The Bolshoi’s Don Quixote

So who went to the live-streaming yesterday? The Manhattan showing was such a blast. Daniil Simkin, ABT soloist and Natalia Osipova’s friend, was there, and I saw Marc Kirshner from TenduTv and several critics. And Evan McKie, principal at the Stuttgart Ballet, who many of us know from the Winger, was tweeting from Stuttgart or Canada or wherever he was. He was very informative too! I tweeted a bit under the hashtag #DonQLive – after I found out we were using that hashtag; I also tweeted about the performance without the hashtag earlier.

Anyway, I loved it. As always, I loved Osipova, though my friend who went with me, a longtime Gelsey Kirkland fan, pointed out that though she has excellent technique and athletic ability, she was lacking in artistry, particularly in her ability here to evoke a Spaniard. It’s true, and funny, because that kind of thing used to drive me nuts – when ballet dancers would perform straight ballet without any culturally specific accent (see my harping here on Paloma Herrera’s Bayadere). I remember when Angel Corella and Paloma Herrera used to be THE couple to see in Don Q in America, and of course they danced it perfectly. But then the next set of dancers – whoever it was I saw after them, all I could think was, couldn’t they have taken some Flamenco, some Paso Doble? But somehow at some point, I stopped being bothered by it.

But, Osipova also doesn’t have the gracefulness of some of the others, like Yekaterina Shipulina as the Queen of the Dryads, and Chinara Alizade in the third act Grand Pas variation. I am beginning to notice that one – Alizade – more and more in these Bolshoi showings and I really like her.

Osipova is more of an athlete and my friend said she’d have made a great ice skater, or some kind of Olympian. Which is true. But I still think she adds so much to the ballet and creates so much excitement with all of the astounding things that she can do. The theater in Manhattan was more packed than I’ve ever seen it – nearly, if not completely full – and people were ooohing and aaahing during intermissions and afterward and were applauding throughout – like when, before the performance, the camera showed her backstage warming up.

Here she is in the Act One variation:

But it was Ivan Vasiliev who really wowed the audience – or at least he did as much as she. I’d seen him in Flames of Paris too and he was fabulous in that as well, but this is a larger role and so he stood out to me more here. He kept taking these flying leaps, sometimes with a turn thrown in,  and he got amazing height on them, especially given that he’s pretty short. He definitely has the muscular legs of a jumper. And he always landed so solidly, which not everyone who jumps that high does. And his form was perfect. And he had the flirty, slightly mischievous character down perfectly. And he had the Spanish flair, for the most part at least. So, he’s perfect, in a word! I don’t know if there’s been a dancer since Baryshnikov who’s danced such an exciting Basilio. Bring him to NYC, Kevin McKenzie!!

Here is he dancing on his own in the studio:

I also loved Andrei Merkuriev as Espada, the matador, though I don’t know if anyone will ever outperform my Marcelo Gomes in that role, imo 😀 But Merkuriev just did incredible things with that cape – I’ve never seen anyone – not in ballet or Paso – whip a cape around with such speed like that.

There were many more character dances than in ABT’s production. It was hard for me to keep straight who danced which one because in the program it wasn’t broken down by act and I can’t tell the difference between, for example, what was called the Spanish Dance, and the Bolero. If Anna Leonova danced the lyrical Flamenco-like solo, then I loved her. I thought she was beautiful and knew how to work the dress and her arms and hands and everything. It might have been Kristina Karasyova though, or one of the three listed under “Spanish Dance.” I also liked Anna Antropova as the gypsy dancer. Ditto for her. They might have been the same dancer, actually…because those dances were in different acts… Oh who knows.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter because I liked everyone and thought they danced beautifully. Honestly, this company is absolutely astounding. I don’t think there’s anyone in it who’s not only an excellent dancer but compelling to watch in one way or another as well. If you ever get a chance to see the Bolshoi, don’t miss it.

One more thing – about the third act Kitri variation. I’ve noticed when Osipova dances with ABT, she changes that variation from the one ABT usually does, and so I wasn’t at all surprised that she did the same here. I’ve always liked her version BETTER because she does those traveling passees at the speed of blasted light, and they look so much better on her than the hopping on pointe. But my friend thought the other version, which Gelsey Kirkland apparently did, was harder and more artistic. But then Evan McKie told me via Twitter that Natalia’s is the version the Russians usually do. So maybe it’s not an issue of changing the choreography to suit the dancer but just the dancer performing the version she knows best. Anyway, I tried to look up Gelsey on YouTube and could only find the final scene pas de deux with Baryshnikov; they don’t have the variations. But here’s what I’m talking about: first video is the ABT version, starring Nina Ananiashvili, second is Osipova:

Which do you guys like better, or do you like them both the same?

Anyway, the next Bolshoi live-stream will be Coppelia, coming up at the end of May. The next live-stream from Emerging Pictures will be the Paris Opera Ballet’s Coppelia, coming up on March 28th. Visit the Ballet in Cinema website for times and theaters. These are such a blast!

Above photo of Vasiliev and Osipova from here.


  1. Ugh Tonya. You make me sound like a one-note song. I believe there are many great dancers and Kitris. Gelsey just was my favorite. I think Osipova’s strengths and weaknesses were best displayed in the Dulcinea variation. There were things she did that made my jaw drop but she hasn’t a lyrical bone in her body. She really does dance like an athlete. But she’s not fluid or elegant. It all looks so hard and it’s very intentionally so. She made two very noticeable mistakes. Had she attempted to convey Kitri instead of the world’s fastest and highest spinning jumper I wouldn’t even have noticed or remembered. But she will be forever in my mind as the Russian dancer who danced Kitri as an athletic competition and she made 2 mistakes: 9.975

  2. Tonya, the variation you’re talking about is “Live At Wolftrap”, I believe. Gelsey herself actually put a warning label on it because she was suffering from anorexia, and didn’t think it represented herself at her best. Still a great video, though.

    You might be able to borrow it from the Library at Lincoln Center.

    I personally find Osipova a little refreshing. At least she can really get off the ground. A lot of the ballerinas are so hyper-extended and over-stretched, they can barely jump these days! (or do any real allegro, for that matter).

    Let’s mix it up a little, eh?

    • Yes, that’s it, Jeff. I will look for it at the library. They seem to have taken it out of a larger video that was on YouTube that included both variations and the pdd – at least that’s what the commenters there seem to be saying.

      Yes, I totally agree about mixing it up! It’s nice to see high jumps for once as opposed to all that crazy flexibility you see so often these days (have to admit, though, I can be a sucker for that as well 🙂 ) I’m glad you like Osipova too. Every dancer has his / her own forte, right?

  3. Jonathan Wallach

    If you want to see somebody who has it all as Kitri:

    I found Osipova exciting for awhile. Then is was just hitting all the required elements. That Live at Wolftrap video is incredibly difficult to watch. Gelsey was so sick. But she does that part of the choreography OK.

    • Yeah, I agree – Pavlova has everything in this video: the fun, flirty, carefree spirit of Kitri, the Spanish styling, the technique. She is really beautiful, and really lovely feet! Thanks for finding this video.

  4. Jonathan Wallach

    @Jeff Nelson: That live at Wolftrap video has been removed for the most part so that’s not available anymore.

  5. Hi Tonya, good review, mine is up on my own blog:

    I think about the Kitri variations, I think the Russian ballerinas usually do the one Osipova does. Watch Ekaterina Maximova:

    Even earlier, Tamara Toumanova:

    Evgenia Obraztsova of the Mariinsky does a very similar variation:

    I kind of find Osipova’s Kitri refreshing. This is a real terre a terre role, that I think intentionally was choreographed by Gorsky to go against the grain of Petipa’s more academic style. If you watch Plisetskaya’s old films you can see a lot of where Osipova got her Kitri from:

    • Thank you for all the links, Ivy! Interesting about it being a role Gorsky created as something that would stand apart from Petipa’s more academic style. That totally makes sense. It is so different from many of the classics. I’m glad I’m not the only one who finds Osipova refreshing in this role. I think she’s has a certain strength that’s all her own and it works really well in this ballet.

      • Tonya, yeah, during intermission one of the interviews was talking about how the version of Don Quixote that we know comes from the Gorsky revisions, and the revision intentionally had a lot more character and folk dancing than Petipa normally would have put in his ballets. The ballet is really different in its use of character dancing, in the sense that the dances are spread throughout the ballet, and kind of become the fiber of the ballet, instead of concentrated in divertissements, the way “national” dances are in Petipa’s ballets.

        Also, the revision was made in 1900, and the debut at the Mariinsky in 1902/1903. That was a time when there was a “Petipa revolt” and the old man was commonly have thought to be losing his touch. Younger choreographers like Fokine were up-and-coming and they all objected to what they saw as a sort of the overly academic, formulaic Petipa ballets. So it makes sense that Gorsky would intentionally make a ballet that calls for a very different style.

        I also feel like Osipova’s strong association with the role of Kitri is making people get the wrong impression of her. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Kitri is her role, but I also saw her in Giselle and Aurora live, and if she wasn’t *the* most lyrical Aurora or Giselle, she also wasn’t this relentless dynamo powerhouse either. She lightened her attack a lot.

        • Yes, I saw her in Giselle and Sleeping Beauty too. She definitely danced those differently. At first I had mixed feelings about her in Giselle – it was the first time I’d ever seen her dance and I couldn’t help but be awed by her practically ear-high develope and that high altitude she got on those ballons in the second act. But after talking with people about her, I realize that it wasn’t necessarily that she was doing crazy athletically stunning feats for their own sake, but was actually using her body and her ability to bring out the story. The develope and the ballons in the second act show her ethereal state -she’s a spirit now, no longer a human, and she can now soar as she couldn’t in life because of her weak heart. After I thought of it that way, I thought, wow, how beautiful. Made me want to see her Giselle again.

          • Well Tonya what was striking to me about her Giselle was how in the first act, she was very earthy, a happy and bubbly peasant girl, and how in the second act, it seemed a continuation of the first act, except this happy and bubbly peasant girl was all of a sudden a spirit. The jumps soared even more, the turns were faster, this Giselle’s feet literally couldn’t touch the ground. But she didn’t go for the real tragic dimension, and that was what I liked — if she had gone for High Tragedy in Act 2, it might have seemed false, hammy, against her stage persona. Instead she kind of reshaped the ballet to suit her “bubbly” personality.

            Diana Vishneva is a Giselle who soars high in Act II, but she couldn’t be more different from Osipova. She’s stern, demented, her turns are fast, her jumps are high, but it’s wraithlike, even a bit scary.

            I like Giselles who don’t simply go “by the book” and instead kind of reshape the iconic ballet to suit their own personality.

  6. Jeffrey Orling RA

    Nina… But I love Vishneva in DQ

  7. Every modern ballerina owes their Kitri to Plisetskaya. That’s like saying ice cream has dairy in it. Maya’s Kitri is all fire and raw Spanish girl. Osipova’s is simply “look at me, I’m so fast and high.” seriously disappointed in today’s ballet fans just like today’s operaphiles. No wonder high art is fading away.

    • Jeffrey Orling RA

      This is derivative of the emphasis and the need to technique. One of the marvelous “things” about ballet is that it is so rigidly rule based – technique – but that artists can emerge with “interpretations” of roles and add nuance over top of technique.

      We can marvel at superior technique, awesome extensions and so forth.. and we should. But the real geniuses of ballet have both dance and art and interpretation. And even this is usually a collaboration between the dancer and the AD.

      I think the comment applies to Natalia… she seems to have advanced in her technique but not so much as an artist. Could this be related to maturity, culture, experience and even isolation inside a ballet studio?

      • I do think it’s at least partly a maturity issue. I think she’s in her early twenties. At that age, you’re probably more going to go more for the athleticism since you’re at the peak of your athletic ability at that point. I think the artistry comes later. It’s probably rare to find both in someone so young.

  8. Don Quixote is not necessarily a “deep” ballet.

    I think we need time to accept the new generation of ballerines. We tend to be pessimistic and critical towards the new generation, in some degree because we, unconsciously or not, have higher expectations. In the case of Osipova, I believe that her artistry is somehow shadowed by her stellar technique. From the clips I saw and the reports I read on Natasha’s R&J, I believe she has great artistry, and the potential to be even better in the future.

    sidenote: Osipova changed her relationship status from “single” to “engaged to Ivan Vasiliev” on her facebook page. So sincere congrats and best wishes to the couple!

  9. A note on Gorsky, from Apollo’s Angels (a book with which I do have some problems). Still…

    “Gorsky brought Stanislavsky’s ideas to bear on ballet–Petipa’s ballet. Eschewing the old master’s outwardly ornamented steps and decorative patterns, he emphasized instead mime and gesture–he liked to call his ballets “mimodramas”–and paid particular attention to plot development and story line. In 1919 the Moscow Art Theater merged briefly with the Bolshoi Ballet, and the collaboration between the two led to several groundbreaking productions. In a new version of Giselle, for example, Gorsky transformed the hitherto sweet villagers into earthy folk and assigned each a distinct individual profile. His wilis, moreover, were not idealized spirits but dead brides in tattered gowns with ashen faces and black circles gouged under teir eyes; they did not dance in straight regal lines, but instead splayed themselves indecorously on the floor and ran chaotically about the state. Gorsky even brought the ballerina down from her lofty Romantic heights: he scribbled a note instructing his Giselle “to be a temperamental wench–don’t dance on pointe (too sugary). Jump like a young goat and really do go mad.”

    I’d like to know his direction for Kitri.

    And on the subject of Maya Plisetskaya, I think it’s completely relevant to bring her up. There is tremendous fire in that clip Ivy linked to–more than some of the others. There’s a reason for this.

    “Films of Plisetskaya’s performances show her throwing herself into dancing with an abandon few ballerinas would dare, and in her sharp light, Ulanova’s restrained purity can take on the paler glow of piety. She was brazen and often moved with questionable taste. “I knew some things, others I stole, some I figured out myself, took advice, blundered through. And it was all haphazard, random.”

    • Very interesting – I must read the Homans when I get the time. Yes, I totally agree that Plisetskaya had the most fire. Pavlova the second most, but her Kitri was a bit cuter than Plisetskaya’s (judging from the videos at least). Very interesting that at least some people of her time considered Plisetskaya “brazen” and moving with “questionable taste.” I guess people of our time are now saying the same of Osipova (a lot critics here don’t like her). To me, Osipova comes the closest to Plisetskaya of the ballerinas I’ve seen dancing the role today.

      Interesting too that Homans talks about Stanislavsky and Gorsky as having brought more mime to this ballet. I definitely saw more character dancing spread throughout and really creating much of the base of the ballet, as Ivy mentioned above, but I didn’t really see so much actual mime. So, they didn’t keep all of the Gorsky production, but only some of it then. Wow, I can’t imagine a Giselle danced the way Homans describes!

  10. On the subject of rules . . . there are still teachers in ballet class here in NYC who will reference “a certain school down the street” with disparagement. IE, yes, there are rules, and these teachers are positive there is *one way* to begin a pirouette from fourth position, or to do a pirouette en dedans, or a developpe, and “that school down the street” cheats and does it incorrectly.

    Ballet can be a living art.

  11. OMG, Marie. Are you talking about S.A.B.? If you are, I can’t believe it. After what, the 70 or so years the school has existed? Amazing.

    • I am! I know! This one teacher was always telling us not to keep the back leg straight in fourth to prep for a turn (like that school down the street). He also made me do en dedans turns with a little degage, which I am *still* trying to get rid of.

      Anyway, even now, people seem to teach a variety of styles. I am really curious to see the “Bournonville” dancers, and to see if their style is really so conservative.

  12. I don’t know if Bournonville dancers are conservative so much, but just understated. Remember, Mr. B. went to Denmark as his “go to” place for leading men, back in the day! They can’t be that uptight!

  13. The 1976 Don Q with Kirkland and Baryshnikov is still available commercially on DVD, from KulturFilms, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. It’s definitely worth buying, while it’s still available: Baryshnikov at Wolf Trap. A clip is here:
    This was a stand-alone Pdd typically performed on a mixed bill with ABT (and elsewhere).

    Baryshnikov’s full-length Don Q premiered in March 1978 at the Kennedy Center with Kirkland and Baryshnikov. You can see archival tapes of those performances at the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts, but they’ve never been released commercially. By then Gelsey was healthy and at her best. But the Pdd in Act III is different because it’s broken up with ensemble work and is part of a full-length work. You can see a tiny clip of this on the opening page of Gelsey’s Academy — it’s the second segment, wearing the lavendar ruffled dress, which is from the opening in Act I. You get a glimpse of her Plisetskaya leap:

    You can buy that 1978 version on DVD with Baryshnikov and Cynthia Harvey, from the 1983 Live from Lincoln Center broadcast. I liked Harvey, but she’s not in a league with Kirkland (or Osipova). Alas, Gelsey was fired by Baryshnikov in December 1980 and struggled with drug problems for years after. I don’t think she ever did that role again after that.

    There are quite a few versions of Don Q out there, as others have noted. Baryshnikov’s full-length version borrows heavily from the Kirov version he performed before defecting. Only one brief clip of that, from a 1971 performance in Japan, is still on YouTube:
    Last year, somebody posted the entire 1971 performance on YouTube in installments and I was struck by how much it resembled the full-length ABT version Baryshnikov did in 1978. I don’t know who demanded that it be removed. His version omits a lot of the sequences you see in today’s Bolshoi version.

  14. I found another segment from the 1971 Japan performance of the Kirov’s full-length Don Q with Baryshnikov. This is the final Pdd:

    Here’s a 1969 version of just the Pdd with Baryshnikov, at the young age of 21, in what seems some sort of studio setting:

  15. Interesting to hear a different opinion, so far i had always heard Natalia’s Kitri was amazing, and i quite love it actually.
    I don’t think she is all technique, I know she sometimes does her jumps or pirouettes like if she was an ice skater or…well just and athlete as you’ve said, YET…I’ve noticed she adds some flirty and funny movements to the variations, being the way she moves her head or “fixing” her shoulders quickly before doing some jumps.
    But i agree…having technique and being a true artist at such a young age is almost imposible, if not…it is not natural.
    To me, art comes from experience, heard it once in a POB documental, its kind off like a curse one day you know it all, how to make the audience feel you…but your legs don’t go as high as they used to. Its a process…no young pianist can really play a Rachmaninov piece, with full comprehension of its deep meaning, passion is not something you learn in a classroom it is something you learn in life…Osipova is perhaps too young, but i’m looking foward too see her later…i do have high expectations about her.
    But i really really liked reading you opinion, honest.
    p.s: I am mexican…so english is not my strenght, any mistake, i am sorry.

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