December 21, 2008

New Role

“Better to retire five years too early than five minutes too late,” is an adage of the ballet world that has been taken to heart by Sergei Filin, one of the Bolshoi Ballet’s greatest stars of the past two decades. Filin blended technical finesse with the strength for which the Bolshoi is known, excelling in a wider variety of styles than were easily accessible to earlier generations of Bolshoi premiers danseurs.  

At 38, he retired last fall to become artistic director of Moscow’s ballet troupe of the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko company, the capital’s second opera-ballet institution. The theater was established in 1941, combining two musical theaters separately run by Konstantin Stanislavsky and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, co-founders of the influential Moscow Art Theatre.  

To put it mildly, not all has been smooth sailing at the Stanislavsky in recent years. Ballet director Dmitri Briantsev was murdered in Prague in 2004, succeeded by Bolshoi great Mikhail Lavrovsky. Its theater in Moscow, which incorporates parts of a mansion that was burned in the Moscow conflagration of 1812, has seen more damage by fire followed by subsequent renovation over the past several years.

Filin’s qualifications for a vibrant second act have never been in doubt. “I think he can be a really good coach,” Elena Tchernichova told me from Moscow in the spring of 2007, when she was rehearsing Filin in Don Quixote opposite guest artist Diana Vishneva.


“I know it will be hard for me to stop dancing,” Filin told Dance Europe.  There is no question, however, that Filin leaves performing with his reputation untarnished. Last February he guested at the Brooklyn Academy of Music with the State Ballet of Georgia, whose director, Nina Ananiashvili, has been a frequent partner of his at the Bolshoi and on guest tours. In June 2007 their Giselle in New Haven with her company was memorable, a beautifully synchronized closing snapshot of their long partnership. — Joel Lobenthal


Gerald Arpino (1923–2008)

Artistic director emeritus of the Joffrey Ballet, Gerald Arpino, died in Chicago in October. He was 85.

He and Robert Joffrey founded the company in 1956. He shared Joffrey’s vision of forming an American ballet company devoted to reviving seminal early 20th-century masterpieces and showcasing contemporary works by American choreographers.

Originally one of the company’s leading dancers, Arpino devoted all his energies to choreographing after a severe back injury early on. His prolific contribution gave the company an identifiable aesthetic and a theatrical sense of energy that has lasted to the present.

His first ballet, Ropes, in 1961, employed ingenious manipulation by six men of the sole female dancer, suspended high above the stage in an ever-changing tangle of ropes. Viva Vivaldi, his 1965 ballet, became the company’s signature piece until he eclipsed himself by creating Trinity in 1970. This powerful “love-rock” ballet was performed across the U.S., in London, and the Soviet Union, bringing crowds to their feet, and converting people who normally were not enamored of ballet into fans. His battle-of-the-sexes duet, Valentine, in 1971, followed in later years by the rhapsodic Suite Saint-Saëns, the sensuous Light Rain, and the elegiac Round of Angels, all helped shape the image of the company. His ballets were known for their speedy footwork, fleeting criss-crossing entrances and exits, and their athleticism, all sprinkled with an attractive veneer of show-biz savvy. In all, he created 49 works for the Joffrey.

Having worked with Gerry (he later changed the spelling to Jerry) for 13 years as a member of the company in the ’60s and ’70s, I can attest to the indelible imprint he placed on Joffrey dancers. He was intense, funny, caustic, and passionate in the studio.

Gerry was not always articulate in creating movement, relying, more often than not, on the dancers to bring his ideas and images to fruition. While this was frustrating for those who wanted to be told what to do, it stimulated others and prompted them to become part of the creative experience.


I knew I was saying goodbye to Gerry when, in 2006, the year of the Joffrey’s 50th anniversary, Gary Chryst and I were invited back to perform with the company in Chicago. He was so happy to see us! He wanted only the best for all his “babies.” We shall miss him. —Christian Holder