Grovelling apologies for not posting this sooner: I put my review on disc and then idiotically lost it. A friendly computer wiz retrieved it from my computer, so here it is.
The Bolshoi Ballet
13th, 14th and 15th (mat) October 2006
The Grimaldi Forum sits on the sea front on land reclaimed from the sea surrounded by palm trees and flowers. It’s one of those modern multi-purpose buildings with lots of glass but a rather disappointing interior not unlike an airport terminal complete with escalators ferrying the audience down to the theatre. Only two giant pictures of pansies, one mauve and the other yellow, relieve the monotony of blank walls. The décor inside the auditorium is more successful, rather low key with just a few faux Grecian columns at the sides but blessed with an impressively wide stage that must have made the Bolshoi dancers feel at home. Most importantly it has first-class sight lines throughout. The audience looked as well heeled as you would expect in Monte Carlo, but was very warm in their applause and at the third performance, a matinee, a large contingent of local school kids screamed out their appreciation to the decibel level of a pop concert. I wasn’t the only non-local there either as I met up with several familiar faces who had travelled to the Riviera for a weekend of sun and classical ballet.
This version of “La Bayadere” is credited like so much else in the Bolshoi repertoire, to Yuri Grigorovitch. There are some claims about it being close to the original, but that doesn’t wash with me since seeing the Kirov’s Vikharev reconstruction. In fact this production is very near to the Kirov Soviet version with the biggest difference being in the first act where Gamzatti makes her entrance as part of a procession preceded by a group of bare-chested men cracking whips to clear a path for her and followed by a bevy of young girls carrying peacock fans. Gamzatti has also acquired a solo to music with a markedly sensuous quality that doesn’t really match the very classical choreography she is given to perform. Her young attendants also get to dance a short ensemble number to a piece of music that is naggingly familiar but which I’m pretty certain is not by Minkus. Although there is a little more choreographic tinkering here and there the rest of the ballet is pretty much the standard Russian/Soviet version.
Compared with the performances I saw the Kirov dance in London last year, these three Bolshoi Bayaderes were of a far superior standard with notable performances all round. My three biggest gripes the last time I saw the Kirov was that they had dropped the second act ‘Manu’ solo, cast three inappropriate dancers as the leading Shades and above all had allowed the corps de ballet to perform hyper-extended penchée arabesques in the third act. The Bolshoi still includes Manu, cast three outstanding dancers in the shades solos and most importantly the Moscow corps was a model of classical correctness and Russian purity.
Of the three major debuts in this ballet, Dmitri Goudanov as Solor on the 14th was in many ways the most interesting. Not perhaps an obvious choice for the role as his slender physique and slightly reticent manner don’t quite summon up the qualities of an Indian warrior, but for the most part he made an enthusiastic lover though he was most at home in the last act where he was able to display his classicism without being hampered by the need to act. His death on the steps of the disintegrating palace was clumsy though as he seemed confused as to which step he would look best dying on, also an unflattering costume in the second act didn’t flatter him and he was unconvincing when faced with the drama of Nikiya’s death. His Gamzatti was young Natalia Osipova, also tackling her role for the first time. Osipova was obviously well rehearsed in the role, as there was barely a flicker of nervousness from her throughout the evening. Here is someone who knows how to play a rich bitch, but her portrayal was far from one-dimensional as she clearly experienced love at first sight when shown the painting of her future husband by her father and her actions towards Nikiya seemed motivated more by her passion for Solor than spite at discovering she had a rival.
It was the first time I had seen Anna Antonicheva as Nikiya and in many ways she was very like Goudanov – at her best in the last act. The drama of the role didn’t come across very strongly nor was there much chemistry between them as Antonicheva seemed a little detached towards her rather warmer paramour, but in the last act, just like her partner, she showed what she could do when unfettered by any demands on her acting abilities. Cool and luminous, she danced with fluency and near perfect execution of the demanding choreography and if she could develop her acting skills a little more, it is within her power to become one of the great interpreters of this role.
The other Nikiya, Maria Allash, had a rather nervous quality at first, looking out of her depth in the scenes with Gamzatti and approaching her Solor with a mixture of shyness and trepidation. Allash’s second performance was distinctly more assured than her first and she seemed to allow those huge expressive eyes of hers to do all the acting for her, gazing up rapturously at her partner and finally convincing us that she harboured a passion worth fighting for. She looks right for the role but I feel she needs to convince herself that she looks right. Allash is a beautiful dancer but I often find her slightly restrained and a bit under-powered, lovely to look at but with a tentative approach to most of her roles, though the difference between the first and second performance showed that she can summon up more confidence if she needs to. The third debut in this series of performances was the Gamzatti of Ekaterina Krysanova, another of the very young but formidably talented Bolshoi newcomers. Not a natural actress (she could have been nastier) Krysanova has a glittering technique that is displayed to full advantage as Gamzatti. On the first night she was impressive but her second attempt at the role was astonishingly good, nor was she fazed by dancing alongside the dazzling Nikolai Tsiskaridze; dressed glamorously in his and hers matching lilac they soared across the stage in unison and looked like a long established partnership in their betrothal scene; hard to believe I was watching a debut.
As Solor Nikolai Tsiskaridze doesn’t just act the role, he appears to live it. I’ve always considered it the role that suits him best as he has both the height and build of a warrior and his olive complexion makes him a far more credible Indian than most. His opening sequence of jetés as he crossed the vast stage were as impressive as they were when I first saw him as Solor some seven years ago and I noted with relief that the lingering effects of his serious and much publicized injury are now all but gone. He reacts to the drama around him in an unusually convincing manner, clearly troubled by the Rajah’s decision that he will marry Gamzatti, he realizes that this great honour spells the end of any future with his beloved Nikiya. In the second act he puts a brave face on the situation, then battles with mixed emotions when confronted by his former love. Her death puts an end to pretence and as he escapes the scene of horror he turns back towards the rajah with an emphatic gesture of hatred and disgust. His final act is just spellbinding: as he dances with Nikiya among the shades their pas de deux becomes a spiritual consummation of their love. Tsiskaridze looks good with Allash and their double work looked seamless, his courtesy to his ballerina is always matchless and he remains the most chivalrous of partners. His solos were glorious, his speed is no longer super-human but he can still get round a stage faster than most, though it is his ease of execution that impresses me most, I doubt if there is currently a better Solor to be seen anywhere.
In the minor roles Denis Medvedev as the Golden Idol, stripped down and covered in gold paint, elicited some appreciative murmurs from a female section of the audience together with some of the heartiest applause of the night. Eye-catching Pavel Dmitrichenko danced like a star in the drum dance and elegant Yan Godovsky had fun cast against type as the unkempt, unruly fakir. The three shades were danced by Alesya Boyko, Anastasia Goriacheva and Anna Nikulina; Ms Boyko is a striking platinum blonde that I don’t think I’ve seen before and she coped stoically with the conductor’s too fast tempo that didn’t suit the first solo. Goriacheva doesn’t seem to be as featured within the company as she was a couple of years ago (I first saw her in Barcelona in 2000, dancing Aurora) but she looks as good as ever and her recent neglect is a mystery to me. The very pretty dark haired girl I noticed in Swan Lake during the company’s earlier UK provincial tour, whose perfect line and musicality really stood out from the rest, I can know put a name to – she is Anna Nikulina and in her third shade solo she looks like a girl with a very promising career ahead of her.
The talent and potential talent within this company is staggering and I’m in awe of all of them.