So difficult it was
to escape the temptation to watch the new version of "Bolt"
at the Bolshoi, after its premiere had been advertised so
widely or… wildly by various radio and TV channels.
The competent preliminary PR-action (including
the first in the Bolshoi’s history open press conference with
the public on the New Stage premises) bore fruits – the ballet,
that had been advertised so actively and intensively and well
in advance, really seemed to be very interesting to watch.
Besides, on the "Culture" Channel in the theatre
news programs ‘The Bolt’ was announced to be more than just
a premiere but a ‘world’ premiere and ‘a legendary production’
though one obviously contradicts the other: if the premiere
has been announced as a "world" one that means the
ballet is staged for the first time. While a "legendary"
performance is the one that has already been shown far more
than once and has been covered in legends. For the sake of
advertising any logic and common sense have obviously been
neglected. Once the Bolshoi Company spoke so highly of the
upcoming production, we could rightfully expect it to be a
talented, clever, interesting and out of the ordinary piece...
It drew spectators’ interest as a "legendary" world-level
premiere. Moreover, "Bolt" is Alexey Ratmansky’s
first production mounted specially for the Bolshoi’s troupe
in the position of the company’s Art Director, with "
the Bright Stream " having been created by him as an
invited balletmaster, while "Leah" was an old version
revived with the new cast.
But the very first scenes of the performance
made all their anticipated delights and hopes vanish into
thin air: the production was a weak show with neither scale
nor grandeur. It was grand only in terms of efforts invested
in it. Gigantic robot steel-founders, a gigantic electric
bulb (at the time when the action takes place dubbed ‘a bulb
of Iliich (Lenin)’) as scenery, contributed to the general
sensation that gigantic efforts of the cast, artists, designers,
the back-of-house team and the orchestra – everything was
aimed at squeezing at least something worth out of the meagre
artististic concept as well as the dull and repetitive choreography.
On the whole the performance produced an impression of being
a patchwork blanket where even Shostakovich’s music, to say
nothing of the choreography, directing, scenography, the costumes
and the lighting had been created separately and at odd times.
Then all of a sudden they were brought together to form a
unit. Every separate facet was meant to tell us something.
Alas apparently there wasn’t much to say...
When watching the "Bolt" the
spectator immediately recollects the principle of sounding
old silent films with the only difference that it is applied
reversely: there the pianist used music to put accents and
to help understand what was going on screen, and here Ratmansky’s
hasty choreography does nothing else but illustrates the Shostakovich
score, sometimes vainly trying to be synchronic. To be more
exact, it doesn’t illustrate, but obediently crawls all its
climaxes, pauses, crescendos and passages: if there happens
to be a piccicato, the pas are danced on tiptoe, no doubt,
with the legs slightly bent, keeping the elbows pointed up
with the little fingers aside. Tambourines’ chords are always
followed with sharp turns of the body, head, waves of the
arms, or marked with “impressive” poses... Where is the flair
with the ballet vocabulary so praised by the critics, I wonder?
The story conveyed by the choreography (if there is any at
all) is absolutely different from the one that is done by
the music. In other words the choreography “retells” the music,
at times showing puzzling oblivion of the plot, directing
and other important components a ballet production as a rule
consists of. It looks detached, which makes it unjustifiably
repetitive in vocabulary and dull. What is to be done? This
is Ratmansky’s recipe: repeat the phrase once again in the
same movements and, which is still better, in the same combinations,
by the way, it is also better for the spectator.
The directing, which is meant to co-ordinate
everything in the production, all the time stumbles over its
choreography. For instance, the pub scene with its endlessly
repeated by the diligent dancers variations reminds of a forgetful
elderly lady who is trying again and again to finish the same
Besides, Ratmansky has evidently lifted
material from other productions both his own (first of all
from his " Bright Stream ") and by other choreographers.
For example, the variation of the Clerk Kozelkov (Gennady
Yanin in the first cast and Alexandr Petukhov in the second
one) reminds too much of Modest Alexeevich’s variation from
"Anyuta" choreographed by Vladimir Vasiliev. Naturally,
being good Modests both of the dancers might have contributed
to the process of enriching Kozelkov’s personality. Denis
Savin’s role has the same choreographic shapes as the Hooligan
from Konstantin Boyarsky’s ballet "A Girl of Noble Origin
and a Hooligan". What’s more, "The Golden Century"
by Grigorovich comes to memory too often, though Grigorovich
is completely different from Ratmansky in terms of aesthetics...
Now a few words to say about the trouble
with the names of the main characters and the programme leaflet.
The current Director yielded to the temptation and followed
the path of the first and talented director of the "Bolt"
famous Fyodor Lopukhov, who staged the ballet in 1931: the
main heroes were given the names of the dancers. But it’s
pertinent to quote here the Latin ‘Quod non decet bovem, decet
Jovem’ (what is allowed to Jove, is not allowed to the bull)
as we see a hasty and unforeseen reshuffle in the cast at
the very last minute. We’ll never know what might have happened
to induce this change in the main roles’ dancers shortly before
the general rehearsal but something did happen and the leaflets
effectively published beforehand needed an ad hoc page to
let the audience know about the changes. From the improved
leaflet the audience were to learn that the names of the couple
were not Maria (the name of the ballerina Allash) and Dimka
(the name of the dancer Belogolovtsev) any more but Nastya
(Yatsenko’s name) and Deniska (Denis Savin).
As for the main positive hero Ian (whose
name remained unchanged), Ratmansky, to my mind, failed to
choose the right personality: Ian Godovsky, a stylish and
technically strong dancer, on stage is no good at charming
the public. In the premiere he appeared sadly flat and unconvincing
as a positive hero, who is supposed to stir compassion. And
on the contrary Denis Savin, the lyrical, open-hearted, organically
gentle and artistic, whose charm invariably wins the public,
couldn’t cope with the negative colouring nuances of his role
and turned into a mockery of a hooligan. The role of the komsomol
leader Nastya is weak in terms of drama, it is flat and easy
to foresee, poor in choreographic vocabulary, where there
is not much to do for such an interesting and bright ballerina
as Anastasia Yatsenko. Nevertheless, she did a great job with
the material offered to her and set about it with admirable
commitment. The role apparently took a lot of efforts out
of her to make it coloured.
My next point is the costumes designed
by the artist Galina Solovieva. You can’t even imagine how
I longed for the ingenious Suliko Virsaladze’s costumes, which
invariably made part of the ballet characters. His costumes
and scenery used to contribute to the role, to make it clearer
and more understandable. They fitted the dancers “like a glove”
that is were comfortable to wear and effective to look at.
The recent premiere’s costumes are nowhere near to compare.
The tasteless style of the outfits designed
as figure-hugging Budenny horsemen uniform, red felt and leather
(the combination we are sick and tired of), turned into a
varietish style of the Finale.
What’s more, in the first scenes of the
production the Artist-in-Chief’s concept had the beautiful
bodies on stage dressed in ridiculous clothes – the loose
skivvies – a reminder of the 1930-s. If it comes to that,
the choreography should fit the style of the design and sets,
but no, it doesn’t. For example, the so many times repeated
circle port de bras with palms in a "deadlock" aren’t
in the smallest portion associated with the dancing of the
30-s, still less they are a key movement to understand the
then styles. Thus it becomes obvious that " the Bulb
of Iliich " and the huge robots-welders are the only
components corresponding to the project’s Big Idea and matching
the characteristics given by the Mass media. How prophetic
in relation to the premiere are the words the talented artist
of the production Semyon Pastukh uttered after the general
rehearsal in an interview for the " News of Culture "
program on Channel 5 about the imaginary factory set! In the
interview he said that “the Leviathan of engineering genius
‘hissed and pissed’, puffed and panted, leaning over backwards
to electrify a single electric bulb”. Another question is
coming – what for another ‘Leviathan’ – the Bolshoi ballet
troupe – “hissed and pissed, puffed and panted, leaning over
backwards”…? Were they driven by the desire to prove the choreographer‘s
giftedness? Or by the desire to stage another experiment?
Or, perhaps, to reveal the director’s choreographic credo
at last? Or, perhaps, the Bolshoi management decided that
they wouldn’t do without all the three great Shostakovich’s
ballets on the menu by his anniversary date, with their vanity
pleased that the menu is unique?
But all the same what for did Alexey
Ratmansky mount "Bolt"? For whom? About what? Why?
Why is the plot so not carefully thought
through, the drama – so weak and ailing? What is behind all
those tiresome and too numerous set details such as flippers,
scooters, gas masks, "divers-saboteurs" with a mine?
Those are the questions the recent production does not give
answers to. The only thing is as clear as day: the balletmaster,
whom the critics appreciated as highly as ‘the hope of the
national choreography’, has practically nothing to say either
about this epoch or about the time he so light-mindedly and
thoughtlessly sneers at, neglecting its dramatism and turning
a deaf ear to the tragic prophecies clearly heard in Shostakovich’s
Nevertheless, during the curtain calls
Ratmansky seemed rather pleased and looked satisfied with
both himself and his “product”, or might it have been just
a good face put on the matter?
Offering such a production for the company
to mount Ratmansky turned out to be most vulnerable as a choreographer,
director and as the chief of the Bolshoi Ballet. The director's
notes to "Bolt" published in the premiere leaflet
and written by Fyodor Lopukhov say: "…you should remember
one more rule, which is the basis to the whole performance.
This ballet is of a purely choreographic nature. Hence, the
typical features of the characters should be expressed by
means of choreography ... It is necessary to think over everything
carefully and thoroughly before any decision on this or that
choreographic sketch is taken, you shouldn’t forget that no
less than creation of new choreographic aesthetics is in question…".
As to Ratmansky he didn’t set the task, nor did he want to
bring out the global scale of Fyodor Vasilievich Lopukhov’s
Sorry to say that while he has one of
the best ballet troupes in the world at his disposal, its
great potential hasn’t been used by him. What he has created
is a performance worth neither the actors nor the theatre
that bears the grand name of Bolshoi.
To be a modern choreographer and chief
of a ballet company like the Bolshoi Ballet, it is not sufficient
to have a good school and a bit of "experience abroad"
behind: apart from professionalism it is necessary to have
new ideas and messages in tune with our times, the ideas and
messages that want to be shared with the spectator. And yet
that’s not all. One should be a charismatic person to make
those messages attractive both in essence and outwardly. It
is also essential to bear in mind that contemporary theatregoers
are no longer the dull public like the low-brow Fikus, Ivashka,
Pachuli, Manka Fart, Opara, Kozelkov etc. They are well-educated,
cultural, choosy, high-brow, intellectual and self-respecting
people who can tell the difference between the Bolshoi theatre’s
and a travelling circus’ performance. Today such a respectless
way of treating the audience of the main Russian theatre doesn’t
Unfortunately, the new ballet "Bolt"
will certainly take its proper place among the latest Bolshoi’s