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HERO OF OUR TIME (Cinecast & Livestream 9 April)

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Has anyone seen this in cinema or at home ?  Could not make fish or fowl of it,

would appreciate your comments.

("Nureyev" again by the same team coming up in July ....)

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I have seen it with a different cast and enjoyed parts of it. You might like to do a search online for "Hero of Our Time" to get an explanation. The synopsis on the Bolshoi website is also confusing. 

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Just got back from the west coast broadcast, I think if you didn't grow up with the book maybe it is too hard to understand as a stand-alone ballet.  

 

The third act was the most traditional and IMHO the most successful for the storyline, set, and steps.  I would see it again.  I think Possekhov's best work is his weirdest work: the character driven oddballs were the most distinctive. He seems to be a contemporary choreographer trapped in a ballet genre.  

 

 I really liked the music and it gave the musicians a lot of meat.  My objection is that it is so dark and dram-ballet that there are no layers of emotion or levity.   And no leit motifs in the music for characters.  

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Unless of course you count the presenter's gown as levity.  Usually she aims for elegance but this was a risky 1960's throw back look.  I found it quite severe and I didn't think it fit her characteristics very well.  

 

 

She would look fabulous in Chanel or Vivienne Westwood.  

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I agree with Jayne about the last act.

 

As for 'making fish or fowl' of it...Novikova tried to give some basic indications about some of the ballet's more metaphorical ways of proceeding, but her notes went by very fast. Some more knowledge of the Lermontov helped me, but that's a problem since the ballet should be able to stand alone. (Though, as mentioned above, with a Russian audience it may be more reasonable to expect familiarity with it.) 

 

Hard ballet to broadcast, too, as there were obviously a number of scenes in which a lot of different action was happening on different parts of the stage. One might add that even in the theatre black costumes against dark sets are not the easiest to see...

 

I found the middle episode, Taman, the hardest to follow in terms of matching what I was seeing to the story I understood was happening, but the ballet as a whole, stiil, I found compelling and I am very glad they broadcast it.  Flawed for sure, but intriguing and moving as a way of trying to put an episodic novel on stage, capturing something, by the very end, of the hero's despair/nihilism and staging the episodes in ways that were self-conscious, but still dramatic. I also thought the dancers were giving it 1000 percent and that's always compelling. 

 

A handful of sections I found genuinely fantastic including the episodes with the wounded soldiers in wheelchairs, but also the brutality of the attack on Bela  and--lack of realism to one side--the pas de deux that preceded her death. 

 

The three Pechorin's kept one from investing in the protagonist in quite the way one conventionally does, nor did the character seem choreographed/characterized that differently from episode to episode beyond the different qualities of the men cast. So I was surprised when I found myself rather moved by the dance for the three of them together at the end. It really felt like a kind of meditation on repetition compulsion and self destruction. 

 

Flawed for sure--lots of narrative details were obscure, at least in the broadcast, and not all of the choreography was equally interesting. And, for example, ballet as a metaphor for Bela's submission/education in Western mores didn't work for me -- beyond the compensations of Smirnova's remarkable performance. (The use of music to capture the Christian/Muslim tension in the story may have been clearer if one understood what was being sung though I realize it was also there in the musical modes.) But I am glad I saw the broadcast and would love to see the ballet in the theater...where of course one could judge it more clearly.

 

Edited by Drew

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In the third act, who was the lady in the black suit?  I thought I saw her briefly toward the end when Vera made her entrance through a door stage left. And then at the very end she was in the middle, back on an elevated platform and exited through a door.

 

I especially liked the choreography for the men, both solos and corp dancing.

 

For me the music was very complex and didn't work with having three stories.  It's like I needed more time to get to the darkness, but maybe that's just me.  The composer looked so young, didn't he?

 

I loved how certain musicians and vocal soloists were on stage.  My favorite music and presentation was Mary's dance near the end, with the pianist playing on an antique sounding piano.

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2 hours ago, seattle_dancer said:

In the third act, who was the lady in the black suit?  I thought I saw her briefly toward the end when Vera made her entrance through a door stage left. And then at the very end she was in the middle, back on an elevated platform and exited through a door.

 Wearing high heels too I thought--if we are thinking of the same figure? I think she was the soprano  -- appearing on stage the way other musicians had earlier (say, the cellist in Taman). But I can't say I am sure.

Edited by Drew

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First Possohov work I saw was "Francesca da Rimini" which was part of Zaharova's "Amore" gala

at the Balshoy last May. Must admit I did not know the story, and the program was in Russki only,

but I could sort of make out the story and looked it up once I got back to my hotel. It is my firmly

held belief that "ballet" must have a somewhat universal story which viewers can discern and

relate to - listening to a pre-performance lecture or reading the program notes re what it is about

will not get me involved emotionally. Does even a child have to be told what Giselle, or Bayadere,

or Romeo&Juliet is about ??

This "ballet" I could not relate to, and am glad that I did not spend time and money to go see it live

- and am hesitant about going to see "Nureyev" in July..

However ...... Olga Smirnova ...... was so beautiful, wasn't she ??

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The music was good and intriguing.  The highly-skilled (young!) composer had to write a lot of it, and much of it (but not all by any means) was derivative of different styles (Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev especially).

The first two female leads were pretty stunning, and Zakharova was her usual  self.  Balanchine said there are no mothers-in-law in ballet, i.e., ballet is not a good medium for complicated plots.

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Who was the character dancer playing the smuggler and (I think the same dancer) the companion to the matron / pistols presenter in the 3rd act?  He was very good.  

 

I really liked all the dancers (even acting by Zakharova) but the allegorical story telling in acts 1&2 didn't work for me as an audience member.  I would have preferred a beautiful Caucasus scene so we could understand why Lermantov fell in love with the region.  He painted beautiful landscapes of the area that would have been wonderful inspiration.  

 

The idea of Undine as the romantic era siren makes sense, but the tutus felt forced in this production.   A stormy Black Sea night in a dingy town could have been evoked without the scaffolding.  The Mission Impossible disguise was great though!

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I would like to see more Possokhov....  there were astonishing moments in the choreography... and some gorgeous dancers...   and I'd like to see this production live in the theater, but I can't imagine that set will ever travel to the US.

 

I agree about the storyline, clearly we all needed to know the Lermontov novel well to be able to follow what was going on.

 

I'd like to know how the live-stream came through in other parts of the country... for us the music frequently dropped out... but mainly I'm wondering about the quality of the [well shot, well directed this time!Bravo Vincent Bataillon!] ] video.    The Bolshoi obviously went to some expense on this production, but on screen, it seemed as if it weren't lit for the camera.  All those dancers in black kept fading into the black background...  was this just a downgraded streaming issue at my end?  Were there cities where the black-on-black came through crisp and brilliant?  I thought perhaps with the sound dropping out that the video might have downgraded to lower resolution, causing the issue.

 

The composer interview at intermission was interesting... so very young... but what really struck me was his emphasis on his many discussions with the director, and an off-hand remark "and of course the choreographer".   Perhaps I am mistaken, but in the US, we're used to the choreographer being the primary director of a production, even when working for a company's artistic director...  I imagine that was not the case with Diaghilev, but usually isn't the choreographer given the reins?  I'm wondering if Possokhov set the tempos or was it someone else, the Director of the Bolshoi, the Composer, the Conductor?  Because it seemed as if in the first story, Smirnova was rushed through her movement (every split second she a chance to articulate, she did... don't get me wrong... she didn't seem to sacrifice to keep up with the speed), the movement just seemed too fast paced to be allowed to resonate... Her choreography's tempo seemed and oddly, the tribesmen (Georgians?) seemed too soft... We're used to all the youtube clips of fierce Georgian dancers and these just looked soft-edged.. I couldn't put my finger on it... they certainly the physical ability, but the dynamic, the attack was not as it is in the character dance companies... or was this just because it was not well lit?  Very hard to figure out what the problem was.  Also Igor Tsvirko, (yes, may we see more of him??), was curious... his passionate characterization well sustained the close-ups and the virtuosic movements, but it seemed like he was concentrating very hard to get the contemporary style choregraphy bits exactly correct... why?  was it the tempo?  He clearly is not lacking in ability or talent.

 

The second act, was also well danced but difficult to decipher... I cannot decide if it were the lighting or whether the projections did not come through clearly over the live-stream?  It looked like some interesting water effects were happening on the scenery, but I kept feeling like they were not really visible, as if we were seeing only 20% of what was visible in the theater.  I suspect it was a technology issue local to the venue I saw the livestream in... was it widespread?  Anyone else feel something was not coming through?

 

The dancers in wheelchairs... mixed-ability choreography presented at the Bolshoi!!  Very nice to see that!

 

Novikova was impressive in the speed at which she could get the information out.  It did seem as if she were not getting quite what she expected from management though because she said something about not giving a description in Russian because the direction had not come through?  Also, I enjoyed the guy who would walk through and lightly touch her shoulder... I guess that was a cue that the sets were now in place and she should wrap up in 3 minutes or so?  Very curious.  

 

It looked as if the next season will not have any new works?  (Corsaire, Taming of the Shrew, Nutcracker, Romeo & Juliet, La Dame aux Camelias, The Flames of Paris, Giselle, Coppelia ) Only re-choreographies of earlier ballets?  I only saw the titles go by in the theater, but on Pathe's page it looks like the Romeo & Juliet will be new choreography?    The descriptions are in French, and my skills there are lacking.  http://www.pathelive.com/programme/ballet-du-bolchoi-2017-2018

 

 

The bit with the ballet barre in Act I... is that in the novel?

 

 

Edited by Amy Reusch

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Thanks Amy for a good discussion.  In Iowa City, the streaming of the audio also cut out for 1-2 seconds on a regular basis.  Must be transmission issues.

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The ballet barre bit is not in the novel--I think it is meant as a metaphor for the way Bela has to adapt to her Russian lover. Be 'tamed' so to speak. For my taste, it was not terribly effective.

 

We were told at intermission that the sound dropping out was being experienced everywhere and came from the source but they (that is people responsible for international feed) would work on it during intermission. I later saw this being discussed on Twitter as well. In the second half, the sound did drop out for a second once at the beginning and, in my theater at least, even the picture for a second, but fortunately the problem did not return.

 

The man touching Novikova on the shoulder was the company director Vaziev. Once I was okay with--friendly gesture I guess--twice I thought he should just keep himself out of the frame if he is not being interviewed. My own experience with male colleagues who feel licensed to touch me in a 'friendly' manner may have influenced my negative reaction.

 

As I understand, this production originated a bit unusually with Filin approaching a well-known, experimental film and theater director (Serebrennikov) to develop it and Possokhov and Serebrennikov worked together with the latter playing quite a big role. I think that is why the composer emphasized his work with the director. Unfortunately, I missed most of the interview. 

 

Regarding story ballets and the Balanchine "no mothers-in-law" in ballet rule-- on the whole, I'm team Balanchine and yet, I feel the art form suffers if creative people don't try to push it in new directions. I increasingly find more complex approaches especially seem to enliven the narrative genre which too often in ballet flattens or sentimentalizes the story. I do NOT mean nineteenth-century ballets which are themselves highly stylized (and do, for many people unfamiliar with ballet conventions, require knowledge of the story beforehand), but something like Cranko's Onegin. Lermontov is also such a classic for the Bolshoi's main audience, that it seems to me to allow for a more experimental approach. And I think it reasonable for a company to do things that speak to their audience in a particular way. This production is STILL plenty traditional. There is even a Polonaise! 

 

Opera and theater audiences cope with far more disorienting ways of telling stories all the time. I would hate for opera's more 'experimental' approach to classics to take hold in ballet, but there is no reason why new ballets shouldn't try new narrative structures. 

 

It's not that I think Hero of Our Time is a spectacular success...How could I tell anyway just seeing a broadcast? I agree with many of the criticisms--based on the broadcast at least--and I also thought Act III seemed the most effective. I even found myself wondering if "Princess Mary" could be made into a one act narrative ballet -- just revising the dance for Pechorin at the end.  But I still found the whole ballet a really interesting and, at times, moving and dramatic project worthy of the Bolshoi.

 

(I have found all the Bolshoi broadcasts this year strangely dark or dull in the lighting department and assume it is a broadcasting problem. But I infer this production posed additional problems with the dark scenic effects and costumes.)

 

 

Edited by Drew

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20 minutes ago, Drew said:

The man touching Novikova on the shoulder was the company director Vaziev. Once I was okay with--friendly gesture I guess--twice I thought he should just keep himself out if the frame if he is not being interviewed. My own experience with male colleagues who feel licensed to touch me in a 'friendly' manner may have influenced my negative reaction.

When it happened during the intermission, I recall that Novikova interrupted her monologue to say "spasibo" (thank you) to Vaziev, which suggests that the shoulder touch was a signal that she was expecting.

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2 minutes ago, RUKen said:

When it happened during the intermission, I recall that Novikova interrupted her monologue to say "spasibo" (thank you) to Vaziev, which suggests that the shoulder touch was a signal that she was expecting.

 

Aaah...that's better...

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3 hours ago, Jayne said:

Who was the character dancer playing the smuggler and (I think the same dancer) the companion to the matron / pistols presenter in the 3rd act?  He was very good.  

 

Vyacheslav Lopatin danced the smuggler in Taman.  I am not sure it was him in the 3rd act.

 

3 hours ago, Amy Reusch said:

I'd like to know how the live-stream came through in other parts of the country... for us the music frequently dropped out... but mainly I'm wondering about the quality of the [well shot, well directed this time!Bravo Vincent Bataillon!] ] video.    The Bolshoi obviously went to some expense on this production, but on screen, it seemed as if it weren't lit for the camera.  All those dancers in black kept fading into the black background...  was this just a downgraded streaming issue at my end?  Were there cities where the black-on-black came through crisp and brilliant?  I thought perhaps with the sound dropping out that the video might have downgraded to lower resolution, causing the issue.

 

In his Facebook page,  Kirill Serebrennikov has some very harsh words for the French crew in charge of the broadcast.

 

 

 

 

Edited:  I only wanted to insert the link to Serebrennikov's Facebook but it copied the his entire post. 

Edited by Dreamer

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Thanks Drew,  I don't have an opinion after one viewing regarding the production as a unified work of art, but I thought it was a heck of a good try at theater and at times I had the feeling I was watching an opera:   The relative importance of 3 elements: music, scenic design, and choreography was something unusual in my (limited) experience.  Just my own opinion - it was a more compelling use of ballet than, e.g., what Ratmansky and Wheeldon are doing.

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3 hours ago, Dreamer said:

In his Facebook page,  Kirill Serebrennikov has some very harsh words for the French crew in charge of the broadcast.

 

 

Probably criticism well deserved - was there no dry-run of the broadcast during the dress rehearsal(s)? Presumably the lighting, not to mention the camera setup and video quality were all approved initially. If that is the case, poor broadcast quality can only be blamed on the video techs.

 

Is there likely to be a version available online? (Even with the technical difficulties, I think there will be an audience for this production.)

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