Friday, 7 March 2008

An abomination at the Bolshoi

“It doesn't matter how high you lift your leg.The technique is about transparency, simplicity, making an earnest attempt”.
~ Mikhail Baryshnikov

Three one act ballets at the Bolshoi: 28th February performance

This is a little overdue and I may not have bothered at all if it was not that rare thing for me to post: a very bad night at the Bolshoi. Just a few days after I saw the Mariinsky’s cool, artful professionalism, I was subjected to an abomination at the Bolshoi of such artless posturing, I despaired.

Just the day before, chatting to a chum, I observed that the fact artistic director, Alexey Ratmansky, was leaving the Bolshoi at the end of this year would, of course, please all the dinosaurs and that preening Nikolai Tsiskaridze, who I can’t stand. We now know who will replace Ratmansky: yay (BTW, a good article in that link).

I fear 2010 and after will see a Bolshoi ballet bounce between artistic chaos and a deadening, frozen-in-aspic cult of Grigorovich. I mean, I love Grigorovich as a choreographer – his Romeo and Juliet is a superb use of Prokofiev’s soaring score – but I don’t want endless Grigorovich.

Ballet, you see, is like football. It is about passion and teamwork and I feel about Tsiskaridze like my Tottenham Hotspur-loving boss (I know nothing about soccer, but even I know he must be plainly masochistic) feels about… um… Freddie Ljunberg! [That was so random – he is the only soccer player who popped in my mind]

So anyway: the atrocity of the 28th:

Three one act ballets:

- Class Concertchoreography by Asaf Messerer to a mélange of music arranged (well actually) by Alexander Tseitlin

A staggeringly poor performance by the Bolshoi Orchestra. The timing was way off on several pieces and, although actually a deceptively complex arrangement, second-line conductor, Pavel Klinichev deserved to be booed. The brass section was just ghastly – And at least twice was simply flat – and Klinichev appeared to be more spectator than dictator. Had they rehearsed?

Now this bit of dancing was good and in stark contrast to the two pieces which followed.

This piece is quaint and charming. Maria Allash was wonderful and Vladimir Neporozhny was also extremely impressive. Vyacheslav Lopatin – who I was to think so piss-poor later in the evening – did rather well here. He pulled off an extraordinary number of fouettés. The best performance came from the ridiculously young Ivan Vasiliev who performed with characteristic athleticism.

- Misericordes (known in the west as Elsinore) – choreography by Christopher Wheeldon to Arvo Pärt’s, Symphony Number 3

A change of conductor! A brilliant performance of this music: the Bolshoi Orchestra, which had played like a youth band in High School, now returned to being professional musicians in a world-class House. This music – which I have now heard three times (it was the third time I have seen this piece this year) – stayed with me all week and I just had to download it from iTunes. It made for a very pleasant accompaniment to my overnight train journey back from Kyiv that weekend.

However, while remembering to tug my forelock to the performance of Bolshoi principal soloist, Dmitriy Gudanov, I have to say that the choreography is just not good enough (geddit?).

Having posed the question once before, I now have a conclusion: Wheeldon is just overrated.

The Bolshoi troupe danced this proficiently but with a soul-dead lack of passion. This piece calls for the tautly-suppressed lust and rage of the human body (hello? It’s Hamlet set to dance?): it was like watching robots build an Audi. C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre.

This YouTube piece was a better night's dancing performance, but just listen to how bad the brass section is about one third the way through! I was there that night actually... I am worried for the Bolshoi Orchestra:

- In the Upper Room – choreography by Twyla Tharp, to sublime music specially composed by Philip Glass.

I know this piece quite well: this is the … ahem… sixth time I have seen it in the last twelve months.

It was danced by the same cast rotation as always.

This night, however, their performance was a crime against dance.

- Andrey Merkuriev (who usually I highly rate) was utterly atrocious. Was he drunk? I have never seen such lack of precision and his partnering was abysmal: twice he nearly dropped a ballerina.
- All the girls were very weak: even Natalia Osipova, who did a very convincing impression of not having rehearsed and actually not much caring that we guessed she hadn't either
- An uncharacteristically weak performance from Vyacheslav Lopatin. Overall, the ensemble seemed self-obsessed, cynical and indifferent to the fact they were performing in public.

They deserved to be booed off the stage. Had it been London, we would have done! But sometimes, I am reminded, Russians will clap and cheer just about anything: a sort of dancing bear syndrome.

I did not applaud, except briefly, directed at Denis Savin. I have enjoyed watching this young dancer develop over the last four years: I thought him consistently superb in the current production of Romeo & Juliet in repertory and I very much enjoyed him the … ahem… seven times I saw him as Dimka in Shostakovich’s the Bolt.
Mr Savin appeared to be the only performer on stage wholly committed to the faithful performance of Twyla Tharp’s brilliant creation.
Part of a trio, he was ably supported by Anton Savichev and Alexander Smol’yaninov (the latter has potential I think), although at one point I thought they were going to drop Natalia Osipova.
By this point in her ‘performance’, however, I almost willed them to do so.


Jeff said...

When we were in Moscow in October 2006, we saw Giselle and Snegurochka at the Bolshoi. The ballet was very well done. We had great seats, deciding to pay the extra for the ballet. We were several floors higher for Snegurochka, but we were still very exicted to be seeing it. We had bought the CDs several months previous to become familiar with the opera and really fell in love with it. It turned out to be a very disappointing experience, however, not because of the cast or the orchestra, but the people sitting around us were unbelievable. They talked, and laughed, and ate as though they were at the circus, not one of the planet's great opera houses. I've never experienced anything like it anywhere. I am thinking that there were probably quite a few people in attendance who would normally not go to an opera (because it was in Russian and sort of a fairytale). Quite a few left after the first intermission and more were gone (thankfully) after the second, but it certainly was a disappointing evening in Moscow.

Red Exile / Красная Ссылка said...

Ah yes: they can be rather startlingly informal up in the Gods. Russians have a very relaxed attitude about theatre and the arts - including opera and ballet - because in the Soviet period it was, of course, just as open to steelworkers as to the Nomenklatura etlite.

That said, you seem to have had a very bad experience. Down in the stalls, with all the bourgeoisie like me, it is much as you would expect anywhere else in terms of *hushed reverence*, LOL

catscrossing said...

I wouldn't agree with your guess about the roots of Russian 'relaxed' attitude towards art. To me it seems to be a pretty much Post-Soviet phenomenon, for in Soviet days the distinction between various 'layers' of arts was quite hard. Things like opera and ballet (+ fine arts museums etc.) were revered as temples of culture and everyone has a pretty good idea of what is appropriate and what is not, with dress code being probably the only notable exception.