March 19, 2017
Stravinsky composed his Concerto in D for strings in 1946. Veering from minor to major and back again, now legato, now pizzicato it was an inspired choice when Robbins created his, still startling, work The Cage just five years later. The cage of the title is in fact, in Jean Rosenthal’s set, a web of ropes into which the Novice is pupated.
The dancers are immediately insects. Their angular shapes belie the flexibility of their bodies, their drives innately predatory. Like an ethologist, Robbins seems to understand the essence of “insectness”, assisted by Ruth Sobotka’s painted body stockings. This is a matriarchy; men are intruders.
At the behest of the Queen (Yanina Parienko), the Novice (Ekaterina Krysanova) greets the first intruder (Nikita Kapustin) but shortly, his head is between her legs and his neck is broken. The second intruder (Alexander Vodopetov) is at least granted a danse macabre before he too suffers the same fate. Insect sex here is purely functional if rather beautiful.
This is a fiendishly difficult 15 minutes for the dancers, demanding precision and balance within unaccustomed shapes and combinations. Although nearly 70 years old, it still feels shockingly fresh and presented a challenge to a generation of Bolshoi dancers that gobbled it up as eagerly as the Novice devoured her lover.
One of the most invigorating choreographers at the Bolshoi is undoubtedly Alexei Ratmansky. Two years before he relinquished his directorship, he created the second piece of this evening, Russian Seasons, for New York City Ballet. Six couples dance to the music of Leonid Desyatnikov, again a composition for strings but with the addition of a soprano. Galina Solovyeva’s costumes are gorgeous. Vibrant colours in matching pairs, with full skirts for the women and natty pillbox hats, loose tops and narrow trousers for the men.
There are hints of Les Noces in both the music, the choreography and the narrative, the piece ending with a solemn wedding. The dance encompasses agrarian and religious traditions, with no chance of catching the breath between the twelve sections. The dancers are driven and riveting, the energy summoning up ages old traditions that are somehow entrenched in their contemporary protagonists. Death in the person of a woman walks as if blindfolded across the knees of the men towards her inevitable destiny of nothingness.
Originally piano studies, the orchestral arrangement of Carl Czerny’s Etudes provides a rich background to the dancers’ own ‘etudes’. Lander’s 1951 version of his 1948 ballet of the same title remains a show stopper. It strips a company bare, its ruthless presentation of cumulative technique leaving no-one room to hide. Recently appointed ballet director Makhar Vaziev explained that there had been great tension in rehearsals and that he feels that the challenge of the piece should be offered to as many different casts as possible. From the first exposed grande pilé centre stage in a spotlight to the fireworks of the tours de la salle, the dancers were flat out.
There were one or two wobbles in places but the cinema screen is unforgiving; they would have been less noticeable from the stalls of the theatre. Unusually, the camera work was suddenly poor in this final ballet. There were multiple cuts to the pit between the first few movements which was uncomfortable on the eyes because of the glare from music stands and forcibly removed the focus from the stage, only to drag it back again as the ensuing dance began. The camera then stayed with static dancers, entirely omitting one dancer’s solo at one point and cutting away abruptly from others.
In spite of this, A Contemporary Evening was a very exciting programme and it was marvellous to watch the re-birth of two six-decade old pieces in a premiere made accessible via screenings to 35 countries in addition to the privileged few who were present in the theatre.
The final screening in the current Bolshoi cinema season is of a ballet new to British audiences, Yuri Possokhov’s A Hero of Our Time. Based on Mikhail Lermontov’s literary masterpiece, it follows Pechorin, a young officer, as he embarks on a journey across the Caucasus. Disillusioned and careless, he inflicts pain upon himself and the women around him…
A Hero of Our Time is in cinemas on Sunday April 9 at 4pm. Visit www.bolshoiballetcinema.co.uk for tickets and venues.