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By Kina Poon
What distinguishes Bolshoi Ballet Academy graduates from other dancers? It has been said that there is a bravado that possesses dancers trained in the Bolshoi style, a sense of abandon that comes with the territory. Audiences can see it for themselves when 10 top Academy graduates perform “Reflections,” which premieres at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, CA, on Jan. 20 and moves to the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow on Jan. 27.
The American viewer may recognize Maria Kochetkova, the San Francisco Ballet principal, and Natalia Osipova, the Bolshoi ballerina who is a guest principal with American Ballet Theatre. Joining them is Polina Semionova, the Berlin Staatsoper Ballet principal who was plucked from the Academy by Vladimir Malakhov to be his star.
Less familiar may be Ballet Estonia’s Olga Malinovskaya and the Bolshoi’s Yekaterina Shipulina and Yekaterina Krysanova (a 2010 “25 to Watch”). Four male Bolshoi stars—Alexander Volchkov, Vyacheslav Lopatin, Denis Savin, and the phenomenal Ivan Vasiliev—complete the cast.
So which choreographers to choose for these Bolshoi Academy luminaries? Petipa? Grigorovich? Producer Sergei Danilian instead dreamt of bringing the best contemporary ballet choreography to OCPAC and, more intriguingly, to Moscow (all of the commissions will enter the Bolshoi repertoire). It took years of planning, but Danilian put together a remarkable program: Mauro Bigonzetti has made the 45-minute Cinque for five women, who will rotate each performance, and the ballerinas will each perform a tailor-made solo. Osipova’s is by Wayne McGregor, Krysanova’s by Karole Armitage, Malinovskaya’s by Lucinda Childs, Semionova’s by Jirí Bubenicek, Shipulina’s by Aszure Barton, and Kochetkova’s by Jorma Elo.
While Danilian chose most of the choreographer-dancer pairings, Kochetkova approached Elo herself. Elo, who made Double Evil for SFB in 2008, says that he jumped at the chance to work with Kochetkova again. “The most exciting thing for me is finding new ways to do things with a dancer I have created with before,” he says. “Masha really loves the craft. Her eyes are everywhere—she doesn’t just look at the choreographer, but at all the dancers. I like that intensity.”
The dancers and some of the choreographers had a monthlong residency at OCPAC last August. (This is the fourth partnership between Danilian’s production company, Ardani Artists, and OCPAC after “Kings of the Dance,” “Diana Vishneva: Beauty in Motion,” and “Tour de Force.”) Kochetkova, due to touring obligations, had less time in Costa Mesa than the other dancers. “The girls had to help me a lot. But I loved it—we worked from 9 in the morning until 10 at night, and afterwards we would all go to dinner.” The dancers rehearsed in Moscow, Berlin, and San Francisco through the fall and winter before reconvening in Orange County this month.
The program will open with Remansos, a new version of a Nacho Duato work made for American Ballet Theatre. Three couples, rather than three male dancers, will perform the piece, set to a haunting piano solo by Enrique Granados. While remansos can translate loosely to “reflections,” for Danilian, it is the ballerinas’ personal response to dance, their “feelings, passion, and emotions” that inspired the title. Also on the bill will be Balanchine’s Pas de Trois (1951) and a new work by Johan Kobborg.
But despite the impressive array of choreography, the focus remains on the dancers. “Most important for me was to have ballerinas who graduated from Bolshoi Ballet Academy to see how they made their careers,” says Danilian. “Some left Moscow for Berlin like Polina or San Francisco like Maria. Some started from deep in Bolshoi corps to the front line. But all represent the same generation.”
Kochetkova agrees. “I never thought we’d be in the same studio again! This project is amazing because maybe audiences will see similarities—and differences—between us.” —Kina Poon
Pictured: Polina Semionova and Denis Savin rehearsing at OCPAC. Photo by Doug Gifford, Courtesy OCPAC.