Another wonderful opportunity coming up at the Phoenix Picturehouse on Sunday 23rd November to see Russian ballet repertoire rarely seen in the West; this time a performance of The Pharaoh’s Daughter first broadcast in 2012 by the Bolshoi Ballet.  Young Englishman Lord Wilson is travelling through Egypt when a powerful storm breaks out. He is forced to take shelter in the nearest pyramid, where the daughter of one of Egypt’s most powerful pharaohs lies entombed. Lord Wilson falls asleep and begins to dream that the princess has come to life…

The plot of this lavish production is loosely based on Théophile Gauthier’s novel Le Roman de la Momie. French choreographer Pierre Lacotte was exclusively commissioned in 2000 by the Bolshoi Theatre to resurrect Marius Petipa’s mighty Egyptian fresco, and he succeeded brilliantly in giving new life to this forgotten masterpiece.

With its exotic setting, impressive parades, spectacular variations and crowd scenes, this grand 19th-century Orientalist fantasy is one of the most remarkable productions in the Bolshoi’s repertoire. The main roles are here danced by Bolshoi principals Svetlana Zakharova, Nina Kaptsova and Ruslan Skvorstov.

Performance:  Sunday 23rd November 2014, 3.00pm

Venue:  Phoenix Picturehouse, 57 Walton Street, Oxford OX2 6AE

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Another Boshoi Ballet transmission of one of the popular staples of 19th century ballet repertoire; a prerecorded performance of Le Corsaire on view at the Phoenix Picturehouse on Sunday 17th November.  Inspired by Lord Byron’s poem, Marius Petipa’s version of the ballet was part of the Bolshoi’s repertoire until the beginning of the 20th century.  In 2007 Alexei Ratmansky and Yuri Burlaka presented a sumptuous new choreographic version for the company.  In the marketplace of Adrianople, the beautiful Medora is sold to Pasha by a slave dealer; but a pirate, hidden among the crowd with his companions, decides to ravish her… Thrilling suspense is at the core of this lavish exotic fable, an amazing production complete with pirates, kidnapping, a shipwreck, and a record 120 dancers on stage.  An intriguing opportunity to compare it with English National Ballet’s new production. (more…)

Le Corsaire:  Bolshoi Ballet, live from Moscow to the Oxford Phoenix , 12 March 2012

Le Corsaire has both a complicated story and a complicated history.  Although based on Byron’s poem, which sprang from his travels and experiences at a particular historical moment, and first performed in Russia at a time when the empire was acutely concerned with developments in the near east, I felt that the context of this production was too vague to tell the story well, and this detracted from its emotional impact.  I found it hard to see how the conflicts between the Greeks, the Turks and the pirates, essential to the momentum of the plot, fitted together, and without clarity around those relationships it was reduced to an improbable story of two lovers who encountered a number of highly confusing difficulties.

I admired the technically magnificent performances of the principles, although, for myself, I don’t care for the way that Bolshoi dancers hold their arms and use their hands, and I was very unhappy about the extra flick of the wrists that some seem to favour as they hit a pose or the peak of a jump.

There certainly were times when the dancing showed conviction and sincerity, and I loved the set corps de ballet piece for the jardin animé, and the first Odalisque solo (the one in which she uses a series of brisés to fly across the stage).  However, I was disappointed by what I felt to be a lack of emotional tension between Conrad (Ruslan Skvortsov) and Medora (Svetlana Lunkina), particularly in the grand pas de deux with which we are all so familiar.  Gulnare (Nina Kaptsova) gave a spirited performance, but I did not believe that she really loved the Pasha, as the libretto flashed up on the screen before the trick wedding stated.

The production was based on the 1899 Petipa staging, with some costumes beautifully reconstructed from the original designs, however, to my mind it wasn’t danced in the style of a nineteenth century ballet;  the performances seemed very twentieth century, with very high extensions and the kind of “fireworks” that I associate with the Soviets.  The styles of sets and staging were variable:  in particular, I thought that the cave and the shipwreck might have been from Disney.  Perhaps this is due to the risk inherent in any recreation, which is the unconscious tendency to stamp it with our own times:  in this case I think it resulted in unintentional pastiche.

Much of the music was familiar to me, although I had never seen this ballet before, and while some is charming, the quality is inconsistent, and the artistic cohesion of the ballet wasn’t helped by the Bolshoi tradition of allowing dancers to take lengthy reverences during the performances.  Seeing this production helped me to understand why Fokine believed that ballet needed to be reformed.

Maggie