The Bolshoi Ballet livestream of Carmen Suite and Petrushka

Posted: June 2nd, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Livestream, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Bolshoi Ballet livestream of Carmen Suite and Petrushka

The Bolshoi Ballet livestream of Carmen Suite and Petrushka, May 19

Edward Clug's Petrushka
The principal characters in Edward Clug’s Petrushka (photo ©Bolshoi)

In London there is nothing quite like a live performance of classical ballet at the Royal Opera House, the Coliseum or at Sadler’s Wells, but when it comes to seeing the Bolshoi Ballet regularly there is nothing quite like dropping in to a local cinema to see a live-streamed performance. The final program of the Bolshoi’s current season is a double bill of Alberto Alonso’s Carmen Suite and a new version of Petrushka by Edward Clug. Even though the ballets were created in different political climates, both coalesce around a trio of characters in which one risks the ultimate price for freedom. Carmen is released from prison but becomes trapped in her torrid affair with both the corporal, Don José, and the torreador Escamillo; in Petrushka a manipulated doll declares his love for his Ballerina in an effort to establish his humanity.  

Alonso created Carmen Suite in 1967 for one of the Bolshoi’s greatest dramatic dancers, Maya Plisetskaya who, at 42, was looking for new expressive challenges; the public success of the ballet was so bound up with her performance of the role that, as compère Katya Novikova tells us, when she retired in 1987 Carmen Suite retired from the repertoire with her. It wasn’t until the appearance of Svetlana Zakharova in 2005 that the ballet was revived. Alonso’s choreographic style is minimal, requiring technical precision and dynamic shapes but the erotic effect of the narrative combined with the thrillingly percussive interpolation of Bizet’s score by Rodion Schedrin are embodied in the presence of the performers. The change in the principal role is more than a change in interpretation; classical technique has developed so far in the last fifty years that it has become a virtual proxy for dramatic intent. Plisetskaya’s performance of Carmen added dramatic expression to her technical prowess whereas Zakharova’s incorporates the drama of Carmen into the refinement of her technique. Applying Roland Barthes’ phrase ‘le grain de la voix’ to the body, Plisetskaya had a rough, almost feral quality that conveyed the character’s instinctive independence, whereas Zakharova has a smooth sensuality that is more individualistic than fiery. Denis Rodkin as Don José matches Zakharova in the elegant muscularity of his technique while Mikhail Lobukhin as Escamillo is more impetuous as if he has just returned from a bull fight. Vitaly Biktimirov as the Corregidor and Olga Marchenkova as Fate complete the main characters. Boris Messerer’s set under Alexander Rubtsov’s lighting is spectacular, a semi-circular performance area with tall-backed chairs on its raised rim that give it is a sense of a bull ring combined with a court chamber. An abstracted head of a bull is suspended over the action. The production, filmed by Isabelle Julien, lends itself beautifully to the cinema screen. 

In effect Clug has brought Petrushka back home. Although the scenario of the original version was worked out by Igor Stravinsky and Alexandre Benois in St. Petersburg, Michel Fokine created the choreography in Rome and Paris for Diaghilev in 1911. Under Martin Gebhardt’s lighting, Marko Japelj’s set for this production uses the double symbolism of large-scale coloured Matryoshka dolls to represent the tents at the Butter Week Fair Benois so fondly remembered. As Clug explains in a written interview, ‘I aimed to bring back to life the same story told in a different choreographic language and set in a new theatrical aesthetic…I could feel the importance of Petrushka in Russian culture and even more in the people’s hearts…All the elements involved — sets, costumes, choreography and not least the music — carefully depict elements arising from the Russian folklore and tradition.’ If Benois and Stravinsky conceived Petrushka as the immortal Russian spirit evading its confines, Clug sees him more in contemporary psychological terms where woodenness is an inability to connect; his Petrushka ‘wants to overcome his condition and be able to feel, give and receive real emotions. We humans take this option for granted and so often we throw it away.’ It’s a fresh reading that gives a prominent role to Vyacheslav Lopatin’s Magician, an oppressor who masterminds the relationship between his puppets through the use of magic sticks. Petrushka (Denis Savin) is the rebel because he wants to elevate himself while the beautiful Ballerina (Ekaterina Krysanova) and the boorish Moor (Anton Savichev) succumb to their master’s control. The costumes of Leo Kulaš evoke the principal characters as humans who are reduced to being puppets but at the very last moment Clug casts doubt on who is free and who is being manipulated. 


St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre: Swan Lake at The Coliseum

Posted: August 28th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre: Swan Lake at The Coliseum

St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre, Swan Lake, The Coliseum, London, August 23

Irena Kolesnikova in St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake (photo: Vladimir Zenzinov)

George Balanchine was a great admirer of the music of Tchaikovsky; both were Petersburgers and Balanchine felt that to understand Tchaikovsky’s music you had to know St. Petersburg. In introducing the St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre to its London audience, founding director Konstantin Tachkin has included in its program not only information on Tchaikovsky and the company but on the city from which the music arose, its Imperial history, its architecture and its rich ballet heritage. It is the home of the Vaganova Ballet Academy, once known as the Imperial Ballet School, that has trained some of the great Russian dancers of the last century (including Balanchine) and where St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s principal Irena Kolesnikova graduated in 1998. By association with the history of St. Petersburg Tachkin lays out the expectation that what we are about to see has all the marks of authenticity but Swan Lake is built up of layers of cultural refinement gathered from many countries and traditions and its lasting appeal is based not only on its score but on its inspired choreographic language and stirring mythology. Classical ballet is essentially ephemeral; a production of Swan Lake relies each time on live performance for its inspiration and genius to be embodied and appreciated. If this doesn’t happen the ballet becomes a product, an approximation that resembles the original in its structure but fails to ignite an emotional response to its essential character. For all the expectation of authenticity, St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s touring production of Swan Lake fails to convince in performance.

The essence of Swan Lake — redemption through love — is released in the music but it must also materialize on stage. In a narrative ballet the story is linked through mime whose meaning arises from the relationship between an established theatrical lexicon and the intention of the person using it. If the lexicon is clear but the intention is lacking, the meaning is lost. One example is when the Princess (Inna Svechnikova) arrives in Act 1; she is supposed to indicate to her son, Prince Siegfried (Bolshoi Ballet’s Denis Rodkin) that as he’s about to reach the age of 21 it’s time to think of getting married. In fact she’s arranged a ball at the palace the next day to invite a few eligible princesses for Siegfried to choose from. But by the time the Princess has left, we are none the wiser as to what she might have expressed as her mime is delivered in an inarticulate display of ornamented gesture; only a knowledge of the plot fills the narrative gap. Another example is the divorce of Rodkin’s mimed gestures toward Odette and Odile from any indication of his feelings for her. This uncertainty of any manifest intention renders St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s production a cardboard cutout of the original ballet. One gesture that has no trouble in communicating its intent is Odile’s contemptuous grimace as she throws her bouquet of flowers over the remorseful Siegfried.

Although Kolesnikova triumphs in this moment, she is not averse elsewhere to another form of obfuscation in her mime, that of hyperbole. Her swan-like gestures err on the side of melodrama to the extent that her interpretation of the duplicitous Odile seeps prematurely into the earlier appearances of the lyrical Odette.

When so much depends in a company of 44 dancers on the presence of its principal ballerina and her Bolshoi and Mariinsky guests, the focus of our attention is inevitably drawn to them and away from the story; as the ballet becomes a vehicle for the quality of stardom so the significance of the story is diminished. In Kolesnikova’s 32 fouettés — taken at a tempestuous tempo by conductor Vadim Nikitin — we are watching not the rapturous culmination of her deception over Siegfried but a resolute display of her technical achievement. The one figure in the production who matches his extrovert behaviour with commensurate physical prowess and gesture is Sergei Fedorkov’s court jester.

As Alexei Ratmansky’s recent reconstructions of Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake reveal, there is a subtle balance between music, mime and choreography that makes the story comes to life through the integration of all its elements. Of course there are principal roles in the original narrative but they support the story through mime and dance that are intimately related. What Ratmansky has also unwittingly revealed is the misunderstanding in current productions of the classics where an over-reliance on technical display and self-expression removes from the narrative the logic — and the magic — of its creators.