Posted 14 August 2001 - 11:12 PM
Although a bit dry in parts, I found it quite fascinating. There was excellent archival footage of Bolshoi dancers and a snippet of Pavlova as "The Swan", and interesting comments from artists who survived the era. Although I usually find comparisons of present-day dancers to great dancers of the past pointless, one could not help but notice that the great Bolshoi ballerinas of the thirties, forties and fifties had a vivacity that seems absent in dancers today. They were high-voltage performers as much as dancers. Of course they had to be; one negative "review" from Stalin or Berea could mean years in prison, or the end of their careers. There was an excerpt of Olga Lepeshinskaya dancing marvelously, but you could see the hint of terror in her smile. One could also see the bodies change over the years, from short-necked, stocky, powerhouses to the sleek, long-limbed Bolshoi dancers of today. When I first saw Soviet companies perform, it was easy to tell the Bolshoi from the Kirov before they danced a step, just by the dancers' physiques. There seems to be hardly any difference between the two companies now.
The program made the point that Stalin allowed the ballet to flourish because he recognized its appeal to the Soviet masses, both the educated and the uneducated. He used the ballet to advance the party line and to reward the party faithful. While the film industry in the forties certainly supported the war effort, there is no equivalent use of an art form in our history. We're all fortunate that Stalin saw value in ballet. The program made it clear he could have snuffed it out of existence with a wave of his murderous hand.