Tag Archives: Don Quixote

A special Don Quixote in Kiev as Kateryna Khaniukova Returns Home


A special Don Quixote in Kiev as Kateryna Khaniukova Returns Home

Kateryna Khaniukova in Don Quixote.© Ksenia Orlova. (Click image for larger version)

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”.

Kateryna Khaniukova in Don Quixote.© Ksenia Orlova. (Click image for larger version)

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!

Kateryna Khaniukova in Don Quixote.© Ksenia Orlova. (Click image for larger version)

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.

Kateryna Khaniukova in Don Quixote.© Ksenia Orlova. (Click image for larger version)

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.

Viktor Ishchuk, Kateryna Khaniukova and Sergei Litvinenko in Don Quixote.© Ksenia Orlova. (Click image for larger version)

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.

Kateryna Khaniukova and Kateryna Kalchenko in Don Quixote.© Ksenia Orlova. (Click image for larger version)

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.

Kateryna Khaniukova and Viktor Ishchuk in Don Quixote.© Ksenia Orlova. (Click image for larger version)

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.

Kateryna Khaniukova flanked by Viktor Ishchuk and conductor Herman Makarenko - Don Quixote curtain calls.© Ksenia Orlova. (Click image for larger version)

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.

Kateryna Khaniukova - Don Quixote curtain calls.© Ksenia Orlova. (Click image for larger version)

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

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The New York Ballet Institute Summer Intensive on Pinterest! Enrolling Now! Scholarships for Male Dancers!



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Sessions are July 1-31, 2015 and August 1-31, 2015. Check out the Pinterest photos of this fabulous International Vaganova Summer Intensive.

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Memorium in passing, but Maya was dynamite! Maya Plisetskaya and Maris Liepa Scenes from the ballet by Minkus Don Quixote! Enjoy!


via Maya Plisetskaya and Maris Liepa Scenes from the ballet by Minkus Don Quixote – YouTube.

▶ Baryshnikov with Gelsey Kirkland-a snippet from Don Quixote – YouTube


▶ Baryshnikov Live At The Wolftrap – YouTube.

Quote of the Day for September 29, 2013


Quote of the Day for September 29, 2013.

Love’s Limbo Lost



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Picturing Shakespear. Mnsr. Vestris in  Les amans surpris / J. Roberts, del. ; Thornthwaite, sc. A favorite ballet of the time.
Picturing Shakespear. Mnsr. Vestris in Les amans surpris / J. Roberts, del. ; Thornthwaite, sc. A favorite ballet of the time.

http://www.opensourceshakespeare.org/views/plays/play_view.php?WorkID=henry8&Act=5&Scene=3&Scope=scene           (Shakespeare, “Henry VIII,” act v, sc. 3)

http://www.sparknotes.com/poetry/paradiselost/section11.rhtml   (Milton, “Paradise Lost,” III, 495)

http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/hudibras-part-2-canto-i/    (Butler, “Hudibras,” part II, canto i)

(Late Latin limbus) a word of Teutonic derivation, meaning literally “hem” or “border,” as of a garment, or anything joined on (cf. Italian lembo or English limb).

Natural limbus infantium
Natural limbus infantium

In theological usage the name is applied to (a) the temporary place or state of the souls of the just who, although purified from sin, were excluded from the beatific vision until Christ’s triumphant ascension into Heaven  (the “limbus patrum“); or (b) to the permanent place or state of those unbaptized children and others who, dying without grievous personal sin, are excluded from the beatific vision on account of original sin alone (the “limbus infantium” or “puerorum”).

In literary usage the name is sometimes applied in a wider and more general sense to any place or state of restraint, confinement, or exclusion, and is practically equivalent to “prison” (see, e.g., Milton, “Paradise Lost,” III, 495; Butler, “Hudibras,” part II, canto i, and other English classics). The not unnatural transition from the theological to the literary usage is exemplified in Shakespeare, “Henry VIII,” act v, sc. 3.

Blake‘s epic poem tells the story of Sir Hudibras, a knight errant who is described dramatically and with laudatory praise that is so thickly applied as to be absurd, and the conceited and arrogant person is visible beneath. He is praised for his knowledge of logic despite appearing stupid throughout, but it is his religious fervor which is mainly attacked. Blake undoubtedly drew from Don Quixote for his witty satire about a man who thought he knew too much and gets repeatedly beaten for his views and interfering with the rest of the world’s vices. Unlike Don Quixote, who is humorous and draws our sympathy, Hudibras gets none. It was very popular in its time (1700’s), but was not a beloved story, for it spurred no ballets. However, many stories and art are descended from it. It’s main argument stems from political views and religious theorists at the time, sometimes combined into one group, and the public found this pairing amusing and ludicrous. Some writers and reviewers of the times felt Blake was too hard on certain puritan factions, so it did not please those everyone important.

My purpose in dredging up these hyperbolic entrails is that they serve to explain and accentuate my point the about idiocy of ballet politics, dance politics overall, and some characters of the world in general. It also underlines the fact that the attitude held by some teachers of ballet (certain people are destined for success and others aren’t) is fascist and not particularly conducive to the making of good dancers or art, at all. These people hold that they are the judge of the times. This self-appointed “hell” that parents pay for their children to be entombed in is called a competition studio, and not a ballet or (art) studio where expression and all great art is derived. Were it not for imperfection, there would be no art, as true art is not necessarily perfect. This is history repeated though, and nothing new occurs. It is part of the reason why it is impossible to achieve art in a school for young dancers and in many cases in a ballet theater, and probably some companies. Mothers and fathers, wooing administrators with money and work, fund raising efforts, and their own strings-attached beneficence result in the many studios I know of, which have some good elements, running a muck. At least in a ballet company these souls are excluded for the most part and the business of art may take place-and in most good ballet schools as well as in other types of other schools. At the studio my daughter was recently at, the operator had her own unique ideas about the dancers, their abilities and what sort she advanced into new levels. Each year she would change the levels around to accommodate her future plans without consideration for the families involved and especially the children whom she was hurting. If a parent was paying for more children, they got more attention, moved up, more and better roles, etc. If they contributed large sums of cash, those students could be expected to get privates and a lot of pushing even if they weren’t very good dancers, had poor technique, bad habits, arrogance, etc. A very few children, literally one or two out of each level, received her full attention and she would work with them for years, giving privates and coaching, lead roles, until she managed to get them something. She wouldn’t even give corrections (strike one) in class (especially my daughter) except to her very favorite few and she manipulated the entire class to evoke harder attempts from these few by using the others as comparisons. It was a very backward method, resulting in those few getting all the attention, etc., while the others continued to pay for the scraps leftover-even dancers who were quite good!

My daughter has spent the last several months in limbo, from an effort by this director to get her to leave. Her others students resented my daughter due to the attention she was getting from her Russian teacher, who no doubt was rewarding her hard work and effort. She also had privates with him, and in under a year was up to and in some cases better than her classmates. After six more months and more privates, she was better than her very best dancers-so she prevented her from doing YAGP- a punishment (strike 2)! Also, the other female teachers there would not giver her privates for fear she would compete with their prize students. They all held this attitude that each student belonged to a teacher-only one. It just happened that we had the best one and they ALL resented this. He also had the hardest working students and some of the younger ones and boys did competitions and they won. His won. But my daughter was not allowed by her. I did not realize it was the director controlling him, telling him to help other students who were willing to pay more money-who had more money, but it was. She would come out and not allow him to give my daughter privates when she was waiting, instead directing him to take someone else first/instead (Strike 3). Prison. Confinement, or so this mistress hoped, and by these actions she expected my daughter to be discouraged and repeatedly kept back and slowed down (2nd chance). Finally, I realized what was going on and we finished out the year-end performance and left. I did not pay her the last two of 12 equal payments for the year. Would you?

She may now yet again have a fair opportunity to enter the beatific vision of ballet Heaven. A school where she can dance hopefully unencumbered by these people who believe they hold the carrot and the key to her success. If the key is money and not art, not teaching, not learning, and performing is not possible without patronage at so early a level of training, then art sits in confinement, and talent is imprisoned, learning is sanctioned, and futures are undeveloped. There is no chance of my daughter growing into a beautiful dancer there, for the environment is evil and the hatred and jealousy running beneath the surface permeate the spirit of the dance. It was important to her to make these other students feel superior to my daughter and certain other students in an effort to keep the money coming in. My daughter was incredulous to find that she had been demoted (LAST STRAW) to a level with dancers who were ungainly (also ridiculed by her and humiliated in front of everyone else as an example-not to be overweight (seriously, in a little local ballet school????-yes, she actually calls herself a dance educator), did not even bother or try to learn (who could blame them?), and who showed zero interest in ballet (no wonder!), and whose families were not financially important (bingo). My daughter was age-level and training level appropriate for the higher level, but was being highly encouraged to leave, I would say…. I do not want to say much about the girls who were promoted, the previous takes into account their possible faults (false self-confidence, and their parents stupidity) being ignored in favor of monetary support, so I need not impune them further-wouldn’t be nice. Over time, we were able to see that each parent of each of these children held some advantage over the director, was useful, or was paying at least for two children. But my daughter was to be made miserable, to be cast down, by the director of the studio, whose arrogance rivaled Hudibras’, as if to say, “no matter how hard you try, you can never be better than my worst higher-paying student. it is a hard lesson for a teenager to learn-to see someone so cruel, and I can assure you, she was one of the best dancers in the class upon leaving. She was convinced it was a mistake, a cruel joke played by one of the parents who sent out the certificates and promotions, but when I realized it and called, I was told the director would “re-evaluate her” after the summer. The summer program there is usually pretty good, but for two years we have been unable to afford it. However, when we come back, my daughter is still more advanced than others, because she works very hard and continues her privates with her Russian teacher-who refused to teach anyone else who asked. I knew there was no evaluation or training issue, as some of the other girls in class are well behind my daughter in all areas, but I knew it had to do with money and politics. A child does not usually understand this, but my daughter readily saw the reasons for it, so it was not very hard to dispense with. She refused to go back.

This Summer that would have resulted in our being pretty much cut-off from her Russian teacher, but that dependence needed to be discouraged anyway for some other reasons. After about two weeks of this, she began to be led dancing into different directions. There were an inordinate amount of accessible master classes in the area-I wonder who was teaching at the intensives! Her vision must be pure as her luck was good! God never closes a door….

The mean Hudibras in the stocks.
The mean Hudibras in the stocks.

This kind of imposed limbo by the director was averted by the number of available classes to take. Quickly, she perked up, finding plenty of support from other teachers. The other aspect of this is that she is the kind of able, ready and polite student that everyone else wants to teach. Once they see her seriousness and rapid improvement and other good qualities they usually (not always) help her, encourage her and eventually become attached to her. Each school she went to and auditioned for this Summer she was accepted to, and she was placed in a suitably advanced level in. In each master class, the teachers praised her and helped her. She wanted to go to New York and audition for SAB, and I almost doubted her. I thought perhaps she was trying to overcome those bad qualities projected onto her by that director and frankly, I was worried that she would not be accepted. She needed to erase the self-doubt that this woman had placed in her mind deliberately. The baby in limbo infantium, innocent of real sin or error, but far away from the beatific vision sought by dancers everywhere, but I was wrong to doubt her and she has a lot more mettle than I had anticipated (as usual). You’d think I’d learn and have more faith. She did it everywhere she went. She got better seemingly without even trying-she stepped up a level, a notch in her professionalism and self-confidence. The nervous, shy young girl is mostly gone, but in her place is a beautiful, confident young lady of just 15 years old who knows all of her hard work has not been in vain, shaking the dust off of the bottom of her feet as she goes. She was happy to see the girls there and was truly pleased that most of them were happy to see her when she went back for a few classes at the end of the Summer with her Russian teacher. She is convinced once again that she is happiest while dancing, more competition is better, and she was able, while at these other studios to compare herself to their best dancers and to see where she was in comparison. She found herself close to or better than their best, different, better in ways they were not, learning more and new things, getting new corrections and insights, different stretches and work, new combinations, and working just as hard, and getting much better, being more relaxed and open, despite a shorter schedule and fewer classes. She is finally working smarter! It is as though she finally sees in herself-herself and not a victim, but a fighter (the best kind) and a catalyst. She is a dancer!

Perhaps I did not make her appear chastised enough and down-trodden, from the perspective that those mothers felt sorry for her-some of those students felt sorry for her too. It did seem as though a very few of them actually took solace from this, feeling that they were better, but some others sought me out and were very kind and understanding. None of them felt we would come back, and the director sought her out in one class to dwell upon her expression and to watch her to see whether she had improved or not over the Summer, and to witness her unhappiness. But broken spirit was not what they beheld. She was better and improved! One teacher literally glared at me when she drove up. But enough of that. The good that came from the experience, for one, outweighed the bad. In fact, she won, for she has been accepted into a very exclusive school in a large city! I would like to blame them, but I am having to be thankful for all of their actions and roles played in this would-be tragedy, except for the indomitable will, spirit and grace of my child, who is a far better person than I have ever been or probably will ever be. She met Jacques D’Amboise and then took a nearly three-hour class with him, a lifelong memory and inspiration from someone whose heart has always been in the right place-I think this inspired her to go do the Fall auditions. She decided she was interested in Balanchine and Cecchetti and she was inspired to read and research, herself, where these opportunities lay.

We were prepared to enroll her in classes with another Russian teacher who wanted to train her, and we had enrolled her into public high school, when the unavoidable happened to thwart those plans. We have had mold in our house due to some repairs from several leaks that the landlord has not made over the past several months. She was finding it difficult to breathe and I moved her into the living-room to sleep over the Summer. She complained of stomach pain, nausea and headaches as well which caused me to confront the landlord and seek to force the repairs. I have been sick, but no one else in the house has been and I did not think it was due to the mold until she was affected. So at the end of August, awaiting repairs, I sent her to a big city with family. She was already inspired to take classes and do auditions. I set them up, we took photos provided by a good friend for free and they were beautiful to see! She was accepted to a school of some prestige, but most importantly with a very good program including all of the things those here lack, and an environment and philosophy which might work out perfectly for her, AND she was placed in the advanced level, second from the top-the top being an actual company-of company-ready level performers, which she is not yet (at 15, seriously-who really is? But advanced! I just hope she can handle all of what she is about to undertake. There will be quite a learning curve considering the deficiencies at the school she has been attending. At this school, the students do get placed into companies and have numerous opportunities to dance! The faculty is really amazing and it is reportedly “not so cutthroat” as some others schools. She will have classes six days per week and one or two with the company-level dancers. She will have pilates, character, yoga, pointe everyday, partnering, technique everyday, and variations. She will learn choreography, the students have choreography done on them for performances and workshops regularly, and there are many master classes, guest teachers, workshops, rehearsals and performances. It was like God just said, there. How can I say no?  She (hopefully) can practice there, study and do her schoolwork. She has family there who also will support her and encourage her, but she will have to be a little more independent of me. No more limbo. You must keep on dancing!

Hubidbras vanquished and protected by Trulla-text supplied-in his confinement
Hubidbras vanquished and protected by Trulla-text supplied-in his confinement