Holding the prestigious position of first soloist with the Mariinsky, Alexander Sergeev is much more than one of the most praised dancers in Russia. He has long been dancing principal roles, and popular opinion suggests he should in fact hold principal status. Sergeev has already created several compelling ballets that have been performed at the Mariinsky’s annual festivals, and he has been pursuing a side business as a concert producer with significant success.

Vaganova Today sat down with him to find out more about his career and aspirations.

* * *

In Russia, the quarantine due to Covid-19 continues through 15 June, and some expect the end of the month. At the Mariinsky Theatre, dancers have returned to morning class already, while the Bolshoi troupe was sent on official annual vacation starting 1 June, which will last 56 days. The bulk of the troupe are still taking class remotely by video however, so as to stay in shape. Bolshoi Theatre General Director Vladimir Urin has said he expects theatres to open last in Russia, as enforcing the mask/glove regime among spectators is not realistic. There is no word yet as to when the Mariinsky will open, but people are hopeful it may be as early as September. We will post more news as it comes.

* * *

The November update on Covid in Russian Theatres is as follows:

23 December 1937 – 29 October 2020

It is with a very heavy heart that I share the sad news of the passing, yesterday, of the Mariinsky’s greatest male pedagogue, Gennady Seliutsky. Known for his character roles on stage and moreso for a sparkling career honing the talents of the Marrinsky’s top male dancers. While I never worked as closely with him as his dancers did, I had the honour of interviewing him several times, and ever since then, whenever we crossed paths, his warm smile and demeanour always welcomed me with a short chat. I know how devastated the dancers are today, and my own tears fall as I share their grief. Rest in peace dear Gennady Naumovich, you will be greatly missed, always remembered, and never replaced.

Russia’s leading ballet theatres have much in store for the second half of the 2019-2020 season, which for most will run through July 2020.

At the Bolshoi, former Mariinsky dancer and now choreographer Anton Pimonov will present a new work, “Made at Bolshoi” on 26 March as part of a mixed bill that includes Vyacheslav Samodurov’s “Tanzmania” and principal Bolshoi dancer Artemy Belyakov’s “Vremeni Goda” (The Seasons). On 21 May, the theatre will premiere the new “Master and Margarita” by Edward Klug, who presented his version of “Petrushka” on last year’s mixed bill alongside Forsythe’s “Artefact Suite”.

The Mariinsky’s annual International Ballet Festival begins on 11 March with a heavy focus on Ratmansky. The festival opens with an evening of Ratmansky’s ballets, and will also present his “Seven Sonatas” for the first time, which is being set on site by Stella Abrera (American Ballet Theatre). If the coronavirus does not cause cancellations, then several guest stars are slated to appear. Lauren Cuthberthson, who fell ill before she was able to perform “The Sleeping Beauty” in last year’s festival, will make another go of it this year alongside Xander Parish. Oksana Skorik will join the Paris Opera Ballet’s Germain Louve for “Swan “Lake”, and the Bolshoi’s Olga Smirnova is set to appear in “Giselle.” In addition, the Bolshoi’s Vladislav Lantratov and Maria Alexandrova will appear at both the opening and the closing of the festival.

The international pandemic of the coronavirus has altered the landscape of the world’s ballet stages, both big and small, for the foreseeable and perhaps even not so foreseeable future. In Russia, all state theatres (Mariinsky, Bolshoi, Perm, Stanislavsky, Mikhailovsky, etc.) closed on March 17th with initial plans that the closure would be lifted in early April. The closure was extended until late April subsequently. Then, on 9 April, General Director of the Bolshoi Vladimir Urin told Kommersant that he felt a reopening in September 2020 for the fall season was “optimistic” at best. Implying that there was a good chance the state theatres’ closure would continue for the rest of this calendar year. While foreign theatres have short spring seasons (ABT and SFB both have just a few months of performances), the Russian season runs daily through late July in all theatres and starts again in September with more performances immediately. Losses at the Bolshoi per day of missed performances, amount to millions of rubles. And then of course there is the dancers’ physical health to take into consideration when they are off for half of a year or more.

Here is to hoping, that optimistically, we might see some ballet in Russia before the end of 2020. Stay healthy everyone.

It was the 4th of April 2019, the premiere of A Winter’s Tale and the Bolshoi Theatre was full. A double tour en l’air moving stage left. A step he had done thousands of times since his school days. But something went wrong – the angle of the landing or the torque, maybe simply overwork. No sooner had both legs hit the ground than he immediately lifted one off the floor, and hopped into the wing on the other. The music stopped. The curtain came down. A murmur filled the house and the house lights came on for an unplanned intermission.

One might refer to the year 2019 as the season of Giselles in Moscow. Under Laurent Hilaire’s artistic directorship, the Stanislavsky is mounting a series of classical ballets based on either Hilaire’s vision or Nureyev’s versions set at the Paris Opera Ballet. This July, Hilaire’s Giselle premiered (Nureyev’s version of Don Quixote will follow in late October). The Bolshoi Ballet, not to be outdone, will counter with Alexei Ratmansky’s new version of Giselle this November. But the Stanislavsky version came first and is an integral part of the increasingly popular company’s repertoire.

From 21 to 24 November, the Bolshoi Theatre presented Alexei Ratmansky’s latest masterpiece, a momentous reconstruction of Giselle, infused with new choreographic alterations and several key departures from the currently known libretto. The revised version culls information from the Stepanov notation, Henri Justamen’s records and at least 4 other sources. Robert Perdziola’s enchanted set designs, based on originals by Alexander Benois, take us immediately to a medieval time and place in which social classes may obstruct true love, and legends of evil spirits literally come to life. Ratmansky’s choreographic shifts highlight the libretto’s underlying theme of Christianity throughout the work, lending a deeper meaning to this ballet and marking its historical significance.

To mark the Stanislavsky Nemirovich-Danchenko Theatre’s 100th anniversary, Artistic Director Laurent Hilaire created a gala concert featuring a new choreographic work and international guest stars. On July 29th and 30th, all of Moscow clamoured to attend the two-night extravaganza which featured the best this Moscow troupe has to offer.

In unusual fashion, the highlight of the evening in fact came first. Choreographic talent Maxim Sevagin, a Vaganova graduate who displayed his ability to set classical ballets even as a student, and set works for the Mariinsky’s choreographer’s workshop in 2014 and 2015. Since joining the Stanislavsky in 2016, he has continued to create, refining his art in both more avant-garde and neoclassical genres. Bloom, an aptly-named one-act ballet set to the melodious music of Antonin Dvorak, uses movement that implies all of the nuances of flowers blossoming in a field. Women en pointe clothed in simple lilac dresses twirl and entwine their arms, while men in high-waisted lilac pants twist like reeds in the wind. The ensemble work seems to be impressionistic movement: if Monet could choreograph, this is what might result.

The scandals at the Bolshoi Theatre over the past decade have given the theatre a name synonymous with disgrace. The acid attack on Sergey Filin, Nikolai Tsiskaridze’s sharp criticisms of the renovation process, the advent of a new administration and the changing of the guard (and some of the troupe’s members) as a result. Things have quieted somewhat, but the inherent challenges faced by Russia’s largest ballet company remain unchanged: the traditional hiring of various graduates versus the dancers entering laterally based on connections or worse, bribes; and the perpetual challenge of finding quality dancers in a system and city where hundreds of ballet schools and teachers are churning out products at various levels of excellence.

Against this backdrop, reviving ballets that ran previously in the repertoire or adding new ones sets the bar high. The Bolshoi chose to bring Balanchine’s Symphony in C back to the stage after a long haitus, and paired it with Maurice Bejart’s avant-garde Gaité Parisienne for four nights in mid-June. The result was a minor victory on some fronts, but a disappointment on others.

Mr. Xander Parish, principal dancer with the Mariinsky who hails from Yorkshire, United Kingdom, just received an award at Buckingham Palace, “Officer of the Order of the British Empire” from His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales for cultural contributions. Parish has been with the Mariinsky since 2010.

Congratulations, and very well deserved sir.

On 25 and 26 April, Moscow’s two largest ballet troupes offered press conferences announcing their plans for the coming 2019-2020 season.

The Stanislavsky troupe will feature the premiere of Nureyev’s version of Don Quixote as set by Laurent Hilaire on 25 October. The spring will bring a ballet by Goyo Montero of the Nurnberg Ballet on 28 March. And Hilaire will also set Giselle, first to premiere on 5 December, but in Cannes, France and only near season’s end in Moscow.

In like fashion, this must be the “year of Giselle” for the Bolshoi is also offering Alexei Ratmansky’s version in November. The Bolshoi is offering a set of new works as well, beginning on 26 March with former Mariinsky dancer and now recognized choreographic talent Anton Pimonov’s new Made in Bolshoi. Edward Klug, whose Petrushka premiered on the Forsythe mixed bill last November (2018) will return with The Master and Margarita.

And for those eagerly awaiting some Russian dancing state-side, the Bolshoi will tour the US in the summer of 2020.

Having read at least 7 biographies on Rudolf Nureyev, VaganovaToday was interested to see White Crow, the film based on Judy Kavanaugh’s book which premiered this past weekend in Moscow. Academy Award nominee Ralph Fiennes produced and starred in White Crow, which also includes international ballet freelancer Sergey Polunin, among others.

White Crow open with images of Nureyev’s mother giving birth on a cross-country train and adheres heavily to the details in Kavanaugh’s book – at least up until Nureyev’s defection in Paris. That’s where the film ends, which means two hours are spent focusing on the first 20 years of his life with lots of clips of Kharkov-born actor/dancer Oleg Ivenko “rehearsing” in the studio or performing. Given Nureyev’s place on the world stage, attempting a film using footage of present-day actors is a tall undertaking, especially considering the presence of archival material that could have been interspersed in order to provide less knowledgeable viewers with a better idea of the subject matter. But doing so would have highlighted the stark contrast between Ivenko’s appearance and Nureyev’s, not to mention the difference in their dancing levels.

The Mariinsky’s The Sleeping Beauty has received its share of controversial press, not for the quality of the productions –for there are two– but for the history behind them. When Sergey Vikarev’s version debuted in 1999, it divided the Mariinsky troupe in two, those both for and against the work. The “original” which was adjusted by Konstantin Sergeyev for the Soviet audience in 1952, and now also known as the “1890” production due to its roots in Petipa’s original, continues to rotate in the company repertoiire, while the Vikarev version has been quietly shelved.

As part of the XVIII Mariinsky Ballet Festival, which returned this year after a one-year hiatus (due to the anniversary of Petipa), the company presented the Sergeyev “original” with billing that included Lauren Cuthberthson from the Royal Ballet, along with Xander Parish, who got his start early on at the Royal but has become a principal by climbing through the ranks at the Mariinsky over the past 10 years.

George Balanchine’s Jewels dates back to 1967, but its composition is such that it is a timeless piece due to its depth of symbolism and pallet of both choreography and music. During this year’s Festival, the Mariinsky presented Jewels, exclusively using its own dancers, some of which are new and promising talents indeed.

The gem-based visual triptych, for those who have never seen it, centers on the idea of three gemstones, with one act dedicated to each. The composer for each section, the speed and nuance, and even the steps differ. Emeralds comes first to the hauntingly beautiful music of Faure, set in cool green tones. The score ranges from careful adagio tempi to faster petit allegro, and the choreographic patterns often use the theme of crossing: second arabesques, crossed arms, coup de pieds (crossing one leg behind the other at the ankle), and croisé positions. This optical weaving lends a specific effect to the movement, much of which underscores the French influence in ballet.

The Young Choreographer’s Workshop has been held annually (except for 2018) during the Mariinsky Ballet festival as a means for amateur choreographers to present their creations in order to, in the best case, ignite or shift into a choreographic career. The best works from the festival are said to be adopted into the rotating repertoire (although in practice, those that are, run quite rarely). This year the workshop offered seven works by both known and unknown creators, starting with the more experienced Yuri Smekalov and ending with the promising Ilya Zhivoy.

In 2018, as Russia celebrated the “Year of Petipa” in honor of Marius Petipa’s 200th birthday, the annual Mariinsky Ballet festival was cancelled and replaced with a handful of Petipa works. This year, the festival returned to the Mariinsky stage in Russia’s northern capital on 21 March, issuing in 10 consecutive evenings of ballet.

Head of the troupe, Yuri Fateev, long ago stated he views the Mariinsky not as the holder of Russia’s Petipa traditions, or the recipient of the Vaganova Academy’s best graduates — although arguably it should include both– but aims to make it into the “ABT of Russia”. This festival has shown just how much he has moulded the company towards that vision since he took on his position in 2007. Gone is the all-Russian roster and in its place a conglomeration of international graduates, punctuated by international guest artists during this particular festival.

The Pharoah’s Daughter, one of Marius Petipa’s original ballets, is a work nearly unknown in American and European houses but that reigns supreme on the Bolshoi stage, where today it is almost exclusively performed. However, those performances occur quite rarely. A block of Pharoah revivals closed out last season in July 2018 for those Muscovites who had not already abandoned the city for vacation time. This week Moscow audiences enjoyed their only glimpse of the ballet for the current season in a series of 6 performances over the span of 4 days.

This large-scale work, in every sense of the word –from sets and costumes, to the large number of cast members and even animals required for all three acts– is a restoration by France’s Pierre Lacotte dating from 2000. The libretto sets the action in ancient Egypt, where a British explorer finds himself smoking opium and falling into a dream. Reminiscent then of the last act of Bayadère (Solor too smokes opium before his dream of the Shades), Pharoah also has components of Romeo and Juliet‘s star-crossed lovers: the heroine Aspicia throws herself in the Nile River when she cannot be wed to her beloved Taor. But in a true fairytale twist, she’s saved by the God of the Nile, who resembles Poseidon with a trident and long golden locks.

The March block of performances featured a series of debuts, including Margarita Shrainer next to Vyacheslav Lopatin in the leading roles and, on closing night, the ever-reliable Ekaterina Krysanova alongside Vladislav Lantratov in his debut as Taor.

The San Francisco Ballet, founded in 1933 as the first ballet company in America, opened its 86th repertory season with the annual gala concert featuring a champagne promenade in the lobby and a bill featuring two world premieres and several “house” ballets by resident choreographer/director Helgi Tomasson. Prior to curtain, Chairman of the Board of Trustees Carl Pasquerelli presented Dede Wilsey with the Lew Christensen award for her work as a trustee. Ms. Wilsey declared the company one of the best in the world, which many would agree is an apt characterisation for this West coast troupe.

1234