Bolshoi Ballet's Serenade & Giselle Programme
Royal Opera House
Tuesday 27 July 2010
First of all I would like to thank Cassandra for her generosity in providing me with a ticket to see this performance, so that there would be more reviews for the Bolshoi on their visit.
The programme, as it has already been reported, was a long evening of wonderful dancing. The company's corps de ballet provided moments to treasure and, though on this particular evening the standards set by the previous night were not achieved completely, it was still a performance worth watching.
“Serenade” had a similar cast to the one on Monday. Krysanova danced the leading soloist, though this time she shared the other roles with Anastasia Satshkevitch and Victoria Osipova, who were not as perfect as the soloists on the evening before. Still, I found the Bolshoi's rendition of “Serenade” was another instance – the Bolshoi's performance of “Symphony in C” in 2006 still remain as the best performances of this piece I have ever seen on a stage- in which standards of interpretation of Balanchine's repertoire were outstanding. It was a very long time since I had seen this ballet performed in such wonderful way. It was a long time since I had seen the well known steps and choreographic patterns reach new meanings. For me, the way the Bolshoi dancers phrase Balanchine's choreography is simply superb. They seem to breathe music out of their whole bodies. Every gesture, every step is given articulation and meaning. Not in the melodramatic way, on the contrary, the Bolshoi performed “Serenade” with such economy of gestures and drama that every nuance of the choreographic text spoke volumes. It has to do more with some sort of constant rubato in their translation of the music through their bodies that allows the viewer to discover Balanchine's genius at providing visual imagery that enlightens the music rather than just illustrate it. To have soloists capable of doing this is not easy, but it is achievable with a good cast. But to have a whole corps the ballet breathing music in the same way is a miracle, and it makes the ballet appear fresh, alive, full of nuances that, alas, in the last decades seemed to have got lost. So, thanks to the Bolshoi once again for reminding us why we keep on going to see these works over and over again.
On the other hand, to have “Serenade” as the ballet preceding “Giselle” is either a touch of genius or carelessness, as the constant choreographic quotes Balanchine used from the latter are simply staggering when watched side by side. There is so much of “Giselle” embedded into the choreographic text of “Serenade” that one cannot stop wondering if Balanchine was trying to say something to us on his views about the nineteenth century classic. For me, the end of the Elegy, which is “simply” an inversion of the end of “Giselle”, is Balanchine's genius at his best. A lesson in borrowing with a difference, like all masters have always done with the work of his or her predecessors.
So, by the time “Giselle” started, we already knew the corps would be wonderful and we would see a great performance. The production the company brought was, to my joy, the old Grigorovitch production we saw back in 1989 and that I think it still looks absolutely beautiful, especially in the colour palette for the costumes in the first act. Though there are some silly details, like the hopping entrance of the court into the village, there are other beautiful details like the integration of the Peasant Pas de Deux's couple as Giselle's friends.
The main roles were danced on this night by Anna Nikulina and Alexander Volchkov. Unfortunately, having seen the night before Osipova in the role of Giselle, left Nikulina in an awkward position. Osipova's portrayal of the main character was so absolutely outstanding, that Nikulina's interpretation paled in comparison. Still, she was good throughout the first act, though she played the peasant girl in a much more conventional way. Her second act was also very good. Nikulina has a beautiful jump that she uses convincingly as a spirit... though, once again, memories of Osipova's flights across the stage were too vivid and intense in my mind.
Volchkov's Albrecht came as a bit of a disappointment. Having seen and enjoyed this dancer when performing the role of Crassus in “Spartacus”, it seemed the subtlety and nuance of characterisation for this other troubled character eluded him. His Albrecht was not very clear in the dramatic aspects in Act I. His acting left at times certainly room for improvement and though in the second act, he did manage to get more depth and meaning in his sadness, unfortunately the technique failed him in his solo.
Maria Allash was an imposing Myrtha, but I missed the evil features of her character. I still remember wonderful Tatiana Terekhova dancing this role with the Kirov, and her icy looks onto her preys and audiences alike.
As Hilarion, Ruslan Pronin gave a sympathetic performance on both nights. However, the memories of Gedeminas Taranda with this same company years ago made me feel sorry for anybody stepping into his boots!
One word of praise for Anna Leonova, who had danced as one of the soloists in “Serenade” the evening before and who on this night danced one of Myrtha's assistants beautifully. Her strong presence and her purity of lines made the choreography for her solos in the big Willis scene stand out.
The Peasant Pas de Deux was danced by Daria Khokhlova and Andrei Bolotin and though they were fine dancers, they were not outstanding dancers. I always think of Nureyev's words when seeing this long duet... “by the time Albrecht and Giselle come back onto the stage, nobody seems to remember who they were”... indeed!! On the evening before Anastasia Stashkevich gave more light and grace to her variations and so did Viacheslav Lopatin. I always find that, if not exceptionally well danced, I'd rather do without this pas de deux altogether.
The jewel of the evening was, however, the corps the ballet. It simply looks wonderful. From the intincracy of “Serenade” to the simplicity of forms in “Giselle”, this corps can hold your view indefinitely, as every member becomes an individual beautifully merged into a coherent whole.