Laurencia is one of the key works of Soviet dram-ballet, those politically more-than-correct stagings that combined Petipa’s pre-revolutionary traditions with the socialist ethos of state-controlled art under Comrade Stalin. Created in Leningrad by the great danseur Vakhtang Chabukiani in 1939, it was based on Lope de Vega’s Fuente Ovejuna with its eminently suitable theme of peasantry rising against an aristocrat and his droit de seigneur, and was an entire success – feeding off Russian ballet’s affection for Spanish carryings-on, and boasting two spiffing roles: the eponymous heroine and Frondoso, her beloved. Chabukiani cast himself as the latter, Natalya Dudinskaya blazed as the former, amid a tornado of Hispanic activity not far removed from Petipa’s Don Quixote, which casts a long shadow.
In 1956 Laurencia entered the repertory of the Bolshoi Ballet, and it is here that Mikhail Messerer, ballet-master of the Mikhailovsky troupe which presented this staging on Tuesday night, has his roots. Distinguished member of a distinguished dynasty – his mother, Sulamith, was a ballerina; his uncle, Asaf, a formidable virtuoso and a great teacher; his cousin Maya Plisetskaya the first (and unrivalled until now, in my experience) Moscow Laurencia – Messerer has refreshed the traditional Bolshoi version in a reading that captures the political urgencies of the original and offers a convincing portrait of the choreography.
The production is lively, the design decently Hispanic, the score by Alexander Krein be-castanetted and wallpaper-ish, and the Mikhailovsky dancers’ performances eager. (There is a celebrated classical sextet in the second act which is given with admirable élan.) But it is Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev who make the whole thing a marvel, as in former times did Plisetskaya.
Here is an intriguing artefact from Soviet times – a brave showcase for an entire troupe – which the present luminaries transform into something powerful. Osipova can express every feeling with a vivid honesty and win our hearts, while our eyes dazzle at the clarity and radiant assurance of each step. Vasiliev, quaintly undervalued by some local commentators, has both astonishing and soaring brilliancy of technique (a double pirouette atop a massive leap? Impossible!) and a commanding sincerity of temperament. The roles live, thanks to blissful skills, communicative grace.