The Bolshoi in Paris: An Interview With Alexei Ratmansky

The Bolshoi Ballet is one of the world's great companies, although it was not always evident from the uneven programmes shown in Paris which disappointed many. The quality of what was seen did not match the legend.

It was less the heavy-handedness of Yuri Grigorovich's production of Swan Lake, with its sad decor, but more because of the way it was danced both by the corps de ballet and by the principals themselves, in this case Nadejda Gracheva partnered by Rouslan Skvortsov, doubtless admirable in more inspiring works, but who showed a total absence of emotional intensity. Where is the style, artistry and the lyricism of this famous troupe, hitherto known for its great dancers and dramatically expressive style? Where is the passion ? Above all, what has happened to the men? The virtues of senior principals Sergei Filin and Nikolai Tsiskardze have been loudly sung by the critics, but one of them was sick, and the other injured. Is there no one else?
The current company is only emerging from years of internal crisis which ended in the firing of Yuri Grigorovitch who dominated everyone and everything for thirty years. It was also around this time that the Bolshoi lost several of its big stars, including Irek Mukhamedov, who joined the Royal Ballet in 1990. The great dancer Vladimir Vasiliev, better remembered for his interpretation of Spartacusthan for reshaping the direction of the lacklustre troupe, took on a thankless task, to be replaced three years ago by the celebrated teacher, Boris Akimov. But it wasn't until after a series of meaningless tableaux, which constituted the second programme, La Fille du Pharaon, that people suddenly sat up in their seats.
With relief, the French public discovered The Bright Stream, a most surprising ballet, full of fun, yet at the same time revealing the fine schooling of the dancers as they revelled in the difficulties of the brilliant choreography by Alexei Ratmansky, up until recently principal dancer of the Royal Danish Ballet.

The Bright Stream was first staged in 1935, but then withdrawn from the repertoire because of its disrespect for the formal academic traditions, while the composer, Shostakovich, persecuted during the Stalin years, was not allowed to write another score. Keeping to Lopukhov's tale of the meeting of three dancers who meet a group of peasants from a collective farm and where everyone falls in love with everyone else, reminiscent of Shakespeare's Forest of Arden, Ratmansky has adroitly created a completely new and enjoyable work which has galvanised the troupe.

Thirty-five-year-old Alexei Ratmansky's appointment as artistic director of the Bolshoi is therefore less of a surprise than it might seem. Already an esteemed choreographer in Moscow, where he was born, he trained at the Bolshoi School and then joined the Ballet of Kiev, where he had a thorough grounding in the classics, before leaving Russia in 1992 to join the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. After dancing both Neumeier and Balanchine, the Bournonville style was learnt at the Royal Danish Ballet, when, simultaneously to his career as a dancer there, he began staging works at the Bolshoi.

"Since creating an evening of works for the Ballet of Kiev, I made three ballets for Nina Ananiashvili* as well as Turandot's Dream to music by Hindemith, and The Nutcracker for the Royal Ballet of Denmark", he told me between rehearsals, relaxing in the cafeteria of the Palais Garnier. "This was followed by Cinderella for the Kirov and The Firebird for the Royal Swedish Ballet".

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