chrisk217

Ivan the Terrible

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I have a video of Ivan the Terrible, danced by Irek Mukhamedov, Bessmertnova and the Bolshoi.

The performance is impressive but I don't know much about the historic events on which the ballet is based (except that there was a czar named Ivan and that he was indeed Terrible)

I try of course to guess (his wife is murdered and he becomes completely mad) but there are many details I am missing.

Are the bells decorative or is there some symbolic meaning in the bellringing? Is it supposed to have a story or is it just images from the life of Ivan the Terrible? Also I'm not sure I understand what happens in the end (at one point he is killed by the sword carrying corps, a moment later he is up and about again)?

Can anyone help me fill the gaps?

Christina

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I have seen the video of Ivan the Terrible, and to me it seems to owe tremendous amounts of effect to Sergei Eisenstein's motion picture of that title, to Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov and even some to Mozart's Don Giovanni. Ivan IV, Vasilievich, was the first to declare himself "Tsar of all the Russias" and he was plagued by contradictions. While he was vigorous and bold sometimes, he would retreat to seclusion at others, once even asking England's Elizabeth I for asylum. While instituting reforms in the treatment of prisoners, he would also kill them indiscriminately. He seems to have become unhinged with the murder of his wife, Anatasia, which murder has been borne out be modern forensic science. He personally killed his own son, then was "haunted" by him for the rest of his life. If we were to apply modern mental health standards to him, we might well believe that he was suffering from a bipolar disorder.

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Are the bells decorative or is there some symbolic meaning in the  bellringing? Is it supposed to have a story or is it just images from the life of Ivan the Terrible? Also I'm not sure I understand what happens in the end (at one point he is killed by the sword carrying corps, a moment later he is up and about again)?

Can anyone help me fill the gaps?

Christina

I have the huge 1976 bicentennial anniversary book "The Bolshoi." This coffee table paperweight tells the history of the opera house, its orchestra, opera and ballet companies. It has illustrations and synopses of every work in the opera and ballet repertory at that time. For "Ivan" the bells do indeed have symbolic meaning. According to the captions, in the beginning, the bells herald his coronation. In the middle the bells herald war, the suffering of the Russian people, victory in battle etc. In the end when he holds the bells and rises above the stage its supposed to show that he has subdued the empire and the people.

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This is where the Eisenstein/Mussorgsky parallel happens. They both use bells for similar purposes. Ivan is a peculiar figure in Russian history, being regarded with both love and dread. He was an anti-hero and a hero simultaneously.

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I saw the ballet live in Paris last winter Christina. It is quite hard to follow even with notes if what you're looking for is a plot. I think your sense that it was more a series of impressions and episodes will be more helpful in getting into the mood of the ballet. Even so, I can't say that I liked the work.

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In the end when he holds the bells and rises above the stage its supposed to show that he has subdued the empire and the people.

Thanks for clearing that; I was very puzzled by that last gesture! When he outstretches his hand it seemed to me as if he was trying to touch somerhing only he could see or alternatively that he was threatening the audience!

If I ever come across the Eisenstein film I'll definetely watch it...

Edited by chrisk217

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i've always found the 'curtain' tableau of IVAN a kind of recycling by grigorovich of the final image in his SPARTACUS where the title character is hoisted up dramatically, as if on the points of numerous spears, in a kind of crucifixion grouping. the raised title figure and the 'radiating' lines of each give the two pictures many visual similarities, and perhaps even a few dramatic ones.

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I've seen the film. Its like Russia's answer to 'Birth of a Nation.' IMO the best thing about the film is Prokofiev's score - fantastic!

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Does anyone know if Vladimir Vasiliev was filmed doing the whole ballet? Or what vhs/dvd this extraordinary clip was taken from?

Bolshoi Ballet Yuri Grigorovich Ivan The Terrible Vladimir Vasiliev Lyudmila Semenyaka Boris Akimov

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OMG, I can't believe this footage exists!! Since becoming a fanatical Vasiliev fan 10+ years ago I've prayed that film of him dancing Ivan would be found buried in the Bolshoi archives or somewhere else. Now my prayers are answered :yahoo:

Now if only the complete ballet could be found with VV.

:thanks: innopac for posting this.

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Thank you, innopac. Has any dancer ever risen from his throne with such dramatic impact? Or climbed back to the throne, at the end of his solo, so monstrously. "Mesmerising" is an overused word -- but it applies to Vasiliev in this.

The Bolshoi brought this to the Met in the early 1970s. Vasiliev, whom I saw at that time, was actually second cast at the Met. :jawdrop: That little bit of unbelievable information is something I've never forgotten, though I don't recall the name of the dancer who got the NYC premiere.

Many of us in the theater had seen or at least knew about the Eisenstein film. In ballet form, the story was overpowering -- not as accessible as the simpler and less detailed Spartacus -- but filled with images and feelings that I could not shake for days afterwards. The clip brought much of those old feelings back.

In an earlier post, Mel makes a wonderful point:

Ivan is a peculiar figure in Russian history, being regarded with both love and dread. He was an anti-hero and a hero simultaneously.
Vasiliev, as I recall, was able to personify this complexity and turn the tortured contradictions into something believable and moving. I wonder how many other dancers would be able to do this.

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Thank you, innopac. Has any dancer ever risen from a throne with such dramatic impact? Or climbed back to the throne, at the end of his solo, so monstrously. "Mesmerising" is an overused word -- but it applies to Vasiliev in this.

The Bolshoi brought this to the Met in the early 1970s. Vasiliev, whom I saw at that time, was actually second cast at the Met. :jawdrop: That little bit of unbelievable information is something I've never forgotten, though I don't recall the name of the dancer who got the NYC premiere.

Many of us in the theater had seen or at least knew about the Eisenstein film. In ballet form, the story was overpowering -- not as dramatically accessible as the simpler and less detailed Spartacus -- but filled with images and feelings that I could not shake for days afterwards. The clip brought much of those old feelings back.

In an earlier post, Mel makes a wonderful point:

Ivan is a peculiar figure in Russian history, being regarded with both love and dread. He was an anti-hero and a hero simultaneously.
Vasiliev, as I recall, was able to exptress this complexity and turn the tortured contradictions into something believable and moving. I wonder how many other dancers would be able to do this.

bart, I think the first cast of "Ivan" at the Met in the '70's would have been Yuri Vladimirov in the title role. To the best of my knowledge the Vasiliev-Grigorovich relationship was deteriorating at that time so Grigorovich made "Ivan" on 2 principal dancers, Vasiliev and Vladimirov. Perhaps another Ballet Talk member can clarify this.

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indeed, one Bolshoi Ballet ref. book i have gives Yuri Vladimirov as the first-cast of Grigorovich's IVAN THE TERRIBLE for the premiere on 20 February 1975.

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Here's a clip from Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible, for which Prokofiev's music was written and which might have influence some of the visual imagery of the ballet.

It's a heavy sequence of still frames – Roland Barthes discussed (essay snippet below) a still frame image of the prince being baptised in a shower of gold coins. In Eisenstein's earlier films there seemed to be a livelier balance of perfect images to montage.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y17JfkAsXvg

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I love the clip from Part I Thank you Quiggin. Eisenstein was a master choreographer of movement, manipulating our feelings in a way not unlike Grigorovitch's in the ballet. There's that rapid surge across the screen as the black-cowled Tsar and his guards rush in to the Cathedral, balanced by the Metropolitan scurrying in from the opposite direction to take his place, a flurry of liturgical vestments and jewels. Then ... a switch to slow, stylized, intentionally menacing movement (head shots and upper bodies only) as the dialogue begins and Ivan takes charge and the others must react.

In the clip from the ballet, linked by innopac, you see similar extremes of pacing, though the order is reversed. First, the slow descent from the throne .... then the powerful almost frantic jumps on a stage too small to contain the Tsar's energy and emotion .... then the grotesque, protracted climb back up to the throne.

Ivan's character contains profound contradictions. So, does his body language, which is what makes the ballet work. I like Spartacus for its clear narrative line -- but I prefer Ivan for the way it externalizes Ivan's powerfully fractured personality.

I think that the ballet was wise to keep its color palate close to the black-white-grey of Eisenstein's film. If I remember correctly, the production included burnished gold, dark rich russets and other colors, but nothing bright or "colorful."

For an interesting comparison, here is a YouTube segment from Part II of the Eisenstein film. It is the only scene in the entire film shot in color. In context, it actually jars you. The shock of color accentuates its madness and energy.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=asLpJY77qHg&feature=related

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indeed, one Bolshoi Ballet ref. book i have gives Yuri Vladimirov as the first-cast of Grigorovich's IVAN THE TERRIBLE for the premiere on 20 February 1975.

Yuri Vladimirov was also chosen to film the role in 1976:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0076219/

This earlier filming is available on DVD on the Kultur label.

http://www.kultur.com/Ivan-The-Terrible-Classic-Motion-Picture-p/d1205.htm

BTW: the 1990 film preserves Grigorovich's second revised version of the ballet. I think that the earlier film is abridged and a studio filming. The 1990 film is done onstage and is complete.

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Thanks, Bart, for the clip of Ivan part II which I haven't seen since I was in college in Chicago. I remember there being a bit of a shock when the film went over color for a reel or two. Probaby shot on some Agfacolor the Russians had appropriated from Germany – a rather lovely filmstock.

And Eisenstein's appreciation of a certain kind of male beauty is certainly upfront, no close-reading necessary.

One of the sweetest scenes is when Ivan is first seated on the throne as a child and his feet won't reach the floor and dangle side to side.

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And Eisenstein's appreciation of a certain kind of male beauty is certainly upfront, no close-reading necessary.

The face of the male singer in the clip -- the one that appears from behind the woman's mask -- is extraordinary. So many of Eisenstein's faces remind me of German expressionist films -- very stylized, intended to show character, not to reflect subtle changes in emotion. When a character IS in conflict, you see it in big dramatic movements of eyes, mouth.

But this young man's face is angelic and masculine at the same time. Feelings seems to pass over it; you have to look closely. It's seductive and slightly scary at the same time.

The Paris Opera Ballet version of the ballet -- on dvd with Nicolas Le Riche -- doesn't try to reproduce Eisenstein's expressionism or color palate. Paris in recent years seems to favor a generic look in its full-length ballets: sleek; subtly colored; gorgeously lighted (oftenin tints of blue). The effect is of a plusher, more glamourous Russia, and an Ivan who is more founded (less angular) and more human.

I could find only one clip from the POB version. Unfortunately, it's from a different part of the story , and thus doesn't allow for a direct comparison with innopac's clip. But you can get an idea of how Ivan and his world "look" from the perspective of the Palais Garnier.

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Here are two more of Le Riche:

Ivan the Terrible (Paris Opera Ballet, 2003)

Link 2

Ivan le Terrible ballet Opera de Paris Nicolas Le Riche Meeting Ivan & Anastasia

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Thank you, innopac, for finding these. Your Link 1 shows the same section as your earlier link to Vasiliev. That means we CAN compare. I'm a great admirer of Le Riche, but the differences are so great. Compare at the hands, for one thing. Or the strain (or lack thereof) in neck and face. Or the explosion (or not) into big jumps across the stage.

Le Riche is doing choreography ... beautifully. Vasiliev seems to be living the feelings of a tortured man and expressing them through every part of his body. What he does with his face (the whole head, actually) reminds me of Orthodox Icons of holy martyrs, minus their serenity.

What explains these differences? Is there a performance style -- possibly unique to the Bolshoi in the 70s or thereabouts -- that has been lost? Or which is inaccessible to someone with Paris training?

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