From Russia with love

The Israel Ballet Company kicks off the Israeli Opera’s 30th anniversary.

The Israel Ballet performs ‘Madame Butterfly’ at the Israel Opera (photo credit: PR)
The Israel Ballet performs ‘Madame Butterfly’ at the Israel Opera
(photo credit: PR)
t says a lot that the kick-off event of the Israeli Opera’s 30th anniversary will be a dance performance. Rather than roll out the highlights of three decades of internationally acclaimed opera productions, the Tel Aviv-based organization has chosen to begin the celebrations with a very special fusion of ballet and music.
Next week, the Israel Ballet, the Israel Symphony Orchestra Rishon Lezion, conductor Eitan Schmeiser and soloist Efrat Ashkenazi will join together on stage in a new interpretation of Puccini’s treasured opera Madame Butterfly . Choreographed by Bolshoi Ballet Company soloist Marianna Ryzhkina, this production sheds new light on an operatic classic.
Born and raised in Russia, Ryzhkina was groomed for ballet greatness from an early age. In 1989, upon completing her studies at the Moscow College of Choreography, she joined the Bolshoi Ballet Company.
While she struggles to recall her first days in the historic troupe, she vividly remembers her first rehearsal director.
“I met the legendary Nina Timofeyev when I was still in high school. She noticed me in my final exams. When I arrived at the Bolshoi, she took me under her wing for a full year. After that, she moved to Israel with her daughter. We’ve kept in touch since,” she recounts.
As she climbed the rungs from corps de ballet to soloist, Ryzhkina also pursued studies in choreography.
“Even as a child I loved directing plays. Well, not just directing but also designing sets and sewing costumes. I have always loved fantasy,” she says Ryzhkina has visited Israel several times before as a guest performer of the Israel Ballet.
“This is the first collaboration of this kind for us but not my first time working with the company. I danced principal roles in their productions of Giselle and Don Quixote ,” she says.
“The cast has changed a lot since I was last there. There are a lot of new dancers.”
Taking on a formidable piece like Madame Butterfly proved thrilling, if not somewhat challenging, for the artist. While dance makers have wielded many operas, Madame Butterfly has remained virtually untouched by the dance community.
Over the century plus since Puccini unveiled the opus, only a few choreographers have tried their hand at adding to the work.
“When I was invited to do the choreography for this production, I was so excited,” Ryzhkina says. “I immediately saw the entire piece, from start to finish, with the set and all, in my mind’s eye. It was like an instantaneous flash that sent me deep into the world of this story.”
She adds, “I choreographed a classical ballet, not a modern opera. I changed the plot a bit in my interpretation. In my version there are fewer characters. I focused on the theme of love and the mental characteristics of the main players.”
While Ryzhkina stayed trained on the dancers, conductor Schmeiser made certain that this new adaptation of Madame Butterfly would meet the high standards of the Israeli Opera.
Their different approaches brought about a few clashes, which Ryzhkina assures were all taken in good spirit.
“Of all the people working on this production, Eitan Schmeiser is the only one I argued with. He sees the music as opera music, and I see it as a dance score,” she smiles.
Although she is an admitted dance purist, Madame Butterfly has forced Ryzhkina to concede that some things cannot be expressed in movement.
“There are several sections where the meaning can only be expressed vocally. The pieces that Efrat Ashkenazi sings are elemental to me in my work on Madame Butterfly . Before I started this project, I had no idea how complicated choreographing an opera is. It’s been challenging but also a wonderful opportunity to explore a completely new genre,” she says.
Madame Butterfly will be presented at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center on October 9, 10 and 11. For more information, visit