As Charlotte Kasner points out in her in-depth look at Yuri Grigorovich, if there is one choreographer who dominated Russian ballet during the second half of the 20th-century it is surely Yuri Grigorovich, who on January 2nd, 2017, celebrates his 90th birthday, an occasion being marked by the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow with a season of eleven of his ballets through January and February. In Britain, we can share in that celebration as the next three screenings in the current Bolshoi Cinema series feature productions by the master choreographer.
At the helm of the Bolshoi from 1964 to 1995, Grigorovich left an indelible mark on the company, not least in the development of the exuberant, proud style for the company has become famous, each of his ballets reinforcing its strengths. Along the way, he made the company more youthful and produced some fabulous male dancers in particular. He was also lucky enough to have his wife and muse, prima ballerina Natalya Bessmertnova, to work with, although as Charlotte Kasner notes in her feature, this also brought some conflict and problems with others, in terms of both his management and choreographic styles.
Opinions on Grigorovich’s reign at the Bolshoi are mixed in the West too. Although his work is generally admired, some, like noted New York critic Alistair Macaulay believe he did more damage than good, and wish the company would move more firmly out of his shadow, something it is in fact now doing with an extended repertoire than is seeing more contemporary works from Western choreographers brought in.
Grigorovich’s productions of the classics are superb, though, and it’s three of these, The Nutcracker, Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty, that are coming to British cinema screens next.
Among the fabulous dancers Grigorovich had to work with was the near-legendary pair of Ekatarina Maximova and Vladimir Vasiliev, and it was on this couple that his Nutcracker, the first of the three ballets to be screened, was created. That was in 1966, just two years after he became artistic director at the Bolshoi. The ballet shows Grigorovich’s genius, first on fitting the dance to the music in a way that makes even the most technically demanding of steps (and there are plenty of those) look easy, but just as importantly in being able to create a simple but strong narrative that’s easy to follow and that’s no jammed with unnecessary characters and action.
With its designs by long-time collaborator Simon Virsaladze, Grigorovich’s Nutcracker also looks a delight. It does sparkle, but the main palette is one of black, silver, and red. Blue, white and pale pink do appear in the big ensemble numbers, the Dance of the Snowflakes and the Waltz of the Flowers, though; and the Dolls are brightly coloured indeed.
Charlotte Kasner takes a more detailed look at Grigorovich, the man, his times and his work here.
Yuri Grigorovich’s The Nutcracker is in cinemas on Sunday December 18, 2016 (with a few cinemas showing on December 31).
The Sleeping Beauty follows on January 22, 2017 (live), with Swan Lake on February 5.
For cinemas and details, visit www.bolshoiballetcinema.co.uk.