THE BOLSHOI BALLET AT THE LINCOLN CENTER FESTIVAL, JULY 18 TO 23, 2000
|After a five-city U.S. tour---to Washington,
D.C., Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles and Costa Mesa---the Bolshoi returned to New York's
State Theater, as part of Lincoln Center Festival. The company's last New York appearances
took place in that theater, ten years ago. This time the Bolshoi brought it's new
production of Giselle and a mixed bill which recalled the past successes of the
company, with excerpts from Spartacus, Don Quixote, La Bayadère and
a sample of its growing Balanchine repertory, the complete Symphony in C.
Nina danced two Giselles and took part in the other programs---Don Q Grand Pas and the second movement of Symphony in C.
Choreography: Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot, Marius
Petipa, Alexander Gorsky, Leonid Lavrovsky, Vladimir Vasiliev
A glance at the list of choreographers who have had a hand in this version is enough to give the viewer an inkling of the venerable tradition this ballet has had with the company. This production, which has its share of controversial touches, had its premiere at the Bolshoi in Moscow in 1997, with the company's rising star, Svetlana Lunkina, in the title role.
The Friends of Nina naturally attended both her Giselles, and two of the repertory program. (Curiosity also brought us to the Lunkina performance on Saturday afternoon, July 22.) Nina, being the company's prima ballerina, had opening night honors. Her first act on July 18 seemed a bit subdued---she and the company were still taking the measure of the State Theater stage--which is smaller than the Bolshoi's and presented size as well as lighting problems. Technically, though, she showed her usual mastery and ease, and her interaction with Sergei Filin as Albrecht was warmly convincing. Nina's personality, of course, does not fall into the fragile, passive mold. Her Giselle is innocent but full of life---with a touch of naughtiness and daring. There is a simple pride in her showing off of her hops on pointe to Bathilde and the other aristocrats. In contrast, her mad scene emphasizes Giselle's sudden loss of contact with life; she uses her powerful presence to infuse stillness with heartbreaking emotion. Vasiliev's most obvious interventions include a solo for Albrecht early in the act, as well as many additions to the part of Hilarion (the excellent Alexander Petukhov)--making him almost an equal to Albrecht in virtuosity. One could argue that giving so much importance to the gameskeeper unbalances the ballet, which is after all, about Giselle. However, Vasiliev's reworking of the peasant pas de deux into a pas d'action for four couples is an improvement. It highlights the current strong rank of soloists--especially the men, whose uniform leg beats, body and arm positions were exciting to watch.
These various choreographic emendations, plus the unfamiliar color schemes for the costumes in Act I, proved distracting to many. At intermission, one overheard heated (!) reactions to Hilarion's muted turquoise outfit, and the admittedly rather out-of-sync red and yellow uniform for Wilfrid, Albrecht's "sword-bearer," as the program calls him. There were also all manner of hats for the men. Giselle's maroon bodice over a yellow dirndl did not seem to evoke as much protest. One wonders if these were the "hot" colors in Paris when the eminent haute couture figure Hubert de Givenchy designed these costumes. Lighting problems undermined the effectiveness of the sepia-toned sets. A bank of back footlights remained visible throughout the act for those seating above the second ring of the theater---adding another layer of distraction.
Act II returned to more or less familar grounds, with Barkhin's sets, all deep blues and greens, evoking the dead of night in a forest, with a pond shimmering in the background. (This although the program notes indicate that the scene takes place "amidst the graves of a village churchyard." And yes, those were tassels among the tree branches, the designer having chosen to keep the reference to a theater setting throughout the ballet.) The costumes too were traditional---though Albrecht enters with a velvet beret which he doffs, with his cape, by Giselle's grave.
Maria Alexandrova proved a formidable Myrtha; her deliberately slow bourées on her first entrance made her seem more menacing. And, of course, her by now famous floating jumps were particularly effective in this role. (My mind inevitably traveled back to another young Myrtha---Nina herself, who memorably danced both Myrtha and Giselle during the 1987 Bolshoi season at the Metropolitan Opera.) Svetlana Uvarova and Natalia Malandina were the capable adjutants to the Queen of the Wilis.
Nina's second act came up to her usual level of intensity---her technical strength allowing us to see only the artistry. The sculptural grace of her deep arabesques were sheer poetry, and she ended her long, arching dance phrases with the lightness of a leaf touching gently on the ground for just an instant, before being borne off again by the wind. And what more can one say about those arms, whose expressiveness seem to become more nuanced with every performance? They are supreme instruments of communication, as are all the parts of the miraculous dancer which is Nina. Filin for his part was an attentive partner, whose emotive powers are of the deep, introspective kind. His execution of steps was always stylish and neat, his carriage always that of an aristocrat. The excelllent corps de ballet elicited much applause--alas, not always at the right time. Hilarion gets an understandably dramatic send-off in this version, but Vasiliev should rethink the "mad scene" for Albrecht which he tacked on to the end of the ballet. After Giselle returns to the grave, having forgiven her lover, it's most jarring to have him have the last leaps around the stage.
At the performance on the evening of July 22, it was obvious that the company had "settled down" to the stage conditions. Nina gave a particularly impassioned reading of Act I, her mad scene perhaps the most searing I have witnessed her perform. It was almost frightening in its intensity. Her partner this time was Andrei Uvarov, who consistently gets praise for his elegance. Certainly this tall, long-limbed dancer dances with a clear line; his emotional projection leaves a lot to be desired, however. For me, he remains an unsatisfying partner for Nina; it's almost as if she knows this and compensates for it by stronger acting. But a truly good partner must be an equal. Maria Allash was the adequate Myrtha.
So what about Lunkina? This is not a website for her, but to give credit where it's due, she danced a very fine Giselle (July 22, matinee), which, nevertheless, is still a work in progress. Someday she may find her own interpretation of the role, not the one she obviously has been very well coached in by her mentor, Ekaterina Maximova---one of the finest Giselles of the recent past. To be honest, I found her partner, the exuberant Nikolai Tsiskaridze, more compelling. But maybe I just have a thing for Georgians...