Tag Archives: royal

Oh. My. Rojo.

24 Feb

And now, the long awaited highlight of the week (for me anyway), a review of the brand new DVD of La Bayadère, with Tamara Rojo as Nikiya, Carlos Acosta as Solor, Marianela Nuñez as Gamzatti and artists of the Royal Ballet.  I’m going to just get this out of the way and say that this performance is virtually flawless.  I would even go as far as saying that the love triangle of Rojo, Acosta and Nuñez is a pièce de résistance that may never be matched in chemistry and other qualities.  Rojo’s Nikiya approaches divinity as a human in Act I and exceeds it when she returns as a shade in Act II; Acosta’s Solor is the most sincere expression of valor and regret brought to life in bravura technique and nowhere else will you find a more sultry, seductive and positively forbidding Gamzatti in Nuñez.  The stars certainly aligned for this one and met all of my expectations…I still can’t get over how amazing the principal casting was for this.

Just look at the acting of Nuñez and Rojo!


The production itself is quite good, choreographed by Natalia Makarova to an orchestration by John Lanchberry, which is probably my only major complaint about it.  I don’t know the score well enough to point out specifics but I know that there are a number of truncated sections…including stuff I’ve listened to on a CD that is supposedly orchestrated by Lanchberry as well!  The only other Bayadère I’ve watched is the DVD of the Paris Opera Ballet, staged by Nureyev and while the memories of that are foggy the score seemed entirely different this time around.  At the very least, the score did seem appropriate to the scenes with the main variations and pas de deux being familiar enough but I definitely missed some melodies (which is saying a lot for a Minkus score, which have the tendency to be largely forgettable).  Makarova’s choreography is wonderful, and I love that she elaborated on the role of Gamzatti, having her reappear in Act III and attempt to wed Solor.  Many productions of Bayadère (including the one I just mentioned by Nureyev) stop after the Kingdom of the Shades, where Solor is mourning over a vision of Nikiya and it’s abrupt because we never see what becomes of the characters themselves.

Makarova wanted to restore elements of Petipa’s original, and have Solor and Gamzatti in a wedding scene at a temple, where Gamzatti sort of rushes the ceremony as she is consumed by guilt over Nikiya’s murder and Solor eventually refuses to marry Gamzatti out of remorse because he is haunted by the image of Nikiya.  This culminates in infuriating the gods, who destroy the temple (which is so fantastically over-the-top and Russian of Makarova to do) and we see Solor and Nikiya reunited in the afterlife.  The importance of this Act III is that it really fleshes out the characters and gives consequence to their actions, thus allowing the audience to see more clearly a reflection of human behavior they may be more familiar with, or rather, choose to believe in.  As Tamara will tell you in an interview in the special features, Classical era ballet is not about telling a story but is instead a commentary on human emotion and morals.  Makarova’s choreography in Act III is just sublime; there is a beautiful pas de trois where Solor has to dance with Gamzatti who is quite real and also the ghostly apparition of Nikiya and I’d imagine that this is exceptionally challenging for the male dancer because not only does he have to partner two different women, which is a physically and mentally exhausting merry-go-round.

Excerpt of Act III:

One after another the principal variations will stun you…Rojo is vulnerable and pure in the sacred flame solo, tragic and sorrowful in her solo at Solor’s betrothal where her arabesques just go into infinity and she has the most luxurious arches of her back paired with exotic port de bras.  Nuñez is equally brilliant with her betrothal variation, and sensuously hot in Act III, dressed in a slinky red number for her wedding solo (the contrast in her character in these two solos is amazing).  Acosta has one tiny hiccup in his betrothal variation (an iconic one in the male repertory) where he was off balance in a pirouette, but the funny thing is he still manages to get something like four around and if you’ve ever tried pirouetting when your alignment is completely off, you know that’s a superhuman save.  Furthermore, Acosta and Rojo deliver the consummate Act II that will have you wishing you had some of what he was smoking, with Rojo as a hallucination adding just the subtlest aura of distance between Nikiya and Solor.

Betrothal Pas de Deux:

Ah, Act II…the Kingdom of the Shades and one of the most important scenes in all of classical ballet, like a marching band coming out for the halftime show.  I was a bit surprised because while the corps de ballet did an acceptable job, it made me realize how much the Paris Opera Ballet has this scene down, and they have the added challenge of thirty-two shades compared to the Royal Ballet’s twenty-four!  I do have to point out though that POB has more uniformity in body types while the Royal employs a more diverse selection of dancers so automatically it’s going to have more variance, but POB just seemed to have better timing.  It’s possible that a slight difference in choreography may have something to do with it as well because the standard choreography alternates a regular arabesque with a little port de bras and the POB has the dancers doing much more voluminous arm movements by releasing the head and upper back forward in the port de bras, whereas the Royal does not.  So in effect, the Royal corps has less movement in the same amount of music, which means they have to sustain things longer and that inevitably leads to more individualized interpretations.  The bigger movement also helps the corps with receiving visual cues from each other, thus making synchronization a little easier.

Entrance of the Shades:

Overall, the dancing is fantastic and the soloists were on fire for the betrothal, and Yuhui Choe in particular really stood out to me in her shade variation in Act II…she seemed to have just a little more spark and her variation in particular is a wicked one.  After seeing clips of her in Swan Lake from a fairly recent guest performance in Korea, I hope she is made a principal sooner than later!  Although speaking of the Shade variations, I noticed something a little strange in that the three soloists who did them were different from some of the trio work elsewhere in the same scene, though both included Choe.  Odd.  At any rate, the DVD also has amazing features including an audio clip of Makarova discussing her staging, a chat with Leanne Cope and Francesca Filipi about the iconic corps scene, the interview with Tamara Rojo I mentioned earlier (one of my favorite parts of course!) and really cool studio rehearsal footage of Rojo and Acosta receiving coaching from Alexander Agadzhanov (Acosta does some huge barrel turns in this footage but changes the jumps for the performance itself…a pity because I love barrel turns.  Well, not doing them).  There are so many overwhelmingly good things to say that the only flaw for sure is that in the program notes that appear during the overtures, the snake that kills Nikiya (which by the way, Tamara said sometimes she has a hard time doing that scene without laughing at the rubber snake) is described as “poisonous” when in fact an animal that injects a toxin is “venomous.”  An animal is poisonous if a toxin is absorbed.  Fun fact!

Now that you know, here’s Choe’s Shade Variation, to leave a lovely aftertaste:

All Hallow’s Eve: How can Pacific Northwest Ballet treat you?

31 Oct

Happy Halloween!  The last Reader Appreciation post is a juicy one, and is dedicated to all of you but with a special “come hither” directed at Seattle area readers.  This can only mean one thing: the involvement of Pacific Northwest Ballet.  However, readers who do not reside here shouldn’t feel left out…that is the beauty of the internet is it not?  A ballet company can reach out to fans all over the world and hopefully inspire them to travel and make one of their shows part of a vacation.  Trust me, IT WORKS.  I can’t even begin to describe how desperate I am to go to London and see The Royal Ballet in their element, on the hallowed grounds of Covent Garden.  Yes, I have seen them live but it’s the way in which I’ve been able to stay connected via the Royal Opera House’s multimedia on iTunes and YouTube, as well as reviews/tweets by Royal Ballet goers that keeps my yearning burning (it’s kind of ridiculous how nuttercrackers I’m going over the fact that they’ll be doing Manon in the spring…aaaaah!).  It’s not just them though, as many ballet companies have awesome multimedia bits for us to chew on, and Pacific Northwest Ballet’s YouTube channel is a delicious one…be sure to check it out (if you haven’t already) before proceeding with this post:

Link to Pacific Northwest Ballet on YouTube

PNB’s channel features a vast variety of videos, including rehearsal footage, performance excerpts, show trailers, discussions with artistic director Peter Boal, dancer profiles and a multitude of interviews.  I’m not going to mention any names, but this is far beyond what some other ballet companies are doing and is a fantastic usage of new media to connect with fans and audiences, so kudos and kuditos to you PNB, for staying up to date.  The question then becomes, what more can they do?  Or perhaps the better question is what else can they do?  PNB’s video editor got in touch with me and I’m hoping to help open the lines of communication with this blog (like you do) and get your input.  What do you want to see?  More studio footage?  More interviews?  Dancers playing Twister?  A full-length recording of Dances at a Gathering? (okay, never going to happen, I’ll get over it…eventually)  This is your chance to speak and more importantly, be heard!  Without an audience there is no ballet, and as audience members we have a responsibility to develop our voices just as the performers and administration do theirs.

For example, one of my favorite things they did very recently actually, was to post rehearsal footage with running commentary by the dancers.  Normally, I like to wait and see a dance on stage (which is saying a lot because I have the patience of a squirrel) because I like the surprise and mystical atmosphere that comes with viewing a finished product.  Obviously, studio footage is much different from full costumes, lighting, etc. but what’s unique about listening to the dancers talk about their work is that it really gives us the opportunity to be clued into the process and gain a sense of what might go through a dancer’s mind while performing.  I think sometimes we want to believe dancers are so invested into their roles that they “become them” (and sometimes they do) but I like knowing dancers are human and that they occasionally talk to each other on stage when they’re not supposed to or think “oh crap” when something goes haywire.  I think humanizing dancers is a great way to bring in new audiences because even though dancers perform spectacular feats both physically and emotionally, I think audiences still want to find ways to relate to them.  I suppose many enjoy idolizing their favorite dancers as elusive, almost alien beings but for me that’s unrealistic because we’re all human.  Therefore, when it comes to listening to dancers speak in a casual voice, I am all for it…I’d rather know more about who they are than who they think we should think they are.

Accordingly, I’m all about the dancer profiles…but I’d love for them to be longer!  So far, they seem to be just enough time to cram in “this is how old when I started, this is how I got here, this is my favorite role, I love to dance, goodbye.”  Something I would really like to see would be along the same lines of what The Royal Opera house did, which was follow soloist Yuhui Choi around for an entire day (watch ‘A Day in the Life of a Ballerina’).  Obviously the finished mini-documentary wasn’t the whole day but selected bits and pieces which give a more complete picture of what it’s really like to be a professional dancer—from class, rehearsals, physiotherapy, make-up and finally show time.  However, I think a potentially fun idea might be to have dancers introduce Seattle as they see it, taking fans on a virtual tour of some of their favorite places because sometimes it’s more than just getting people to come see ballet but also a matter of promoting the culture of the city where the ballet lives.  Even people who live in Seattle might not know about some of its curious little treasures…like where’s the best place to get Thai food or saltwater taffy?  I need to know…and there’s a chance other people do too.  At any rate, I feel like PNB’s YouTube channel could use some more “face time” in general though, with highlight reels of specific dancers, which can help to make them more recognizable onstage (especially for those of us who sit in the balcony!) and even faculty bios or interviews with students of the school.  I know for me, different teaching philosophies (as well as the teachers’ backgrounds) can be just as fascinating as an interview with a working dancer.  When you find out that one teacher took class with this famous teacher or danced with that famous dancer, it creates a unique web that really does bring a community together.  I’ve even experienced it in my own little corner of the ballet world and enjoy the feeling of being a part of something larger than life itself.

So here’s the deal my little chickpeas, I’ve created a little poll and am asking for some mass voting!  However, the poll only reflects some basic ideas about videos and such, so it is of the utmost importance that you consider leaving a comment too with additional feedback!  Like what are your thoughts on more formal interviews from dancers versus a casual voice?  The more detailed you can be, the better!  Oh and nothing mundane like “how tall is such and such dancer” because even though we all want to know that stuff anyway, there are much better things to be learned.  Priorities, people, priorities!