Reviews – Sergei Polunin

Category: Reviews

Reviews of anything pertaining to Sergei Polunin.

Pam Finally Sees Sergei Dance

Pam Finally Sees Sergei Dance

After years of editing pixels, cutting music, creating videos, Pam Boehme Simon gets to see him in real life. Pam finally sees Sergei dance!

Pam Finally Sees Sergei Dance


I hesitate to start writing anything at all, as no mere words will do justice.

But I’m gonna try.

First, the trip there.  Sacramento, California is in no way shape or form close to where I live.  I live two hours east of Houston in a tiny town called Orange.  We are the last town in Texas on Interstate 10 before you cross the border into Louisiana.  In a straight line, it’s 1684 miles or 2709 kilometers from Orange to Sacramento.  My trip there involved about 2 hours drive time, 3 airports, 4 hours layover time, and 10 hours flight time.  However, totally worth it.  I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

I went to Sacramento for no other reason than to see Sergei dance, so after arriving I pretty much sat in my hotel room waiting…

I arrived at the Crest Theater in downtown Sacramento a little more than an hour early.  The theater is like out of a dream!  Fantastical, whimsical, amazing!  From the tiny little ticket booth out front to the “blue sky” ceiling in the main space… oh my.  I could not imagine a more perfect venue for what was to come.   Built in 1948 by Fox West Coast Theatres, it opened July 7, 1949.  Mostly still original, the highly stylized, art deco theater is host to concerts, Red Carpet movie premieres, comedy shows, private events and more.  At some point in time, the Crest was bought by Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft.  In 1996 they sold it to Gloria León who still owns it today.  It was designated “Historic” in 2010.

Once near my seat, I met Kathleen, a fellow Sergei fan.  It was great to meet another supporter!  Our seats were near each other front to back.  I also knew that fan “Evil DelBono” would be there as well.  She had told me earlier that she had already purchased tickets to see Estas Tonne BEFORE even knowing Sergei would be there!  She needless to say was thrilled when his guest appearance was announced.  We did not meet, but I know she was there.  =)

So, the show starts.  Estas Tonne, was incredible.  I admit never hearing of him before ever, but his music and talent were astounding.  We were told we would be going on a “journey” and we certainly were.  The music was mesmerizing.  I couldn’t help but close my eyes and watch the pictures conjured up in the darkness behind my eyelids.  THANK GOODNESS for Kathleen, who turned back and whispered me back to awareness just as Sergei was stepping onto the stage!

My first glimpse of Sergei in real life, onstage…

First thought that entered my head, silly enough:

“I’ve joked before about being jealous of others who were on the same continent as Sergei, and now I’m actually in the same room.  I’M ACTUALLY IN THE SAME ROOM.”

He stepped lightly and silently onto the stage, coming up from steps on stage right.  Tonne’s music was quiet and gentle, and Sergei moved accordingly.  He was beautiful.  Like a being somewhere above “human” in the movement hierarchy… he was delicate and precise, yet, with less effort than a sigh, he would suddenly achieve light speed and launch himself into the stratosphere like we know only he can.  Then, he would touch back down to earth as softly as the sun puddles on the floor.  I actually only heard him make an audible noise landing from a jump once.  It was during a silent moment of the guitar music, and the “thump, thump” of Sergei’s feet were in perfect time with the music.  Tonne’s fingers stilled on the strings briefly, and Sergei’s feet finished the measure perfectly.  “Thump, thump.”  To control a landing so musically… wow.

A few more thoughts that drifted through my head as I watched Sergei dance:

“Graceful is an understatement.”

“How does he pull such power out of nowhere??!?”

“He doesn’t make shapes, he passes through them.”

“He dances completely inside himself, yet he is inside out… so we see everything (this one seems to makes no sense but I couldn’t find another way to put it lol).”

Sergei appeared three times.  The first two, clad all in black, and the third time, he changed into a simple white tee shirt.  I could see a story in my mind.  He took us from tentative searching and careful exploring, wondering and wandering, to finally confident contentment, powerful joy, and  brilliant happiness.  When he moved, there was nothing else in the room.  Just Sergei.  Even Tonne watched Sergei as he danced about him on the stage.

Then, there was the energy.  Sergei had set the room on fire.  Not a harsh, red, destructive fire… but a dazzling, white, cleansing fire.  One that burned without burning.  THIS is how he inspires!  He puts forth an energy that shoots like a laser beam into your mind, heart, and soul.  Inspiration.  Like a blinding white light that hits you so hard you feel the percussion of it.  Stunning, yet painless.  Primal, yet it propels you to a more complex plane of consciousness.

It makes…

It makes you WANT TO.


I will never be the same.

Thank you Sergei.


Video:  Sergei’s first of three times onstage (check back, I will add the others).

Another Glowing Review! Sergei’s 2013 Mayerling

Another Glowing Review! Sergei’s 2013 Mayerling

Another glowing review of Sergei as the tragic Crown Prince Rudolf!  The ballet “Mayerling” is based on the horrific real life story of the Mayerling incident.  This review is from The Arts Desk in Moscow.

theartsdesk in Moscow: Sergei Polunin triumphs in Mayerling

Royal Ballet rebel leaves Russians numb as MacMillan finally reaches them

another glowing review
Never a “skull” moment as Sergei Polunin’s Rudolf terrorises his wife Stephanie (Anastasia Limenko) Photo: Oleg Chernous/Stanislavsky Theatre
Quite simply, the performance was one of those rarest of events in the theatre that will be talked about for generations – the Russian premiere of Kenneth MacMillan’s Mayerling, with the former Royal Ballet star Sergei Polunin making his debut as Crown Prince Rudolf.

This has been a “must-see” evening since the minute it was announced by Moscow’s Stanislavsky Ballet not only with Polunin now having rock-star status in Russia, but also for MacMillan’s choreography which is not found in any other Russian theatre. Extra chairs were put in, people were even sitting in the aisles. The full run of performances has long been sold out.

So I’ll begin with Polunin: though it will be impossible to do justice to what he showed us on stage. He started his journey as a troubled young man from the very beginning: after the arrogance of the wedding proceedings, his Rudolf emerged from the crowd and started his first solo with such fluidity that the change was imperceptible. In and out of the balletic gestures as he moved around the crowd, gradually revealing the reality of his circumstances: contempt for the courtiers, chilly distance from his father, his expectation still to have the pick of the women (married or not) and his terrible ache for his unresponsive mother.

These days, one expects a dancer to have the physique and technique to cope with Rudolf, one of the toughest roles for a male dancer; but merely doing the pyrotechnics simply isn’t good enough. Polunin is one of the most stunning technical dancers you could ask for, prodigiously talented with an innate physical beauty and all the proportions that classical ballet could lust after – but with his Rudolf, we discovered he’s also a highly intelligent, sensitive and dramatic performer.

yet another glowing review
Polunin as Crown Prince Rudolf. Photo: M. Logvinov

Moreover, he brought his inner soul to the performance, finely judging the disintegration of this Prince of the Hapsburg Empire, understanding that he had to take us with him through his journey on stage, to develop the tragedy organically, not give it away too soon – and never to wreck the nuances with grand guignol. And Polunin is only 23.

With good casting with MacMillan you will never see the same ballet twice; individual interpretation is paramount, and every dancer is required to find their inner reason for being the character they play. MacMillan himself wanted the audience to forget they were watching dancers and to be enveloped in the drama.

The Stanislavsky company is absolutely tailor-made for his work, with its roots in the legendary Moscow Arts Theatre, created way back in 1887 by theatre revolutionaries Konstantin Stanislavsky and his colleague Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, for a new kind of work which abandoned the hackneyed classical traditions to explore new ways with drama. The Stanislavsky has “dancing drama actors” – “method” acting translated into the ballet so the dancers live their roles and are the foremost contributors to create the drama.

another glowing review
Rudolf (Polunin) and Countess Larisch (Anastasia Pershenkova). Photo: M. Logvinov

So Polunin’s Rudolf evolves in a series of relationships and encounters: each of Rudolf’s ladies in turn firing on some pretty spectacular voltage as they relate to him. Anastasia Pershenkova’s Countess Larisch emerged as a really complex part of the Rudolf story: from a sizzling sexy seductress in Act 1, she became more than his ex-mistress and his procuress; we also saw her as the only one who has come to care for him as the person he is under all the bravado. 

As the Empress, Natalia Krapivina seriously changed the temperature from sunny dancing with her ladies to produce an arctic imperial distance from Rudolf in the scene in her closet. From which he could go on to his cruel and violent encounter with his new wife Stephanie, danced by Anastasia Limenko (only 18 months out of ballet school), both of them taking the pas de deux to a breathtaking edge of physicality. People looked pretty stunned going into the first intermission.

The one problematic element of Mayerling for me has always been John Lanchbery’s orchestration of Liszt, which all too often I’ve heard blasting over the top into the seriously vulgar. But I heard a quite different score with Anton Grishanin’s conducting. Nuances were shaded, climaxes tailored to what was happening on stage in the drama – and the tempi were fabulously alive.

another glowing review
Act 1 Ensemble in Moscow’s remake of the Georgiadis designs. Photo: M. Logvinov/Stanislavsky Theatre

Two other points on ensemble: the Stanislavsky Theatre presents both opera and ballet, but the orchestra doesn’t think it’s slumming for the ballet.  It too is signed up to the Stanislavsky ethos. I saw players watching as much as they could of the stage, where in other places they might only be reading car magazines while counting the rests before their next entry.

In the crowd scenes – particularly the Tavern scene at the start of Act 2 – a great deal of the electricity on stage emanated from stunning dancing from senior dancers in the company. Principals and soloists, who were eager to be part of the MacMillan experience, even down to playing whores and potboys. Apparently among the four Hungarian officers there were three Siegfrieds and two Albrechts, matching Polunin’s technical physicality. Never has the Mephisto Waltz in the tavern scene in Act 2 fizzed so joyously.

another glowing review
Anna Ol and Polunin. Photo: M. Logvinov

Then, after Maria Vetsera’s arrival in Rudolf’s bedroom, Polunin found ever more to show us of Rudolf’s deepest anguish.  His physical and mental disintegration in those series of extreme pas de deux. Anna Ol matching him all the way, obviously so well supported by and confident in his partnering that we were completely sucked into the vortex. 

At his final solo, Polunin gave us a terrible, futile, emptiness. How could it be possible to dance a nothingness?

A member of the audience told me that after Act 1, she was in a state of high tension and couldn’t believe that it could rack up more in Act 2. And yet again in Act 3 so that by the end she was choked by the experience. At the Royal Opera we’re used to wild bravoing erupting before the final drumbeat.  The Russian audience, more considered, went into their slow and measured handclap for 15 minutes.

Is this report way over the top? Polunin, by every standard, produced a performance that was superlative, even though Friday night was his first stab at dancing Rudolf and he is still only 23. Part of the back story is that since his sad departure from the Royal Ballet a year ago, he’s been mentored by Igor Zelensky, the Stanislavsky’s artistic director and one of the greatest dancers of recent times. With this kind of backing Polunin should continue to astonish us in the future.

Polunin however, is only one of the Rudolfs in the company. Igor Zelensky himself makes his debut in the role, and on the second night the theatre was again packed for the Stanislavsky’s star dancer Georgi Smilevski, with Natalia Somova as Stephanie, Erica Mirkitcheva as Larisch and Ksenia Shertsova as Maria Vetsera.

Smilevski’s was perhaps a slower descent to hell, his relationship with his mother reading as bitter, but his anger colder, his depravity more ruthless. Ksenia Shertsova’s Maria Vetsera was also chilling; we saw she knew exactly what he liked to do with skulls and guns and played him at his own game. From there on the two were on an unstoppable descent, the particularly Russian timbre of the brass section screaming an accompaniment.

another glowing review
Empress Elizabeth (Natalia Krapivina) with Mikhail Pukhov as her lover Bay Middleton. Photo: M. Logvinov

Rudolf’s tragedy is played in the context of a vast canvas: the decadence of the Hapsburg Court, intrigue, infidelity, betrayals, jockeying for advancement. Courtiers spying, denouncing, women available sexually, two-faced politicians: those who worked with MacMillan know he required everyone on stage to contribute, everyone to know their own back story, to inhabit their character.

For Julie Lincoln, and her colleagues from the MacMillan team who teach and stage the works, the task is not only to teach the choreography from the notation, but to help everyone to understand the importance of the characterisation, encourage them to develop beyond the steps. By night two, Lincoln’s encouragement was obviously working: dancers were already growing their characters: courtiers more nosey, tarts saucier.

You also get all the detail because the Stanislavsky is an intimate theatre even though it seats 1,500. No-one can get away with marking their performance and it also allows subtle details to register which might otherwise be lost in bigger theatres. For the first time I saw how Baroness Vetsera, a stately performance from Natalie Trubnikova, is horrified when she understands just what a terrible liaison Larisch is cooking up for her daughter. With this clarity of detail possible, the audience doesn’t need to struggle through the complexities of plotting they print in the programme book.

another glowing review
Zelensky as Rudolf with Ksenia Shevtsova as Vetsera. Photo: M. Logvinov

Zelensky’s artistic direction also bodes well for the Stanislavsky company.  This is his second season with them, the first of his own full planning with Mayerling his first big import.  He is also the catalyst for the Stanislavsky acquiring the rights to perform MacMillan.  While at the Royal Ballet, he danced in Manon and Romeo and Juliet.  The MacMillan estate which fiercely protects the integrity of the choreography trusts Zelensky.

Bringing it in to Moscow is a major commitment for the company.   The company has built its own sets and costumes from the original Nicholas Georgiadis designs with financial support from BP.  BP has chosen the Stanislavsky as one of their major partners in Russian culture.

Talk of classic Russian ballet and many would think only of Bolshoi and Mariinsky as the exemplars of the best of it.  Huge houses, huge companies with long traditions and highly political profiles, closely related to federal government. The Stanislavsky companies actually belong to the City of Moscow, which funds them.  They’re proud to be part of that city’s strong and living theatrical tradition. The ballet side has regular festivals showcasing new talent, and they work in partnership with other companies abroad.  General director Vladimir Urin said it’s interesting for the development of the dancers to work with a variety of styles.

And now they have the challenges of MacMillan, which is a considerable coup for the company and its national profile. Until now, Muscovites have only seen MacMillan live on stage when the Royal visited.

Mayerling will be in rep until July.  Manon will join it next year.  Again, there will be a new build of the Georgiadis sets and costumes.  More will follow thereafter no doubt.  Will it be said that MacMillan has found a new home?

Stunning Pics Of Sergei By Alessia Santambrogio

Stunning Pics Of Sergei By Alessia Santambrogio

Stunning pics of Sergei by Alessia Santambrogio

On Saturday, February 3, 2018 the famous dancer Sergei Polunin and company inaugurated the new edition of ParmaDanza at the Teatro Regio.  Natalia Osipova and soloists from some of Russia’s most prestigious theaters joined Polunin onstage.  A highlight of the performance was the national debut of Polunin’s work, Sartori.

The idea comes from Project Polunin , an artistic project that aims to produce new choreographic creations thanks to the collaboration between dancers, choreographers, musicians and artists from different fields.

For Sergei Polunin, Satori represents his own path of reunion with love for dance and passion for art.  It is the culmination of a personal journey.  He brought together a group of artists with whom he created a program that consists of three parts, including two new productions.

project_polunin_ © alessia-santambrogio-1

Sergei’s solo

On the stage of the Teatro Regio the program opened with First Solo , performed by Sergei Polunin.  It was created by the award-winning choreographer Andrey Kaydanovskiy.  First Solo tells of a man’s search for freedom through that same dance that makes him a slave.  It is profoundly personal for Polunin.  Its focus is the dualism between an artist’s life of commitment and his desire for freedom of thought and movement.

A rare treat

The show continued with Skriabiniana, a rare treat.  It is among the very few choreographies left completely intact by the great choreographer Kasyan Goleizovsky.  Finally, the evening ended with Satori, choreographed by Polunin himself.  Sartori is directed by Gabriel Marcel del Vecchio and boasts an original soundtrack by the award-winning composer Lorenz Dangel.  The production features scenes from works by photographer David Lachapelle.  Angelina Atlagic designed the costumes.

The public delirious for a chance to see Polunin brought about an immediate sell out.  The excellence of these international artists did not disappoint.  With their dance, they involved and excited the audience of the Regio di Parma.

Photographer Alessia Santambrogio

“My vision of the scene photographer is that of a silent and discreet presence that fits into the dynamics of the show, without interfering with them, but becoming an integral part of them. It is having its own artistic vision and being able to transmit it, knowing, however, to know and listen to the needs of those who create and put on show the show.”  – Alessia Santambrogio

A professional photographer, Alessia Santambrogio was born in Monza.  She was artistically and professionally trained at the Accademia Teatro alla Scala.  Alessia, graduating in 2011, immediately made an impact on the arts community.

She has photographed important productions and personalities of the national and international panorama of opera, ballet and theater.

Co-founder of the industry magazine Kairós Magazine , she actively collaborates as a photographer, author, copy editor and archivist. There are numerous publications in national newspapers such as Il Corriere della Sera , La Repubblica , Il Giorno and others.

She has participated in countless exhibitions, such as Birthday Album and La Scuola di Ballo of the Accademia Teatro alla Scala.  These works were promoted by the Bracco Foundation and the Accademia Teatro alla Scala.

All photos by Alessia Santambrogio.


Polunin Debuts Royal Bayadere 2009

Polunin Debuts Royal Bayadere 2009

Polunin debuts Royal Bayadere 2009 and presented below are two reviews of his jaw-dropping performance as “Solor.”

Itinerant Balletomane Reviews Young Sergei

Itinerant Balletomane Reviews Young Sergei

Itinerant Balletomane reviews young Sergei and the veteran blogger is blown away

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Sergei Polunin at the Stanislavsky Theater

I am completely starstruck.  Last week I saw Sergei Polunin perform twice with the Stanislavsky Theater – first as Basil in Don Quixote and then as the Prince in Swan Lake.  I’ve obviously heard a lot about Polunin.  For the non balletomanes out there, he was made a principal dancer at the Royal Ballet at the age of 20, making him their youngest principal ever. After two years, he unexpectedly quit the company.  A few months later, he signed on as a principal with the (respectable but still not nearly as famous) Stanislavsky Theater in Moscow.  You can read an excellent article about him here.

itinerant balletomane reviews young sergei
Natalia Somova and Sergei Polunin in Swan Lake

Lucky to catch him

Since his move to Moscow, Polunin has become a more elusive dancer to see, and I obviously felt very lucky to catch him in two performances. I was especially eager to see if he lived up to any of the hype. The answer is that he completely surpasses it.  I really have never been so impressed by a dancer. The thing that strikes me most forcefully about him is his enormous charisma.  Whenever he is onstage, he draws the eye to him.  It certainly doesn’t hurt that he has a beautifully intense stare, but he has much more than that.  In every moment he is performing he is fully present in the role.  Every gesture no matter how small is done with acuteness and power. This is especially potent in his portrayal of the Prince in Swan Lake, a role that has to anchor the ballet’s narrative without having much opportunity for solo dancing.  Polunin’s prince begins somewhat lost and disaffected; his ardent love for Odette seems to give him something to hold on to in life. His eyes follow her across the stage, and he runs to her as though drawn by some outside force.  

Dramatic intensity with textbook-perfect technique

Polunin’s solo variations combine this dramatic intensity with textbook-perfect technique.  I’ve seen a lot of impressive male dancers here in Moscow. Many of them seem to lose a sense of their character and of the audience as soon as they have to perform impressive jumps or turns.  Polunin never turns off the artistry. So many other male principals land with the greatest of care in order to avoid falling over or take an extra step. Doing this takes concentration you can see on their faces. Polunin simply lands on the ground perfectly and moves into the next step or pose.  He draws us with him in a torrent of movement. His technique does not fixate, even though that technique is beautiful. In addition to having amazing height on his jumps and beautiful turns, Polunin also boasts an arabesque and a back attitude that most ballerinas would kill for.

Nureyev comparison is apt

I’ve heard Polunin spoken of as the next Nureyev and the comparison is apt.  Sadly, however, this is a Nureyev without his Fonteyn.  Both evenings I saw Polunin performing with Natalia Somova, who just isn’t cutting it on this level.  She can be sweet and charming, but she lacks charisma and simply doesn’t have the same level of technique.  In addition, sometimes their partnership seems strained.  In particular, there was a disastrous pair of flying fish dives in Don Quixote, during the second of which Polunin didn’t manage to tip Somova over at all, and they ended up sort of hugging standing up.  I’ve seen videos of Polunin paired with other people and doing it brilliantly, so I assume that this is not an inherent flaw in his dancing, but I’m not enough of a dancer myself to tell who’s really at fault.

My favorite ballet orchestra ever

The wonderful partner that Polunin does get at the Stanislavsky is its beautiful orchestra.  Having been to five ballets at this theater, I am now prepared to dub it my favorite ballet orchestra ever. It is better than New York City, better than the Bolshoi, and miles better than the Royal.  Felix Korobov, the chief conductor, likes a fiery brass section and a quick tempo.  He always manages to bring out a full and lyrical sound.  Even so when he tampers with the music to fit the choreography.  The instrumentalists are a dream, particularly the French horn section and the harpist.  Sadly I can’t name them because they’re not listed on the website. Everything in the ensemble provides the emotional background for Polunin’s portrayal.  I know that the orchestra isn’t the reason Polunin moved to this theater, but I deeply wish it were.

So, in sum: see Polunin at the Stanislavsky (especially in Swan Lake), but hope with the rest of us that they persuade some wonderful young ballerina to move to the company.

Stanislavsky Theater, Don Quixote, June 14, 2013.  Music by Ludwig Minkus, Choreography by Alexei Chichinadze, Kitri: Natalia Somova, Basil: Sergei Polunin, Conductor: Anton Grishanin

Stanislavsky Theater, Swan Lake, June 20, 2013. Music by Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky, Production by Vladimir Burmeister, Odette/Odile: Natalia Somova, Prince: Sergei Polunin, Evil Genius: Nikita Kirilov, Jester: Dmitri Zagrebin, Conductor: Felix Korobov
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Polunin “Miracle” in Ashton with Ananiashvili

Polunin “Miracle” in Ashton with Ananiashvili

Polunin Miracle in Ashton ballet with Nina Ananiashvili

Excerpts from a November 2015 review by Tatiana Kuznetsova

Frederick Ashton’s increasing popularity in Russia is shown in a new triple bill at the Stanislavsky Ballet, directed by Igor Zelensky, and starring Sergei Polunin in Rhapsody and Marguerite and Armand with Nina Ananiashvili. Tatiana Kuznetsova of Kommersant was swept away by the Marguerite and Armand, which she says has never before been so miraculously intimate in a Russian performance. It was like spying on the lovers through a keyhole, she says.

The artistic director of the Stanislavsky Theatre’s ballet company, Igor Zelensky, was at one time principal dancer simultaneously of three theatres, the Mariinsky, the Royal Ballet and the Balanchine company New York City Ballet. Since then his love for English-language classicism has only grown. He has regularly staged signature ballets of England and America on the Stasik stage, trying with mixed success to extract the right choreographic pronunciation out of Muscovite dancers.

Following on from the monumental dramas of the Scot [Kenneth] MacMillan, and the one-act lyricism and comic sketches of the American [Jerome] Robbins, we are now offered a group of the romantic poems of Frederick Ashton – the UK’s first and chief national choreographer.

One should add that the artistic director’s Anglomania is fuelled by the presence in his troupe of Sergei Polunin, with his immaculate English style: before he became the Stasik’s guest star, the young Polunin graduated from the Royal Ballet’s school and successfully danced with the company for several seasons, becoming the youngest male principal in Covent Garden’s history.

The choice of Rhapsody, set to Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a theme by Paganini, was targeted on Polunin, with its hellishly tricky male lead role: Frederick Ashton, captivated by Mikhail Baryshnikov’s academic virtuosity and Soviet athleticism, made the ballet in 1980 specially for him.

“On a theme by Paganini” is dropped from the title with good reason – there is none of the agony of creativity or the battle against obscurantism in this optimistic work (unlike the ballet Paganini that the Soviet classicism Leonic Lavrovsky choreographed long before Ashton). The protagonist’s profession is indicated only by the lightest gesture (just a couple of times stroking an imaginary bow across an imaginary violin), and perhaps too in his romantic quest for his one muse – the ballerina, hidden among six coryphees.

But Polunin had not forgotten Paganini; he performed the pirouettes and entrechats, the explosive, whipping turns and slides with a psychological subtext that hinted at some circumstantial challenge, which actually cannot be found in this radiant choreography.

La Valse is a well-populated, opulent victory ball: the men in frock coats, the women in full dresses and tiaras, chandeliers, liveried footmen, the riotous crescendo of the finale in which the swirling of the couples, the surrendering jumps and high lifts, all reach an ecstatic climax.

In Moscow the grand triumphalism was turned into a feverish pursuit of the music’s tempi, especially as young conductor Zangiev was getting carried away by Ravelian contrasts, making the brass roared like a military band, letting the strings spread into a lyrical intimacy. The frock-coated men coped elegantly with the music’s heedless turns, but the women were noticeably panicking, spraying out obviously strained arms and frantically bobbing on the simplest balances.

So it turned out that the highlight of the “Ballets of Frederick Ashton” evening was not the premieres but the ballet in repertoire, Marguerite and Armand, on Lizst’s music, which the Stanislavsky has had in its repertoire for several seasons.

Then the miracle happened…

This time artistic director Zelensky’s choice of Marguerite was Nina Ananiashvili, former prima ballerina of the Bolshoi and many other international companies, and currently artistic director of the National Ballet of Georgia. She is 52 years old while her partner, Sergei Polunin, is 25. Yet the age difference was no problem: at the end of the day, this ballet was created by Ashton in 1964 for 25-year-old Nureyev and 44-year-old Fonteyn, taking into account the capabilities of an older ballerina.

The first thing has to be that notorious question: ‘chemistry’. If the players can’t be convincing in conveying fateful passion, the ballet is exposed as a set of stilted tableaux and some more or less striking lifts. So far, no one on any Russian stage has managed to transmit the magic of this archaic ballet.

polunin miracle

At the Stasik the miracle happened. This Marguerite and Armand forced one to forget everything about the old-fashioned direction, the naivety of the choreography, and the technical performance. It was as if it was not of the slightest importance whether the ballerina’s back was so flexible, or her legs went so high, or she had a wasp waist or not, if the love story of a selfless, tender courtesan and an ungovernable young aristocrat mesmerised you as if you were watching them through a keyhole.

polunin miracle

Photo Credit:  Kommersant

Royal’s Romeo And Juliet 2011

Royal’s Romeo And Juliet 2011

12,000 pack in to see Royal Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet debut at the O2

Royal’s Romeo and Juliet at London’s O2 arena was a gamble that paid off, finds Louise Levene.

royals romeo
Royal Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet at the O2: Tamara Rojo and Carlos Acosta, Photo: ROH

Covent Garden it ain’t. The crowd is six times the size and a good half of them of them will be munching hot dogs throughout.  However, the Royal Ballet’s debut run at London’s O2 this weekend is a great success nonetheless.

The company’s bold experiment has brought high art at low prices to a whole new demographic, winning thousands of friends (and political brownie points) in the process.

Rock and Romeo

The old Millennium Dome’s hangar-like interior has meant rethinking the presentation.  Kenneth MacMillan’s 1965 Romeo and Juliet took on brash, rock concert-like lines.

No pit meant putting Barry Wordsworth and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in a narrow glass box above the stage. Their playing has been subtly amplified. Prokofiev’s thundering score floods the great barn of the O2.

Above the orchestra are three huge screens. They highlight important entrances and reaction shots that might easily be missed by a spectator two football pitches away.

The six cameras are coordinated by a nerve centre of screens and headsets in the stalls.  The show is directed by ex-Royal Ballet stars Michael Nunn and William Trevitt.

These one-time Romeos know precisely which moments need to be reinforced but even their best efforts are not always enough. The Royal Ballet has (rather touchingly) assumed that Romeo and Juliet is too well known to need telling.  But, while it is flattering not to be spoon-fed or patronised, I’m not sure the 12,000-strong audience was fully up to speed with characters or plot.

There are two chunks of Shakespearean voice-over but a few surtitles wouldn’t go amiss.  Particularly given that the only synopsis was inside a souvenir programme costing £10 (as much as many of the tickets).

Magic but confusing

The pas de deux worked their usual magic but crowd scenes were confusing. If the experiment is repeated – and I don’t see why not – it might also be an idea to colour code the characters more obviously: black for Tybalt; white for Romeo etc – that or put numbers on their backs.

In interviews before this expertly-hyped event the Royal Ballet’s stars had fretted that their close-ups might seem hammy and exaggerated.  These fears have proved groundless.

The playing was lusty and vivid but none of Friday night’s cast overacted.  Zooming in on the action merely reveals the detail that any balletomane with binoculars has long been aware of.

Rojo and Acosta

Friday night’s cast was led by Tamara Rojo and Cuban superstar Carlos Acosta, who was on superb form (not always the case this late in his 20-year career).

There were traces of the old fire in the great arcing leaps and every lift was a caress. Rojo’s dark expressive eyes were made for the big screen.  The intensity of her acting and the musical sweep of her dancing soon made you forget the venue and concentrate on the art inside it.

And, then there’s Polunin…

Thiago Soares made a dashing and dastardly Tybalt.  The 21 year old Sergei Polunin (doubling as Benvolio and lead Mandolin dancer in a last-minute casting crisis) was the best (and handsomest) dancer on stage.

The gilding and plush of Covent Garden has always been a major part of the Royal Ballet’s appeal but bigger, cheaper, less glamorous venues attract new audiences – the holy grail of every arts establishment.

English National Ballet’s conquest of the Royal Albert Hall proved that widening access needn’t compromise quality and the Royal Ballet was right to join the party.

This month’s O2 project has been the brainchild of the company’s 45-year-old administrative director Kevin O’Hare who has just been anointed as Dame Monica Mason’s successor. Not a bad start.

The final performance is today at 3pm: O2 Box Office 0844 856 0202 or online at

Anna Pavlova Gala Review 2012

Anna Pavlova Gala Review 2012

Anna Pavlova gala: Seven magazine review, by Louise Levene

Seven rating: * * * *

Just when you worry that Sergei Polunin might have been oversold, you see him dance again and realise it was all true. Even in the ultra-starry company of last Sunday’s gala in memory of Anna Pavlova – Vadim Muntagirov, Uliana Lopatkina, Evgenia Obraztsova, Svetlana Zakharova – the Royal Ballet runaway was ablaze with classical artistry.

Wayne Eagling and Ensemble Productions delivered a mixed evening, and the variation in quality between the party pieces seemed to render time elastic. Tamara Rojo’s risible duet with live goldfish seemed to last longer than Titanic, while Polunin’s Raymonda variations zipped by in a heartbeat.

We don’t see nearly enough of Raymonda. The Royal Ballet haven’t danced their glorious Nureyev-staged Act III for nearly a decade and the Bolshoi haven’t brought theirs since 1999. Glazunov, Petipa, a shimmering ballerina and two superb male roles: what’s not to love?

Polunin’s performance at the Coliseum gala was certainly a one-man advertisement for the ballet. The bravura tricks were all in place but there was no sense of display, no hint of preparation, and the soft landings to the knee were every bit as treasurable as the great arcing leaps. The Boston critic HT Parker once wrote of Pavlova that she “accomplishes every feat of technical virtuosity with an air almost of simplicity”, and Polunin’s easy grandeur was in precisely that spirit.

Pavlova danced her last performance back in 1930 but her influence was incalculable, and British theatregoers are only one degree of separation from her greatness thanks to the impact she had on the cornerstones of our national ballet: Alicia Markova, Ninette de Valois and, of course, Frederick Ashton.

Manon, The Guardian Review 2011

Manon, The Guardian Review 2011

Manon – A Review


Royal Opera House, London

for The Guardian


Lauren Cuthbertson and Sergei Polunin have been spoken of as promising stage partners ever since they appeared together in Christopher Wheeldon’s Alice. But while that ballet demanded little more than wit, technique and charm, their double debut in Manon challenges them to go into darker, more complicated, and more adult terrain. And it says much about the two dancers, both individually and as a couple, that they give us readings of the ballet that are compelling and new.

For Cuthbertson, the key is movement. When her Manon arrives in Paris she is a newly hatched butterfly, testing her wings as she flits from one admirer to the next. She takes the choreography fast, and even when she settles on the handsome, ardent Des Grieux she remains restlessly in motion. Their first bedroom pas de deux goes at reckless, quicksilver speeds, one sensual experience tumbling after another.

The moment of contrast, when Manon suddenly stops, and lets herself sink into Des Grieux’s gaze, is startlingly affecting. It’s as though she has discovered a world of emotion inside herself – a treasure she didn’t know existed. By the second act, when she has traded that treasure for actual diamonds, Cuthbertson’s Manon has apparently reverted to her butterfly self, yet it’s a brittle, hard version, trapped in the net of Monsieur GM, her “protector.”

One key element that’s missing from Cuthbertson’s performance is a clear reading of Manon’s transition from love to material lust, the shiver of acquiescence to Monsieur GM’s luxury offerings. But she could not make clearer Manon’s dawning realisation that she has gambled and lost. When she’s back in Des Grieux’s arms, the force with which she twists and turns in his embrace is driven by the knowledge that whether she chooses love or money, she is doomed.

As for Polunin, he is one of the most convincing Des Grieux I’ve seen. Technically his performance has many fine things, the long, unfolding adagio of his first solo, the audacity and intensity of his partnering. With his huge solemn eyes and pale face, he is the quintessential poet. But while many others stress a heroic quality in Des Grieux’s romanticism, Polunin allows him to look vulnerable, even weak. He is poor and irresolute in a world where money, power and cunning are the only currency. Set against Jose Martin’s bracingly ruthless Lescaut, and the careless, arrogant cruelty of Gary Avis’s Monsieur GM, we can see why Manon might see her beloved poet as a temporary luxury.

Sergei’s Swan Swims

Sergei’s Swan Swims

“And The Swan Is Swimming”

 Ekaterina Belyaeva, 11.10.2012

"Swan Lake" at the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Theater

The ballet season at the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theater opened on September 29 with Swan Lake.  Vladimir Burmeister’s version. Apart from the fact that it is a cult spectacle for the theater and, in general, a cult Russian ballet, plus the highest-grossing ballet of all time.  The “Swan” Burmeister celebrates several dates this season. Sixty years from the day of his birth will be celebrated with official festivities and even a mini-festival at the MAMT in April 2013.  Secondly, on September 9, it will be eighty-five years from the birthday of the first Odette-Odile Violetta Trofimovna Bovt (1927-1995).  The famous Moscow ballerina danced for thirty-five years on the stage of her native Stasika, becoming the first performer of many ballets of the post-war repertoire.

The main reason to visit this first performance of the season was not his “bearded” jubilees, but the debuts of young performers – Erika Mikirticheva and Sergei Polunin .

The latter began the duties of the premiere of the Moscow theater at the end of last season, having fled in February from London‘s Covent Garden. Despite his youth (22 years), the artist, apparently, experienced an existential crisis.  He got too much luck – he came from Ukraine, he joined the celebrated English troupe, quickly became principal, he danced a dozen leading roles from Capt. Solyon in the “Winter Dreams” of McMillan to Solor in La Bayadere.  In passing, I found out that he does not need a free flow of roles, if there is no time for reflection.  Polunin resigned and went into hiding until he was caught up with the call of the choreographer of the ballet MAMT Igor Zelensky with an invitation to Moscow to work and with promises of a creative atmosphere (in one interview, the artist complained that his English director, Monica Mason, had never even really talked to him ).

"Swan Lake" at the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Theater

The atmosphere for the dancer was unusual: almost two hours it was necessary to be on stage and only twenty minutes of them to dance – basically as a ballerina supporting partner.

The fact is that Burmeister, when composing his version of Swan in 1953, made changes mainly to the plot, to the composition inside the paintings, to the music and the party of Odile, and Siegfried received almost nothing in comparison with the pre-revolutionary editions.  Burmeister in the play has a prologue and an epilogue, which clearly tells the story of the transformation of Odette into a swan: a curtain opens in the middle of the overture, a young girl in a white dress runs out from the wings, an evil owl (Rothbart) stands on a rock and wings theatrically, the girl disappears imperceptibly,  Then on the flat lake in the background a plastic swan moves in the crown, the curtain closes, and the music still sounds for a few minutes.

The whole of the first picture Prince Siegfried nervously wanders around the stage, drinking wine from the cup, humbly nods to the Queen Mother,

while his friends and a jester entertain him and themselves dancing to the music that was originally written by Tchaikovsky for this picture, but later partially capped, and partially used by Petipa to create his brilliant black pas de deux 3 act.

The courtiers flaunt semiclassical dances, which once made their creator famous, and today look very archaically – as museum exhibits from the era of the USSR. All the time you expect that secondary characters with jumps to dull sixth positions will give way to the handsome prince, but will not happen. The second picture corresponds to the classical white picture of Lev Ivanov, only in a shortened format (there are fewer swans, the amplitude of all movements is more modest).

"Swan Lake" at the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Theater

The main trick for setting Burmeister – the third picture. Odile as a fatal woman appears at the ball along with the Spaniards and accompanied by Rothbart (absolutely pedestrian character). She seduces the prince not because she looks like Odette, whom he is in love with, but because he looks like Carmen, and she seduces everyone. Black pas de deux at Burmeister also exists – but in his author’s choreography (with tricks like a Don-Kikhotovsky jump of a ballerina in the hands of a partner) and to the music known to us on the Pas de de Tchaikovsky-Balanchine. At the same time Rothbart ( Anton Domashov ) constantly sympathetically interferes in the personal life of her daughter and her alleged bridegroom right at the time of their main dance. It is clear already that

Polunin, when he reached his short variation, gave out to the maximum – picturesque pirouettes, double tours with accurate landings in the fifth, stone solid, etc.

In pantomime and gaming pieces Polunin kept in character delicately, which pleased.

The fourth picture is not significant, except for the sugary, fantastic-plastic happy ending. Odette does not just not die a swan, she survives and regains her human appearance (puts on a dress and looks like a fairy Alyonushka) to match Siegfried.

The work of Erika Mikirticheva was rather liked, although she still has to sharpen the role.

There were a lot of technical inconsistencies that would improve in time. Actress’s audacity Odile, she threw out with interest, but not enough aplomb and, in general, hardness in the movements.

In the theater they openly say that they have a change of generations.

Two debuts of the young in the first ballet evening – this is a good start. We will wait for the continuation. October 29 Polunin will dance Basil in “Don Quixote” A. Chichinadze – another rarity from the “treasury” MAMT.

Photos by Mikhail Logvinov


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