Alongside Vaslav Nijinsky, Vladimir Vasiliev and Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov is considered one of the greatest ballet dancers in history. He returned to the London stage last week, not as a dancer, but reading the poetry of Nobel Laurate Joseph Brodsky, who was one of the first people Mikhail meet in New York when he defected from the Soviet Union in 1974.
Joseph was a huge influence on ‘Misha’ In the years the later revolutionised and popularised ballet as a performer and choreographer, while launching a successful parallel career as an actor, earning an Oscar nomination playing Yuri Kopeikine in the 1977 film THE TURNING POINT. Their relationship forms the basis for Latvian director Alvin Hermanis’s experimental theatre piece, BRODSKY/BARYSHNIKOV in which Mikhail reads his friend’s poetry in the original Russian. After productions in Riga, Te Aviv and New York Mikhail, performed the show for five nights at the Apollo Theatre in London, where I managed to meet him at the stage door and he signed my sketch.
The Ukrainian urban rebel, iconoclast and ballet prodigy Sergei Polunin is regularly acknowledged as the greatest dancer of his generation. His astonishing power and poise saw him become the Royal Ballet’s youngest principal at 19. At the peak of his success he rocked the arts establishment with his shock departure from the Company in 2012.
The ‘bad boy of ballet’ made the art form go viral, walked away, driven by stardom and self-destruction, his talent more a burden than a gift. How can you be free to be yourself when you are ballet’s ‘hottest property’?
He is now the subject of Oscar nominee Steven Cantor’s latest film DANCER, which premiered last month. It includes David LaChapelle’s 2015, video sensation TAKE ME TO THE CHURCH. Coinciding with the release of the documentary, Sergei performed PROJECT POLUNIN for five nights at London’s Sadler’s Wells where he signed and dedicated my sketch.
English ballerina Cordelia Braithwaite has been a regular with Sir Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures Company productions since 2013. In a few short years, the 23 year-old has played both the Italian and Spanish Princesses and the Girlfriend in Sir Matthew’s production of SWAN LAKE before playing Mercedes, Frankie and Lana in THE CAR MAN, followed by Aurora and Hibernia in SLEEPING BEAUTY. She is currently sharing the lead role of gifted ballerina Vicky Page with Ashley Shaw in THE RED SHOES, which completed a sell-out, two-month run at Sadler’s Wells, where she signed my sketch before embarking on a national tour.
Sir Matthew Bourne’s full-length ballet adaption of the 1948 film THE RED SHOES is currently touring the UK after a sold-out, two-month season at Sadler’s Wells in London where it had it’s World Premiere over the Christmas period. It is based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale about Vicky Page, a young dancer, who is forced to choose between fulfilling her dream and falling in love. Australian ballerina Ashley Shaw plays the lead role, fresh from featuring in Sir Matthew’s dazzling re-imaging of the ballet fairytale SLEEPING BEAUTY which has smashed box office records across the UK and US. She signed this sketch for me at Sadler’s last week.
Spanish ballerina Elisa Badenes is a Principal dancer at the Stuttgart Ballet and a Guest Artist with the English National Ballet. She has just competed the London Coliseum leg of the UK tour of Abram Khan’s production of GISELLE. After attending the Conservatorio Profesional de Danna de Valencia in her home town she won a scholarship at the Prix de Lausanne in 2008 to study at the Royal Ballet, graduating a year later. She joined the Stuttgart Ballet and quickly rose to her current Principal position. I left this sketch at the stage door on Sunday, just before Elisa danced the final performance and it arrived back yesterday, signed and dedicated.
Minsk-born ballerina Ksenia Ovsyanick was awarded a scholarship to study at the English Royal Ballet School in London after performing at the 2005 Prix de Lausanne. After graduating three years later she joined the company, becoming a Soloist in 2014. This year she left the ENB to become a Principal with the Berlin Staatsballett which starts its 2016/17 season this weekend.
One of the highlights of her time at the English Ballet was performing the title role in the World Premiere of FIREBIRD at the London Coliseum in March 2012 as part of the BEYOND BALLET RUSSES programme. This sketch is based on that role with Ksenia wearing the distinctive headdress and winged harness. She signed it for me at the ENB before leaving for Germany.
When Moscow-born ballet dancer Maria Alexandrova became a Principal with the Bolshoi Ballet in 2004, she was considered by audiences and critics in both Russia and beyond as the most distinctive ballerina of the new century. She is one of those rare dancers who have a commanding stage presence and superb technique.
Her signature moves are a soaring jump and extraordinary ballon (that’s the ability to being lightweight and effortlessly airborne). She won the Gold medal at the Moscow International Ballet Competition, which she put in perspective.” The main thing is not to be first, but to be the best.” Maria was in London recently with the Bolshoi as part of it’s Diamond Jubilee three-week summer season at the Royal Opera House with a five programme repertoire, including DON QUIXOTE, THE FLAMES OF PARIS and LE CORSAIRE where she kindly signed my sketch.
I drew an initial sketch of Russian ballet star Ekaterina Krysanova and dropped it into the Royal Opera House in London for her to sign during the Bolshoi Ballet’s three-week Diamond Anniversary residency at Covent Garden recently. ‘Bolshoi’ literally means ‘big’ and she’s one of their biggest names. I immediately received a very nice complimentary note back, but, alas no signed sketch. This has happened on a few occasions when people inadvertently forget to include the sketch. I redrew this one and popped it back to the Opera House. This time my second letter contained the prize. I did say she could keep the initial drawing.
After graduating from the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in 2003, the Moscow native joined the famous company rising to Lead Soloist in 2009, before becoming a Principal.
Among her many medals is the Gold at the 2001 at the Prix de Luxemborg International Ballet Competition.
She was the only Principal to appear in all five productions DON QUIXOTE, SWAN LAKE, TAMING OF THE SHREW, THE FLAMES OF PARIS and LE CORSAIRE this year, so I was super appreciative she took the time out of a hectic schedule to accommodate my requests.
One of the more interesting autographs came back this week. Interesting in the sense of the writing implement used. Leading soloist with the Bolshoi Ballet Kristina Kretova signed her sketch in what looks like a magenta crayon, possibly a grease paint theatrical makeup without any detailed forensic analysis. As one can imagine, sharpies are obviously a low priority item in the dressing rooms at Covent Garden. She also added a little ballerina pictogram. Very cool. Sixty years after it’s first visit to London, the famous Russian company has just finished it’s Diamond Jubilee Guest Tour series of concerts at the Royal Opera House.
Kristina graduated from one of the Bolshoi’s feeder schools, the Moscow State Choreographic Academy in 2002. But instead of joining the main company, she went to a smaller one, the Kremlin Ballet Theatre, where she was immediately promoted to Soloist and able to perform lead roles in classical ballets such as GISELLE and THE SLEEPING BEAUTY. She joined the Bolshoi in 2011 and during this summer’s London run performed in all five productions, DON QUIXOTE, SWAN LAKE, THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, THE FLAMES OF PARIS and LE CORSAIRE.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal during the Bolshoi’s season at the Lincoln Center in 2014, Kristina commented on facing the New York critics. “Nerves aren’t a problem. As a mother I have bigger things to worry about.” If she worried every night she would be crazy already she added. The critics praised her performances by the way. The 32 year-old has a young son… who may have some crayons… suitable for colouring in…. and signing sketches? I wonder.
The Boshoi were back in London town. The world’s most famous ballet company, the Moscow-based Bolshoi returned for a three-week summer residency which has just concluded at the Royal Opera House. They have been regular visitors to Covent Garden and this year marked the 60th anniversary of the company’s first visit, staging five productions – DON QUIXOTE, SWAN LAKE, THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, THE FLAMES OF PARIS and LE CORSAIRE.
Considered the Company’s rising star is Prima Ballerina Olga Smirnova, was given the honour and responsibility of opening the season, dancing Kitri in DON QUIXOTE with fellow Principal Denis Rodkin. According to The Telegraph’s Mark Monahan, Olga is a truly extraordinary talent, the “brightest new Jewel in the Bolsho Ballet’s glittering crown.” He went on to praise her ‘formidable’ physical gifts, “long-limbed, with a swan-like neck, superbly pliant spine and ravishing, sway-back classical line,” all of which are ideal for drawing.
Backtrack Critic Jade Larine summed up the dazzling production, “The opening night speeded the Royal Opera House’s heartbeat to an insane level of tachycardia : the Bolshoi is coming back at its best.”
Olga also performed the lead roles in SWAN LAKE and THE TAMING OF THE SHREW during the season.
She signed my sketch for me after the opening night performance.