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Dance review: The Bolshoi returns to the Orange County Performing Arts Center

February 25, 2010 | 11:55 am
Bolshoi

And to think, Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev, the fiery, young soloists of the Bolshoi Ballet who brought down the house at the Orange County Performing Arts Center Wednesday night, weren’t even supposed to be there.

 Marquee principals Svetlana Zakharova and Alexander Volchkov originally were cast as the playful lovers Kitri and Basil in the Bolshoi Ballet’s “Don Quixote,” a signature production based on Cervantes’ novel that’s Bolshoi330been shaped (and reshaped) since 1869 by Marius Petipa, Alexandr Gorsky, Alexei Fadeyechev and at least three more credited choreographers. A Zakharova injury led to propitious substitutions, it turned out. Before you could say fouetté, opening night of the Bolshoi’s six-performance run turned into a high voltage evening of spectacular dancing, temperamental artistes, and hollering from the balconies.

It was what we hear tell the company's first tours of the United States were like. That was when the Bolshoi, Moscow’s “big” theater, stunned crowds with virile, thrilling male dancers and women performers of oversize passion, represented by prima ballerinas Galina Ulanova and Maya Plisetskaya. In the 1980s and 1990s, that luster had diminished considerably; they’re working hard to return to glory days. Dance boom, anyone?

Panza Wednesday night, the petite Osipova captured the crowd from her very first entrance, a gigantic grand jeté, with the identifying head-to-toe backbend. The muscular Vasiliev, master of cloud-skimming leaps and spins that ended on half-point, stopped the show when he lifted Osipova overhead, let go with one hand (for the second time) and then lifted one leg off the ground into arabesque. It went like that for two hours and 40 minutes, with masterful demonstrations of classical technique. Feeding off a frenzied crowd, solos became opportunities for one-upmanship, and toward the end it came to feel like a Nadal-Federer tennis match, seesawing between deuce and advantage in (or out).

A miscommunication, perhaps, led to a shaky catch from an overhead lift in Act 3 and the goodwill vanished. The mistake had barely registered. Yet Vasiliev snarled, whispering with sidelong disdain to Osipova. Her smile tightened. The show went on but the magic was sullied.

Feats are nice, very nice. But these two superhumans have a precious artistry that lifted their profound athleticism to another level. They exuded – before their snit – a magnificent joyfulness. Its infectiousness, and the intensity of their spontaneity, filled the 3,000 seat Segerstrom Hall.

With the stars shooting off blazing fireworks, it was hard for even the best soloists to get noticed in this effervescent, if worn, three-act story ballet; on the other hand, few in the parade of Spanish-flavored variations were truly distinguished.

Spritely Nina Kaptsova was a delicate and nimble Cupid. Andrey Merkuriev portrayed the toreador Espada with haughty masculinity and swirled his cape with menace. Kristina Karaseva, as Mercedes, folded backward like smooth silk. Chinara Alizade performed the second grand pas variation with sweet musicality and hanging balances.

Veterans Alexey Loparevich and Alexander Petukhov portrayed Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, respectively, as they had 10 years ago in Costa Mesa with more antic fun than one remembers from before. They journeyed on foot rather than the traditional horse, presumably, given the lean economic times.

TutusThe Bolshoi corps de ballet was the night’s other great pleasure. An ornamental cohesion marked the women’s dancing. The Don’s dream scene, with perfect rows of tutued ballerinas, was the impressive spectacle of symmetrical splendor it was intended to be. The first act crowd scenes were festive and rowdy, though the loud chatter was distracting.

Bolshoi orchestra conductor Pavel Klinichev had a pickup group of area musicians in the pit, and he rocketed them through Ludwig Minkus’ score, doing it satisfactory justice. Frankly, with Osipova and Vasiliev in control of the show, that was all that was required.

-- Laura Bleiberg

"Don Quixote," Bolshoi Ballet, Orange County Performing Arts Center, Costa Mesa. Casting: Marianna Ryzhkina and Mikhail Lobukhin, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday; Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. $21 to $149. (714) 556-2787 or www.ocpac.org.

Photos, from top: The Bolshoi Ballet's Natalia Osipova  and Ivan Vasiliev; Alexander Petukhov (as Sancho Panza tossed above the crowd); and Osipova and the corps. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times.

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