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. 


The Bolshoi Ballet 2019 Livestream of La Bayadère

Posted: January 28th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Film, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Bolshoi Ballet 2019 Livestream of La Bayadère
Bolshoi Ballet La Bayadère
The Bolshoi corps de ballet in the Kingdom of the Shades

The Bolshoi Ballet’s Livestream of La Bayadère, The Gate, January 20

Having seen the livestream of the Bolshoi’s Nutcracker and enjoyed the experience of seeing the production not only in the way it was choreographed but also in the way it was presented so clearly on film, the subsequent livestream of the Bolshoi’s La Bayadère is disappointing.

Considered the final masterpiece of choreographer Marius Petipa, the ballet was first presented at the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre in St. Petersburg in 1877 and comprised four acts. The first three detailed a complex story of love, betrayal, power and jealousy in an exotic Indian Raj context; the third act, known as the Kingdom of the Shades, is a white, ethereal composition of extraordinary beauty that imagines the meeting of the two lovers, Nikya and Solor, in the afterworld, free from the intrigues of the Rajah’s court. It is this act that is often presented alone as La Bayadère but whenever the complete ballet is produced the original four acts are often condensed to three — as in Yuri Grigorovich’s current Bolshoi production — based on Vakhtang Chabukiani’s 1941 version for the Kirov/Maryinsky Ballet: the first act is the introduction of the principal characters and the exposition of the story with lots of mime; the second is the death of Nikiya by poisoning prior to the wedding of Solor and the Rajah’s daughter Gamzatti with all its divertissements, and the final act is the Kingdom of the Shades

There have been many versions and reconstructions since 1877, each of which appears further and further away not so much from Petipa’s choreography, but from the circumstances of La Bayadère’s creation for what was then the Imperial Russian Ballet. That its Tsarist association survived the 1917 Revolution is a story of tenacity and political sleight-of-hand described in Christina Ezrahi’s fascinating book, Swans of the Kremlin, but even as it has become one of today’s most recognizable classical ballets, it is hard to engage in the story. Presenter Katya Novikova suggested the subject of La Bayadère was inspired by Tsarevich Alexander’s recent visit to India; certainly the Indian iconography and music is presented entirely through a western sensibility. The interest in the ballet, beyond the Kingdom of the Shades, lies more with the interpretation of the roles and the quality of the dancing.

In the first two acts, which depend heavily on mime, the performances of Olga Smirnova as Nikiya, Olga Marchenkova as Gamzatti and Artemy Belyakov as Solor never seem to gel, either within themselves, with each other or with the story; the love, jealousy and betrayal are indicated but not fully embodied. In a narrative that is essentially a western orientalist concoction, the portrayal of human values with which we can empathise is vital. The closest Smirnova comes to this — and the closest Petipa came to an oriental inspiration — is in her sensual confession of love for Solor at the feet of Gamzatti in the second act. 

Throughout La Bayadère we are, of course, only present through the subjectivity of the camera lens directed by Isabelle Julien for Pathé Live, and what the camera can see is not necessarily what the audience can see; the intimacy of the closeup is intrusive in a way that a regular view from the audience can never achieve. Classical ballet has prescribed ways of moving and telling stories that belong within the proscenium setting; when select cinematic processes translate these narrative elements to the big screen, they can affect our perception of the art form. Although we will watch intently every move and gesture of a principal dancer during a solo, it is always within the context of the stage setting. Julien’s focus during La Bayadère tends to replace the ‘best seat in the house’ for a contrived point of view; from a purely balletic perspective, it is false. This is particularly noticeable in the famous entrance of the 32 dancers in the Kingdom of the Shades. The choreography forms a slow, painterly procession of arabesque poses that can only be fully appreciated on the scale of the proscenium stage. Julien instead makes a cinematic choice to show only a part of the composition, one that focuses on a narrowly defined vertical angle that removes the magic of the horizontal effect. It is an instance of the live stream inserting its own visual interpretation of the ballet rather than respecting the conventions of balletic perspective; instead of enhancing that perspective through the camera, Julien removes us further from what Petipa had imagined.