The Bolshoi season that my ballet friend and I caught up with basically got better and better. I do regret missing the first three screenings in Pathe Live’s streaming series, but I’m sure glad we caught the last four. Am very much hoping we can get to most of the 2019-2020 season.
After ‘Sleeping Beauty’ was a thing called ‘The Golden Age,’ which neither of us had ever heard of. We both loved it so much that I immediately went looking for a DVD so we could see it again (and we have since watched it again). This particular ballet is set to music by Shostakovich and was originally staged in the 1930s. At the time, it had a different setting. The new staging dates to approximately 1980 and owes quite a bit to the movie ‘Cabaret.’ There is an emcee character who seemed, to me, to be intentionally drawn from Joel Grey’s character in the movie. Maybe Joel Grey crossed with Mistoffelees.
At any rate, the thing is absolutely gorgeous, with wonderful costuming and five (possibly six, depending on how you count them) wonderful pas de deux numbers. The hero and heroine have a great one at the end of Act I, and the bad guy and heroine have another even more phenomenal one in Act II.
One of the things we loved about ‘The Golden Age’ is that it has a happy ending. The hero and heroine both live! And you actually want them to live! Because it feels like they are really in love, which of course is part choreography and part staging and part performance. Nina Kaptsova danced the heroine Rita; Ruslan Skvortsov danced the hero Boris. They were both lovely. Ms. Kaptsova had A LOT of work to do in this piece.
However I must give a shout-out to the bad guy Yashka, danced by a SEXY BEAST who reminded me a lot of Patrick Swayze. His name is Mikhail Lobukhin. The bad girl Lyuska was danced by Ekaterina Krysanova who is a great actress.
Now, if you are interested in seeing this ballet, it is available on DVD. The recording was made with this same cast a couple of years ago. They have all matured as dancers since then, but even in the DVD they are all remarkable and well worth watching.
The last screening in the series was a double bill of the Carmen Suite (I think we all know this story) and Petrushka. The ‘Carmen’ was again gorgeously staged and danced; the choreography and set date to the 1960s. There are several great male parts in this short ballet. Carmen herself comes to a bad end and you kind of think ‘well that was bound to happen wasn’t it.’ The music is my favorite of the entire series.
Then there was ‘Petrushka,’ which was nothing like what I was expecting. This was a brand-new staging to the music by Stravinsky. I was prepared to hate the music because I have heard Stravinsky before. However, the choreography by Edward Clug was SO PERFECT that the music made sense. And the story has a twist, a punch line that knocked us both out. I would instantly wishlist a disc with the Carmen/Petrushka double bill because between the choreography and the music and the storytelling, these are just really great performances that I would love to see again.
In the original Petrushka story, I don’t know what happens. In this story, a magician character has three automatons - life-sized dolls or marionettes - whom he brings to life at a village fair, much to the amazement of the villagers. The magician then sets up a love triangle; the girl doll is being lovingly courted by Petrushka, and macked on by the other guy. Now, according to the synopsis provided by the Bolshoi, she is seduced, Petrushka starts a fight, and the other guy kills him.
I didn’t see that on the stage. What I did see was that the girl chooses Petrushka, but the magician interferes and separates them. And thanks to the high-quality acting, one can see that the magician doesn’t fully realize that bringing these dolls to life made them people.
Petrushka then appears to die of a broken heart, and (SPOILER) the magician has what read very clearly to me as an ‘OMG what have I done’ moment of remorse and penitence in which he literally gives Petrushka his own heart. Petrushka, in short, walks away the winner (though we never get to know whether he hooks up with the girl again). He has such a powerful, still moment on stage though. It was like WHOA.
The magician in this staging was danced by Vyacheslav Lopatin and Petrushka by Denis Savin. There was some terrific ‘doll’ choreography and some very modern, very emotional work from Savin.
Anyway, as you might guess, I recommend these screenings to any dance fan who can get to them. Even if you don’t dance ballet, you will learn a lot. And of course, the more we support series like this, the more of this wonderful world of culture we will get a chance to see.