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To house the Bolshoy Ballet in Dublin, where the company began its long-awaited return visit, a sometime agricultural hall was given a temporary facelift and transformed into a theatre - and a by no means unconvincing one - seating 4,000 people for four performances at the end of last week.
Arena ballet of this kind knew a real popularity during the 1940s in Britain and America, when stars like Markova and Dolin could attract a massive public, but no one since then has had the artistic or commercial bravery to try to make it viable. London will become reacquainted with it in late August when the Bolshoy Ballet can be seen after its Opera House season and regional tour, in a marquee in Battersea Park which will seat 3,700 people. Dublin flocked to the performances which showed the Bolshoy in buoyant form, supremely dedicated to the dance. The company needs to be seen on a stage as generous as this: they, in their turn, provide the force of emotional communication which reaches out to inspire a huge and eager audience.
Saturday night’s Divertissement programe - one of two that are set for the tour - comprised the extended items of Les Sylphides and the second act of Spartacus, with a closng fire-work display of duets and solos to show off the company’s stars. The Sylphides, for all that it was seen in so spacious an area, convinced because of the sustained and warm legato of the company style which can hold the equivalent of a danced pianissimo without appearing thin in tone or over-refined.
There were certian approximations to what we know as the Fokine text, but everywhere a largeness of phrasing, superb in Natalya Bessmertnova’s account of the grande valse, respected Fokine’s imagery. What British dancers show as fey or dainty, the Russians make joyously weightless and serene. Bessmertnova was well partnered by Yury Posokhov; her companion sylphs were Nina Semizorova, and the delicate Nina Ananiashvili in the first waltz, where her dark-eyed romantic beauty and gentle poses recalled photographs of Karsavina in this ballet. Ananiashvili gave the choreography an impulsive ease and lightness that were irresistible.
The Spartacus extract - the ever-exhilarating view of the slave hero leading his men in triumph against Crassus - drove irresistibly across the stage, with Irek Mukhamedov a new hero, and Lyudmila Semenyaka his Phrygia. Both artists offer a concentration of emotion and dance so clear and so tightly focused that their choreography has a burning directness. They were given the right malign opposition from Boris Akimov’s arrogant Crassus and the lustrous passion of Maria Bylova’s Aegina.
The items in the closing divertissement were largely those on which I reported from Vienna during the Bolshoy’s Easter season there. Solor’s variation from La Bayadere bravely done by Mikhail Tsivin; the Indian Dolls from Grigorovich’s Nutcracker showing the best use I know of the Danse Arabe; Spring Waters in full flood, and as intoxicating as one could wish with Maria Bylova and Leonid Nikonov. The Black Swan adagio was performed with staggering bravura by Alla Mikhalchenko, Alexey Fadeyechev partnering her with a distinction inherited from his father; the last act Coppelia adagio was neatly done by Erika Zusina and Yury Posokhov in a text very like that which we know in Britain.
A rarity came with the pas de deux from Le Talisman, a late (1889) Petipa spectacular which has been restored by Pyotr Gusev, the veteran ballet-master. The Drigo score contains a pretty waltz; Nina Semizorova as the heroine, Niriti, is outfitted with a shift and some pretty steps, and is pursued by Youry Vasyuchenko as Vayou, God of the Winds, in harem trousers and grands jetes. It is not widly coherent, but fascinating. The second lyric duet for Rita and Boris from The Golden Age was done with consummate feeling by Natalya Bessmertnova and Irek Mukhamedov, who can do no wrong as they celebrate the final union of the lovers in Grigorovich’s ecstatic yet tender dances.
The closing blaze came from Andris Liepa, flying high as the bold pirate in Le Corsaire, turning impeccably, and then ready to swoon at the feet of Lyudmila Semenyaka as Medora. As who shouldn’t, when faced with a classic style of such beauty. The rare and lovely thing about Semenyaka’s performance is not the obligatory nonsense of technical display, but the clarity of her poses, the academic beauty she brings to a simple diagonal, so that in her performance we know the spiritual as well as the physical harmony and truth of the classic dance.
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