A Festival of Russian Ballet

Regent Theatre, The Octagon, Dunedin

05/11/2011 - 05/11/2011

Civic Theatre, cnr of Queen Street & Wellesley Street West, Auckland

28/10/2011 - 29/10/2011

St James Theatre 2, Wellington

12/11/2011 - 13/11/2011

Aurora Centre, Burnside, Christchurch

10/11/2011 - 10/11/2011

Production Details

Act One – Don Quixote

Don Quixote was first performed in Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre in 1869. Since then it has been performed all over the world by Russian and International companies. Former Bolshoi soloist and head of the Imperial Russian Ballet Company, Gediminas Taranda, has taken the four acts of the original ballet with its gradual evolution and transformed it into one impetuous act.

Act Two – Bolero

Bolero is a striking and dramatic ballet. Ravel was inspired to create this masterpiece after visiting a large industrial factory. There he noticed the slow regular movement of the assembly lines and the crash of machine and materials. Bolero is regarded as one of the world’s music masterpieces.

Act Three – Highlights from the world’s great ballets including Giselle, Carmen, The Dying Swan and Le Corsaire. Also in Act Three, Gopak and Ne Me Quittes Pas, Can Can Surprise The Imperial Russian Ballet Company have performed this three-hour ballet extravaganza all around the world, thrilling audiences and impressing critics.

Not available - visit www.russianballet.com.au 

2 hours

A festival of music, movement and colour

Review by Greer Robertson 14th Nov 2011

Performers have been collected from major ballet schools of Russia to make up the Imperial Russian Ballet Company for the Australia and New Zealand Tour. Along with soloists from mainly Russia, dancers present versions of the classics in a very long 3 hour programme.

I am pleased to report that the presentation and quality has improved over the years, with this years’ corps de ballet selection being of a more even standard. The students’ height and body composition this time is more befitting a mainstream professional company, but technically there is a noticeable lack of uniform fundamental basics. The overall use of turnout should be the single most important requirement in ballet that separates this art form from any other dance genre or sport. Sadly, in coming from a variety of different dance education backgrounds, this main element is seen as a definite struggle and non existent at times.

The programme opens with a colourful and lively presentation of Don Quixote,  the original four act ballet condensed into a one act pocket version. With unusual pregnant pauses, the taped orchestral music, albeit with improved quality, is not ideal in creating continuity and an understandable storyline flow. However, by comparison to productions seen in previous visits by the company, this Don Quixote employs a variety of painted scenery backcloths, and costumes are seemingly quite new.

The male dancers flourish their scarlet matador capes with vim, vigour and broad expansive attack.  The female dancer performing Kitri is clipped and concise, technically a large leap away from the standard of the corps de ballet as she includes her speciality of double fouettes executed with one hand on her hip. This one-handed skill is also at times seen in the pas de deux as her male partner lifts her with consummate ease in a one-armed pressage high above his head. Even to an unskilled eye, these acrobatic feats require strength, and the audience, largely made up of the very elderly and the very young, responded with spontaneous applause.

On this grueling two nation tour, with performances very close together and even two on the same day,  the dancers have very little time to catch their breath in between performances. I’m sure they could count up a large quantity of plies, pirouettes and perspiration per day if they dared.  No wonder the corps de ballet is at times seen to slip into an unanimated status when not physically dancing but still required to decorate the stage.

On to Bolero. Unfortunately this presents a very tired and dated use of choreography and energy to Ravel’s glorious music, though the dancers are well rehearsed and appear more at ease in their free-formed movement and flowing black robes on the dimly lit uncluttered stage.

In the final bracket, snippets of well known classics are performed, with the pas de deux from Giselle being a highlight for me. Ethereally in command of both atmosphere and  emotion, the two soloists are technically worthy of praise. I also enjoy the female soloist in Le Corsaire as she demonstrates power and placing in this age-old favourite, and the dancer performing the Dying Swan shows grace in her arms and upper body with liquid, fluid port de bras.  Finally, sweeping towards a rousing energetic finish to end, a few light comedy pieces had the male dancers demonstrating acrobatic leaps a la Russian style.

It is a festival of music, movement and colour.



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Audience declares evening a resounding success

Review by Toby Behan 11th Nov 2011

With Russia being a rich and integral component of ballet history, a company bearing the title of The Imperial Russian Ballet brings with it a weight of expectation and promise of authenticity. Such authenticity is visible aplenty over the evening’s programme, comprised of a condensed version of Don Quixote (full programme to tour New Zealand in 2012), a dramatic version of Ravel’s Bolero, and a third act divertissement containing short, light and popular fare – a pas de deux from Giselle, the Dying Swan solo, an excerpt from Le Corsaire, and some lighter hearted numbers. The heritage of Diaghilev, in the form of swirling colour and the promise of lavish spectacle – fiercely protective over the integrity of The Ballet – proved infectious to the audience in the theatre.

That very protectiveness, although not clearly evident to all (it does not need to be) is perhaps the most powerful and successful component of the evening. Just as one automatically listens more attentively to a speaker who is clearly passionate about his or her subject, so it is with watching the Imperial Russian Ballet perform. The enjoyment of the show is increased simply because of the clear belief, distinctive style, rich history and sheer integrity of the performance.

The company was formed in 1994 by Bolshoi Theater soloist Gediminas Taranda and has 40 dancers from the major ballet schools of Moscow and Perm, as well as guest artists, making up the body of performers. The technical level of the dancers on display throughout the performance reflects this mix of graduate students and professional dancers – some elegant and precise performances of poise (notably the Giselle pas de deux), mixed with some weaker technical dancers. Rather than a negative aspect of the performance, such a mix is to be cherished as it provides the opportunity for the younger dancers to grow their craft alongside some of the best.

The condensed version of Don Quixote is arguably more appealing than a full-length version, which can often find even the most devoted mind wandering whilst viewing. While the comedic elements of the performance seemed forced rather than spontaneous, the lead dancers were assured and competent, with Yaroslava Araptanova a committed and spirited Kitri with clean lines and devilish eyes, complemented superbly by the ice-cool Nariman Bekjanov. Bekjanov showed great elevation and interpreted the role of Basilio with a clever (and endearing) air of detachment – a great foil for his love interest. Also a standout as one of Kitri’s friends was Ekaterina Tikanova with assured technique and artistry.

There is a real contrast from the garish colour of Don Quixote to the dark, atmosphere of Bolero. Clad in black and gold cloaks (men and women alike), the piece relies heavily on layered structures of corps work – alternately expanding to fill the stage and contracting to impossibly confined spaces surrounding a central queen like figure upon a huge central dais. The more modern choreography (more Russian neo-classical than any contemporary style as New Zealand knows it) makes good use of the sweeping visual effect of the cloaks, and builds with Ravel’s towering music to an impressive (if rather over-dramatic) finale.

The third act provided (in this reviewer’s opinion) the highlights of the evening in the form of Gopak (a delightful male solo with flashy Cossack-type whirling aerobatics), and a sensitive portrayal of the pas de deux from the second act of Giselle. Here the authenticity shines; here the magic of Russian ballet is clearly evident. There are moments of amusement too, as the act opens with The Dance of The Horses (although truth be told – the piece is really one step away from making one cringe, with the dancers clothed as jockeys and dancing to the William Tell Overture). In a similar way, the finale of the evening – Can Can Surprise, brings the audience to its feet with delight – whilst simultaneously managing to be an awkward blend of old-fashioned slapstick and French flair – the sophistication required to truly pull this off is simply not present.

The audience reaction however, fittingly, has the last say in the matter, rightfully declaring the evening a resounding success. Lovely to see the dancers adapt to their audience as well, with one of the dancers donning an All Blacks top for the curtain call and a rugby ball being thrown to the crowd as a parting gift. 


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Flashes of well-disciplined dance

Review by Kasey Dewar 07th Nov 2011

The Imperial Russian Ballet Company’s A Festival of Russian Ballet was a must-see for me. I had attended a performance of theirs in Dunedin a few years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I was thrilled to attend their performance at the Regent Theatre in Dunedin, Saturday the 5th November. The Company was formed in 1994 and includes dancers from around Russia and leading Russian ballet academies, as well as neighbouring countries including Kazakhstan, Moldova and Ukraine.

 This performance comprises three acts covering a range of classical and modern ballet pieces, thus the use of the word ‘festival’ in the title.

The show opens with a condensed version of the ballet “Don Quixote” (which will be performed full length when this company tours New Zealand in 2012). The ballet was first performed in Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre in 1869, with music by Ludvig Minkus. The original choreography was by Marius Petipa, with modern versions usually based on the choreography of Alexander Gorsky. The company’s Artistic Director Gediminas Taranda manages to pack in elements of the original four acts into one act for this performance.

While the programme briefly covers the story of the original ballet, it wasn’t until I had investigated further on the internet that I was able to understand what was being covered in this piece. After a few technical difficulties with the curtain, the scene opens in a market place. Perhaps for this reason, the dancers’ timing is a little off in places and the beginning of the performance isn’t as polished as it could have been.

This shortened version of the ballet mainly covers the story of Kitri, Lorenzo the Innkeeper’s daughter and the man she loves Basilio, the village Barber. Lorenzo promises Gamache, a local nobleman, that he may have Kitri’s hand in marriage but Kitri refuses and runs away with Basilio. Lorenzo and Gamache chase after them and when they finally catch them, Basilio pretends to stab himself with a sword in order to be allowed to marry Kitri as his dying wish. Lorenzo takes pity on him and agrees to the union, and Basilio jumps up and shows everyone he isn’t actually injured!

I enjoy watching Yaroslava Araptanova as Kitri in this piece – she is definitely the stand-out performer. With richly coloured costumes and an abundance of dancers on stage at any one time, it is certainly a busy piece, though at times confusing and tricky to decipher what is going on.

The second act is my favourite of the three. ‘‘Bolero’’ has music from Maurice Ravel and choreography by Nikolay Androsov. This is Ravel’s most famous composition, inspired by his visit to  a large industrial plant full of machines clunking and grinding away. The dancers wear black and gold costumes with collars reminiscent of Egyptian Pharaohs. The repetitive dance steps become more frantic as the music builds towards a crescendo, conveying the movement of the machines and the story described in the programme. This  piece is polished – the dancers’ timing is very good and it is an exciting performance to watch.

Act three is an eclectic mix of dances from some of the most famous ballets, including the well-known Giselle and Carmen. Six dances are presented in quick succession, opening with ‘Dance of the Horses’ inspired by the Melbourne Cup which draws giggles from the crowd. I thoroughly enjoy ‘The Dying Swan’ which was originally performed by Anna Pavlova, along with the piece from Giselle which is beautifully done. ‘Ne me Quittes Pas’ effectively conveys the pain of parting as described on the programme and is wonderfully danced and choreographed. The audience certainly appreciates the piece from Carmen, which receives a large round of applause at the end, as well as the closing number named ‘Can Can Surprise’ – the surprise becoming evident early in the piece! 

A deafening amount of whistling and clapping at the end of the performance is proof that the audience have enjoyed the show, not surprising considering the wide range of genres covered. There has been something to entertain most of the theatre-goers. The same elements that I enjoyed last time were on show. The richly coloured costumes, energetic performances and flashes of well-disciplined dance kept me interested. Well worth a look.  


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An eclectic array of works

Review by Rosemary Martin 29th Oct 2011

I remember seeing a performance similar to ‘A Festival of Russian Ballet’ when I was nine years old. I clearly recall loving every minute of the performance and leafing through the glossy program for months afterwards, eventually cutting out the images of chocolate-box ballerinas to make a collage on the cover of a school exercise book that I never wanted to use because the pictures were so precious. When getting ready for this current performance, a part of me was hoping that the sparkly costumes, bravado performances and lengthy curtain calls might still be able to ‘wow’ me in some way, I also thought that perhaps such productions from touring companies presenting ‘Russian Ballet’ could have changed in some way now that we are in the 21st Century. Maybe there would be something a little risqué or innovative in the program, or perhaps Julie Kent and Diana Vishneva would be dancing, since both dancers (who are eminent within the ballet world) were named on the The Imperial Russian Ballet Company’s website as collaborators.

 The ‘Imperial Russian Ballet’ was the original name of the company currently known as Kirov Ballet, however, this ‘Imperial Russian Ballet’ company currently touring New Zealand seems to have little connection with the legendary institution in Saint Petersburg. Rather, it appears to be riding on the name alone and the guise that ‘Russian’ ballet must be in some way ‘superior’ to other lineages of the art form. Under the directorship of Gediminas Taranda the company presented an eclectic array of works, ranging from excerpts of 18th Century classics to slivers of contemporary choreographies, under the banner of A Festival of Russian Ballet. With no cast list provided for the performance it was impossible to know who was dancing what roles, or to credit the individual dancers who produced convincing performances.

 Don Quixote was presented as the first ‘act’ and was a mishmash of scenes. Condensing a ballet that is usually four acts into just one in no easy task and is probably not ever going to do the original version justice. The curtain lifted to reveal a tired, shabby set and a large contingent of dancers filling the stage. We are immediately taken to the market place scene and launched into Kitri’s solo. The dancer performing the role of Kitri was more sylph than vixen, and while technically clean she lacked the zest required in the role. The men dancing the roles of Basilio (Kitri’s lover) and Lorenzo (Kitri’s father) added little to the performance. Basilio lacked the technical vivacity necessitated, while the characterization of Lorenzo disturbingly swayed between philanderer and buffoon. While the dancers generally presented what the audience were after – fouettés, single hand press-lifts, en ménage jumps and turns (and the audience responded in kind with rapturous applause) – there was limited context provided for the work and confusion at times over the difference between pantomime and balletic narrative. The corps de ballet looked bored and technically sloppy, and while the physicality and aesthetic of ‘Russian’ ballet technique when performed well can look startlingly brilliant (go on, look up ‘Svetlana Zakharova’ on Youtube) a mediocre presentation of such aesthetics can be cringe worthy.

 Bolero, the second ‘act’ of the evening, was set to Maurice Ravel’s celebrated composition that has been used for everything from car advertisements to film soundtracks. The more modern staging of the work, with a bare set and relatively minimalistic costuming suited the company well, with the dancers looking much more comfortable. Conversely, the choreography by Nikolay Androsov was somewhat dated, with Orientalistic undertones permeating the movement and images created.

 The third ‘act’ presented ‘highlights’ from Giselle, Carmen, The Dying Swan, Le Corsaire, Gopak, Ne Me Quittes Pas, and the Can Can Surprise. Both Giselle (Act II pas de deux) and Le Corsaire (Act I pas de deux) were indeed highlights, with both couples presenting polished technique and refined artistic interpretations of these intricate pas de deux. Ne Me Quittes Pas, a solo choreographed by Elena Bogdanovich for a female dancer again illuminated the company’s strengths in performing more modern works. Carmen and the Can Can Surprise, although appearing to be audience favorites came across as tacky, to the point of almost being vulgar.

 The taped orchestral scores for each piece performed and the awkward pauses between scene changes left the entire evening feeling unpolished and unprofessional. However, I couldn’t help but notice the atmosphere leaving the auditorium. A young girl, no more than five or six, dressed in a pink tutu walked on demi-pointe wide eyed up the aisle, groups of women whispered, “wasn’t that beautiful” to each other and an older couple sat in their seats smiling, absorbing the ambiance. While it was unfortunate that the quality of the performance was not going to enhance general audiences’ understandings of ballet in any way, I was somewhat glad that the sparkly costumes, bravado performances and lengthy curtain calls were still a hit for most of the audience, and that people were filling up a theatre to watch dance and enjoying it.


Cecelia October 30th, 2011

 Oh dear sounds similar to an Imperial Russian Ballet performance I attended in Wellington a few years ago.  It bore little resemblance to it's glitzy highly glamorous TV promotion.  Many of the performers looked as though they may have been world class at some stage but now appeared as has-been and washed-up as the costumes.  The attempt to reinvigorate the tired old costumes with sparkle was unconvincing.  

However on that occasion I also was astounded at the star-struck audience sitting in their seats cheering, clapping and even stamping.... "oh weren't they amazing, we'd never get anything like that locally" said a group sitting behind me. I didn't know whether to laugh, cry or want to slap them.  It's this kiwi psychy that if it's from somewhere exotic (like Russia) it MUST be better than we can produce.  Yes it's good that audiences see something that thrills them so much but when a second (or worse) rate show takes the discretionary dollar that could be spent on local performance, I think it's quite sad.

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