Posts Tagged ‘ballet’

That looks interesting…

October 17, 2017


…things I ought to remember not to forget.



The Slaves of Solitude:

Leningrad Symphony:

La tragedie de Carmen:



Tatyana, Barbican Theatre 2 February

February 5, 2013



Green Olgas and pink Tatyanas

The staff were very keen to hand out plot synopses for this show from the Deborah Colker Dance Company, but in the event it was all very simple.  There were four Tatyanas (pink), Olgas (green), Lenskys (yellow) and Onegins (blue) in the first half, together with a Pushkin (black) and Deborah Colker herself as another Pushkin.

I thought it worked very well, and managed in some ways to bring out more of Pushkin than either Tchaikovsky or John Cranko managed.  The Letter Scene, to Henryk Gorecki’s Three Pieces in the Olden Style was extremely intense as the Tatyanas wrapped themselves round the arboreal set and also wrote on their own bodies.  At least one of them captured a convincing Tatyana both gawky and shaken by the discovery of sex.

In fact, it occurred to me that this was the first ballet I’d ever seen that showed a convincing depiction of female sexuality–rather than working on the principle that ballerinas look like beautiful boys, so…–and even of a woman’s life in general (in the second half, when Tatyana grows up and Onegin degenerates).

Oh yes–in Pushkin, the narrator is the main character so I thought portraying Pushkin on the stage here was entirely appropriate, though all I can say for Deborah Colker’s performance is that it was pretty good for someone who is not quite so young as me.

At the beginning, I thought that these dancers would have been hidden at the back of the corps de ballet in this country or Russia, but then I realised they were after doing something else.  But I have some sympathy with those who have complained that the Olgas were characterised no differently from the Tatyanas.

Anyway, on the evening I went the performance was very warmly welcomed by a predominantly young, fashionably-dressed and female audience.

Permian Diary: 8-23 September

October 31, 2012

The announcement started off


The Russian and Eurasian Studies Centre together with [Oxford] University’s Department for Continuing Education is arranging for a group of eight people to visit Perm as guests of the Perm State University. They will live in families with at least one English speaker and will have many opportunities to observe real Russian life. The visit is part of an exchange scheme in which the payment made by you supports the visit of a Perm teacher to Oxford.

and after a preparatory early-morning briefing meeting in Oxford some weeks beforehand, this is what happened:

Saturday 8 September

Boring photograph of train window

Get up at five am.  Taxi to Heathrow.  Accustomed queue at passport control in Moscow, it seems they now print the migration card out automatically.  Igor, a student from Perm, meets us and asks do we want to get a taxi or the Metro from Paveletsky station to Yaroslavsky.  Unbelievable indecision.  Francis falls over muscling his luggage onto the AeroExpress train.  We descend to a left luggage place then while away the hours at a Sbarro restaurant before waiting in the waiting room.  When we get on the train Igor and I have the bottom bunks in one compartment, the top bunks are empty.  I sleep soundly for a long time.

Sunday 9 September

Irina’s lovely house

I sit on my couchette and stare at the wall opposite (sometimes Igor as well).  When we get off the train at Perm’ people appear to take us away; a youngish man called Aleksei comes for me.  We go and meet a young woman called Irina.  Then we get in a car and set off for what seems to be Irina’s house.  Irina’s mother Aleksandra is worried I won’t know how to use the hot water, but it’s just like my system at home.  I establish myself in a very large and very very nice room…

Monday 10 September

I sleep, and then have rather a lot of breakfast.   Aleksandra gives me the address and Irina’s mobile number, then sets out.  Aleksei appears and takes me on a marshrutka, then a bus to the University.  Irina rings Aleksei to tell him to tell me to ring her when I want to go home.

The University has a checkpoint that the local council doesn’t allow them to use.

Some important people address us under the impression that we come from Oxford or Oxfordshire.  A couple of students of English come to take us round the University Museum and the Botanical Garden.  But it’s raining, so we can only go in the greenhouse.  But we stand in the rain a long time while they try to work out which greenhouse.

A primitive plant typical of the Permian Era

The first thing to see is an exhibition of plants typical of the Permian Era (named after Perm’) and that rather appeals to my sense of humour.  After the greenhouse tour I have to ring Irina which I have no idea how to do from my English mobile, so I borrow one of the guides’ and Irina tells me to try again at 8:30.  Martin, Heather and I go with a guide to a shop nearby to buy local SIM cards; we have to show our passports and have them photocopied.  We walk along ulitsa Lenina and find a pancake place that has WiFi and a nice toilet.

Some time later, I get on a bus and just when I’m wondering where I am Irina gets on as well.  We get off some time later and go to a grocery store then get in a crowded car with some of her friends.  When we get in, we talk about a visit to her school and I ring Heather who is keen in principle but it depends on her Ekaterinburg visit.

Tuesday 11 September

Irina takes me into town by bus and tram.  Our group has a tour round some sights.  I go to the student canteen with Martin and Heather, then decide I can’t face it and wander off into town.  Then I get on a 68 bus and manage to get off at the right stop by asking the person next to me.

I kill time until 1830, when I am due to ring Irina.  I can’t get through.  What to do?  I ask a taxi-driver, who says he’s never heard of the address.  I get on the 16 bus, going the opposite way from what I remember going into town.  I get a phonecall from Irina, who says I should get off at ul. Kolyaevo.  The bus goes through some familiar-looking regions and then comes to the end of the route.  I retrace my path somewhat through mud and then ask a motherly-looking woman who says she has never heard of the place I am living then rings a friend, after which she says I need to cross the road again, get the 16 bus, ask the conductor.  I do that and end up at the terminus again.

I try again and get on a 16 bus to Zaprud.  Then when it gets to a stop called ul. Startseva I decide it is looking too urban and get off.  I try ringing Irina many, many times.  It is getting dark and with the other people at the bus-stop looking threatening it is all getting like Twilight Portrait.  But with a great effort of concentration I manage to work out how to call Irina using my English card.  She says I should get the 16 bus and get off at ul. Kolybalova.  I manage to notice that the 16 bus has automated announcements of the stops.

Atmospheric bus-stop shot (by Martin)

I arrive at the bus-stop and wait.  Irina arrives with her uncle in a car.  We arrive ouside her house.  She asks, Am I angry with her and I say No.  Then the front gate turns out to be locked and she doesn’t have the key.  I say one of us can climb over the fence but she finds another way in.

We have our tea.  She says I should have something definite to say at the visit to her school.  Then we have a tense discussion about how I can find my way home.  Eventually she says she will show me the stop for the number 16 tomorrow.

Wednesday 12 September

We start off down the road so she can show me the bus-stop.  Then Irina has a mysterious conversation on her phone and Sasha appears in her car to take us to 1905 Square so I can get the tram and Irina can go to her school.

I go to the tourist office and get some more maps; then the group manages to assemble in the rain and we traipse round places where Yuri Zhivago and his Lara might have lived and loved if they had been real people.  But they weren’t.

The others go to have some lunch and I decide I need to use the daylight to work out the route home.  The 68 and the 16 take me to the ul. Kolybalova stop and I manage to find my way onto the street.  But I have no idea which of the many lanes leading off to the left I want.  Eventually I manage to get some kind-of-useful directions from a guy with metal teeth delivering beer and then I catch sight of a house with 10 2-ая Кольцевая on a sign.  And then I manage to find my way onto the right track and get into the house.

Enigmatic expanse of road

After a bath and several cups of coffee I set off to go to a meeting of the Perm Rotary Club we have been invited to.  The quasi-Masonic ritual seems a bit grotesque, but the people and what they are doing seem worthwhile.  I help Igor out with some of the interpreting and also respond to some questions addressed to the English side.  Then Aleksandr the ex-navy-officer who entertained us with Vysotsky-style songs gives me a lift home and the other passengers are eager with questions about England.

When I get in, Irina says the father of her friend Olya is interested in applied mathematics and economics; I show him some slides and he is interested in system dynamics, forecasting and data mining.  We agree to meet next Wednesday.  Then Sasha comes round, the girls get into girly mode, and I go to bed.

Thursday 13 September

I am supposed to be leaving early with Sasha to join the day’s trip into the countryside.

The girls drift round without urgency.  Irina asks Do you want any porridge?  I say No.  She makes me some and puts it beside me and looks at me until I eat it.  When we finally set off, Sasha demonstrates Formula 1 overtaking with one hand while turning the radio up with the other and pushing back her hair as well somehow…If we don’t make it in time I will say I never managed to speak to Heather about going to Irina’s school and it won’t be my fault.  But they have waited beyond the agreed time and Heather rather crossly tells me to hurry up.

We arrive somewhere and climb up a slippery steep path to take a picture and then we slip and slide back down again.

The view we clambered for

It begins to rain.  We have lunch in the rain.  After the other 4 have had a go, David and I get in a canoe and set off with an optimistic strike rate.  Our Russians are on the phone to their mates–or just flirting–while Heather and Martin’s is doing the paddling.

Canoeing on the Silva River

We visit the Kungur Ice Caves where I get bored and cold and bang my head many, many times and worry about time getting on and how I am going to get home.

Quite photogenic, these ice caves

It rains.  We spend too much time in a souvenir shop.  Some of us rather hope we might be setting off back now, but instead we have a picnic under an awning in the rain.

Under an awning in the rain

We finally get back to the University and Hatty’s hostess Tanya takes me in her car to find a taxi not near the railway station.  The taxi driver and I manage to find the road.  Then we drive up and down it looking for Irina’s house.  Then I get out and walk up and down looking for Irina’s house.  He charges me more than twice the fair price Irina named.

Irina and I have a very guarded conversation.  Olga says that I am bored and disappointed with Russia.  I say I am certainly not bored or disappointed with the three friends around the kitchen table but I would be better off with a definite aim.  I go to bed.

Friday 14 September

Sasha takes us all into town in her car by way of a visit to the local branch of Эхо Москвы, where she hands in a projector and screen.  Olga asks me my favourite type of music and guesses it must be opera; I admit I am frightened by how well she understands me.   I go to the International Department and find neither Svetlana nor Mariya.  Then I come across Svetlana and a guy who wants to show me round the Maths Department, even though there is no-one there.  Among general confusion, I say I am due to meet Professor Andrianov on Wednesday.

Then Irina and I meet Heather and they hit it off immediately.  After a change of bus we arrive at Irina’s school, where we stand at the front of a class and say a few words about ourselves.  Then we say something about differences between England and Russia and Svetlana the teacher tells us when we get it wrong.  Heather shows her slides about school matters in England and brings out the stuff they need to remember with great proficiency.  We get a fairly random selection of questions; a pretty girl wants to know about getting an English husband and a clever lad asks about highly-paid jobs in London.

Pedagogues, English and Russian

After putting Heather on a bus, Irina and I go to a pancake place and a rather low-grade ‘Indian bazaar’, then she helps me buy a replacement woolly hat.  In the evening I tiredly draft an email to Svetlana saying we really ought to do something with the presentations I have prepared.

Saturday 15 September

Irina says that Sasha will take us all into town in her car.  We hang around in the church shop–they have a nice copy of Лебединая песня and also just for once a Church Slavonic Bible, though it is heavy, bulky and expensive.

It comes round to four o’clock and I hope I am never going to meet Bad Irina.  Then Good Irina comes out of the shop to say that BI is stuck in traffic.  I buy the Bible and then BI finally appears.  It is all very unpleasant.  I agree to give a talk to her first-year students who won’t understand anything as a kind of of performing animal I guess.  She gives further instructions about what to say, when to appear and so on.

I go to meet Aleksei Aleksandrovich and we go to the theatre.  We have a speech from quite a nice-looking woman about how great (and mystical) the forthcoming season will be, and how the owner of a shop called Polaris has donated wallpaper.  The owner of a shop called Polaris stands up and takes a bow.

Termen–really rather dreadful

The show begins and is really rather dreadful.  The actors have been made to speak with comedy foreign accents and the text is painfully undramatic.  A piece supposed to be about modern music requires the most hackneyed Baroque pieces to affect the audience’s emotions.  The audience for its part not only texts but also talks on its mobiles throughout.

At the interval AA is clearly embarrassed at how poor it all is so I suggest we leave.  When I get home, I give Olga a Thomas Tallis CD and she looks nonplussed, but thanks me anyway.  The girls go to the bathhouse in the garden and I go to bed.

Sunday 16 September

Many interesting encounters outside here

I go into town in Olga’s taxi and we pass Irina on her bike.  I sit outside the church shop and Irina arrives on her bike.  I guard the bike while she shops in the church shop.  We sit.  A young man arrives.  They talk together indistinctly.  I make my excuses and leave.

In the evening I give Sasha and Irina some presents.

Monday 17 September

I go to the University by bus and tram, using some scraps of Wi-Fi connection on the way.  I go to see Svetlana, who rings one Larissa and asks her to find me some students.  Then I ask about using the Wi-Fi; she rings one San Sanych and wheedles.  Mariya gives me train tickets and tells me how to go where I’m going.

I am admitted to Larissa Sergeevna’s presence.  She establishes that there is some group whose teacher has gone sick and tells me to come back at 1330.  Following earlier instructions, at 1300 I repair to the International Department where one Olga takes me to the computer centre.  The guy there completely blanks us and says he knows nothing about nothing.  Then he says we can go round the back and see the administrator.  He complains that the International Department have been assigned many log-ins and he has no idea what has happened to them.  But he relents and I am connected to the outside world.

When I return to give my talk we spend some time connecting my computer to the projector and the IT bloke complains lengthily.  One of the students–a group of about 15 young women–is actively interested, and some of the others venture a reaction from time to time.  What they like is wordy slides that they can compare with what I am saying–it seems like the words accountant, hinder and rota are new to them–and recommendations for specific books.  I recommend If This Is A Man (because everyone ought to read it)  The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time (because seeing things through the eyes of someone who doesn’t know what’s going on will help them to understand English life, even if they read it in Russian, and in that case they can pass it on to their geeky brothers or boyfriends) and The Night Watch (so that they get some value from all the Shakespeare they’ve done).

I decline Larissa’s kind offer to talk to a group of students of French at three o’clock, and wander round town.  Konstantin keeps on ringing me at inopportune moments with further and contradictory demands, so I never manage to eat and have difficulties shopping as well.

People did get a bit confused around this stage

Then I rush to the Theatre Theatre which is miles away and arrive a bit late, but so are they so that’s all right.  I find myself liking the Scarlet Sails musical and I might have cried with a better final duet.  I also manage to more-or-less explain the story to the others.

I spend a long time waiting to get my things back at the cloakroom, and then at the second bus-stop of my journey home.

Tuesday 18 September

We get on the bus and go to the Gulag Museum at Perm-36.  I remember when this was the last camp for political prisoners at the end of the Soviet period, and the guide says that the KGB failed to destroy it completely–because part of it was used as a real psychiatric hospital maybe–so they were able to restore it.

Display of prisoners’ implements


‘Experienced prisoners said it was one of the most beautiful of the Gulags…’

I approve of the modest and low-key nature of the place, a welcome change from Volgograd for example.

We  return to the Uni and gather in the canteen.  We talk about lapses in organisation and how the return journey will go.  As we start off on our various ways home, Martin remarks that there is nothing to say for their flat except it’s easy to find.  I suggest they come round to Irina’s lovely house on Friday evening.  When I get home I borrow Irina’s dongle and find some worried emails from base telling me not to give anything away while pursuing professional contacts.

I give Irina some presents from Heather and she likes that.  I tell her Martin and Heather might be coming round on Friday and she is very pleased.  So it ends up with Irina speaking to Heather on my phone and an arrangement for Martin and Heather to come round for traditional afternoon tea on  Friday.

Wednesday 19 September

We wait outside the Art Gallery for a student to come and take us to the Regional Museum.  We wait some more.  Heather suggests going into the Art Gallery to ask if they can ring the Regional Museum and find out if our student is there.  So she tries that and I accompany.  Then the student appears and we set off.  She’s running late, that’s all there is to it.

So we go to the Regional Museum, which is low-key but interesting enough.  Then I return to sit outside the Art Gallery.  I send Konstantin a text to say I am free.  I sit for half an hour and get cold.  Maybe I can go home?

I get a call from Professor Andrianov, who then appears very quickly and we apologise to each other.  He commissions various treatments for my sore throat by mobile phone.  He says it is a pity I am stuck in the outskirts and they can arrange for me to stay in a hotel instead.  I say that I am fine with Irina and we have visits with neighbours planned for the rest of our time.

When we arrive, Prognoz turns out to occupy one or more former arms factories.  He takes me to a very large boardroom and plies me with liquids.  He says that they support the Orthodox Church and the Jewish community and have had a visit from the Israeli Ambassador.

Then he leads me to a frighteningly futuristic boardroom–this time it’s The Target that is referenced–where the young guns display whizzy products.  I ask questions about how they actually support decisions, what they do about data quality, and what exactly their offering is.  This is all in Russian.  Then the top guys interrogate me about where an automated system such as theirs might be used.  I suggest–using the example of road maintenance–that it might be local councils or the Highways Agency.

Then there is a break while students file in.  I am to give a talk completely different from what I was told.  I am to talk about my work in general terms, first of all in English (for the international students) and then summarising in Russian.  Saying the same thing would be too easy!  So I do that.  I tell them to understand the real problem and the real data.  At the end, someone asks about the Olympics.

International students imitate wakefulness while the Russian ones discuss yesterday’s TV

After that I am put in a car and taken to the University.  I tell my pals that it was about the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life…

We get in a minibus and go to a Palace of Culture in some farflung remoteness. The Panfilov Ballet starts with music that is far too loud, and at the beginning it’s about the level you might expect at such a venue.  At the interval some of our lot are distinctly unhappy and refuse to re-enter the auditorium.  The second half is a lot better; I start off by thinking that some of the numbers with the fat people are at the level of a normal show at Sadlers Wells, while at the end with Люби друг друга it is like a very good show there.

When I get in Irina serves me some dinner and asks me about my day, especially the meeting with Olga’s father.

Thursday 20 September

When I wake up I have a nasty sore throat and no voice.  I text Bad Irina to say I will not be able to give a talk for her.   Aleksandra (who has reappeared) makes me an infusion of Ural herbs that I am supposed to gargle.

I finally set off for the day’s excursions and as you do in these circumstances miss the bus and tram.  I am making reasonable progress when an accident means the tram is sent round all kind of remote parts and finally ends up at the University.

So after coming home and admitting my delinquency to Aleksandra I set off again and arrive quite early at the opera house.  There is no atmosphere.  The performance is appalling.  I sleep through most of the first half and then escape.

Job advert at the tram stop–I suspect this involves ‘topless’ if not ‘intim’

I have a long wait for the tram, then get a 38 to fairly near home.  Aleksandra kindly produces some dinner for me and Irina is nowhere to be seen.

Friday 21 September

I go into town starting with the 38 bus and we assemble and set off for Khokhlovka.  We have a very clued-up guide called Stanislav and start off with a typical izba from the Perm region.  I am interested to see many things I have only been able to imagine from literary sources.

Communal bowl and ostentatious salt cellar

Next there is a church with some rare features.

Church of the Transfiguration

Stanislav says it’s called a ship church because everything is in one line.  He also says he is an atheist and asks us to greet Richard Dawkins for him.  The whole place seems to reflect an entirely sensible way of making a living in the local circumstances, as opposed to Perm-36 which is a pathological way of doing this.

We have some involved discussion about what various things are called:  the balcony on the watchtower where you pull up the boards and pour boiling oil on assailants for instance.

Watchtower (picture by Martin)

For the moment, we have no idea about what to call boxes to hide things from bears, though later on the word cache seems to be the right one.

Cache for pelts (picture by Martin)

And here’s a nice picture of a windmill:

Windmill, to state the obvious

Anyway.  We get back to the University and Tanya rings to get us a taxi.  Nothing happens.  We watch students come and go.  Tanya tells us about the how greedy and dishonest Russian taxi drivers are.  The first firm are still trying to find a car.  She cancels them and tries another.  Olga comes by and says she will be along in an hour.  Tanya says she has won an award to do some work on idioms in Vanity Fair.  The taxi finally arrives and we set off hazardously.

At Irina’s: Aleksandra, Vladimir, Martin (hidden), Irina, Sasha, me, Heather

Irina and her father are sitting outside in the sunshine.  He introduces himself as Vladimir.  Slightly chaotic conversation starts off.  From time to time Vladimir takes Martin or me outside for some serious man talk and so that he can have a smoke.  He shows me some medals and gives me a Spetsnaz combat jacket.  In fact, he presents Martin and me with some military insignia as well.

We finally set off for the bus stop.  Irina leads us through some back ways and Martin takes pictures of houses.  On the way back, Irina says she is now very keen to visit England.  I say she is welcome to stay with me, but she needs to make sure her parents are happy with the idea and it will be a good idea to bring a friend.

Saturday 22 September

Sasha appears and hangs around a bit before Olga wakes up and gets herself together.  We drive to the station and I find our lot assembled on the platform.  When the train arrives, I am in a compartment with a toddler and his carers.  They aren’t keen on him being disturbed.  So I spend the day sitting in other group members’ compartments or going to the restaurant car with them.  The restaurant car steadily runs out of everything.  In the corridor, David tells me some interesting things about the history of the Russian language, which he has studied in Sweden.  In  Swedish.

I sleep pretty well, apart from when the toddler goes on the rampage very early in the morning.
Sunday 23 September

Vera has been ill in the night.  The taxi discussion continues and we decide Vera and Francis will go in one and Helen and Hatty in another–I will arrange.

At the station I submit to a tout wearing what might be an official badge.  Then I have to run after Vera and Francis to say it is 500R each.  The rest of us go on the Metro, which involves trailing along corridors and up and down steps.

Happy people at airport

After the normal Sunday transport problems in London, I arrive home late, wet and disoriented.


If anyone is interested in having a go themselves, this is an annual event and you can see the full announcement for 2013  here.

Two weeks for ~ £ 1,000 is very good VFM though I think you need some specific interest in Russia to find it all worthwhile.


At the end, I made the following suggestions to Karen Hewitt, the organiser:

Here are a few specific points which you may find it useful to consider.  They are meant to be things that participants and organisers on the English side could do, rather than imposing more burdens on the Russians.  These are essentially my points, but I’ve circulated them round the group and taken out or toned down those that people disagreed with.

1.  Aim and scope

I found it was difficult to explain what we were up to, possibly because I wasn’t so sure myself.  The explanation that ‘This is really meant to subsidise English teachers from Perm going to Oxford, but we also hope to be of some use while we’re here’ didn’t seem to help.  People also seemed to be expecting a fully-fledged academic exchange with people from Oxford University.  (As an aside, apart from this confusion, I don’t think the Permians we met had much interest in Oxford, while they certainly did in England generally and in London.)

Recommendation:  Write down what seems to be an adequate description of the purpose of the trip and the nature of its participants and see whether people agree with it.

2.  Talks

There was some confusion here.  People were keen to give talks to students and were expecting some timetable to be produced for Friday/Monday with slots to fit their own talks into.  In fact, nothing of the sort happened and it dawned rather slowly at least on me that what you had to do was tell Svetlana what students you wanted and she would arrange it.  So one of my painstakingly-prepared presentations went unused. 

Recommendation:  I think all you need to do is to include a statement in the guidance that if you want to speak to students you should tell Svetlana what students you want and when.

3.  Organisation 

Similarly to the above, I think there was a great desire among the group members to do something useful for the Permians–students and otherwise–and likewise they wanted to speak to us, but somehow it never quite happened. There were a number of simple things we could have done, like for instance appearing at the same same table in the canteen each day or putting up a notice to say we would be happy to talk to students and would be in such and such a room at such and such a time for a chat, but by the time this had occurred to us time was running out.

Recommendation:    Include a statement in the guidance to the effect that if you want to make yourself useful there are various things you can do [as above], otherwise you can just go on the excursions.

4.  Train

We wondered about the necessity of getting the train both ways, rather than flying back say, and whether a policy of booking bottom bunks was the best.  But there was no consensus for change.

Recommendation:  No change

5.  Comments on English teachers possibly going to Oxford:  None

6.  Conclusion

This is becoming something that happens because it happens and so it’s beginning to drift.

Recommendation:  The arrangements for the programme should be reviewed in the light of a clearly-articulated purpose.


Since no-one was specifying any objectives apart from raising money, I decided that they were:

1. Subsidise Permian teacher/s coming to Oxford

2. Give participants different experiences of Russia and do this as cheaply as possible

 3. Give Perm State University students and other Permians exposure to native English speakers by

–participants giving talks requested by those tasked with service teaching of English in other faculties

–participants volunteering talks on their own areas of interest


4. Give participants the opportunity to

–find out how their own area/s of interest/professional expertise are conducted in Perm/Russia

–exchange experiences with their counterparts

Les Saisons Russes du XXI Siecle–Programme 2, Coliseum 15 April

April 16, 2011



We had managed to reach our seats without programmes or castlists, so I tried to call up the spirits of the vasty deep on my Nokia.  They didn’t appear with any great alacrity, and I only managed to find out that the Independent had given Programme 1 one star.


Anyway, a guy appeared in front of the curtain and told use he was Andris Liepa.  He explained that the original  choreography had been lost, and they were using new choreography by Juris Smoriginas.  The production had been restored from Bakst’s originals by Anna Nezhnaya.

Restoration meant projecting a green sine wave on the stage.  Otherwise, the production concept came down to a box of Quality Street.  My companion said it compared unfavourably with a pantomime she had been to in Croydon at the age of eight.

I had never heard a note of Balakirev before, but I was impressed by how closely–after some loud oriental pastiche at the beginning–it matched my prejudice of inoffensive ineffectuality.  I doubt that I’ve ever heard ballet music so devoid of eroticism, or indeed affect in general. My companion felt that the choreography combined the worst of an end of the pier show and Spearmint Rhino.  I said she didn’t know about Spearmint Rhino.

Link to original poem by Lermontov here; not-very-good translations here and here.



So after the interval, Andris Liepa appeared and thanked a wide variety of Russian oligarchs for their support.

This time the chocolates had been supplemented by a box of old toys, and the assembled oriental potentates dancing-girls and slaves were all very white.  Beforehand I had thought that the Rimsky-Korsakov music would be less boring if you had something to look at to take your mind off it, but I’m not so sure now.

Some flashy and pointless dancing from Nikolai Tsiskaridze as the Golden Slave drew very loud appreciation from the house, and whoever it was doing Zobeida turned out to be a very good milker of applause even by Russian standards, and almost on a level with Maria Ewing.

And then we got let out, hurrah!

Later:  I think that webcowgirl’s sightless taxidermist idea explains quite brilliantly what’s wrong with the season as a whole.  But I must say it wasn’t quite the worst corps de ballet I’d ever seen…

ABT (Programme 1) Sadlers Wells 3 February

February 7, 2011


Warming up for Everything doesn't happen at once

First of all we had Seven Sonatas by Alexei Ratmansky to piano sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti.  I enjoyed the classical simplicity and restraint of the choreography and found it all very Russian; my companion thought the pianist was awful.  Then we had Junk Duet, loud and energetic and American, which we both approved of.  After a Pause there followed Balanchine’s Duo Concertant, where I didn’t like the music (dull); the choreography (so bloody fussy); or the dancers (she was just the wrong shape for a dancer).  Joanne added that the violinist and (different) pianist were no good either.

Occasion of many very silly jokes that we thoroughly enjoyed

Finally, after a lot of on-stage warm-up, we got Everything doesn’t happen at once by Benjamin Millepied to music by David Lang played by a band of six instrumentalists with a conductor.  And it was OK, things happened and kept us interested, though it was the same kind of thing as Fearful Symmetries at Covent Garden some years ago, just not nearly as good in any respect.

So, a good evening for the Royal Ballet at least by contrast!

We love you Royal Ballet, oh yes we do
We love you Royal Ballet, oh yes we do
Royal Ballet–we love you!

Iphigenie auf Tauris Sadlers Wells 31 October

November 3, 2010


The useful sheet of A4 we got with the completely uninformative programme described this both as ‘An opera by Christoph Willibald Gluck’ and ‘A dance-opera by Pina Bausch’.  And indeed singers sang from the ends of the second circle near the stage while dancers danced on it and players played in front of it.

The plot was perhaps rather complex to convey in surtitle-less German singing, and the explanation of Iphigenie dreaming both that Clytaemnestra killed Agamemnon (which has happened) and Iphigenie herself killing Orestes (which doesn’t happen) didn’t really help matters.

The dance involved quite a lot of dancers holding their arms in poses reminiscent of ancient pictures of dancing and also Thoas madly slapping himself on the arms.

At the interval, my companion asked why Orestes didn’t just say who he was (or sing or dance who he was perhaps) and let us go home an hour earlier.  I suggested various reasons, while skirting round the obvious one that recognition scenes were something that Euripides did quite well really (for a total bungler).

Towards the end, a young girl slowly strewed the kitchen table on which Orestes was to be sacrificed with flowers, and then a ladder was brought on, which procedure led to the people sitting behind us corpsing totally (though they certainly tried hard to suppress it).

I think my problem here was that there was just too much plot going on that was hard to understand…

La Valse/Invitus Invitam/Winter Dreams/Theme and Variations Royal Ballet 18 October

October 21, 2010


Picture from

The evening started in sprightly enough fashion, with a La Valse that was engagingly silly, and well-danced as well.  Then we had Invitus Invitam.  My companion said that she had heard many explanations of the title.  It appears to come from Suetonius’s Life of Titus, Ch 7:  Berenicen statim ab urbe dimisit inuitus inuitam (He immediately sent Berenice away from the city, he unwilling and she unwilling)–inuitus inuitam is a nice example of polyptoton if you like that kind of rustic humour.  Then there’s something interesting about the dancing eunuchs Titus didn’t send away….

Picture from

So there was a ballet, which had a couple of stage hands putting up barriers and dancing and then Titus and Berenice dancing.  There were many changes of cast announced in the programme, but Leanne Benjamin (in place of Alina Cojocaru) hollowed her back expressively as Berenice and Edward Watson (in place of Johan Kobborg) didn’t make much impression on me as Titus.  I enjoyed the music, by Ades out of Couperin, but in general I had the feeling that someone was trying to tug at my hearstrings and not managing to reach.

Then it was the interval and after the interval Winter Dreams.

I think this one comes from

This was some kind of balletic digest of Chekhov’s Three Sisters, and it left me irritated.  What was that dreary trash by Tchaikovsky the poor pianist had to grind through?  (I see there’s a full listing on page 29 of the programme.)  What where those people doing dining noisily behind a scrim at the back of the stage?  Where was the bloody fire and the brass band?  During the interval, my companion said that it had satisfied her storytelling nature, but it would have been better with Darcey Bussell.

And to end with we got Balanchine’s Theme and Variations, a fine example of his everything-is-emphasised-so-nothing-is-emphasised style, and we might actually take more notice if you stopped kicking us in the balls mate.

Onegin ROH Covent Garden 8 October

October 10, 2010




So now after having had the opera Eugene Onegin with the dances removed I tried John Cranko’s 1965 ballet Onegin.  This followed the story of the opera rather than Pushkin’s original.  The narrator, who is the main character in the original, would surely be rather difficult to represent in a ballet, but I think that the bears and assorted monsters from Tatyana’s Dream (as long as they got out from behind that damned table) would be naturals.

Anyway, we had the opera Eugene Onegin done as a ballet, but with the wrong music (still by Tchaikovsky), which was strange!  In fact there were three strange things about it:  it was the wrong music; a lot of it was pretty Tchaikovsky rather than overwrought Tchaikovsky; and since the extracts came from different works there was obviously no motivic consistency and it all seemed rather arbitrary.

The passages that worked best for me were where there was most deviation from the opera and so there was some freedom–for instance, when Tatyana and Olga tried to separate Onegin and Lensky before the duel.   But then in the duel itself Onegin just strode forward and shot Lensky, which makes no sense if you know the original.  There, Onegin, who comes from a much higher social class than Lensky and is an experienced duellist has no intention of shooting at Lensky until Lensky actually and incompetently takes aim and tries to shoot him, at which Onegin crossly thinks That twit could have hurt me , shoots, and fatally wounds him.  That tells you rather a lot about Onegin, and productions of the opera tend to preserve the same action.

The most effective scene was surely the final showdown between Tatyana and Onegin, where (on the one hand) the competition from the opera wasn’t so strong, (on the other) you got some proper overwrought Tchaikovsky in the form of Francesca da Rimini and (to be fair) the choreography was fresh and inventive as well.

“Russian Seasons” again

August 8, 2010

Since I was puzzled by the words to Desyatnikov’s Russian Seasons I decided to invest in the CD.  That has texts in English and German (not Russian), but they don’t exactly correspond to what I heard (nor to each other).  You can view the texts that accompany the CD here.  The booklet says that the words and music derive from a collection entitled Традиционная музыка русского Поозерья, and you should be able to see a list of contents here.  This is based on expeditions made to the Tver, Smolensk and Pskov regions in the period 1971-1992 (which is not so long ago) and the words are in heavily dialеctal Russian, which explains why I was puzzled.

Anyway here is what I made of the pieces with words:

2. Качульная/Lullaby

I wasn’t very interested in this, and will remark only that the author of the English translation has taken конопля as ‘cannabis’ rather than ‘hemp’, which is rather alarming and makes me wonder if this translation is the work of a native English-speaker (nobody is credited with the English translation).

If anyone writes in sounding interested I might have a go.

5.  Духовская

Ой, кумушки
Кумитеся и любитеся
Любите и мене.

Вы пойдите в зялёный сад, цвяточки рвать
Сорвите вы мне.
Вы будите вяночки вить
Ой, свейте вы мне.

Вы пойдите к ряке Дунай, к ряке Дунай
Возмите и мене.
Вы будите вёнки пускать, вёнки пускать
Пустите вы мне.
Ваши вёнки по ветру плыли, по ветру плыли
А мой на дно пошёл.

Ваши дружки с войны пришли, с войны пришли,
А мой не пришёл.
Он нё идёт, письма нё шлёт
Забыл про мене.

Song for Whitsuntide

Oh my friends
Be friends to each other, love each other
Love me as well.

You will go to the green garden, to pick flowers,–
Pick some for me.
You will make wreaths, make wreaths,
Oh, make one for me.

You will go to the Danube River, to the Danube River,
Take me as well.
You will launch your wreaths, launch your wreaths
Launch one for me.
Your wreaths sailed with the wind, with the wind
But mine went down.

Your boy-friends have come from the war, from the war
But mine hasn’t come
He’s not coming, he sends no letters,
He’s forgotten about me…


The words here work even better in English than Russian, since ‘friends’, ‘be friends’, and–strangely enough–‘love’ are all stronger, simpler and…better…than the originals, and ‘green garden’ doesn’t go so well in Russian either.  In the manner of the Authorised Version, things in italics are those I’ve added so that the translation makes sense.  There’s a whole website devoted to this song here, and it has a lot of dreadful versions by female folk-singers who seem unable to carry a tune.

7.  Постовая

Табе, тело, одно дело
Табе, тело, одно дело
Уйти в глубины, [че]р[в]ям кормить
Уйти в глубины, [че]р[в]ям кормить.

А мне, душе, пострадая удти, пострадая идти
Коло рая и шла, но в рай не вошла
Коло раю и шла, но в рай не дошла
В нашем раю будет весело
Пташки дают
Цвяты цвятут
О на те[х] цвята[х]
Сидят ангелы.

Song for Ember Days

For you, body, there is only one thing
For you, body, there is only one thing-
To go into the depths and feed the worms
To go into the depths and feed the worms.

But for me, the soul, I’ll go suffering, suffering
Repenting all the while,
I went near Heaven, but I didn’t enter Heaven
I went near Heaven, but I didn’t reach Heaven,
In our Heaven it will be merry,
Birds give their voices
Flowers flower
And on those flowers
Angels are sitting.


As well as the italics, I’ve added some things in [square brackets] to what I heard to make it look more like recognisable (to me!) Russian.

9.  Свадебная

Кукуй, кукуша серая
Кукуй, кукуша серая
Так и давно куковала
Так и давно куковала.
Не плачи, младчица Машенька
Так и давно плакали мы.

Nuptial song

Cry ‘Cuckoo’, you grey cuckoo
Cry ‘Cuckoo’, you grey cuckoo
Тhus long ago as well you cried Cuckoo
Thus long ago as well you cried Cuckoo.
Don’t weep, Mashenka, you young girl
Thus long ago as well we wept.


The translation (both English and German) is a bit of a mystery.  If you made it Так не давно кукуя…Так не давно плакали мы, then it would be “Thus not long ago you cried ‘Cuckoo’…Thus not long ago we wept”, which is probably better consolation for the girl, even though it’s not what I heard Julia Korpacheva as singing and it’s still not the same as the translation.

12.  Последняя

Наши руки–грабли,
Наши руки–грабли,
Наши глазы–ямы
Что глазы завидют,
Что глазы завидют,
То руки заграбют.
Как на его, ох на свете,
Пустяки нам надо
Аллилуйя, аллилуйя,
Слава тебе, Бога!

А на том же, о на свете
Ничьё уж нам не надо
Только надо, один сажень земли
Гвозди и досточки.
Аллилуйя, аллилуйя,
Слава тебе, Бога!

Closing Song

Our hands are but rakes,
Our hands are but rakes,
Our eyes are but pits.
What our eyes catch sight of,
What our eyes catch sight of,
That our hands reach for.
How much in it, oh in the world,
We need vanities.
Hallelujah, hallelujah,
Glory to thee, O God!

But in that one, oh in that world,
We need nothing more.
We need only six foot of earth,
Some nails and some boards.
Hallelujah, hallelujah,
Glory to thee, O God!


There’s a wonderful rendition of the original ‘spiritual song’ here.  The ‘four boards’ in the translation seem to have come from the original rather than what’s on the CD.

Le corsaire (Bolshoi Ballet/Covent Garden) 5 August

August 6, 2010


A lot of white floweriness in the second act

I had an idea that this had something to do with the poem by Lord Byron

Long mourned his band whom none could mourn beside;
And fair the monument they gave his Bride
For him they raise not the recording stone—
His death yet dubious, deeds too widely known;
He left a Corsair’s name to other times,
Linked with one virtue, and a thousand crimes.

Well, some of the characters had the same names according to the programme–this was really a cartoon with lots of gratuitous dancing, girls, spectacle, shipwreck, costumes, turquoise Turks, pirates who should have spent more time pirating and less time dancing, comedy fights,  a garden in appearing in a palace….My companion complained about the third-rate music and the harps heralding anything ‘touching’, but I thought it was the thought of stuff you could buy by the yard in any decent haberdasher’s, or get a programmable loom or a tame crow to turn out.

At the end of the second act, my companion announced she was going to go home and iron the cat.  In fact, the third act was the most interesting and would have captivated me as a ten-year-old boy if by some miracle I had survived the preceding two hours:  the dancers did a surprisingly lucid job of putting over the plotty bit about Said Pasha saying he would execute Conrad unless Medora she married him, after which Medora danced away with his weapons and Gulnare appeared to make clear it was in fact her that he had married under a veil, silly old Pasha.

And the scene of the shipwreck was highly effective, with the stormy waves projected on a scrim in front of the ship and with the help of some special-effect thunder the storm by Adophe Adam or Pugni or whoever coming off a great deal better than my experience of Mozart (Idomeneo) or Thomas Ades (The Tempest).

A ship behind a scrim

At the end of the ballet Medora and Conrad came out to the front of the stage to show that they had survived, and after it had ended I saw the orchestral players shaking each others’ hands all round, glad that they had survived as well I guess.

Of the dancers, Anastasia Yatsenko as Gulnare made the greatest impression on me, but I did sometimes get confused between her and the Medora of Maria Alexandrova.