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Ballet is such a new art form that when its exponents attain a ripe old age you can bet they have rubbed shoulders with greatness – even if they themselves have not quite attained it – and that someone will give them a gala. Yuri Grigorovich, whose 80th birthday was celebrated at Covent Garden recently, is one such – under his 30-year direction of the Bolshoi Ballet, until his removal in 1994, he worked with such world class artists as Maximova, Vasiliev and Liepa; so enough reason to celebrate.
The Busby Berkeley of ballet, Grigorovich is deft at moving huge numbers of dancers about the stage in ballets more than a little cod and often overly camp. And so it proved in this gala, for which the Krasnodar Grigorovich Company danced three ballet suites, with guest principals from the Bolshoi. But the evening also highlighted the limitations of his choreographic vocabulary – endless repeated phrases, constant leaping about for the men and crutch-splitting for women, when the poor dears are not hulked around the stage like sacks of coal – his musicality is limited to slavishly following or ignoring the rhythm in the score.
Spartacus worked best, having an inner logic to its world; although no Bolshoi man of today can exude the sheer power necessary in the two main roles, Maria Allash shone as the courtesan Aegina. Less happy was The Golden Age, Grigorovich’s 1982 take on Shostakovitch’s vulgar score, played with provincial gusto by the Krasnodar Symphony Orchestra – the dance suite was an incoherent, pantomimic mess. The nadir came with a truly buttock-clenching Nutcracker that showed an unerring ability to choreograph some of the ugliest movements in “classical” ballet to Tchaikovsky’s score of genius – Svetlana Lunkina, reigning queen of the Bolshoi, looked decidedly unhappy, although, as in all three works, the decidedly mixed company dancers gave it all their uneven best. Sets and costumes were by the late Simon Virsaladze, designer of all of Grigorovich’s ballets, who never produced anything remotely pleasing to the western eye. A thoroughly dispiriting evening.
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