Dance is virtually on hiatus in Pittsburgh, except for a few studio star turns to be visited shortly. So it’s time to hit the road and find some. If the mountain won’t come to Mohammed…you get the picture. This Friday I’m heading to Washington, D.C. and what might be called, in sports-minded sense, the Bolshoi/Royal Ballet Smackdown. (More to follow on the next segments of the trip.)
Yes, two of the world’s premiere dance ensembles will appear back-to-back weeks at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, only four (or so) short hours’ drive from Pittsburgh. The last time I visited a similar pairing at the Center was in 2006, when the Maryinsky/Kirov Ballet presented “Giselle” and the Royal countered with Frederick Ashton’s “La Valse” and “Enigma Variations” and Kenneth MacMillan’s “Gloria.”
With a little planning, I can catch an even better pairing (potentially), beginning with Russia’s Bolshoi Ballet in one of those signature works that have enhanced its repertoire and its reputation, “Le Corsaire,” on Saturday. It’s a somewhat new production, first performed in 2007 and called “magnificent” by the New York Times. “Le Corsaire” tells the tale of a Greek girl, Medora, and the swashbuckling Pirate,Conrad , in a love affair that sets that stage for captive maidens, rich sultans and the pre-requisite abductions and rescues, “all culminating in a shipwreck that’s one of the most breathtaking specatacles in all of ballet.”
I’ll be seeing prominent Bolshoi soloists Ekaterina Shipulina as Medora and Ruslan Skvortsov as Conrad (both are on youtube.com), but it seems that the Bolshoi has pulled some of its most exciting young stars for this engagement.
American Ballet Theatre performed “Le Corsaire” on WQED’s Great Performances a while back with Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel and it will be interesting to measure the two. But then, the Bolshoi has more history going for it and additional choreography by Alexei Ratmansky, who was just appointed as resident choreographer at ABT.
Comparing the Bolshoi to the Royal is like comparing,once again, the proverbial apples and oranges. The Royal arrives in its corner next week with a fabulous line-up of ballets, including two signature works, Frederick Ashton’s deliriously beautiful “A Month in the Country,” book-ended by two masterful contemporary works, Christopher Wheeldon’s “DGV” and Wayne McGregor’s “Chroma.” McGregor was working on the ballet when his company, Random Dances, appeared at the Pittsburgh Dance Council in 2006 and it subsequently garnered the Laurence Olivier award in 2007 for Best New Dance Production. Wheeldon has become ballet’s Favorite Son. And the other signature, the glorious “Manon” by Kenneth MacMillan, will feature principals Zenaida Yanowsky and Rupert Pennefather.
The companies have pulled out their big guns, or so it seems. Let the games begin.
The Bolshoi Ballet will appear at the Kennedy Center Tues. through Sun. The Royal Ballet will begin June 23 through June 28. For more information, visit the Kennedy Center website, http://www.kennedy-center.org.