Bolshoi stars dazzle in O.C., sets don't
Author: PAUL HODGINS
Date: February 25, 2010
Publisher: THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Watching a Bolshoi Ballet performance is a bit like taking a trip to Russia.
You put up with a few bumps and rough spots and are rewarded with spellbinding sights.
In the case of "Don Quixote," which opened Wednesday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, the bumps and rough spots are the seams, occasional cheesiness and flyaway quality of the sets, designed by Sergei Barkhin for choreorapher Alexei Fadeyechev's version of the 1869 warhorse.
Natalia Osipova performs continuous pirouettes across the stage during act one of "Don Quixote."
DREW A. KELLEY, FOR THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Set pieces occasionally swayed as if reacting to a localized earth tremor. Backstage, some techie's squawky headset conversation could be heard in quiet moments. The set changes behind some apron scenes sounded like migrating elephants.
And there's no denying this "Don Q," which debuted at the Moscow company's home theater in 1999, is showing more than a few road miles. One wonders what "La Bayadère" must look like – it was originally programmed for the Bolshoi's O.C. appearance but was withdrawn because its sets and costumes were considered a little long in the tooth, according to Elena Perfilova, the Bolshoi's head of international touring.
But nobody comes to a Bolshoi performance to marvel at the sets and costumes (and, to be fair, the Bolshoi's "Don Q" boasts some sumptuous and wonderfully colorful work by costume designers Tatyana Artamonova and Yelena Merkurova, working from Vassily Dyachov's designs for an early 20th-century Bolshoi staging).
We pay top dollar to see what Bolshoi soloists do better than any dancers on earth: dazzle us with performances that are equal parts virtuosity, terrific acting, and close-to-the-edge bravura.
In that regard, the Bolshoi's "Don Q" delivered handsomely.
On Wednesday, audiences were treated to two of the company's hottest young stars, Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev. Osipova plays Kitri, the daughter of a social-climbing Barcelona innkeeper. Vasiliev is Basil, a barber who is smitten with her but is rejected by her father as too working class for his little girl.
Osipova is only 23, and "Don Q" launched her career when she first danced it in 2005. She bowled over audiences and critics when the Bolshoi took the work to London the following year. Few realized at the time that she was still a member of the corps de ballet.
Osipova's Kitri is magnetic. A former gymnast, Osipova imbues jumps and turns with a crackling athleticism that is usually the province of male dancers, all without surrendering an iota of her femininity or sensual allure. In quieter moments, her line is exquisite; she can hold arabesques and other shapes with effortless grace.
Osipova also knows a thing or two about acting.
The integration of character, narrative and movement is a Russian specialty, and "Don Q" is rife with mimed storytelling. Osipova demonstrates more subtlety than most soloists and a more deft comic touch, too. Kitri's mock horror over Basil's feigned suicide quickly turns into secretive, lusty horseplay between the two lovers. Osipova garners laughs.
Osipova is matched with the ideal partner in Ivan Vasiliev, a Minsk native who was only 17 when he played Basil to her Kitri in London. He's unrelated to Vladimir Vasiliev, who defined the Bolshoi's aggressive male dancing style in the 1960s and '70s, but his potential is certainly in the same league.
Awestruck British dance journalists compared Vasiliev to the young Baryshnikov when he came to London with the Bolshoi in 2006. While he's not quite there yet, the comparison seems apt in some respects.
Like Baryshnikov and many other great Russian male ballet stars, Vasiliev is more stocky than willowy, with the energy of a coiled spring. His dancing is more about raw physical prowess than grace. And Vasiliev shares the Nureyev genius for drawing in and enthralling an audience. (His bows, imperious and slow, are eerily Nureyev-esque.)
Vasiliev didn't have a perfect night on Wednesday. Early on, he slipped during a turn, and his partnering showed a few unsteady moments.
But all was forgiven when Vasiliev unleashed his talents during solo turns.
His jumps grab more air than Olympics skaters'. His stage presence grew more electrifying with each entrance. You got the feeling that the vast onstage audience of Bolshoi members assembled for his third-act pyrotechnics – playing old Don Quixote, his faithful lieutenant Sancho Panza and the members of a royal court – were just as dazzled by his performance as we were.
There are other pleasures in this cast: Denis Savin's foppish, foolish Gamache, who is favored by Kitri's dad but can't hold a candle to Basil; Nina Kaptsova's puckish Cupid; Anna Antropova's Gypsy Dancer; and superb character dancer Alexey Loparevich as Don Quixote.
But Osipova and Vasiliev are the reasons to see this "Don Q." They return on Feb. 27 for the matinee and Feb. 28 in the evening. Marianna Ryzhkina and Mikhail Lobukhin play the leads in the remaining performances.
Just remember not to get too peeved by the shaky sets. They're mere window dressing to display some of the world's most breathtaking dancers.