Perhaps we can wonder whether the all-Grigorovich content for the Bolshoi Ballet’s current tour was arranged during the post-Filin trauma when Grigorovich supporters (a.k.a. anti-Filin, anti-progressives) saw a potential opportunity for restructuring influence. In January of 2013 when Filin was attacked, the 2014 tour to New York had not yet been announced. After it was announced in June of 2013, it was several more months before a Lincoln Center venue was pinned. The Bolshoi tours for which plans were likely already firmly settled at the time of the attack seemed to include more recent stagings: Le Corsaire & Bright Stream for the May 2013 tour to Brisbane; Flames of Paris and Jewels were part of the July 2013 London tour; Lost Illusions went to Paris in January 2014. But instead of getting a more recently staged selection that might even have included Marco Spada or Onegin, New York received only the Grigorovich vision of the Bolshoi Ballet.
Not only were we allowed only the Grigorovich vision of the Bolshoi, but that vision and its grandness were boxed into a shallow-staged venue like a family of five squeezed into a 300 sq. ft. Moscow apartment. The result was that with regard to Swan Lake, we didn’t get to see the bolshoi in the Bolshoi Ballet. Haglund fears that the production of Spartacus, which he has always admired, will fair even more poorly due to the lack of space. Whether it is a Grigorovich production or not, it’s not fair to squeeze the Bolshoi Ballet onto a stage designed for streamlined Balanchine repertoire. It’s not fair to the artists, and it’s not fair to the audience. If the Lincoln Center Festival cannot come to terms with the Met Opera House, which is the only performing space in this city that will accommodate huge ballets, then it should not present them.
On a stage where Balanchine portrayed ballet as woman, Grigorovich portrayed ballet as man with women incidental to Swan Lake’s themes and sketched plot. That said, the man who ran the show last night, Semyon Chudin, was a superb Prince Siegfried who pulled off his responsibility with humility, well-rounded artistry, and fabulous technique. A recent Bolshoi acquisition who was schooled at the Novosibirsk Choreographic College, not the Bolshoi school, and has eight years of performing experience with Seoul’s Universal Ballet and the Zurich Ballet, Chudin is one finely polished dancer. As noted previously, he is not the most handsome dancer in the Bolshoi, but he seems to be its best.
With feet that are wide like tiger paws, Chudin launched grand jetes with animal grace and power and landed them silently. His leg lines were strong and made a clear statement whether split in the air or standing flat in tendu. The clarity of his batterie was quite beautiful. Every step was like a word spoken eloquently without being over-articulated just for the sake of articulation. Chudin was a skilled partner who had his hands full in this performance, and seemed to have the ability to accurately gage the sometimes-erratic Olga Smirnova, who danced Odette/Odile. Upon entering the stage, he found an almost immediate connection with the audience which he held throughout the performance and made you feel like you were in the story with him. He made you care. His chemistry with Olga was superb. The love and the trust each had for the other was palpable.
Olga danced her heart out. You could not help but love her even though some of her choices drew winces. There was the turned-in leg in extensions a la second. During the section of the Black Swan PdD when she launched a big saute fouette that was supported by Prince Siegfried, Olga’s extended arabesque leg and hip were so wide open that they looked like they were in second position, not arabesque. Her swan arms were propelled by her shoulders not from her back, and frequently those shoulders were plastered up against her ears. How can a former top student at the Vaganova Academy not have great swan arms? Nor does she seem to be able to spot her head correctly and efficiently in supported pirouettes. And yet, she was beautiful in so many ways, in particular, how she conveyed Odette’s torment with her face. Given the fact that Odette had no mime with which to convey her situation, the face action was very helpful. One can only imagine what Olga might do if given a little authentic Mariinsky mime. Haglund’s recurring thought throughout the evening was that the world may have lost a miraculous artist because Olga decided to go to the Bolshoi instead of to the Mariinsky for finishing.
Olga’s Odile was far superior to her Odette. Where her intensity and sometimes overly-mannered approach did not always befit Odette, it worked beautifully in Odile. Her flashing eyes and perfectly beautiful smile seduced the audience as well as Siegfried. The Odile variation that began with backwards chugs in arabesque in a circle was quite likable and immediately suggested that the character was of a dangerous nature. Backwards is often a dead giveaway of evilness. Witches ride broomsticks and goats backwards, and sometimes their feet are backwards. If you play certain Beatles’ records backwards, they reveal a clear and convincing Satan connection. And of course, vengeful Wilis are initiated by making them spin around backwards. The proof is there; you just have to look for it.
Olga whipped off her fast single fouettes in the Odile variation with good confidence and only a moderate amount of traveling forward. Her pirouettes and pique turns in her variations were a little workman-like but she got the job done and did it in character. Her grand jetes were okay, but not spectacular.
The Evil Genius, Artemy Belyakov, was excellent. He really epitomized what Haglund expects a Bolshoi dancer to be. He gave a huge theatrical performance with big technical chops to back it up. The same goes for Alexander Smoliyaninov, whose character, The Fool, did much to energize some of the rather dull ensemble work that was on the stage around him. All of the Brides (Ana Turazashvili, Yulia Lunkina, especially Anna Tikhomirova, Maria Vonogradova, Yanina Parienko) danced their variations beautifully. The Four Swans (Daria Gurevich, Svetlana Pavlova, Margarita Shrainer, Anna Voronkova) were the most perfectly matched set Haglund had ever seen – physically, stylistically, and technically.
While the production itself will never be a favorite of Haglund’s, it’s not really so bad that anyone needs to act like they’ve been personally offended. Sometimes there is a very fine line between respect for tradition and laboring under a stronghold. Grigorovich is responsible for a huge part of the Bolshoi’s legendary greatness that came into being because of many of the personal characteristics that his successors now chafe against. Even Ratmansky still salutes him with a Grigorovich lift in his Nutcracker for ABT - which by the way, could only be done properly by Jared Matthews. Haglund will miss seeing that in December.
Considering that the Bolshoi dancers successfully mounted these Swan Lakes while dancing literally on half the depth of the stage while the scenery took up the other half, and that the stage when empty was far smaller than that to which they are accustomed, they deserved the big applause and standing ovation that they received yesterday. It was a job well done.
A word about the scenery and costumes: Haglund thought most were quite interesting and beautiful in a gothic sort of way. A curtain hung from the ceiling in the middle of the stage with an image of Swan Lake. Rather than being the beautiful lake that we are accustomed to seeing in most all other productions, this lake was darkly beautiful. It looked dangerous but tempting. It obscured the flock of swans but also made for a beautiful image. The costume designs gave a metallic impression without being shiny. The use of variants of gray and metal hues throughout the bolder colors was pleasing. All of it would have looked much more impressive on an adequately sized stage.
The H.H. Pump Bump Award, a tiger paw stiletto boot of great style and power, is bestowed upon Semyon Chudin for his Prince Siegfried.