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The Bolshoi's Spartacus: Fortunately, Unfortunately
Fortunately, the Bolshoi's Don Q was fun and wonderful. Unfortunately its Swan Lake was dreary (though it livened up when our June cover girl, Olga Smirnova, took the lead). And so it goes.
Yuri Grigorovich's Spartacus, which wrapped up the Bolshoi's visit to Lincoln Center Festival this weekend, was neither fun nor dreary. It was emotionally wrought, forceful and complete with the hokey grandiosity familiar to us from Soviet times.
As I've written elsewhere, I was an extra in the Bolshoi's earlier version of Spartacus back in the '60s, which is what made me fall in love with the Bolshoi. I still find Khachaturian's Eastern-flavored music captivating, even though many people think it's too cinematic and overblown. The wild, bacchanalian scenes are wonderfully giddy. (No one ever accused Khachaturian of cautious good taste.)
All photos of Spartacus by Stephanie Berger
Fortunately: The opening scene, when the wall of shields held by Crassus' men breaks up into separate individual fighters, is visually stunning. The warriors hunker down, moving from side to side with a kind of primitivism that's right for a story about a slave revolt in Roman times.
Unfortunately: The stiff-legged kicks of the men and women prepped for war look either like Nazi goose steps or a chorus line.
Fortunately: As the sexy and triumphant Aegina, reigning star Svetlana Zakharova was totally in her element. The combination of sinewy seductiveness and absolute power befit her way more than Odette/Odile.
Unfortunately: Crassus kept mauling Aegina's writhing torso, reminding me of Dr. Coppelius dragging his hands along Franz's back in the belief that he could draw the life force out of him and put it into his mechanical doll.
Fortunately: There is something about this old-style Soviet spectacle, and the Bolshoi dancers' go-for-broke commitment, that explains Spartacus' reputation as a crowd-pleaser. If you can get into it—and leave your aesthetics at the door—you get swept along with the bombast.
Spartacus killed with swords
Fortunately: Spartacus' leaps on a diagonal are spectacular (as executed by opening-night lead Mikhail Lobukhin).
Unfortunately: Spartacus' spectacular leaps on a diagonal are repeated at least five times throughout the evening.
Fortunately: The killing of Spartacus is definitely worthy of a hero's death, with dozens of spears raising him up high as he droops over them.
Unfortunately: When Aegina seduces a bunch of Spartacus' wayward men, she resorts to a genre that looks very much like pole dancing.
Fortunately: The passionate, yearning pas de deux between Spartacus and Phrygia tugs at your heart.
Unfortunately: At one point during that duet, Spartacus focuses intently on, and caresses, Phrygia's foot.
Fortunately: Zakharova as Aegina has fabulous legs and feet.
Unfortunately: The wigs! In the second act, Crassus' soldiers all wear identical pageboy wigs. Grigorovich's Sleeping Beauty has wigs too. This silly tradition drags us back a couple of centuries and robs the dancers of their individuality. (I also think the wig habit has rubbed off on Alexei Ratmansky, who deploys scores of identical wigs in ballets like The Firebird and Namouna.)
Fortunately and Unfortunately: I loved the revelry of the drunken party scene when Aegina seduces Spartacus' men but wished the movement were more abandoned and truly wild instead of just fast.
Whether playing a saucy soubrette or an imperious swan, Irina Dvorovenko was always a formidable presence on the American Ballet Theatre stage. Since her 2013 retirement at 39, after 16 seasons, she's been bringing that intensity to an acting career in roles ranging from, well, Russian ballerinas to the Soviet-era newcomer she plays in the FX spy series "The Americans."
We caught up with her after tech rehearsal for the Encores! presentation of the musical Grand Hotel, directed and choreographed by Josh Rhodes and running March 21–25 at New York City Center. It's another tempestuous ballerina role for Dvorovenko—Elizaveta Grushinskaya, on her seventh farewell tour, resentfully checks into the Berlin hostelry of the title with her entourage, only to fall for a handsome young baron and sing "Bonjour, Amour."
When Andrew Montgomery first saw the Las Vegas hit Le Rêve - The Dream 10 years ago, he knew he had to be a part of the show one day. Eight years later, he auditioned, and made it to the last round of cuts. On his way home, still waiting to hear whether he'd been cast, he was in a motorcycle accident that ended up costing him half his leg.
But Montgomery's story doesn't end the way you might think. Today, he's a cast member of Le Rêve, where he does acrobatics and aerial work, swims (yes, the show takes places in and around a large pool) and dances, all with his prosthetic leg.
When you spend as much time on the road as The Royal Ballet's Steven McRae, getting access to a proper gym can be a hassle. To stay fit, the Australian-born principal turns to calisthenics—the old-school art of developing aerobic ability and strength with little to no equipment.
"It's basically just using your own body weight," McRae explains. "In terms of partnering, I'm not going to dance with a ballerina who is bigger than me, so if I can sustain my own body weight, then in my head I should be fine."
Last week in a piece I wrote about the drama at English National Ballet, I pointed out that many of the accusations against artistic director Tamara Rojo—screaming at dancers, giving them the silent treatment, taking away roles without explanation—were, unfortunately, pretty standard practice in the ballet world:
If it's a conversation we're going to have, we can't only point the finger at ENB.
The line provoked a pretty strong response. Professional dancers, students and administrators reached out to me, making it clear that it's a conversation they want to have. Several shared their personal stories of experiencing abusive behavior.
Christopher Hampson, artistic director of the Scottish Ballet, wrote his thoughts about the issue on his company's website on Monday:
Camille A. Brown is on an impressive streak: In October, the Ford Foundation named her an Art of Change fellow. In November, she won an AUDELCO ("Viv") Award for her choreography in the musical Bella: An American Tall Tale. On December 1, her Camille A. Brown & Dancers made its debut at the Kennedy Center, and two days later she was back in New York City to see her choreography in the opening of Broadway's Once on This Island. Weeks later, it was announced that she was choreographing NBC's live television musical Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, to air on April 1.
An extraordinarily private person, few knew that during this time Brown was in the midst of a health crisis. It started with an upset stomach while performing with her company on tour last summer.
"I was drinking ginger ale, thinking that I would feel better," she says. Finally, the pain became so acute that she went to the emergency room in Mississippi. Her appendix had burst. "Until then, I didn't know it was serious," she says. "I'm a dancer—aches and pains don't keep you from work."
A flock of polyamorous princes, a chorus of queer dying swans, a dominatrix witch: These are a few of the characters that populate the works of Katy Pyle, who, with her Brooklyn-based company Ballez, has been uprooting ballet's gender conventions since 2011.
Historically, ballet has not allowed for the expression of lesbian, transgender or gender-nonconforming identities. With Ballez, Pyle is reinventing the classical canon on more inclusive terms. Her work stems from a deep love of ballet and, at the same time, a frustration with its limits on acceptable body types and on the stories it traditionally tells.
The latest fitness fad has us literally buzzing. Vibrating tools—and exercise classes—promise added benefits to your typical workout and recovery routine, and they're only growing more popular.
Warning: These good vibrations don't come cheap.
My life is in complete chaos since my dance company disbanded. I have a day job, so money isn't the issue. It's the loss of my world that stings the most. What can I do?
—Lost Career, Washington, DC
Dance Theatre of Harlem is busy preparing for the company's Vision Gala on April 4. The works on the program, which takes place on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., reflect on the legacy of Dr. King and his impact on company founder Arthur Mitchell. Among them is the much-anticipated revival of legendary choreographer Geoffrey Holder's Dougla, which will include live music and dancers from Collage Dance Collective.
We stepped into the studio with Holder's wife Carmen de Lavallade and son Leo Holder to hear what it feels like to keep Holder's legacy alive and what de Lavallade thinks of the recent rise in kids standing up against the government—as she did not too long ago.
The encounter with man-eating female creatures in Jerome Robbins' The Cage never fails to shock audiences. As this tribe of insects initiates the newly-born Novice into their community and prepares her for the attack of the male Intruders, the ballet draws us into a world of survival and instinct.
This year celebrates the 100th anniversary of Jerome Robbins' birth, and a number of Robbins programs are celebrating his timeless repertoire. But it especially feels like a prime moment to experience The Cage again. Several companies are performing it: San Francisco Ballet begins performances on March 20, followed by the English National Ballet in April and New York City Ballet in May.
Why it matters: In this time of female empowerment—as women are supporting one another in vocalizing injustices, demanding fair treatment and pay, and advocating for future generations—The Cage's nest of dominant women have new significance.