Monday, 17 October 2016

The Golden Age

Standard YouTube Licence

Bolshoi Ballet The Golden Age, streamed from the Bolshoi Theatre, 16 Oct 2016, 16:00

The history of The Golden Age is almost as fascinating as the ballet itself and could easily be the plot of a ballet in its own right.  As Katerina Novikova told cinema audiences briefly in the interval, this ballet was originally about football. It was originally a three act ballet which was choreographed by Vasili VainonenLeonid Jacobson and V. Chesnakov and first performed in Leningrad (St Petersburg) at the Kirov (Mariinsky) Theatre on 26 Oct 1930.

Wikipedia gives the following information on the plot:
"The ballet is a satirical take on the political and cultural change in 1920s' Europe. It follows a Soviet football team in a Western city where they come into contact with many politically incorrect bad characters such as the Diva, the Fascist, the Agent Provocateur, the Negro and others. The team fall victim to match rigging, police harassment, and unjust imprisonment by the evil bourgeoisie. The team are freed from jail when the local workers overthrow their capitalist overlords and the ballet ends with a dance of solidarity between the workers and the football team."
The score was composed by Dmitri Shostakovich when he was only 24. He wrote a profusion of danceable music as  Jean-Christophe Maillot has shown with his masterly The Taming of the Shrew (see Bolshoi's Triumph - The Taming of the Shrew 4 Aug 2016). Even I have danced to one of his works, namely Shostakovich's Waltz for Flute, Clarinet and Piano "The Return of Maxim"1937 Op 45 (see The Time of My Life 28 June 2014 which Mel reviewed very generously in The Dance DID go on - Northern Ballet Academy Show 2014 28 June 2014). Apart from being a great composer, Shostakovich was something of a football fan describing the so called "beautiful game" as the "ballet of the masses". Rather more flattering than John Osborne's description of ballet as "poofs' football" (see page 387 of John Heilpern's John Osborne: A Patriot for Us Google Books).

Apparently the original ballet was performed 18 times before it was pulled by the Soviet authorities and never staged again. Shostakovich's beautiful score remained forgotten for many years like The Sleeping Beauty until it was revived in 1982 by Yuri Grigorovich and Isaak Glikman. They produced a new libretto based on the rivalry between Boris, a young fisherman, and the criminal, Yashka, for the heart of Rita, a cabaret dancer which is complicated by the jealousy of Yashka's moll, Lyuska, who competes with Rita for Yashka's attention. The synopsis is set out in some detail on the Bolshhoi's website.

The fascinating part of Grigorovich's plot is that it is set in 1923 immediately after the civil war when Lenin revoked some of the controls of war communism to incentivize agricultural and industrial production in order to feed the Soviet who were suffering a catastrophic famine. That relaxation was known as the New Economic Policy ("NEP"). It achieved its economic objectives very quickly but led to all sorts of inequalities and imbalances and ultimately crime which are the backdrop to the ballet. The NEP was reversed in 1928 after Joseph Stalin came to power and many of those who responded to the incentives provided by the policy were destroyed over the next few years in Stalin's purges.

In their version of The Golden Age, Grigorovich and Glikman created powerful roles for the protagonists, Boris, Rita, Yashka and Lyuska, as well as some great character roles and some spectacular dances for the corps. Simon Virsaladze created some gorgeous sets and costumes for the 1982 production. I caught the tail end of Ms Novikova's conversation with a wardrobe mistress who described how those costumes had been lovingly preserved all those years in the hope of a revival. Audiences were given a glimpse of the workmanship in close ups of the dancers while waiting to take their curtain calls at the end of the show. Grigoroivch appears to have borrowed some of Shostakovich's music from other shows - or perhaps the other way round - for I recognized Tea for Two which ends The Taming of the Shrew at the start of Act II of The Golden Age.

Boris was danced by Ruslan Skvortsov whom I had last seen as "the prince" (otherwise known as Siegfried) in Swan Lake in London (see Grigorovich's Swan Lake in Covent Garden 31 July 2016). Nina Kaptsova danced Rita. I think yesterday was the first time I had seen her but I hope it will not be the last. More familiar was Mikhail Lobukhin who danced Yashka.  I had seen him before at least in HDTV transmissions.  Another face that I think I recognized was Ekaterina Krysanova who was Lyushka.

The choreography had so many breathtaking lifts and jumps not to mention spectacular fouettes, grands jetes en tournant and other virtuosity not only for the principals and soloists but also for the corps that it is hard to single anything out for special attention. However, I loved the first pas de deux between Boris and Rita in Act I where they fell in love and was riveted by Lyushka's passion at the end of Act II where she throws herself at Yashka and is stabbed for her pains. We are used to praising the Bolshoi's dancers for their technique but the four principals are also superb dance actors.

The ballet appeared to receive a rapturous curtain call in Moscow which must have been echoes in cinemas around the world. There was clapping even at the National Media Museum in Bradford, hundreds of miles from Moscow, even though it could not possibly have been heard on the Bolshoi's stage. Our Yorkshire audience floated out of the Cubby Broccoli on a cloud as elated as if we had been there. A wonderful compliment to the engineers of Pathe-Live as well as the magnificent artists in Moscow who brought us that great spectacle.

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