100-year-old Bolshoi Ballet making a stop in Saratoga

Bolshoi means big. But even bigger, for dance audiences, is the chance to see the famed Bolshoi Ball
Bolshoi Principal dancer Semyon Chudin, who will dance the role of the mischievous Basilio on Wednesday night at SPAC.
Bolshoi Principal dancer Semyon Chudin, who will dance the role of the mischievous Basilio on Wednesday night at SPAC.

Bolshoi means big. But even bigger, for dance audiences, is the chance to see the famed Bolshoi Ballet at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

The Russian company, known for its flashy and expansive dancing, traditionally only flies across the stages in the big American cities — New York, Washington, Los Angeles. This year, the Bolshoi agreed to add one more leg to its American tour: Saratoga Springs.

“This is a huge deal,” said Denise Limoli, dance historian and ballet professor at Skidmore College of the Bolshoi’s four-day stay that begins Tuesday. “It’s one of the world’s most important ballet companies. It’s a real coup for SPAC to have them here.”

Audiences know that. While many were dismissive or disappointed in other ballet companies that have been booked on the SPAC stage, preferring the amphitheater’s resident company New York City Ballet, most know that the Bolshoi can rival the home team, in technique and glitter.

Bolshoi Ballet

WHERE: Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs

WHEN: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, 2 p.m. Thursday and 8 p.m. Friday

HOW MUCH: Evenings: $85-$32, $24 on the lawn; matinee: $45-$35, $15 on the lawn.

MORE INFO: 584-9330, www.spac.org

The Bolshoi will stage its colorful version of “Don Quixote” here. The full-length ballet, a well-known favorite with companies and audiences worldwide, is special for the Bolshoi. It is the only ballet that the classical ballet master of ballet masters, Marius Petipa, who created “Swan Lake” and “The Nutcracker,” made for the more than century-old Moscow-based troupe.

“For Bolshoi theater, “Don Q” is a very special title as it is from the legacy of Marius Petipa,” said Bolshoi spokeswoman Katerina Novikova. “ ‘Don Q’ is the only great title he staged for Moscow. So Bolshoi loves it and takes it as our ballet motherland.

“All great qualities of the company are reflected in this ballet, which is grand, funny, very vivid with lots of acting roles and not only classic but also character dancing.”

Unlike the novel by Miguel de Cervantes, the doddering title character who seeks adventure and glory does not play the central role. In the ballet, Don Quixote is a secondary character who stumbles upon the antics of rebellious lovers Kitri and Basilio.

The Don’s sense of chivalry heightens their tomfoolery, which unwittingly helps Kitri and Basilio destroy her father’s plans to marry her off to a foppish nobleman.

Principal dancer Semyon Chudin, who will dance the role of the mischievous Basilio on Wednesday night, said the ballet is a treat for him.

“Basilio is totally different from what I usually dance,” said Chudin who often dances the part of the romantic prince. “As Basilio I can be strong and sharp. It’s nice to be free. It shows another side of my heart.”

Chudin’s Kitri will be performed by Ekaterina Krysanova, who The Wall Street Journal described as “one of the company’s bright talents.” A tall dancer, she is known for her speed, athleticism and power.

Yet Chudin says Krysanova is just one of many fantastic ballerinas at the Bolshoi. At SPAC, audiences will also have a chance to see Maria Alexandrova and Kristina Kretova as Kitri. Chudin has danced with them all.

“At Bolshoi, we change partners all the time. I find something to identify with each one of them,” said Chudin. “With Ekaterina, she helps me to be a better dancer because she is good.”

Over the decades, the men of the Bolshoi have been praised even more highly — mainly for their grandiose and energetic style, which requires them to fly across the Bolshoi Theater stage, far larger than most U.S. stages. The 200-plus-dancer company is also known for its tradition of multigenerational ballet families including the Vasilievs, the Liepas and the Fadeyechevs.

That hasn’t changed. But when Sergei Filin was appointed ballet director in 2011, the century-old heritage was rattled. He brought in his own A-list of dancers, including Chudin and American David Hallberg (the first American ever invited to dance with the Bolshoi). He also adopted works like Pierre Lacotte’s “Marco Spada” and John Neumeier’s “Lady of the Camellias,” in which he featured his chosen crew.

This didn’t go over well with some of the veteran dancers and in January of 2013, Filin was attacked outside his home. A masked man threw sulfuric acid in his face, nearly blinding him. It was later revealed that disgruntled Bolshoi soloist Pavel Dmitrichenko masterminded the attack. He, like other fellow dancers, was angry over Filin’s casting of starring roles.

Dmitrichenko is now in jail and Filin has recently returned to work at the Bolshoi. And with the U.S. tour selling well, including at SPAC where ticket sales are strong, the Bolshoi is assuring the world that all is well.

Chudin believes it to be so.

“It is nice to be at Bolshoi,” said Chudin, who has also danced with Universal Ballet Company and the Zurich Ballet. “We are doing many interesting things. Mr. Filin is so smart. He is doing new ballets. We just danced Jean-Christophe Maillot’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew.’ It was a sell-out here in Moscow. That is nice for us. Mr. Filin brings so much to Bolshoi.”

Chudin expects that enthusiasm will translate to the audiences at SPAC.

“You have New York City Ballet, a great company,” he said. “They have Balanchine. I like Balanchine. We are different, but also a great company. I think it is the Russian soul that makes us different. I promise American audiences will love it.”

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