Wounded by scandal, the Bolshoi returns to AmericaAug 11, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 45 • By SOPHIE FLACK
This was the first time in nine years that the Bolshoi Ballet had performed in New York, and rather than bring any of Alexei Ratmansky’s contemporary ballets, which helped catapult the company into the 21st century—under Ratmansky’s direction, the Critics’ Circle named the Bolshoi “Best Foreign Company” in 2005 and 2007—they brought a Soviet-era production of Swan Lake, along with Don Quixote and Spartacus. But the opening night of Swan Lake, on July 15 at Lincoln Center, had a particular draw, for two reasons.
First, the company has been lately riddled with scandal, including an acid attack in January 2013 that left the company’s director, Sergei Filin, battling for his sight. In the aftermath, the company has been reeling from speculation about casting politics and corruption. Second, David Hallberg, the first-ever American star to permanently join the Bolshoi, was cast as Prince Siegfried, and his performance felt like a homecoming. On opening night, the full house, including throngs of Russian balletomanes, was predisposed to love Yuri Grigorovich’s two-act version of Swan Lake, and the Bolshoi did not disappoint.
The original production of Swan Lake, choreographed by Julius Reisinger, was first performed in the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in 1877. It was a flop. But it was reworked several times, and this 1969 version, revised by Yuri Grigorovich in 2001, incorporates choreography from the Marius Petipa/Lev Ivanov 1895 version as well as elements of Alexander Gorsky’s 1911 adaptation.
The libretto, based on German and Russian folklore, tells the story of Princess Odette, who is transformed into a swan by Rothbart (in this production, referred to as Evil Genius), and only true love can break the spell. On Prince Siegfried’s 21st birthday, his mother asks that he select a bride, but he isn’t interested in any of the prospects. He then finds himself in the forest, where he falls in love with the Swan Queen, Odette.
In other productions, the character of Siegfried enters the forest with a hunting party, with bow and arrow drawn. In this staging, Siegfried wanders alone and bowless, suggesting a more isolated and brooding character. What feels unusual about Grigorovich’s libretto is that it is from the masculine perspective rather than Odette’s: Here, Siegfried and Odette dance a comparable amount, but that’s not the case in most productions of Swan Lake. And while Odette and her antithesis Odile are both danced by one ballerina, the masculine struggle between good and evil is divided between two dancers, Prince Siegfried and Rothbart (danced by Vladislav Lantratov). While in most productions Rothbart is more of a character role, here the choreography made it an extremely demanding, acrobatic role. Rothbart often chases Siegfried around the stage, mimicking his movements like a shadow.
The Bolshoi Orchestra, conducted by Pavel Sorokin, was astonishingly precise and made Tchaikovsky’s score come alive in a way I had never heard before. The sets consisted of painted scrims and backdrops, appearing particularly dinky behind such grand dancers. (There was one awkwardly placed scrim that plopped down in the center of the action on numerous occasions, often in the middle of a musical phrase, and its appearance became almost comical.
In most productions of Swan Lake, the emphasis is placed on the versatility and strength of the ballerina, but the corps de ballet also dances constantly and in multiple roles, often enduring many quick costume changes. A single corps dancer might dance in the court scene, or as part of the divertissement, then reappear as a white swan, and then go back to court—only to change again into a black swan. The Bolshoi corps de ballet was flawless in its placement: Each movement, no matter how small, was considered and given meaning. Their precise formations were enviably military and certainly put American companies to shame. Of course, the upper body is stylized differently than in Western ballet: The women lean forward slightly and look under their raised arms, and they cock their head when their arms are low.
In the opening court scene, David Hallberg was convincing as royalty. It was a wonderful showcase for his virtuosic technique, his long, lean line, and his pure, clean movement. As he executed difficult jump sequences, his hips and sternum remained fixed, giving the audience a pleasing sense of calmness. Hallberg is a nuanced actor, and you could follow the story just by watching him from the neck up. His ease and humility might not arouse the kind of enthusiasm from the audience that a dancer with more bravura or charisma would, but he is more subtle and restrained than some of his Russian colleagues.
The seventh installment of ‘X-Men’ poses a quandary.Jun 9, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 37 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
Is a single standout scene in a movie worth a half-billion dollars? That is the question to be answered by the worldwide gross of this seventh film in a series that began back in 2000.
Every souvenir tells a story worth hearing. Jul 29, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 43 • By EDWARD ACHORN
A few years ago, I found the scorecard my grandfather had kept of a September 16, 1904, doubleheader he attended at Boston’s Huntington Grounds. He saw Cy Young pitch in the opener for the Boston Americans (now Red Sox) and Jack Chesbro pitch in the second game for the New York Highlanders (now Yankees). A newspaper clipping noted that George Wright, a member of the first openly professional baseball team, the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, had watched the action that day from the front row.
A famous spy’s first steps toward betrayal. Jul 29, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 43 • By DAVID AIKMAN
It will probably never be known how many people died because they were betrayed by Kim Philby to the NKVD, or its successor, the KGB. Konstantin Volkov, a KGB agent working under diplomatic cover as a consular officer in Istanbul in 1945, is just one standout example. For the sum of £5,000, Volkov offered to defect to the British with a treasure trove of intelligence information: the names of 314 KGB agents in Turkey and 250 in Britain.
Before Audubon, there was Alexander Wilson. Jul 29, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 43 • By CHRISTOPH IRMSCHER
For years now, I have been showing the gorgeous four volumes of Audubon’s Birds of America to visitors and students at Indiana University’s Lilly Library. Each time, I take pleasure in the sumptuous colors of Audubon’s plates, still luminous after almost two centuries, and the dramatic stories of avian life the plates tell, with their fancy botanical backgrounds.
7:02 AM, Jul 16, 2013 • By JERYL BIER
Despite an admission by the Department of Transportation (DOT) that the Federal-aid Highway Programs under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) are "susceptible to significant improper payments," the DOT Inspector General (IG) has terminated an audit initiated in April "due to other higher priority work demands."
The Chelsea Flower Show celebrates its centennial. Jun 17, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 38 • By SARA LODGE
In his short story “The Occasional Garden,” Saki pinpoints a subject dear to the British heart, but also key to its social anxieties. Elinor Rapsley is about to receive a lunch visit from a woman whom she detests, Gwenda Pottingdon. Gwenda’s garden is the envy of the neighborhood; Elinor’s is a barren wasteland. Gwenda is coming on purpose to crow over Elinor’s pathetic pansies while describing her own rare and sumptuous roses.
The Ballets Russes and the dawn of modernity.Jun 17, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 38 • By EVE TUSHNET
“There was a definite puppet-like quality about [Vaslav] Nijinsky’s Petrouchka. He seemed to have limbs of wood and a face made of plaster, in which his eyes resembled nothing so much as two boot buttons.
The collected versatility of a ‘really good’ critic. May 20, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 34 • By JOHN SIMON
Drama critics come in all kinds, besides, of course, good and bad. There are those who regurgitate the plot and those who gallop off on hobby-horses. There are those with sound ideas but no style; those with impressive styles but no taste. Some tergiversate, even without a Janus face; others ride one point into the ground. Then there are the really good ones, like Britain’s Benedict Nightingale, whose song should be heard far beyond Berkeley Square.
The rebirth of the national pastime after World War II.May 6, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 32 • By COLIN FLEMING
In an American sports world where football is king, the notion of baseball as our country’s national pastime is a quaint one, a sort of nostalgic throwback to a bygone era, like westerns in the 1940s or heroic literature in the century after the Crusades.
Familiar premise (art heist) meets tired device (amnesia).Apr 22, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 30 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
Trance has to be judged one of the great disappointments in recent cinema, given that it is only the second movie Danny Boyle has made since Slumdog Millionaire. That Oscar-winning worldwide smash may have been the best film of the past decade.
They’re people, too, and often based in Paris. Jan 21, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 18 • By JUDY BACHRACH
I’m burning with envy. Here I’ve been plugging away of late in places like Oklahoma City and Scottsdale. Meanwhile, both Susan Mary Alsop and Kati Marton, heroines of two ostensibly different books, had a much better idea.
7:48 PM, Dec 10, 2012 • By DANIEL HALPER
The Republican National Committee announced the formation of a committee set to examine what the party did wrong in the last election.
"Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus today launched an initiative to grow the Republican Party and improve future Republican campaigns," the RNC announced today.
10:08 AM, Nov 23, 2012 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
I happened to read Michael Connelly's first mystery, The Black Echo, when it was published twenty years ago. I've been a fan every since. His books are now bestsellers, but it's always a nice feeling to have discovered someone (or something) before everyone else did—even if one deserves no particular credit for it.