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Big, Beautiful Bolshoi

by Cassandra

July, 2004 -- London

This month the Bolshoi Ballet returns to London with a programme of full-length works for the first time in several years. Much has happened to the company in that time and it could be said that what marks the Bolshoi out from other companies these days is the tendency to wash its dirty linen in public. The Bolshoi has certainly been in the news of late and on front pages too - remember that regrettable “Volochkova Affair”? Then there is the Bolshoi theatre building; in danger of sinking into the Moscow sewers or collapsing onto the heads of the audience according to some sources, not to mention an entire decade of internal bickering with much chopping and changing of directors and administrators, often in acrimonious circumstances. How is it that all this bad publicity circles the globe while far more serious scandals attached to other ballet companies both in Russia and elsewhere never surface at all? That’s easy: because the Bolshoi is simply the most famous company in the world.

It’s almost half a century since the Bolshoi conquered London and subsequently the world, led by the immortal Ulanova, but with every visit since they have presented us with fresh marvels and if the company image has appeared a little battered in recent years it certainly hasn’t affected performances. In spite of recent bad publicity, the company is currently on a roll, with the Paris season of a few months ago proving an absolute triumph against all the odds. With their star dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze injured, the company had been forced to make last minute repertory changes that they feared would go down badly in France, but in spite of misgivings the season was a runaway success. Hopefully London will reward them with a similar response.

This London season will also mark the first under the new Bolshoi director, Alexei Ratmansky. A former Bolshoi school graduate, Ratmansky’s career has been largely outside of Russia, principally in Denmark and the U.S., both as a dancer and a choreographer. His ballets are attracting increasingly favourable attention across the world and in the main his dancers are optimistic that he will introduce fresh ideas gleaned from his years on the international scene.

The two highlight’s of the season will undoubtedly be the two ballets new to London: Pierre Lacotte’s “Daughter of the Pharaoh” and the new version of “Romeo and Juliet”. The first is an over the top evening of colour and campery about an archaeologist who dreams himself back in ancient Egypt and it is an audience pleaser if ever I saw one, whereas the second is an ultra modern reading of the familiar ballet in a version that is already provoking heated arguments both for and against. In addition the company will bring their excellent production of “Don Quixote”, “Swan Lake”, and the ballet so many consider the company’s signature work: “Spartacus”.

It doesn’t take long for talented dancers to be recognized in the Bolshoi these days and even for a dyed in the wool Bolshoi fanatic like myself, I have to admit there are new names on the advance cast list that I am not familiar with - it all adds to the excitement. A special word though about two dancers that have already established a following in London: Maria Alexandrova and Dmitri Goudanov have recently been promoted to principal status in time to dance leading roles here. For Alexandrova in particular, that promotion is long overdue, for this is the girl who had Paris at her feet back in January and who possesses a genius for dance that sets her apart from even the very finest of her peers. Watch her and be amazed. Watch them all and be amazed, because the world’s most famous ballet company is back in town, so stampede to the box office now!

Edited by Stuart

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