This is one of the strangest mixed bills that I have seen. The program was titled "La Fille mal Gardee (Act II) and Gala Concert". I have seen the company a couple of times before, and I have found them to be a good honest company, who work very hard and are well suited to the smaller venues. With only 12 dancers, they would look a bit lost on a large stage. This venue is almost on their doorstep, and is a lovely theatre in a very pretty location. Worth a visit just to see the local IMO.
Three backdrops are used, and as the theatre lacks a fly-tower, it takes several minutes to lower the backdrop to the floor and hoist in another. The first exchange was performed during the interval; the second with a pause of a couple of minutes during the second half. Judging by the noises coming from the stage, the crew was having problems with the hoist.
For "La Fille mal Gardee" the backdrop consisted of a suitable rural scene. The bodices of the girls’ tutus are quite lush, being made of crushed velvet in earthy browns and greens. The skirts are a strange contrast, looking like a piece of cheap nylon net curtain, with ribbon around the bottom.
The dancers in this company are not ones to perform 180° grande jetes or sticking a leg up next to their ear. Their extension is much lower and more in keeping with ballet from the romantic era. It seems to me that many words have been written recently about the modern dancers extreme extension, how it destroys the line and/or the look. My view is that it makes ballet look artificial. I want the ballet I see to look real. On the occasions that I have seen Darcey Bussell, Sylvie Guillem and other dancers of their ilk (and had my sox knocked off my their ability), I always seem to come away wishing for some realism in the artificial world of ballet. Well tonight it was all real, warts and all.
There were a couple of minor technical hitches in this performance. One of the girls turned the wrong way in her pirouette just after the piece opened and collided with her partner. As the gypsies came on, the chaps’ tambourine shattered, scattering bits all over the stage. The stage was covered in the small cymbals and four pieces of frame. You could see the corps wondering is they should pick up the hazards immediately. The two gypsies did well to avoid the hazards and the pieces were collected during their bows.
I especially liked the pd3 executed by the three girls (Olga Ovchinnikova, Ekaterina Chekhter & Rea Maeda). They danced with much lyricism and all gave the impression of the idyllic image of dancing around the meadow on a warm spring day. The three girls were delicate and very fleet footed, gliding around with no noise at all. The audience naturally preferred the chaps; there was audible excitement when they came on for their big numbers.
The tutu pdd danced by the two stars of the company Chika Temma and Zhanat Atymtayev looked lovely; as good a classical pdd as you could wish for. The boy and girl are named Lisa and Colen in this production. Miss Temma is very expressive; she uses her face well and looks as though she enjoys her dancing. She also looks to be proud of her technical abilities; she has every right to be.
Of course, the audience loved Marcelina (Widow Simone), danced by Yuri Demakov. Here was a chap clearly enjoying himself, playing the role for laughs. The clog dance, which is funny to watch anyway, had the audience in stitches.
An interesting choice for the first half. It left me hungry for more of their Fille; the entire production is not listed in their repertoire. If the AD of the company reads this, please include a full production at some later date. There weren't any ribbons in this production.
The second half consisted of an interesting mix of divertissements, some familiar, some unfamiliar. The opening piece 7th Waltz, music by Chopin was danced by Olga Ovchinnikova and Oleg Kozhanov. Olga wore a costume that I have seen in a previous production of theirs, namely one of the wilis. She is a very strong dancer; part of this piece involves a second arabesque as she executes a series of relevés, while travelling backwards. Her raised leg and arm were at constant elevation. Overall this could have been any pdd from the classical repertoire, although I felt more work could have been be done so the piece fits the music.
Following on was Tarantella, music by Gottshalk, danced by Evgenia Enikeeve and Viktor Pivovarov. Miss Enikeeve resplendent in her green tutu with colourful ribbons in her hair. The footwork was light and quick, and they are quite a pictureque couple. The actual music is quite slow for a tarantella. The composer is not familiar to me; I will have to try and locate this music, as it is very good. A web search bought up the name Louis Moreau Gottshalk, an American composer.
Next we where treated to Chika Temma and Zhanat Atymtayev dancing an Adagio from Coppelia. This was a white pdd, which does not feature in any Coppelia that I have seen. I scribbled something in my notes about the supported pirouettes. I was obviously impressed by them; shame I can't read my writing to comment further! Anyway in immaculate white tutu and tunic, a generic classical pdd ensued; exactly the sort of stuff I can watch all day.
The weakest of the pieces came next, Sweethearts performed by Olga Ovchinnikova and Yuri Demakov, to Jewish folk music. This was a character piece; I felt that the movements were very mechanical and the mime overdone. Think of a clichéd love story and you’ve got it.
The final of the short pieces was the Dying Swan, danced beautifully by Ekaterina Chekhter. She was dressed in what is clearly Odette's costume. Small companies run on very tight budgets and any savings are worth wile. She is very lovely as the Dying Swan. Her épaulement is gorgeous; she really does fly like a swan. She has quite long legs too, which show her bourrée off to perfection. I would like to see more of her. I personally find this a difficult piece to watch; I am constantly reminded of the Trocks version!
To finish on a real highpoint, the company presented Walpurgis Night, from the opera Faust. I have not seen this before. It is a very exciting piece to watch. The three leads Baccus (Yuri Demakov), his consort (Svetlana Kojanova) and Pan (Viktor Pivavorov) all gave it some wellie. Pan really gave it some and the audience was very appreciative. This is quite a sexy piece; all bare chests for the chaps and a short red skirt for the consort. If only all opera was like this! My only complaint with this piece was that the one big lift was featured too often.
The piece features nymphs and satyrs, so we get to see costumes from a bygone era of ballet. This is pure escapism for me; I am a huge fan of sword and sandle epics and this is as close as ballet gets. If there was Xena the Ballet, then the look of this piece would fit the bill nicely.
As I previously said, small companies on tight budgets find life difficult. While I was wandering back to my car, I noticed a van in the carpark belonging to Independent Ballet Wales (formally Cwmni Ballet Gwent). The sharing of resources between companies is a very good idea, provided each company maintains its own identity. It enables us to see these small hardworking companies. I think some technical staff were "on loan" tonight.
All in all I felt that this was a good program. It was a nice departure from the usual staple diet offered by Russian companies. Overall the dancing is nice to watch and I feel we as an audience can wish for little else.