Wednesday, Nov 30, 2011:Time Travel

Travel back in time to Czarist Russia, with the Bolshoi Ballet

Time Travel

“When watching a ballet, bear in mind the period in which it was created,” admonishes dance teacher and ballet journalist Jana Hošková. “In Russian ballet, every step has a meaning.”

Mrs Hošková was part of a panel discussion at the Světozor Cinema Nov 20, following the Aero “Ballet in the Cinema” transmission of the Bolshoi Ballet production of Sleeping Beauty, live from Moscow.

Her comment was a reminder that in the Russian school, technique prevails over content, and that the historical context is key to understanding a Russian performance. Her explanation was right on spot and might have enlightened those new to the ballet, for whom the three-hour performance was itself a kind of endurance test.

Sleeping Beauty, the story of a cursed princess who pricks her finger on a needle and falls into a deep sleep along with her entire kingdom, in some ways serves as an analogy for the Bolshoi itself.

Lucie Rozmanková, Aero's Ballet in the Cinema (left), fields questions for former dancer Jana Hošková

The Bolshoi Theatre is still awakening to the glories of its six-year-long renovation that restored the building’s original Czarist opulence. And, making full use of their 200+ member dance staff, the Bolshoi’s rendition of the classic fairy tale was indeed a throwback to Czarist excess, with rich, multi-textured costumes, dozens of intricately-choreographed supporting dancers, massive sets, and gilded 3D backdrops.

All of this was merely visual support underlining the Bolshoi’s unwavering dedication to the historical detail and tradition of the choreography, which premiered in St Petersburg in 1890. Though the fairy tale by Perrault might not seem an ideal libretto for a ballet, the collaboration between the French choreographer Marius Petipa and P I Tchaikovsky gave rise to one of the great classics of 19th century ballet. It also produced one of the most difficult dance pieces ever.

Sleeping Beauty’s length compounds the technical difficulty of the female lead, Princess Aurora, who drives most of the performance. Svetlana Zakhareva’s Aurora certainly justifies the Ukrainian dancer’s position as the first soloist of the Bolshoi.

With confidence, incredible strength, and unwavering elegance, Mrs Zakhareva fluttered through the air like an ethereal being. In the critique discussion in Prague following the performance, the panel especially praised her soft falls.

This performance was the debut of the Bolshoi’s new male lead, David Hallberg, the first American to be accepted into Russia’s legendary dance company. Mr Hallberg’s inclusion marks the end of a ballet “cold war” and signals the new internationalism of the Russian theatre. As an American-trained dancer, no doubt Mr Hallberg must have endured a lot of pressure during his premiere. You could almost feel the relief coming through the movie screen after his finale with Mrs Zakhareva.

The Czech ballet audience has the opportunity to enjoy further multi-nationalism in upcoming on-stage productions of Sleeping Beauty in Prague. The State Opera Ballet continues its performances of Spící Krasavice (libretto, stage direction, choreography by Youri Vámos) in March, April, and May. The National Theatre Ballet offers viewers the Czech premiere of Šípková Růženka (choreography by Javier Torres according to Marius Petipa, music by Tchaikovsky) March 29. — oo

— Zuzana Sklenková; Joshua Mensch contributed to this article.

Photo Credits: Top: c Damir Yusupov, Bolshoi Ballet; bottom, Joshua Mensch

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