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"This accent on saggy-
upsidedown is the reason why Petersburg champions of classical dance accuse contemporary creators of naked acrobatism"
29 APR 15 Leading Moscow dance critic Tatiana Kuznetsova doesn’t think much of the Royal Ballet’s Melissa Hamilton and Eric Underwood, guesting at the large St Petersburg ballet gala on Monday which ended the international contemporary dance festival, Dance Open. Nor is she very kind to ex-Bolshoi whizkid Ivan Vasiliev, neither his choreographic debut nor his populist gala feats - which she thinks are becoming a contagion to the detriment of true ballet.
Her gala report is sorrowful, mourning the way that extreme physical exhibitionism (in which she seems to include Hamilton and Underwood’s performance) us transforming ballet, and hailing the comparative refinement of the Cubans.
On the other hand, she did rave a fortnight ago about Vasiliev’s debut (as a guest) at the Bolshoi in Grigorovich’s Ivan the Terrible, calling him one of the greatest-ever in the role as the legendary Russian tsar.
There were two interesting extra bits of information in that review (which I have translated here). One that Vasiliev’s landing of the symbolically monumental role, in defiance of his public perception as a Bolshoi quitter, was assisted laterally by the fact that the first-choice Ivan the Terrible - one Pavel Dmitrichenko - is now doing time (for the acid attack on Bolshoi ballet chief Sergei Filin).
She also reported that Vasiliev should have been debuting this spring in Kenneth MacMillan’s equally ferocious male role, Crown Prince Rudolf in Mayerling, at the Stanislavsky, but withdrew in order to do the Grigorovich at the Bolshoi. This, she says, cost the smaller Moscow theatre a great deal in money and status. (Especially after the bad memories of Sergei Polunin wilfully abandoning the Stanislavsky just as he was about to do MacMillan’s Manon.)
Here is a translation of her report on the gala. She balances her disapproval for Hamilton, Underwood and MacMillan with praise for Sarah Lamb, Vadim Muntagirov and Ashton (whose work now rides high in several Russian ballet companies, by the way).
Pas de Petersburg
The XIV International “Dance Open” Ballet Festival closed with a gala at the Alexandrinsky Theatre for leading soloists of the world. This year the Dance Open Festival has regaled the public with modern ballet but as a finale it decided to prepare a dish for every taste: the gala programme showed contemporary choreographers interspersed with 20th-century classics, the Argentinian steppe, American funk and orthodox pas de deux.
The contemporary ballet presented by a leading pair from London’s Royal Ballet was the biggest loser. The stately Melissa Hamilton and tall black Eric Underwood performed duets by Wayne McGregor and Christopher Wheeldon as if they were by the one and same creator, even if a third-rate one. The dancers, ignoring nervous reflex, emotion and sensual extreme, instead went for the accent on saggy-splayed-upsidedown that is the reason why Petersburg champions of classical dance yet again accuse contemporary creators of “naked acrobatism”.
A lack of soul also pervaded the English “classics”. True, there was a sensitive farewell for Masha and Vershinin from Kenneth MacMillan’s Winter Dreams, in which the embraces and high lifts alternate with rather Soviet-style double tours from the male - but it looked like no masterpiece even with the irreproachable performance by Covent Garden principals Sarah Lamb and Vadim Muntagirov.
Yet Voices of Spring, choreographed by Frederick Ashton to Strauss’s music, resounded with optimistic power thanks to the weightless, amazingly accurate and yet captivatingly uninhibited Maria Kochetkova, reliably partnered by Joan Boada (a former Muscovite who now adorns San Francisco Ballet).
The Argentine twin brothers Lombard - skinny, with rampant hair, like jolly zombies - beat out some racy tap to the music of Piazzolla, to the delight of the audience, but didn’t dare the kind of syncope of legs that performers require. Rasta Thomas, founder of the Bad Boys of Dance troupe along with Albert Blaise Cattafi - one of the best of the ‘bad boys’ - also entertained the public with all their skills, mixing music-hall capering with classical tours en l’air, a real Olympic Games of jumps and spins.
Form of sport
In fact bravura classical pas de deux have long become a form of sport. The original versions, now inventively re-tailored, have changed beyond recognition; significant dance evidently retreats before the exhibitionist trick. In the Petersburg gala, the Russians (Ivan Vasiliev and Elisaveta Cheprasova) competed with the Cubans Yolanda Correa and Osiel Gouneo, now based in Norway.
In fairness, we note that Ivan flew in a pas de deux from Flames of Paris at the last moment, when he and Denis Savin from the Bolshoi had officially come to dance a number entitled Underwood, created by themselves. Perhaps the novice choreographer had in mind “Oonderwood”, since he and his partner imitated the action of a typewriter, trying to make something of maximum drama out of it, as if - probably - to show the creative agonies of the writer. Vasiliev’s choreographic debut was not a success, unlike his orthodox pas de deux which aroused a storm of approval despite the extraordinary roughness of our greatest jumping champion. Ivan did everything that was expected of him: the turning split jumps, the double tours and even some unique triple sauts-de-basques, but it all looked like stunts from a national dancer.
Vasiliev’s exact contemporary Osiel Gouneo, performing the no less tricksome Diana and Acteon pas de deux, beat the Russian on his own territory, and in every respect: in cleanness, technique, height of jumps, coordination and rotation. Tall, dark-skinned and handsome, dressed in a silly little golden skirt, he flew up to the height of the circle, nailing his pirouettes at any speed and in any number.
The rivals’ partners can’t be compared. The Cuban Yolanda Correa, besides her excellent training and attractive line, has amazing aplomb in her strong legs, able to stay in balance on pointe without any support. She holds there as if nailed, for so long that a good half of the adagio step has to be lost. But she also spins like a man, easily doing six unhurried turns on pointe. And because she can accelerate her turning motion at will, she easily fits triple fouettés into the music.
In short, this couple, who don’t exactly get a chance in modern Oslo to be acclaimed for their abilities, in St Petersburg brought the house down. And although their performance of the classical pas de deux was rather more workmanlike, the Petersburg aficionados demonstrated not a bit of balletic chauvinism, unequivocally acknowledging the victory of the Cubans with a long ovation.
However the Russians have the chance to take revenge next year; these sorts of popular (or should one say, populist) galas are the unavoidable price paid by the Dance Open Festival for the more grown-up intellectual content of the main programme.
Brits don't impress at Russian ballet gala
Underwood and Hamilton at the gala (photo Stas Levshin/ Kommersant