The Highs and Lows of the Benois de la Danse

Uliana Lopatkina and Andrey Yermakov in Hans Van Manen's Trois Gnociennes. Photo © Mikhail Logvinov.

The Benois de la danse is a major international dance prize for ballet professionals but little known in the States. Produced in cooperation with the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, this year the nominees include dancers from Italy, Germany, the U.S., England, Norway and, of course, Russia. Winners included Christopher Wheeldon in choreography (for The Winter’s Tale at The Royal Ballet), the Bolshoi’s Svetlana Zakharova and The Royal Ballet’s Edward Watson. (For a complete list of winners, nominees and jury members, click here.) In some years the U.S. was not represented on the jury, but this year Desmond Richardson, who is a beloved performer in Russia, served as a juror. I attended the two-night Benois celebration, May 26–27, as a guest of the Benois.

Clifford Williams in Dwight Rhoden's And So It Is. Photo © Jack Devant.

High points • Alexandra Ekman, European dancer/choreographer: For his Thoughts at the Bolshoi, he cleared the sometimes musty air at the Bolshoi Theatre by switching on bright white lights, walking on with a bench under his arm, and prancing around the stage impishly—even devilishly. Quirky and speedy, he somehow made running around in circles a witty, comic act.• The Bolshoi’s Olga Smirnova: Ravishing in a swooning duet from Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Taming of the Shrew, partnered by Semyon Chudin.• Clifford Williams of Complexions: Amazing suppleness and power in Dwight Rhoden’s And So It Is, matching the elegance of the Bach harpsichord music.• Ivan Vasiliev: Tragically distorted as the Hunchback, he brought a great pathos to a duet with La Scala’s Nicoletta Manni from Roland Petit’s Notre Dame de Paris.• John Neumeier’s Desire: A sleek and heartfelt duet to Scriabin, danced beautifully by Hamburg Ballet stars Silvia Azzoni and Alexander Riabko.• Uliana Lopatkina of the Mariinsky Ballet: transfixing in Hans Van Manen’s meticulous yet bold Trois Gnociennes. I felt like I was in a snow globe with her, her partner (Andrey Yermakov) and the Satie music. Her Dying Swan was a statement of pristine, unaffected beauty.• Hamburg Ballet’s Alexander Riabko: As the man gone mad in Roland Petit’s Arlesienne, he held tension in during the first half, then burst into dashes and leaps across the stage to Bizet’s famous music.(The programs also included works by Ashton, MacMillan, Ek, Grigorovich, Schläpfer, Cranko, Nureyev, Gzovsky and Petipa.)The Lifetime Achievement award was given to Brigitte Lefèvre, and the first joint Positano/Benois Laureate, Ana Laguna, was on hand. (For more about Positano, where I am a member of the jury, see my previous posting here.)

Low Points • The fact that only one of the five winners (Svetlana Zakharova) was present to accept the award.• The obnoxious claqueur, meaning the man who yelled "Bravo" loudly and led the rhythmic clapping only for the Russians, not for any other dancers.• While Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, danced by the Bolshoi’s Evgenia Obraztsova and Chudin had a lovely expansive quality, the two dancers took bows between every section, slowing down the momentum of Balanchine's eight-minute gem.

For complete list of nominees, winners and jury members, and program credits, click here.

By Wendy Perron

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Stark Photo Productions, Courtesy Harlequin

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December 2020