“Elsinore”, “Class Concert”, “In the Upper Room”, “The Bright Stream”
Moscow Bolshoi Ballet
13 – 18 August, 2007
by John Percival
copyright ©2007 by John Percival
A triple bill with revivals of works by Asaf Messerer and Twyla Tharp framing a Christopher Wheeldon premiere — that sounded like an interesting programme amid the evening-long productions that made up (as reported last week) the rest of the Bolshoi Ballet's London season. Sadly, I found two of the works profoundly depressing. In Moscow, Wheeldon called his new ballet “ Misericordes” which gave a better idea of what to expect than the title “Elsinore” under which it reached us. Presumably the lone figure of Dmitri Gudanov prowling around, mostly at the back of the stage, is meant to suggest Hamlet (although wearing pale grey, not Shakespeare's “customary suits of solemn black”), but what he and the four supporting couples had to do with the play I really cannot see. Nor, come to that, did the choreography seem to me related to Arvo Part's Symphony No 3 except that both finished about the same time — having started quite separately. Some very able dancers were involved, twisting their arms and stretching their legs, but rumour has it that they couldn't follow what Wheeldon was driving at, and I can't blame them. The score is reportedly based on Part's studies of medieval music, but the ballet hardly suggests that period. I fear that Wheeldon will need to rise well above this if his own new company is to succeed.
The problem with “Class Concert” is not the choreography which the great dancer and teacher Asaf Messerer devised in the 1960s to a ragbag of musical fragments, but the assault inflicted by his nephew Mikhail in restaging it. From way back I remember a cast of super dancers displaying their virtuosity in an evocation of a ballet class, all coming together in a thrilling ensemble. Today there are still good dancers, even if not at the former level, but the effect is as if the younger Messerer has asked each one to do his or her favourite trick step, then just strung them one after another. The skill and energy of the cast evoked much applause, but this is no longer half so good a ballet as once it was (and incidentally the effect is much more like a cheap imitation of Harald Lander's “Etudes”).
I hadn't much looked forward to Tharp's “In the Upper Room”, a work of somewhat limited merit which some of us have seen moderately often from other companies. You may recall that it mingles balletic pointe-work with modern stomping in shoes like sneakers, and typifies the choreographer's love of speed, breadth and extremes. There are only thirteen dancers (seven women and six men) but they are all kept rushing about to the extent that we feel we must be seeing far more. Natalia Osipova and Ekaterina Shipulina were the couple who start and finish the action (Tharp compares them to a pair of china dogs who seem to guard a temple), both showing immense energy, but actually that's true of the whole high-powered cast, who all gave the impression of enjoying the ballet no end, so that we the spectators couldn't help enjoying it equally.
That programme, given only twice, began the season's final week, followed by two further showings of “The Corsair”. At the matinee I caught up with Svetlana Lunkina's attractive Medora, and an able young cast new to me, Anastasia Stashkevich and Andrei Bolotin, in the Pas des Esclaves. Also Sergei Filin as Conrad: looking great, dancing well despite his recent injury, and acting with great life and conviction. I was delighted to see him on such fine form, and all the more so when I heard him quoted as saying this would be his last tour to London as a dancer. A star of great distinction, he will be much missed, but I hope the phrase “as a dancer” indicates that the Bolshoi will continue using him in some other capacity.
The season ended joyfully with another of Ratmansky's ballets, “The Bright Stream” — Shostakovich's excellent music, the amusing plot by Adrian Piotrovsky and Fyodor Lopukhov, Boris Messerer's designs with their lively evocation of the 1930s all combine with the highly entertaining dances to make a work which I find irresistible. The cast I caught included Andrei Merkuriev as the naughty farmer Pyotr (there's a dancer who has developed a lot this season), Nina Kaptsova full of charm as his wife, and Yan Godovsky making much of the male ballet dancer who disguises himself hilariously as a Sylphide. Nice too that Osipova as the visiting ballerina had — and took — the chance to show that she is developing skill as an actress to enrich her dazzling technique.
The company as a whole is looking good, with many young dancers of real ability heading it or on the way up. And now, shall we please have an early opportunity to see how these dancers look in Ashton's “La Fille mal gardee”? That and the announced revival of “The Flames of Paris” will be much more worth while than the dreary old Grigorovich ballets which surely don't any longer deserve a place in the repertoire.
Top: "Elsinore." Photo by Damir Yusupov.
Middle: "Class Concert." Photo: Damir Yusupov
Bottom: "In the Upper Room." Natalia Osipova.Denis Medvedev. Photo: Damir Yusupov.