Bolshoi's Coppelia in HD

At this point I'm really going to collapse from ballet-induced narcolepsy. After catching two Giselles in a row, I woke up early this morning to catch the Bolshoi in HD series, their last of the season. My main reason to see this was I wanted to see Sergei Vikharev's "new-old" reconstruction of Coppelia. I've seen both the ABT and NYCB versions, as well as the version the Royal Ballet does. But Vikharev's reconstructions are from the Sergeyev notations of the 1894 Petipa/Ceccheti version, and I was curious. The Leo Delibes score is always so delightful to listen to. And of course, I wanted to see Natalia Osipova.

What did I learn? Well, for one, that the Vikharev reconstruction looks basically like the versions the ABT and NYCB do. There are no major differences in either choreography, mime, or traditional stage business. The ABT version is by Freddie Franklin and Alexandra Danilova, the NYCB has Balanchine and Danilova, and after watching the Vikharev I must say Danilova and Balanchine must have had great memories of their days as students in the Imperial Ballet School, because their versions echo the Vikharev reconstruction note by note, step by step. Only Vikharev's costumes are more old-fashioned. I guess this is one ballet that has been fairly well-preserved, including the mime. The NYCB version has some original Balanchine choreography in the third divertissement act, but even then ... it kind of looks the same. There's even that big leap into fishdive that ends the wedding pas de deux.

The major difference in seeing the transmission was seeing the Bolshoi company itself present this ballet. They have over 200 dancers, including some dancers that are specialized in character dancing and folk dancing, and it shows. In Act One the character dancers tore up the Mazurka and Czardas in a whirlwind of foot stomping and hand clapping that American companies can never replicate. In American companies, the same dancers who dance the "character dances" have to jump into pointe shoes to dance the "classical" corps, and as a result they always look awkward with this sort of dancing. One or two soloists can pull it off, but the Bolshoi has like an army of dancers who can do this sort of thing in their sleep.

The other thing that's obvious from watching these transmissions is the top-down strength of the company. All of Swanilda's friends looked like future Swanildas in the making. Natalia Osipova when she dances with the ABT has such a different technique and style that it looks like a real Star Turn. When she's dancing at the Bolshoi, you see little Osipovas all over the place. They might not have her astounding elevation or her ability to turn like a top, but you can see the similarity in training and style. In the Act Three divertissement, Anna Tikhomirova danced the most showy variation (Folly), and showed off her huge jumps and theatrical flair. Russian ballet schools are famous for being basically 9 year uber-competitive torture chambers, where girls are plucked from all over the country and danced to death, until only the very strongest graduate. The upside is that the ones who make it are the best dancers in the world. It's cruel, but when it produces a corps de ballet that look like they are all stars in the making, it's hard to complain.

Natalia Osipova's Swanilda was basically all I expected from her. Great leaps and turns, very saucy personality. Swanilda is a mean girl, and Osipova played that part of the character wonderfully. The camera close-ups caught an upturned nose and patented bitch-face, and in Act Two this Swanilda takes real delight in torturing poor Dr. Coppelius (Gennadi Yanin). She was good pretending to be a stiff doll, but even then you could see the restlessness -- this doll really wanted to jump across the stage and cause trouble. In Act Three she predictably wowed the audience with some bouncy scissones, a series of traveling hops on pointe, and then finished with a series of traveling fouettes. As Franz, Vyacheslav Lopatin had much less dancing to do, but he was perfectly charming, if not exactly spectacular. I notice this is the downside to having an entire company of little Spartacuses and Basilios -- the Bolshoi often comes up short in the more low-key roles like Franz, I suspect because the "real stars" think a role like Franz is beneath them.

Osipova as jumping doll
I found a few videos of Osipova and Lopatin in Coppelia:

The costumes and scenery were all very pretty, without much of the heaviness and over-ornateness that reconstructions often have. The dresses were very charming village cotton skirts, and Dr. Coppelius's study looked less "weird" than in Western productions. The Act Three was extremely well-staged, with a huge clock in the background and little angels, and all the variations were excellent. Only Anna Nikulina in Prayer was sort of weak. Overall, a fun afternoon, even if Coppelia really isn't my favorite ballet. As a sidenote, before the performance began you could see Natalia Osipova smooching with her on-and-offstage partner, Ivan Vasiliev. It was sweet.


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