Maria Alexandrova
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Alexandrova's Kitri at the Bolshoi

Don Quixote
Bolshoi Ballet
Bolshoi Theatre
Moscow, Russia
May 15, 2004

By Marc Haegeman

Over the years Moscow's Bolshoi Ballet has produced several outstanding Kitris. Ballerinas like Olga Lepeshinskaya, Maya Plisetskaya, Ekaterina Maximova, Nina Ananiashvili—to name but them—all left an indelible mark on Don Quixote's popular heroine, often contributing to the development of the role and setting new standards of interpretation, bravura and style.

With Maria Alexandrova the Bolshoi has another Kitri undoubtedly destined to join that gallery of greats. Recent seasons have established 25-year old Alexandrova as one of the company's most compelling and versatile talents of the moment. Surprisingly, and in spite of carrying the heaviest performing schedule in the Bolshoi—tirelessly alternating principal with daily soloist roles— she hasn't been seen that much as Kitri. Her performance in the role on May 15 was more than two years after she had last danced it at the Bolshoi. Seeing that performance left me w ondering why it took them so long. Surprisingly also, the Bolshoi still hasn't found a place among its principals for her.

The role seems tailor-made for Alexandrova, stylistically as well as temperamentally, and in spite of the long break the overall impression was one of authority and maturity. Kitri's entry, which remains by its immediate demand for bravura one of ballet's most terrifying moments, was—and I take the nerves of the first few instances for granted—blazing with power and delight. The beauty of Alexandrova's elevation while she burst upon the stage superbly blended with clear-cut terre-à-terre virtuosity. Attacking the ground with her pointes when required or hurling herself during the daring diving jumps into the arms of her Basilio—this was a Kitri who wouldn't stop for anything. And while the bubbly innkeeper's daughter is often painted with tons of histrionics and obvious glances, with Alexandrova it is the full-blooded dynamic of her dancing which contributes more than anything to the attractiveness and credibility of her character.

Alexandrova's Kitri is a spicy, carefree beauty any Basilio or Don would fight for, yet she is by no means a cheap tart, as some dancers prefer to think of the character. Perhaps untypical of the traditional Bolshoi dancer, but all the more characteristic of the new generation in this company, there was always enough classical polish to temper the bravura, preventing the ballet from turning into a mere display of continuous circus tricks.

What convinced me more than anything, however, was Alexandrova's ability to shade her dancing according to the stylistic needs of the various acts. More than a brilliant execution of the steps, the dramatic development of her character was mirrored by a welcome transformation of style and manner, following the demands of the choreography. The dream sequence, which is for many ballerinas a stumbling block because of its sudden classical grandeur and fairytale-like perfume in sharp contrast with the other acts, was in this respect a moment to die for.

The staging of the dream scene in the current production of Don Quixote is in itself a sublime moment—especially when seen on the immense Bolshoi stage— with its pastel-tinged dryads and cupids moving against the most enchanting of backdrops. Yet it was Alexandrova's presence which provided the greatest thrill of all. Here was a classical ballerina of unsuspected majesty and amplitude, who had supreme placement and etched the steps with finesse and precision.

Praise also for Alexandrova's dramatic veracity, unfortunately not always followed by her Basilio, the adequate and experienced, but eventually dullish Vladimir Neporozhny. There are a number of scenes in the ballet where the leading couple is not centre stage, but while Alexandrova remained in character, being out of the footlights was enough for Neporozhny to stop being Basilio. As a porteur, though, Neporozhny did what was expected of him and he handled the many lifts with panache. But one can only dream what Alexandrova would be like with a Basilio that fully matches her energy.

This Don Quixote, staged by former artistic director Alexei Fadeyechev in 1999, is a successful attempt to resurrect the spirit of Alexander Gorsky's production without sacrificing all the Soviet interpolations which equally have become an integral part of the Bolshoi's performance tradition. It needs to be seen in the Bolshoi Theatre, where Sergei Barkhin's grand, evocative sets find the proper space to breathe.

The supporting cast in this performance was not entirely top notch, even if the enthusiasm of the ensemble in this ballet is extremely catchy. With Maria Allash we had an excellent Queen of the Dryads, authoritative and glamorous, but I wished that Ksenia Pchelkina's Cupid had as much strength as she had charm. A heavy and obviously labouring Timofei Lavrenyuk as the Toreador surprisingly failed to invest his role with the required Hispanic elegance and flavour. Yuliana Malkhasyants was as always absolutely stunning in Goleizovsky's smouldering gypsy dance and Irina Semirechenskaya a sufficiently attractive Street Dancer. Anna Rebetskaya and Olga Stebletsova were Kitri's sparkling friends.

Character artists Alexei Loparevich and Sergei Minakov played Don Quixote and Sancho Panza as only the Russians can, while the students from the Moscow Dance Academy and the live animals completed the irresistible charm of this production. The magnificent Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra, exemplary conducted by the octogenarian Alexander Kopylov, gave a thoroughly passionate reading of Minkus's genial score.

The Bolshoi Ballet is gearing up for its three-week London tour this summer, where this Don Quixote will be shown as the opening programme. I can't think of a more exciting way to kick off this season than a performance with Maria Alexandrova as Kitri. Dreaming is allowed, after all.

Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 21
June 8, 2004

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