I haven’t posted in quite a while, call this being extremely busy! So much has happened this year in terms of personal responsibilities: moving back to New York, working for several months as Director of The New York Ballet Institute, re-starting ballet programs, commuting, working, personal goals, college preparation for all of my children, and just generally running, that I haven’t really had time to post at all, or the inclination. I didn’t forget about you, but at times I was just too exhausted to post and other times the well seemed dry.
I had hoped to start a school (really continue one this year) and a lot of work went into that project which was not recompensed, but that was a gamble, really, and though the signatures for the grant program were obtained through over three thousand hours of promotion, we did not get the grant in the end. The proprietors moved further upstate due to necessity and comfort, and my daughter sought training elsewhere. There will always be good training available, and I believe I brought a lot of attention to their expertise and historical importance, but after everything was said and done, they did not have the drive to pursue a full-time education program without substantial injections of cash into their school. I suppose it will go unused, and though they promised me the use of it, I really did not have the desire to proceed without them-what would be the point?
I do have a ballet and dance background, undergraduate degree, and teaching experience, but compared to theirs, my knowledge and abilities pale drastically; I would not wish to take over in areas where I have no such expert knowledge and acumen. I still believe they are two of the finest teachers I have ever met, and despite age and encumbrances are quite able to teach. They are quite dear to me, despite our having to basically call it quits. Oddly, I received an email this year that we were in the running again and had enough votes to qualify again-I ignored the email recently.
Quite a lot of schools have popped up over the past year and many of them are doing quite well: French, American, and Russian, in the city. Some are taking grand steps forward based on my promotion scheme and I am happy to see that this is working for them. It is important to speak up and self-promote; a lot of fine teachers go unrecognized because they do not have the foresight or gumption to do blatant self-promotion, but this is sometimes what is needed to get students.
After NYBI, I went right into another possible project with Ken Ludden of The Fonteyn Institute, and Ken is a very fine person and good friend. He really did not need assistance which I could provide, but he is developing the institute in his own design which has worked very well for him in the past. Sometimes, there is just not a resolve to achieve an end by two people, with both in charge in varying degrees, so I do not think there was a place for me there, as he had originally thought. We did attempt a couple of things together and now he is commencing new and exciting projects.
My daughter had her last year of high school this year and this took some very arduous work to overcome all the obstacles and to achieve her graduation and continue ballet, which she has done, but not without a feeling that the year was not as progressive as she had hoped. But, she did do some remarkable work, and has made some friends, and met some teachers, whom she will probably retain as lifelong friends. She learned alot, and a new passion is the French style of ballet, a yearning for international travel, and the desire to obtain a four-year degree as well, so I cannot fault her verve or gradual maturity. I am sure she is going to make a great lady one day, and no one could ave a fairer view of the word, I think. I am extremely proud of her and hope that she will be able to continue dancing for as long as it moves her. She has a current campaign for study abroad here Education Campaign: Dance in France I hope you will check it out and consider contributing to her dreams!
After a long year of working, my sons have returned to college, determined to succeed, so in all, I couldn’t be happier at the outcome, even though the going was, at times, pretty rough this year. We survived and have plans for the future all around. I hope your ballet and dance studies have continued, that you have made contributions of relevance to you, and that your work is motivating and inspirational. Above all, I hope you Keep on Dancing!
Enter. Edward Villella, former dancer and artist of The New York City Ballet. Who has not heard of Edward Villella? Well, until a few years ago it seems like not many of the new generation had, that is, until he built, over several years time, against much opposition, a ballet company in Miami-The Miami Miracle-from the ground up. From then on, we have enjoyed regular articles, references and symposiums featuring him although his videos are still a little scarce. Older, and wiser, but clearly fit, with the same, recognizable posture as Balanchine, D’Amboise, and other former male dancers of the era, steps up Mr. Villella, or “Eddy,” as friends call him. Older, yes, but not less handsome or engaging, intelligent, or talkative, than other dancers of the era who, now mature in years, seem to have something to say, are not merely saying something. He does a little jazz shuffle, entering stage right, and hops up onto the podium, clearly happy to be there, and talk about his passion-dance-with the assembled fans; it’s a full house.
The discussion, led by Jennifer Homans of The Center For Ballet and the Arts at NYU, and author of “Apollo’s Angels”, didn’t need much prodding; Mr. Villella was as ready as ever to discuss his viewpoints and perspective, relate stories, critique management, recent choreography, and his directorship, as well as probe the deeper meanings behind the ballet arts, at least from his position as a premier dancer for The New York City Ballet, when it was at its peak circa 1954-69. Ms. Homans and the Ballet Center have provided these evenings of intimate discussion and reception free of charge as part of their mission to make ballet more recognizable, accessible, and to also discover what is or has been there already and to preserve this information and knowledge, add to it, share it, and possibly look into the future of what may possibly be, by bringing a discussion about of the past, and its examples. It was in all a very interesting and inspiring evening particularly with the guest last night. A short q&a and a reception followed.
Edward Villella talked about his history with Balanchine and shared three short video segments which gave dancing interludes to the dialogue (much as I should do with these photos), reminding the participants that Balanchine was intricate, musical, and an artistic director who employed artists and gave them the opportunity to expand when they seemed ripe and ready, encouraging them to make their own statements, and to imbue each role with their own take and style, and often leaving them, as Mr. Villella put it, to discover what was already there, learn about it, listen to it, bring it out, highlight it, but not to actually create it, only to interpret it in their own way.
Edward expanded on how Balanchine communicated the intricacy and layers of the ballets, described how you felt it, and you were inspired by his stories, descriptions and development of the roles, and how ballet really is of the moment. He also explicated what seems to be missing nowadays is the passion that Balanchine brought to the ballet with his fellow dancers, and how inspirational he was to them, what that impact was like, and how it is not observable today in many cases. Ms. Homans commented on how many of those movements may be being lost-nuances-information-a concern of everyone important in the dance world today. These things were also “of the moment,” need to be recorded, and you feel that this is something that she wants to bring about, a larger vocabulary of dance-for dancers-in a world where colleges are teaching the perfect 15-word email. Know more, think more, be more studious!
This point of search, discovery, fortitude, and especially commitment was repeatedly interwoven in Villella’s short speeches by recalling past history and examples. And this, he explained, was his art, his passion, his whole life, even despite a break of nearly four years as a young man due to pressure by society, and by his father, not to pursue the career of a male ballet dancer (another fully-attempted profession which left him thinking only of dancing). He abandoned a future desired by others for him in order to fulfill his passion for dance; maybe, in part, because of George Balanchine. Mr. B., he made clear, was inspiration personified and he provided this inspiration to his dancers to perform their best and to continue dancing.
Edward Villella is part of the iconoclasm of American Ballet and that legacy of artists, muses, composers, visionaries, etc., the “geniuses” Balanchine’s period, carefully assembled and cultivated by Balanchine, Kirstein, Stravinsky, et al., into a New York City ‘local ballet company’ which would serve New Yorkers and the world more dutifully and consistently, it might be argued, than many public or government office-holders have, for now almost a century. Art is part of the fabric of New York, and not least among those provided services is ballet. But how Mr. Villella seems at odds with the current ballet mindset and panorama clearly and quickly becomes apparent as he is eager to live up to his own self-given mission to give not only his best, but also his opinions, viewpoints and perspectives fueled by a life lived in the arts, and to also voice his considerable concerns for the future, by example, comparing and contrasting those myriad differences from then and today. The audience sees plainly his position as a scholar and spokesperson, aptly done. He then proceeds to narrate, punctuate, clear up, and skillfully guide us through a brief engaging and informative personal history. It is obviously planned, laid out in advance of this evening, how his own point of departure was different from anyone else’s, but he never boasts this directly. Ms, Homans accentuates by giving her own opinions, too, and asking direct questions in a nice self-effacing way, without apologizing for them. The discussion seems frank enough. He expresses just how thankful he was to have the opportunities to dance the parts he did, and how amazed he was that Mr. Balanchine gave him the parts he did to work with, to create, and how this is his responsibility, and that of others, to pass on, what he thinks is, a very serious undertaking.
He said he was not sure of the present mindset of younger dancers being given this role and he seems desirous to reach them, and teach them, and he stressed this need and its importance. A few recognizable young dancers from NYCB sit in the audience, aloof, somewhat overwhelmed and intimidated, I would imagine by their responses. We are definitely not sure these people are aware how much is vested in them, or can handle that pressure or position, or even care-especially after viewing his videos, in one of which Mr. Villella is at the point of physical collapse due to his dancing exertions; he pushed himself to the limits of physical endurance. It was really quite moving. Perhaps, it is only the difference of years of maturity and reflection to cast this formidable shadow, but one cannot picture these students with the silver spoon mentality even reaching that juncture. What students have today is the inability to appreciate some other dancer’s humble beginnings, immense talent, and fire, but they do not fail to appreciate their own embraceable luck and good fortune. They do not understand what exactly this all means to the people who have been before them-what they will have to pass on, live up to. Maybe they will learn, if they try. You get the feeling that, if possible, Mr. Villella is not going to let them slip away without considering his proposition and challenge. His emphasis is that you bring technical ability and you learn the rest: acting, art, music and performance. The picture and responsibility get bigger, not smaller, not easier. It’s already there, but you must discover “it” for yourself.
Though not much of the laborious schedule and rigors of ballet under Balanchine were discussed, Tanny LaClerq’s death, the females of the NYCB, other male dancers, or the recent changes at the company, but the emphasis on his opinion was as clear as a bell. Afterall that is what we usually hope to see and hear, and we don’t usually, so we come to expect the worst from the best. But have you ever-could you ever-doubt Edward Villella? Doubt that he would deliver? He never fails. It was an honor and a privilege. Video segments are what we know of his previous accomplishments, unless we lived in that era-his unique physical accomplishments, his dynamic was different, his remarkable stamina, verve and bravado, are evident in some of those videos, our common history of ballet to us older folk, but to younger audiences this might seem extreme, a little too hard, too much, and too fatiguing. But what is there to dance if the spirit is not in it? Why are you here, his whole body seemed to say. It was the narrow margin of art versus the talented, but absent, unmusical, shallow and competitive performer of today-the poser- which Villella obviously chastises, and puts up for discussion and exhibition by saying, “this is what we don’t do” by showing dancers, “this is what you do.” There is nothing in between, or so it would seem, for Edward Villella. This could be similarly expressed by many great dancers of the past, is repeated in many interviews of former great dancers, but was handled differently here by a living legend.
Instead of limiting his listeners by these evidentiary great videos, he also gave them verbal assurances and confidence to see exactly how this might be accomplished firsthand, a directive, a mission. It was not surprising to see it attempted again, but it was handled differently, expertly. No artist’s message, expressed in their own inimitable way could fail to make it clear, and none of them (really) ever shirk the duty of the confidence, from their responsibility and openness to lay it on the line, despite some people’s aversion to hearing it, we understand their missive. But, Mr. Villella’s wisdom was much more gentle and urging. His points were clearer and accentuated with proof by example, and that, so many of the other artists of today cannot demonstrate. There is a world of difference in the actions. Mr. Villella’s actions just speak louder than anyone else’s I’ve heard. His examples are better. He truly practices what he preaches and he doesn’t preach much.
Much has been heard about Mr. Villella’s troubles, fatigue, exhaustion, injuries, and his unrivaled performances, which in my opinion, were all the more brilliant because it seems that if he was going to be a dancer, defy his father’s wishes, he had to be the greatest male dancer of his era, and possibly he was. He adds, that a lot of that was PR, played up, by the media, to show he was a rare performer to see, to promote the ballet, make it news, as a world-class performance of dancing. He claimed that his reputed speed, stamina, strength and agility, such as you might expect to see at a sporting event, were fabricated, but then you see the videos and remember. But he doesnt come across as insincere. But what of art? Perhaps he, like many other dancers always feel lacking, they don’t know the stories today, maybe they don’t seem believable. But looking at him in those roles, I would believe. I would! His attotude seemed to be that art could be exciting, death-defying, and a real punch in the face as well as all the rest. He brought it to life for generations of ballet-goers. Art for the he-man, the boxer, the street kid, the thug, the athlete-and Mr. Villella, was at one time or the other, all of those things. A regular guy, a New Yorker. He points out that he is married, has a wife-that ballet is not for sissies, but for real men, too, and family men, with family values. He makes ballet accessible for everyone. Maybe in his life his real ability, and he needed it to make a point to himself, in order to find acceptance from his own father, to keep an audience glued to their seats, and became one of the best at, was his ability to reach people-to communicate-he is expert at reaching people. He is obviously a skilled teacher and supporter of education and youth, and dance.
Maybe Balanchine played on Villella’s own personal conflicts, in selecting roles for him, those involving a father, because he knew this was in Edward’s vocabulary, his nomenclature, to state and to express it. It is clear from his perspective at least, that Balanchine’s suggestions to his artists invoked the best performances from them, and Villella said, “he knew you, he was a genius.” He gave praise, he thanked, he was lovable, and no wonder his dancer’s tried very hard to please him, or so Edward seemed to be saying, and is evident in all their admiration for him, the wide acceptance and repeating of his works, and the way his legacy is carried on by his proteges. Nowhere else is this more apparent than The New York City Ballet, or was, even though it is purported that more Balanchine works are performed in Europe than in the US. Balanchine had the gift of being able to use psychology, music, spectacle, different genres of dance, and hype, to create magic and everyone at his factory were in reality living their dreams. Part of that super-reality mixed with theatricality involved bringing to life ballets which demonstrated deeper and deeper levels of emotion brought about by human experiences to increase human understanding. Is that is what is being done today at the NYCB?
It is also very clear that the audience and their response was elemental to this process, the final countdown. But they were conditioned to expect greatness by Balanchine-not the reverse. Mr. Villella’s jumps were always just a tad higher, and his movements slightly more intense and large, and his acting at its best onstage, a performer of the highest caliber. Balanchine clearly knew how to elicit these performances from his artists, how to discipline them, and how to train them. Do they alone see this now, appreciate this, because without a force like him, they cannot recreate his masterpieces. Yet, they continue to share their unique perspective of this man, perhaps the organization’s most valuable asset is its dancers, and it should be the dance. It is also of major importance to younger dancers, and the future of ballet, to see exactly what is passed on in ballet, with many other things as well, and only they can teach. So why aren’t they all there? You definitely got the feeling that he feared for this future. But, Edward Villella remains one of the very few tangible ‘elite’ even if you catchphrase it as an “era”, those dancers dreamed of even greater things. It was hard work, day and night, for you the public and for Mr. B, whom they all sought to please. The New York City Ballet is still one of the foremost companies in the world attached to the major education division of ballet in this country, and therefore is the U.S.’s greatest ballet company. Perhaps the artists and director of that company needed to hear this talk even more than the audience did.
Edward Villella said that he would never describe himself this way, a “jumper,” he says, as though in all the roles he danced in this was the perceived reason he was selected, how he was featured, why, and his main “selling point.” He did not, was not made to, see himself this way. All the dancers were encouraged to think as a group, then. But it was plain to us, to the audience, why this charismatic and exciting performer was featured so often-maybe not enough if public videos serve right. His acting was exciting, his masculinity and energy palpable, his stamina was fatiguing just to watch, and he had bravado in spades. At that time, by dancers in this country, he was truly unmatched, and unique. Ironically, he remains alone today in that regard to a large extent. If memory serves there were many unheralded fine dancers of that institution, and where are they today? They are needed to reinforce the ideals of American ballet. The public, everyday people. because of Edward Villella, began to view ballet differently. They began to attend ballet performances in overwhelming and unprecedented numbers. He sold tickets! His impression was felt across the country, through tv, and by description, by millions of people in their homes, and ballets became popular-attendance was up!
He made an impact around the world, too, but in America, where he was needed most, he did the most good for our ballet. His presence must have been felt too, in Russia, and London, and the rest of the world, where later dancers followed his path exactly, seemly inadvertently, benefiting from the swathe he tore. It became a competition-he was not the man to follow. He was not only a major star of ballet in the 1950’s and 1960’s, he paved the way for others, such as Rudolf Nureyev, and Mikhail Baryshnikov, to appear in the the forefront of future ballet productions, in roles he had made famous, and increasingly made more famous in those ballets over a long career, and which he alone performed, often, when others were out due to injury, staples of The New York City Ballet and the world. As Edward Villella says, although these roles were worked on him, their difficulties are evident in the lack of ability of most performers to do them today, with perhaps the exception of a few similar stars, such as Mikhail Baryshnikov, Daniel Ulbricht, and some of the dancers Edward Villella has trained himself, such as at The Miami City Ballet, possibly. Not all of them shine in exactly the same or numerous ways in them, that Edward Villella did, or they would be household names.
Consequently, the search for dancers to recreate his original roles, brought us dancers of the same ilk, and then Russian, gradually, since the late 60’s-70’s, and not so many after the 1980’s were able to perform them as imaginatively or as well as he did at all. Now it is a feat just to teach and stage some of them once per year or decade. Edward Villella did them every night. He was a blueprint for what made ballet acceptable to major audiences in the public sense, what was to be expected, and allowed, and he set the barre higher, though he probably did not realize it at the time. No wonder so many of them fall short of it today! Now he does a tour, making up for lost time, by putting forth his presence and knowledge today and sharing that with others, letting people know that he is more than willing, anxious even, to convey those secrets to young hopefuls, companies, and audiences. Edward Villella was really one of the first American male dancers, along with Jacques D’Amboise, and others, who set the stage for an American prototype of the male ballet dancer, with the help of a Russian choreographer and composer, Balanchine and Stravinsky. The videos and discussion also included : an excerpt of A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream with Villella as Oberon, Jewels (Rubies tcherzo-furioso, specifically), and discussions of The Prodigal Son, Agon/Apollo, and a few of his other roles (Sleeping Beauty, Scotch Symphony, Nutcracker) were alluded to, including some I have never heard of, such as Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto, which had a deeper meaning for Villella (he says) too. But to Villella, all of these roles, and Balanchine’s choreography, are conveyed with the caveat that the choreographer’s role is not to create a stamped role for a performer, but is the role of a teacher- to give the performer the chance to ‘discover’ it himself. By inspiring the dancer, suggesting, and individualizing his approach to a role, and so that the line where the choreography, music and dancer or artist begin, as well as the live impact or performance, is nearly invisible or becomes one unique blend or “a moment in time.” “Dated” Villella says, possibly, but rife with meaning and ‘great things’. Mr. V does not think, and this is my interpretation, that performers today work hard enough, take ballet seriously enough, or convey enough emotion or passion in their dancing. I think this is perhaps the most important thing he said last night.
Several times, he spoke of his concern today, for Balanchine ballets, the loss of their details, and the ignoring of the many layers of his productions, the dancer’s lack of investigation and art, even ability to dance(!). He also spoke of his desire to work on coaching and teaching these things, passing down those details to new dancers and entire companies, successfully, as he has tried to do with Miami City Ballet. He wants to encourage ALL dancers to dig deeper into the legacy and history of the art of ballet, art and cultural history, to discover new meanings relevant to them, and to today, seek to convey more to the audience, not less, and to especially add something besides a smile, behind which, apparently, lies “nothing.” He repeated these warnings and concerns often, also criticizing the current mode of the backers of the art, critics, and board members, in taking the egotistical ‘front seat’ ahead of the art of ballet. He said in some ways for this reason alone “art suffers”, and a little of his particular problems with Miami Ballet in general, but also other institutions.
He is a Balanchine expert, and despite his many other performances, roles, and directorships, he remains a student of Balanchine, so why would they hire him if they didn’t want the Balanchine/Villella influence? This also emphasizes the need for organizations and individuals to do their research before pursuing a line of art they do not understand and he feels we all, they all, need to know more. We do, and we need to communicate about it more, not just in pictures, but in words, and in art-our impressions, our versions, even if we’re wrong, it opens discussions about it, if only to correct, or argue-it is something. SOmething is always better than nothing. Always. Dry critiques, tweets, and posts do not do art justice. All in all, this was a very enjoyable, provocative evening well-spent, and as you can see, INSPIRING. Spent in the company of one of my life-long favorite dancers, Mr. Edward Villella. Thank you very much Center For The Ballet and the Arts and readers of Mysylph.
To find out more about Edward Villella, read his book Villella, Edward, with Larry Kaplan. Prodigal Son. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992. Levin, Jordan. (another is in the works concerning the “two” Golden Ages of Ballet-one being ‘George Balanchine’s’ age, the other the previously known of Russia)
To see an introspective grouping of performance and rehearsal photographs which often deliver the ‘moment’ in many productions, please visit The Billy Rose Theatre Division Collection at The New York Public Library. Search term: ‘Edward Villella.’ The New York Public Library Digital Collections
Kateryna (Katja) Khaniukova, who has been dancing with English National Ballet these last 15 months, returned home to the company where she was a much loved principal dancer – Kiev Ballet. Graham Watts reports on the night and ballet in a country at war…
Kiev Ballet (National Ballet of Ukraine) Don Quixote
Kiev, National Opera House
5 June 2015 www.opera.com.ua
Ballet enjoys significant popularity in the Ukraine and the Kiev State Choreographic Institute – now run by Nobuhiro Terada – has produced some of the world’s leading dancers (Alina Cojocaru, Sergei Polunin, Denis Matvienko and Ivan Putrov to name but a few). Another recent export is 25 year-old Kateryna Khaniukova who joined English National Ballet in March 2014 – a Rojo recruit, sufficiently attracted by the ambition and inspiration of the company’s artistic director to relinquish the status of principal ballerina in her home city of Kiev, to become a junior soloist in London. As a first thought, it may seem odd for Khaniukova to have swapped this elite home status for a lower place in another company’s hierarchy but Tamara Rojo’s drawing power and the expanding repertoire of ENB is clearly worth the risk.
It is even more remarkable given that Khaniukova had no prior intention of leaving Kiev to dance elsewhere. During a brief visit to London, she was advised by her coach in Kiev – Alla Lagoda (also a former mentor to Cojocaru) – to take class while away, thus becoming a relatively unknown guest at ENB’s morning ritual. Her impeccable technique immediately attracted Rojo’s attention and the subsequent offer of a contract. The expressive quality of English ballet was a powerful incentive but the potential of working under Rojo was the decisive factor. “We had only seen her on DVD”, Khaniukova told me, “and so the opportunity to come and work with an artist of such dramatic quality was something that I just couldn’t miss. I wanted to absorb all those feelings into my work”.
Leaving the Ukraine permanently was not so easy. The Maidan Square Revolution erupted soon after her return and the visa centre was in the line of sniper fire. It took weeks to sort out the paperwork through all this chaos, during which time Khaniukova’s parents – both doctors – were tending to the Maidan’s victims. The requisite passport pages were eventually stamped and Kateryna (informally known as Katja) was able to join ENB, two months later than planned.
A cold night in February 2014 saw her farewell performance at the Kiev Opera House, given to a skeleton audience sheltering from the troubles outside. Just like Pavlova and others dancing on in St Petersburg through the 1905 Russian Revolution, Katja felt that “…dancing ballet seemed so pointless when people were dying on the streets a few hundred yards’ away”. Since the ballet being performed was The Nutcracker, the land of the sweets must have seemed a million miles away!
What a difference in just 15 months! Khaniukova’s return to Kiev for a one-off performance of Don Quixote was accorded the glittering, red-carpet treatment of a major premiere. Fashion magazines were there to photograph the event; TV stations filmed it; a documentary film crew followed the ballerina wherever she went over the whole weekend. A “sold-out” theatre included an audience of politicians, journalists and assorted celebrities from the worlds of sport, film and the arts. It was an occasion that fully demonstrated the power of Ukrainians’ affection for an artist who had left to make a mark elsewhere; turning up in their droves to welcome Katja home.
The National Opera House of the Ukraine (named in honour of Taras Shevchenko) is a gorgeous – if slightly dishevelled – architectural gem, designed by Victor Schröter. A curved neo-renaissance exterior – the façade a neat double-height row of columns and porticos – sits under a domed roof topped off by impressive statuary; enclosing a classical interior, based on the Viennese model of the early 20th Century. As so often the case in Central European cities, this opera house replaced another that was consumed by fire (allegedly caused by a candle left alight after a performance of Eugene Onegin) and the new building on Volodymirska Street was opened in September 1901. The backstage areas and studios are spacious although in need of refurbishment and the public parts are a splendidly ornate warren of corridors and passageways with a surprise around every turn. Unnoticeable to most but key to those who perform there is a flaking, apparently uneven, wooden stage with a vicious rake.
The version of Don Quixote in the Kiev repertory is a typical hand-me-down interpretation of Gorsky’s 1900 revision of Petipa’s original 1869 ballet, seen through the prism of many further retouches through the years of the Soviet Union. It enjoys detailed painted – but generally dull – backcloths to represent generic scenography and vivid, decorative costumes (not least, the gorgeous crimson and black tutu with gold embroidery worn by Khaniukova’s Quiteria in the final act celebrations). In many ways, the design of this Don Quixote was a cipher for the opera house in which it played: both beautiful and decrepit; grand elegance slightly worn out by age. It would sit appropriately within a Venetian setting.
There are some additions to the traditional libretto including a gypsy pas de deux to music with which I am not familiar and is neither by Minkus or Drigo. The conductor – Herman Makarenko – told me that this addition was by a little-known soviet composer and had been added during the mid-twentieth century. He couldn’t remember the name but my guess is that it was composed by Vassily Soloviev-Sedoy for the Bolshoi’s production in 1940. Anyone with better information is welcome to comment below.
The comic-book characterisations of the title character and his side-kick, Sancho Panza, were accomplished in broad-brush style, respectively by Sergei Litvinenko and Nikita Sokolov. The latter is a fine name for this ballet since it was another Sokolov (Sergey) on whom the very first Basil was created in the premiere of Petipa’s ballet at the Bolshoi in 1869 (and incidentally, he was alsoSwan Lake’s first-ever Rothbart) Litvinenko was a most appropriate, tall and lanky, tourist-book evocation of the wandering, chivalrous knight. If in need of another job he could become a Don Q look-alike around the arid plains of Castilla La Mancha (where only a week previously, by coincidence, I visited the tiny village of Santa Quiteria and met a matador!)
Elsewhere in the cast, I was taken by fiery performances from another Kateryna (Kurchenko) as the Street Dancer and the vivacious Mercedes of Ksenia Novikova; plus a gypsy solo with swirling red skirt and elastic spine from another Ksenia (Ivanenko). Maxim Kamishev was a haughty Espada (known as Esparto in the Ukraine); Irina Borisova brought regal elegance to the Queen of the Dryads; and yet another Kateryna (Kalchenko) was ethereally fleet-footed and busy as the Cupid. One overriding impression that remained with me throughout the ballet was of ultra soft landings on this hard uncompromising stage. All the dancers’ jumps were generally high and long, yet their landings were largely silent.
Khaniukova was reunited with her former dance partner, Viktor Ishchuk, who graduated into the Kiev company in 2001. He is ideally cast as Basil, the carefree but indigent barber of Barcelona. In a modern adaption he might suit being a skater boy since Ishchuk has that quality of naturalistic, blithe and buoyant chirpiness. He is a dancer with the prodigious virtuoso skills required for Basil but there’s also a charming “devil-may-care” dishevelment around the edges.
Khaniukova’s Quiteria is a delicately-framed but ebullient minx. As merited by the special circumstances of this show, she was truly a divinity returned from exile. An adoring audience lapped up every second of her return, beginning with that gleeful opening solo in the Barcelona marketplace. By the time of her fast terre-a-terre entry to the harp accompaniment in the final act variation, Khaniukova had the whole audience clapping along with every step; not something I have experienced many times before.
Few ballerinas have an entire armoury of elite skills but Khaniukova seems without any weakness. She spins and jumps strongly (her jeté is an object of marvel), possesses an intuitive musicality, extraordinary flexibility, graceful port de bras and épaulement; and she gilds the lily by capturing the romantic, comedic and Machiavellian essences of Quiteria with exquisite, expressive acting. It was a performance perfectly pitched to the gala occasion of her homecoming. Remarkably, she and Ishchuk managed to rise above having almost no time to rehearse together, holding it all together securely through their collective body memories. It was only when Khaniukova was required to dance in harmony with Borisova and Kalchenko during the dream scene that any lack of rehearsal was detectible.
Don Quixote is such an anomaly in the classical ballet repertoire. The performer in the title role never dances and is merely a supporting character artist; it is an adaption that bears almost no narrative relation to the original novel; a rare example of a comedy amongst a horde of nineteenth century melodramas and tragedies and an even rarer example of a ballet being named after a man and not the leading female.
The layered contributions from Petipa and Gorsky in versions that went back and forth between Moscow and St Petersburg have left us with the best of both worlds in Eastern European stagings that have followed – including this archetypical production in Kiev – with comedic fun, pantomime characterisations and – most especially – the opportunity to see state-of-the-art ballet technique, expertly performed.
One might add that Don Quixote is a ballet of hope, best represented by the title character’s chivalric quest for honour and a happy ending. In that sense it seemed very appropriate to the current situation in the Ukraine, a country under threat from its eastern borders. The notion of honour and a happy ending are especially relevant to their troubles of today.
In addition to this excellent gala performance, my weekend in Kiev included a tour of the Kiev Ballet School, meeting legendary teachers (such as the octogenarian, Vladimir Denisenko) and watching an awed class of young dancers receive a signed pair of Tamara Rojo’s pointe shoes. Kiev has a second fully-fledged opera house with a full-scale ballet company, which rejoices in the wholesome title of the Kiev Municipal Academic Opera and Ballet Theater for Children and Youth. Walking past the theatre on Mezhyhirsta Street on Saturday afternoon, my charming guide suddenly disappeared inside and – within seconds – I found myself being ushered into the central box to see the final act of Valeriy Koftun’s Cinderella, which had dancing of a decent, professional standard. An opera house just for kids – no wonder culture thrives in the Ukraine!
Reblogged from Dance Tabs http://www.networkdance.com/ballet-news/A-special-Don-Quixote-in-Kiev-as-Kateryna-Khaniukova-Returns-Home/24872
Running from October 13-25, 2015 at The Joyce Theater, the José Limón International Dance Festival will assemble dance companies and colleges from 7 countries around the world to join Limón Dance Company in sharing 16 of Limón’s masterworks with a wider audience. Visit the Joyce Theater webpage here to purchase tickets.
Ballet Ariel’s world premiere of “Vincent Van Gogh”
Ballet Ariel’s world premiere of ‘Vincent Van Gogh’ opens on Saturday, May 2nd at 7:30 pm and Sunday, May 3rd at 2:00 pm at the Lakewood Cultural Center. This dramatic ballet explores the turmoil and tragedy that marked the career of the genius artist Vincent Van Gogh. His unfulfilled love life and passionate follies are danced in a series of emotional duets. The tender and supportive relationship with his brother Theo is thoughtfully portrayed in the ballet. The tension in the ballet builds, while living together with Paul Gaugain in the south of France, he has his first episode of madness and self-mutilation. Choreographed by Ballet Ariel’s Director Ilena Norton, the ballet is danced to beautiful, original music by Israeli composer Irena Scalerica. Also on the program are excerpts from the gorgeous wedding scene in Act 3 of the classical ballet ‘Raymonda’, and the exciting, contemporary latin dance ‘Incantacion’ by former Colorado Ballet principal Gregory Gonzales. Ticket prices for the performance start at $20 and can be purchased at www.Lakewood.org/Tickets, 303-987-7845 or at the Lakewood Cultural Center Box Office, 470 S. Allison Parkway.
Irena Scalerica is a graduate of the Saint-Petersburg Conservatory and has won awards in the John Lennon international composer competition in 2001 and 2003. She has composed music for Vladimir Alenikov’s film the Princess War in 2013, which won 12 international film awards, and for Nariman Turebaev’s film Adventure in 2014. She has written music for three ballets, Van Gogh, Silver Goose, and Kambar Batyr. Her ballets combine classical and contemporary styles to create a complex and emotional expression of the story. This is the first time her ballet Van Gogh has been choreographed and presented by a ballet