May 3-4, 2007
by Marc Haegeman
copyright © 2007 by Marc Haegeman
It had been thirty years since the Bolshoi Ballet last performed in Munich. With just three performances of Alexei Fadeyechev’s staging of “Don Quixote” in the National Theatre, as part of the annual Ballet Week and of the ongoing homage to Marius Petipa, the Russian dancers took the house by storm. All three evenings had sold out months in advance and the audience left the theatre thoroughly convinced that this company is in glowing form, seduced by its authoritative, lively and totally irresistible way with its ‘own’ “Don Quixote.”
However, I suppose no one in the audience on opening night, featuring Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev, was quite prepared for the jaw-dropping bravura on display for two hours. When Osipova finished her 1st Act variation with a tsunami of pirouettes, as if nothing would be able to stop her, the house exploded with a massive roar of cheers and foot-stamping. As one local balletomane said, she had never heard such an ovation in the middle of a ballet performance in this theatre. The final curtain calls seemed to go on forever.
Surely, Alexei Ratmansky no longer needs to hesitate whom he should entrust with opening night of “Don Quixote.” With Osipova and Vasiliev he has a golden couple for this ballet any director should fight for. After seeing 20-year-old Natalia Osipova on three different occasions as Kitri in less than a year’s time, it is clear how well she has grown into the role. Her progress is especially sensible in the lyrical dream sequence of Act 2, which gained in fluidity and softness, in pure cantilena quality, somewhat lacking from her earlier performances. Her transformation from the exuberance of the 1st Act to the remoteness of the vision is now remarkably complete. A few weeks before Munich Osipova danced “Don Quixote” at the Mariinsky Theatre during the annual Festival and I gather the coaching by Tatiana Terekhova, herself one of the great Kitri’s of her generation, has proven beneficiary in this respect as well.
Although she does astound by her technical prowess, speed and ballon, Natalia Osipova is not a basher. She now knows how to colour her phrasing and build up the technical fireworks to maximum effect, as could be seen in her 1st Act variation. The effortlessness of her movements, almost making fun of the most intricate terre-à-terre patterns or the daunting knockout series of fouettés with doubles and triples, her magnificent, high jumps that seem to come out of nowhere, her seemingly indefatigable energy, all create this electrifying fascination which keeps you on the edge of your seat. But it is this natural magnetism of hers, this total spontaneity of every step and gesture and above all this so rarely witnessed joy of dancing that make her performance as Kitri – or indeed any other role I have seen her in so far - truly out-of-sight. A natural charmer, Osipova is obviously unable to do anything half-hearted. As the true heiress of Maya Plisetskaya, Olga Lepeshinskaya, Ekaterina Maximova, and other Bolshoi greats, Osipova locks the ballet even more in its rightful place at the outset of the 21st century. “Don Quixote” is a genuine Muscovite ballet but Osipova guarantees it will remain this way for at least the coming decade. After merely three seasons in the company, Natalia Osipova’s “Don Quixote” is already a classic.
In 18-year-old and Varna laureate Ivan Vasiliev from Minsk the Bolshoi has found an ideal Basilio to match Osipova. He is very short, muscular, has a totally natural stage presence, partners well, and doesn’t seem to know any technical limits or fear. He, too, looks as if he is born to fly and there are moments he ventures into the danger zone, as in his second variation in the final pas de deux. Yet the two youngsters spark each other off, competing in daredevil bravura and pranks, adding comical touches to the acting and stealing the show whenever they can. Even asking them to sit and watch from the side seems impossible. While the character dancers perform in the tavern scene they start a small piece of theatre, teasing each other by flirting with other onlookers. It’s utterly refreshing and immensely enjoyable.
The remainder of the cast further secured the success of the Bolshoi’s “Don Quixote.” In Olga Stebletsova and Anna Rebetskaya the company has now the well-nigh ideal pair of Flower Girls, pretty, always attentive, sparkling in character as well as in dancing. Maria Allash gave the Queen of the Dryads weight and confidence while Nina Kaptsova was a joy as Amor. Anastasia Yatsenko is a ravishing street dancer, perhaps a tad too refined and gentle for the role, but no less there is a sizzling chemistry between her and Andrei Merkuriev’s flamboyant Espada. Merkuriev proved again magnificent in the role (as indeed he was when he danced it with the Mariinsky Ballet), demonstrating incomparable cape technique and delivering his solo in the tavern scene with a flourish of stylish pseudo-Hispanic abandon. The character dances remain glorious when parttime stage manager Irina Zibrova as Mercedes and the incomparable Yuliana Malkhasyants as the easily inflammable gypsy dancer are around. Alexei Loparevich gave the Don a face and a beating heart, but Sergei Minakov still needs to find his way as his sidekick Sancho Panza (Alexander Petukhov was missed here). Egor Simachev was a rather unsubtle Lorenzo, yet Denis Savin made a fine Gamache. The Bolshoi ensemble danced with vivacity, strength and understanding.
Different accents were placed the second night when two veterans danced the leads. Marianna Ryzhkina is a ballerina hardly ever seen on tours. Small and sharp, at 37 she is still at the height of her abilities, dancing and acting an attractively rounded Kitri. She knows exactly how far she can go, possesses the role inside out, and confidently goes for classical elegance instead of sheer bravura. Her dance and mime interplay with Yuri Klevtsov’s Basilio was delightful, even if it lacked the spontaneity of Osipova. Klevtsov, 36, appears in better shape than a couple of years ago, partnered well and assuredly dealt with the role’s pyrotechnics.
Pavel Klinichev guided the Bavarian State Orchestra through Minkus’s score. It took the musicians some time to find the right balance and even deciphering Minkus can prove problematic at times, but nothing could kill the joy of seeing this wonderful company again in what truly is the definitive “Don Quixote.”
Photos, both by Marc Haegeman:
Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev in "Don Quixote."
Olga Stebletsova and Anna Rebetskaya as the Flower Girls.