The World Ballet Festival(WBF) started in 1976 and since then it's been held every three years to the great pleasure of many Japanese fans. The uniqueness of WBF is that only star dancers, legends and young talented dancers are invited. While a festival for sure the same programmes are presented by different dancers, and it can become a kind of competition also. What this means is that you can expect something you don't see at regular shows or that dancers usually don't do. This year the WBF presented three programmes, 9 performances in 11 days. I missed Programme A, but managed to see the other two.
I enjoyed Grand pas classique and Sylvia pdd (by Balanchine) by A Letestu/J Martinez (POB). For me they're probably the best couple of their generations. Both are tall, elegant and they dance in unison. The tempo, the angles of their faces, arms and legs are the same - perfect! Moreover, they show their high technique without showing any effort.
One of the highlights was S Guillem(RB) vs G Stepanenko(Bolshoi). They ended up in a sort of competition between them. S Guillem and N Le Riche(POB) danced pdd from Le Corsaire at Programme B. G Stepanenko and A Uvarov(Bolshoi) danced the same piece at the Gala (to different music, though). Guillem was zigzagging across the stage while she was doing 32 fouette in her variation. The following day, Stepanenko challenged Guillem. She couldn't just do ordinary fouette: she repeated it twice after an applause, which means she did 32 fouette three times at one go! When Guillem danced Don Q pdd (with Le Riche), she showed her extraordinary balance and emphasized her famous six o'clock position longer than usual. If she does it at regular performances, her show-off spirit would be criticized, but it was a festival and she knew it.
WBF offers different things. C Fracci from La Scala took part this year. Personally, I didn't think I would see her stage in Japan. Cheri (by Petit) with M Murru (La Scala) received the most praise from the audience during the festival. At Programme B, Fracci and V Malakhov (ABT) danced Le spectre de la rose. In Cheri Fracci was a courtesan in her fifties, in Le spectre... she was a debutante. She is a great actress ballerina and she impressed us all for this.
Malakhov, one of the most popular male dancers in Japan brought 4 works. Caught (by Parsons) is the most exciting work I've ever seen. He introduced it in Tokyo in 1998, since then it's become his special piece of repertoire. While all the lighting was down he moved one place to another by jumping. He actually followed a spot while a stroboscope was on - it was like an illusion and he looked as if he floated in the air. There wasn't any music, just an electric sound, so if he missed a count or wasn't quick enough the whole show could've been spoilt. Very clever.
The new face of 9th WBF was B Kohoutkova (Finnish National Ballet). She's going to partner with R Bolle (La Scala) when La Scala visits Japan in autumn, so this is a great opportunity for her introduction. She of course danced with Bolle. Their repertoires were pdd from classical ballet, such as Beauty, Raymonda, etc. Although they danced beautifully, they weren't quite as impressive as I expected. Bolle showed an outstanding interpretation of Apollo last time, but his performance was quite flat this year.
There was some disappointment in the pieces from Manon - Bedroom pdd by A Ferri/V Malakhov, Swamp scene by Guillem/Le Riche. They might've danced well enough in their own ways, but anybody who saw Manon at Covent Garden recently weren't convinced by their interpretations, except that of Guillem. I didn't feel love between Ferri and Malakhov - no eye contact, tenderness or joy. In the Swamp scene, there was no desperation from Le Riche. He just followed a textbook. I think they should have done Marguerite and Armand.
On the last night of WBF - Gala night - an extra performance was presented. An audition for the next WBF was held.... Some male dancers were disguised as ballerinas and wore tutus, wigs tiaras and pointe shoes! We got Comical ballerinas by the Bubenicek twins, Rose adagio by Martinez, Dying Swan by Malakhov and Etudes by Legris. Of course everything was a joke, but those male dancers' ballerina technique were incredible. Some are better than girls!
The Gala performance started 15.00 and ended at 20.00 - a long time but so much great fun. WBF will celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2003 and we're already talking about it. Can hardly wait infact.