, choosing your own adventure as far as those two questions are concerned isn’t nearly as bad as filing your nails during the Act II Introduction et scene (yes, the woman behind us actually did this).

I also think there were some technical issues with filming in 3-D as well, like how images can seem to flicker at times, particularly images further in the background, and I found my eyes had a difficult time tracking them sometimes and despite 3-dimensionality, I sometimes felt like I was looking at layered cardboard cutouts. Tracking the action proved to be difficult at times, as poor Myrtha’s feet were cut off for much of her solo, and of course ballet relies on the feet to be expressive so this is problematic. There were also times where the angles with the 3-D filming weren’t particularly creative, but it’s important to remember that this is still new technology, far from perfect, and just trying something new (especially for ballet!) is a considerable, conscious effort to do things differently.  Overall, I had a pretty good time—not my most memorable experience in watching Giselle, and I didn’t leave the theater feeling strongly one way or the other in favor of more ballet in 3-D, but it was worth the try.

The Mariinsky’s production itself is a little bland, neither here nor there, and surprisingly, made me re-evaluate PNB’s production favorably. The pantomime in PNB’s staging is much more conversant, whereas the Mariinsky had less mime, but stretched it to fill more music, so in retrospect, it felt even longer than PNB’s mime sequences…like, painfully long (however, I remain steadfast in my assessment of Act II—a pure ballet blanc is better suited to my tastes). The overall tempi was also slower than I would have liked, which is quite a Russian thing to do, and I felt hindered Osipova a bit, who is famous for her jump, and not necessarily her adage work.  Many critics, especially in Russia, feel that she is not classical enough and while I did see her struggle at times to fill the music with her arms, I sometimes find this criticism of Osipova weird. She’s not the most lyrical dancer to have been born of Russian training, but she’s still quite good (even if that first rond de jambe en l’air in the grand adage, with the hiked up hip always bothers me—Svetlana Zakharova is the worst offender if you need to see what I mean).

At any rate, I thought she was surprisingly brilliant in the mad scene, a thoroughly invested actress who really gave breadth to each stage of madness she went through. I really enjoy watching her in Act II, if anything for her lofty jumps that give new meaning to that ghostly illusion of weightlessness (especially when she does her entrechat quatre series, Mariko said it looked like she was on a trampoline). Her transformation into a Wili makes me laugh a little, because the turning hops (or sautillé) or just about the fastest I’ve ever seen, and the following series of jumps is just about the slowest (slowing down the tempo for jumps is often expected of the men, so the fact that it is also done for her is kind of feminist awesome). The contrast in speeds is a little discombobulating, but a treat nonetheless.

From her debut Giselle with the Bolshoi:


Leonid Sarafanov was an interesting Albrecht, who looked like he was about twelve years old and was positively swimming in the capes he was wearing (which looked more like Snuggies), but he is brilliant, exceptionally light on his feet, and a fantastic virtuoso dancer. Some of the bravura steps I questioned like the double tours in passé into the immediate renversé, which looked much too off-kilter for Romantic era ballet and also his gestures/facial expressions during the entrechat six I understood the purpose of, but kind of looked like desperate flailing. Albrecht is dancing to his death, but this is a moment where I think the action of the feet, the beating of the legs and ideally the rebound in between those beats tells the story of Myrtha’s tormenting of him (speaking of Myrtha, while Ekaterina Kondaurova wasn’t the most fearsome, I liked her subtle brooding).

In conclusion, a fun evening but maybe not the most moving experience; it is however, nice to know that people are trying to integrate new technology into ballet production. I’m not so sure this is going to become commonplace, and quite frankly, I would much rather have access to more live broadcasts on a 2-D screen. Driving forty minutes to this theater was one thing, tacking on an additional three hours to venture deep into the heart of central Washington is another! So more than anything, availability means more to me than the latest inventions in media technology. Though the audience for this particular screening wasn’t large, much of them were quite into it so I think this is an arena where there is the potential to increase viewership. They may need a friendly reminder that opera houses don’t sell popcorn though!