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The Bolshoi comes clean after recent scandal

The Russian ballet troupe, still reeling from the acid attack on its artistic director, performs an avant-garde version of 'The Rite of Spring' that climaxes in a shower onstage.

March 29, 2013|By Sergei L. Loiko, Los Angeles Times

MOSCOW — If spring is a season of rebirth, it seems appropriate, if coincidental, that the Bolshoi Ballet is hoping to move past its recent and ugly scandal with performances of Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring," a dance about the healing power of nature and art.

The Bolshoi Theatre festival "The Age of the Rite of Spring — the Age of Modernism" opens this week without its artistic director, Sergei Filin, who had designed the three-week celebration, one of many worldwide events recognizing the centenary of the landmark work.

When Filin was brutally burned with acid in January in an attack thought to be ordered by a Bolshoi dancer, the world's attention was riveted on one of the most celebrated ballet companies in the world.

PHOTOS: Bolshoi acid attack

Filin remains in Germany recovering from numerous surgeries to save his eyesight. Set to stand trial are Pavel Dmitrichenko, a dancer who is accused of plotting the attack, and two men who police say Dmitrichenko hired to carry out the assault. Dmitrichenko had publicly quarreled with Filin and reportedly bore a grudge against him for refusing to cast his girlfriend, soloist Angelina Vorontsova, in prime roles.

Beyond the attack, the headlines shed new light on the acrimony and jealousies within Russia's prized cultural institution.

This week, young dancers and old-timers sweated through rehearsals, their muscles cramping as they worked their classically trained bodies into the unaccustomed turns and twists of contemporary dance.

This new Bolshoi "Rite," with staging by avant-garde choreographer Tatiana Baganova, climaxes with an unlikely cascade of water flowing on the 14 dancers from what appears to be a row of bathroom shower heads.

The downpour, first seen by an audience Tuesday during a dress rehearsal on the Bolshoi New Stage, provided an almost cathartic experience in the aftermath of the recent rancor.

Irina Kalugina, a university professor and longtime Bolshoi devotee, said the cleansing shower was perhaps what the Bolshoi needed to wash away the dirt from the scandals.

"This shower scene felt like a symbolic signal," said Kalugina.

PHOTOS: Bolshoi Ballet

"It is such a shame that people these days mostly talk about corruption, sex scandals and crimes in regard to the Bolshoi and forget that it has always been and should remain the pride of Russian opera and ballet."

Sharing the bill with "Rite" is "Apartment," by Swedish choreographer Mats Ek, first staged for the Paris Opera Ballet in 2000. "The Rite of Spring" caused a tumult in Paris in 1913 when the Ballet Russes first unveiled the work, with its primitive choreography by Nijinsky It wasn't performed by the Bolshoi until 1965, when it was danced in a version choreographed by Natalia Kasatkina and Vladimir Vasilev.

In Baganova's "Rite," the dancers crawled onstage and at one point, wearing soldier boots, danced with shovels.

Though Tuesday's full house was mostly riveted by both dances, the challenging choreography shook some of the Bolshoi faithful, particularly when a dancer held a bidet over her head in "Apartment" and when "Rite" ballerinas started throwing handfuls of sand into their own faces.

Two women objected midperformance by leaving, stepping on the toes of other spectators in their row.

"It is a madman's delirium, that's what it is!" one of them muttered to her companion.

"Ouch, you don't get it. It is work of genius, both music and dance," a man reproached in a pained whisper.

By the rehearsal's end, spectators were standing and cheering. In the wings, the dancers seemed happy and exultant too.

The program was helping some get past the feelings of uneasiness clouding the company since the attack on Filin.

FULL COVERAGE: 2013 Spring arts preview

"We are one big family, and we must find a way among ourselves to resolve this situation and move ahead, making spectators happy with new shows and working hard," said soloist Yan Godovsky, who has been with the Bolshoi for 20 years.

"What happened to Sergei Filin is totally appalling and outrageous," he said after the rehearsal. "I can't recall a worse scandal. But on the other hand, people also know Pavel [Dmitrichenko] as a nice guy who always helped them in trouble and stood by their interests."

Longtime prima ballerina Marianna Ryzhkina agreed that the "Rite" festival could help propel the company forward and get past the current tensions.

"Our principal task is to keep showing the spectators that here in the Bolshoi we are creating art and we are doing it well," she said. "We could feel the audience today watch the performance with bated breath.

"It is very rewarding and very encouraging. That is the way things should be inside the theater and onstage."

In Baganova's "Rite of Spring," the dancers are depicted as parched in scorching heat, with some hanging themselves as a sort of sacrifice before the shower.

"I am happy that the show and the final shower scene evoke in people different interpretations and instill optimism in [the audience]," the choreographer said after the show.

"Clean and honest art always helps."

sergei.loiko@latimes.com

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