Monday 30 July 2007
Archaeological research in dance is not a very accurate science, as there are no living records of what any of the works actually looked like at the time they premiered… So, when a director attempts a “reconstruction” of a ballet we should take this with a pinch of salt.
Ratmanski’s new production of “Le Corsaire” for the Bolshoi Ballet is full of historical references and reconstructions from the surviving notated sources, interspaced with new choreographic material provided by Ratmanski himself. The result is a very long, highly enjoyable piece that lacks dramatic substance and that radically departs from the version the Kirov brought to London years ago. Byronic in look and content, a bit more of Romantic flair could have enhanced the overall style.
On opening night at the Coliseum the cast was led by Svetlana Zakharova as Medora, Denis Matvienko as Conrad, Ekaterina Shipulina as Gulnara and Andrei Merkuriev as Birbanto.
Though the action is not very clear to the viewer from the start, the first act is beautifully characterised in terms of costumes and dances, and it contains some familiar passages, such as the Pas des Esclaves, performed on this occasion by the young Ivan Vassiliev partnering Nina Kaptsova. Though the main adagio was cut out, the entrance, main variations and coda were there and were performed with great sense of style by Kaptsova and obvious explosive zest by Vassiliev, who ended his variation behind another character somewhere in the wings! Expectations were running high to see Vassiliev and I got the impression that the pressure showed on his brief performance. A young likeable dancer, he did not manage to leave that long lasting impression of a great dancer in the making. Sure, his ballon is remarkable, his enthusiasm contagious, but it will be interesting to see him in other roles before proclaiming him the next star in the company. Kaptsova danced her part with great sense of style and careful nuances in her musical phrasing.
The leads were also beautifully danced, with both Matvienko and Merkuriev looking stunning as the young heroes of the story and Zakharova displaying total command of the technical difficulties of the choreography, though not much shading or radiance in its execution.
The famous pas de deux that became a pas de trois in the Kirov version was, we are told now, apparently and after all, a pas de deux… Not that it makes much difference, really. It was danced with bravura from Conrad’s part and sweetness from Medora’s, so no big departures there. There were members of the audience who missed the male traditional costume for this particular piece as it seems that, from above, Conrad’s jumps are not well appreciated because of his Turkish costume in which the short skirt hides the shapes from view. And there were shapes indeed! Matvienko performed steps that I don’t think are even named in any conventional dictionary of ballet technique…
The second act presented more familiar material in unusual settings… The pas de trois for the Odalisques was there and it was the highlight of the evening in terms of pure classical dancing. The three dancers sailed through their variations (though the series of brissés volées could be improved) but it was Natalia Osipova who got the ovation from the audience with her breathtaking jump, assured technique and command of the stage.
“Le Jardin Animé” was, for me the most problematic aspect of the whole production. Crammed amongst hedges, flower pots and what not, the beauty of the scene was hard to appreciate. There was no space for the choreography to breathe, no room for the dancers to execute their movements with the necessary grandeur. At this point, I did miss the Kirov’s performance of this scene. Of course, if one bears in mind that this production will go onto the Bolshoi stage, it seems obvious that all these “problems” will cease to exist on that vast stage, but on the Coliseum they were “problems” indeed and they hindered the dance. Zakharova was correct in her variations, but there was no projection and no radiance in her dancing… one missed Asylmuratova and other Kirov ballerinas in this part.
The last act culminated with the famous Shipwreck, that, once again, became the highlight of the ballet… some things never change! It was a magnificent shipwreck, it has to be said, with full use of the latest technological advances theatres have at their disposal at present.
Overall the ballet was good, but not extraordinary. There was not enough dance and the choreography was not as inspired as other reconstructions of classical ballets. The storyline was somehow subdued by very flat dramatic action and characterisation (though I have been informed that with other casts, this improved enormously). It was definitely long, and yet a good taster of what the Bolshoi has to offer in future performances. It seems the company is in no shortage of young talent rising through the ranks and the corps de ballet looked stunning!