Shostakovich Triple Bill
25th July 2006
This Shostakovich triple bill showed a completely different side of the Kirov Ballet in roles that gave them the opportunity to display acting skills that generally remain hidden; the middle work, “The Bedbug”, is in many ways the most interesting and the only ballet in the triple bill totally unfamiliar to London audiences. Leonid Jakobson was a choreographer revered by dancers but with a history of clashes with authority so it is interesting to watch a work that contains some of the elements that during his lifetime were considered subversive. It is based on a satire by Mayakovsky about a sailor who gets mixed up with the bourgeoisie and dumps his rather gauche girlfriend for the daughter of a ghastly middle class family. Mayakovsky himself is one of the characters in the ballet, mostly standing apart from the action but occasionally getting more involved, a bit like a master of ceremonies; he is the only one who looks relatively normal with the rest looking and behaving like caricatures. Andrei Ivanov as randy former sailor Prisypkin was nothing less than a human dynamo throwing himself into each new situation with child-like impetuosity and preternatural vigour: a staggering performance. After witnessing the final scene when a wedding day punch-up takes place among the guests on the vast honeymoon bed, Mayakovsky, played by a wryly amused Andrei Naumov, finally loses patience with the characters he has created and setting light to the crimson bed sheets, sends the lot of them to hell. I enjoyed this ballet no end, but from remarks I overheard in the interval, I may be in a minority over this one.
By the way, although no synopsis of this ballet is given in the programme, the short story line given on the ENO and Maryinsky Friends web sites about travelling into the future is completely wrong. Anyone reading it will be totally confused as to what is happening on stage as it is nothing to do with time travel at all and I notice that at least one of the national critics was taken in by this curious piece of misinformation.
It was Svetlana Ivanova who took the honours in Boyarsky’s “The Lady and the Hooligan” with her portrayal of a kind, tender young girl who attracts the attention of a rough ne’er do well. As the Hooligan Igor Zelensky looked a tough customer, but perhaps too much of a hard case to really fall for the gentle Ivanova. I remember Valery Panov, the role’s creator in this part and he had a kind of innocence beneath his bravado, a good guy forced by circumstances to become something he was not. Unlike Zelensky’s hooligan Panov wore rags and looked like a street kid grown up in contrast to the more obvious delinquent that Zelensky portrayed. The Hooligan and his mates are controlled by someone identified in the programme as ‘The Guide’, which is surely a mistake: head gangster, crime boss or ringleader perhaps, but ‘Guide’? Though this character possess the inclinations of a Fagin with his dependent young criminals, he is quite the dandy and in this interesting role Sergei Popov poses elegantly with an air of refinement that disguises his innate viciousness. Tatiana Tkachenko had great fun as his good-time-girl love interest. It all ends in tears of course with the gangland boss knifing the Hooligan when he shows signs of reforming thereby giving him the chance of dying in the Lady’s arms.
Maestro Gergiev himself stepped up to the podium to conduct the final ballet, Igor Belsky’s “Leningrad Symphony”, conducting with relentless vigour in this work that seeks to encapsulate some of the suffering of the Russian people during the war. Beginning with scenes of those everyday pleasures that conflict puts an end to, the ballet moves on to depict the terrors of invasion and the courage that was born out of suffering. In the leading female role Yuliana Lopatkina was less dramatic than ideal but nevertheless seemed to embody the indomitable spirit of an everywoman living through adversity. As her lover Igor Kolb was impressive and moving by turns as he soared across the stage before falling victim to the Nazis only to rise again to overcome his enemies in a supreme battle of wills. Nikolai Zubkovsky, in the role he inherited from his father, was the panic-stricken coward turned traitor. The corps de ballet dances with the utmost conviction and looks beautiful in frozen sculptural groups: a grieving Greek-frieze of woman and muscular heroism for the men. As Gergiev took his call at the end the audience roared, a fitting tribute to Shostakovich’s music.