Massine at the Bolshoi
On Le Tricorne, Les Presages and Gaite Parisienne premiered in Russia.

Å. Nikolaev

Leonide Massine’s legendary ballets, a three-bill set, have been mounted for the first time in Russia, on the Bolshoi stage where Massine started his career of a dancer in 1912. Thus the historical injustice towards the Great Russian dancer, who once won world recognition at first as a member of Sergey Diaghilev’s legendary troupe Ballets Russes and later as a balletmaster, is finally put right. Certainly, the fact sounds comforting. The Chief of the Bolshoi Ballet, Alexey Ratmansky, has decided to introduce to us Massine’s works, to pluck them from obscurity in Russia, undeservedly forgotten, by presenting his three one-act ballets of different genres from different periods of his life: Le Tricorne to music by Manuel de Falla (1919), Les Presages to music of the Fifth Symphony by Petr Tchaikovsky (1933) and Gaite Parisienne for which the music was written by Jacques Offenbach and arranged by Manuel Rosenthal (1938). To restore Leonide Massine’s original choreography the Bolshoi Company invited Lorca Massine, choreographer, his son and disciple, together with Lorca Massine’s assistants Ànna Krzyskow and Cameron Basden.

Le Tricorne, the first of Massine’s original ballet triptych, was born due to Massine’s interest in folk dances in general and Spanish folk dances in particular. "Having studied thoroughly the Spanish folklore, he (Massine - Å.N.) composed dances of his own, where each gesture was selected, somewhat severe, graphically pointed and most expressive, with dynamics guessed behind every static pose being akin to swiftest movement” - writes the researcher of Massine’s creative work, a ballet historian Elizabeth Sourits, in the foreword to his memoirs ‘My Life in Ballet’. Now the Bolshoi Ballet’s management has this ballet, Leonide Massine’s and Pablo Picasso’s creation, restored on the main stage of Russia in authentic costumes, scenery and choreography, though the then avant-garde scenery and costumes today look a little bit out-of-date. However, the idea of reviving Le Tricorne with today's Bolshoi troupe seems to have been poorly thought out, the evidence of which is the fact that the main part (Miller) at the premiere was performed by an invited soloist. Joze Martinez, a dancer of Opera de Paris, who is known for his excellent Millers, danced for different theatres, and who arrived in Moscow to dance in one performance only, showed his command of character dance technique with far less perfection than he had been expected to. Here comes a question: in the Bolshoi Ballet troupe, among more than 220 dancers isn’t there an expressive and bright soloist, capable of performing at the premiere adequately and decently? Isn’t there or wasn’t he looked for at all?… And if he wasn’t, so what’s the point in mounting a ballet based on a character dance? Assuming that the theatre chose Le Tricorne spurred by the idea of reanimating character dance, probably, first thing in the morning should have been to supply this ballet with necessary and proper cast to guarantee its further life in the repertoire. It is unreasonable to invite Parisian ‘rescuers’ to each performance. Everyone acquainted with the basics of the profession knows only too well that dance on heels strongly differs from ‘pure’ classical dance, that apart from a few technical points – here, in character dance, a different group of muscles ‘works’ – the dance requires a different movement of body, arms, a different temperament... The Company’s decision to cast Maria Alexandrova as the Miller’s Wife put her in more than a ticklish situation. Being far from excellent at dancing on heels the classical ballerina could not overcome the complexities of the character dance and in every possible way tried "to hide" her classical arms and case in the movements of a manner absolutely alien to her. The ballerina's gestures, uncertain and not clearly shaped as well as unconvincing poses were evident to every layman, to say nothing of professionals. The corps de ballet also felt more or less comfortable only when they were standing at the wings framing the soloists onstage.

Had the Bolshoi found the worthy cast for Massine’s plan, his Le Tricorne, whose choreography, by the way, isn’t at all original, would have, probably, been a better show, appeared in a new light and wouldn’t have seemed so hopelessly boring...

The rather monotonous ballet-symphony Les Presages was mastered by the troupe far more successfully – Massine’s traditional choreography here has obviously appeared to be more familiar to the soloists and the corps de ballet. However, it is rather strange that in Les Presages we didn’t see the Bolshoi stars, moreover the premiere cast – Maria Allash (Passion), Vladimir Neporozhny (the Hero), Ekaterina Shipulina (Action), Marianna Ryzhkina (Frivolity), Alexander Vorobyov (Fate) didn’t meet the high standard of the Bolshoi Ballet: it resulted in a lower general impression... The orchestra conducted by Alexandr Titov, the production’s conductor-co-producer, played Tchaikovsky’s famous Fifth Symphony languidly and indistinctly and at times it sounded beyond recognition. But the artist Igor Chapurin was the one who impressed – he ‘hit the Jackpot’ with his laconic, elegant and severe scenery and costumes. For instance, for the scenery he gracefully used the style millefiori (translated from Italian this means ‘a thousand flowers’) widely spread in medieval wall-carpet craft.

The third ballet Gaite Parisienne is a lovely trifle with comic situations, amusing intrigues, thoughtless flirting and fiery cancan to the liking of the majority of the public. The scene is set in Tortoni’s, a famous cafe in Paris of the late 30-es (design by Raymonda Gaetani). The bluish haze of the slowly coming evening, seen through the windows, contrasts nicely with the bright and extravagant colours of the visitors’ outfits. Probably, this ballet, light and merry, was meant to uplift the spectators’ mood, to make them feel carefree and thoughtless, after the obvious imperfection of the soloists and corps de ballet in Le Tricorne and the infinitely monotonous and depressing Les Presages. Another advantage of Gaite Parisienne is its cast – Svetlana Lunkina (Glove Seller), Mark Peretokin (The Baron), Irina Zibrova (La Lionne), Alexey Loperevich (The Duke), Batyr Annadurdyev (Dancing Master). I can’t but do justice to Denis Medvedev, a brilliant comedy dancer, who perfectly did the part of Peruvian, though in the second cast for some obscure reason. The Peruvian-Medvedev really adorns the performance, and even being off the centre invariably attracts the attention of the spectators. Unlike the technically strong but far less charming Morikhiro Ivata (who was preferred for the first night) Medvedev is so much in his element in this genre that it’s exactly his character that stays in memory.

But as a whole, the performers for the three ballets seem to have been chosen at random. Probably, always being in pursuit of new premieres or due to some other reasons the ballet managers have practically no time to think of discovering new individualities and about correct casting.

And one more thing – in these three ballets, unfortunately, we failed to see Leonid Massine’s style as well as the producers failed to show through the dancers that this style exists and that it is interesting. In his turn the spectator wasn’t given a chance ‘to taste’ the nuances which distinguished Massine’s ‘handwriting’ from other choreographers of the past and present... The impression from the program really fades in comparison with the performance Forsythe in Mariinsky shown in the framework of the Golden Mask Festival which comes to memory – the Petersburg dancers not only showed to us their faultless command of Forsythe’s style but also added their individual vision to the intricate choreography.

For a year and a half of his directorship Ratmansky has been trying to prove his consistency and to account for the repertoire chosen. He even enters into polemics with the leading dancer of the troupe on the pages of the latest premiere booklet, (which is obviously inappropriate for such kind of publication), thus providing a revealing insight into the relations between the artistic director and the troupe and leaving spectators to wonder… But the fact that the ballet troupe made such a poor show of themselves in Massine’s ballets means that the Ballet Chief is far from realising his troupe’s true potential and skills. " By fruits you’ll recognise them " But the trouble is that the "fruits" have been "inedible" so far...

Well, what have we finally got? It seems most uncertain what for this project was started. Was Massine mounted to put a tick against a certain point on the agenda, just to report it’s done, or to give a remarkable show, which means that Ratmansky was driven by the idea to arrange for the principals and corps de ballet to show themselves to their best advantage and to reveal strong budding dancers. The sad story about the three one-act ballets is that they seem to have been resurrected to dwell in the Bolshoi’s repertoire a day or two and be consigned to oblivion shortly afterwards. When the production is to be consigned to oblivion the troupe precisely feel it and pay back with their indifference, superficial attitude to the whole affair.

We are but glad that in its search for a new conception the Bolshoi turned to Leonide Massine’s creative works. And glad at the above mentioned historical injustice having been put right, despite the fact that his ballets cannot be ranked masterpieces of the world ballet heritage. But the thing really meaningful is that these ballets, neither significant nor essential for the Bolshoi’s reputation, the ballets that are not to become the theatre’s “visiting card”, have aroused questions too complicated to be answered at once and problems too vital to be put off…

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