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Fadeechev's satirical Hamlet

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This sounds like a very odd, intriguing new creation. A report in Kommersant, June 2 2008.

BALLET PREMIERE: In Rostov took place the premiere of the ballet Hamlet on Shostakovich music in a production by Alexsei Fadeechev with participation from Bolshoi theatre performers. Tatyana Kuznetsova could not make out whether this Rostovian Shakespeare was comedy or tragedy.

The Rostov Musical Theatre ballet company, formed in the new millennium, is scarcely out of babyhood in age, and yet already includes the grown-up classics Swan Lake and Giselle in its repertoire. Understandably the company, its members selected at random, doesn't dance classics at a world-class level, but the city wants its own ballet troupe and it has one. It goes without saying that Rostov 'classicism' scarcely deserves serious attention, however its entirely original 'Hamlet' is another matter.

Aleksei Fadeechev, its creator, is a People's Artist of Russia, ex -artistic director of the Bolshoi ballet company -- the same man to whom the Moscow theatre owed its breakthrough in repertoire, in the form of Balanchine ballets and Pharaoh's Daughter, and its first international successes for a long time. In 2000, not finding a common language with the new conductor of the Bolshoi Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, Mr Fadeechev was scandalously dismissed from the theatre in which he had worked all his life. This is the fourth year that he has directed the Rostov ballet, but the first original ballet under him.

He used for his score a kind of jigsaw puzzle of chunks of Shostakovich; there are sections of the 1st, 5th and 10th symphonies, music for the famous comedic Hamlet put on by Nikolai Akimov in 1932 in the Vakhtangov theatr, fragments from Bright Stream and The Bolt and much else, as much for the musical ear, as for the balletic ear. The libretto was done by the Rostovian lawyer Nikolai Oganesov, author of popular detective fiction. He confronts Shakespeare's chief question full-on: to take revenge or not. Not going into details like Hamlet's exile to England or the Yorick's skull, the librettist has edited out some of the action, timing the events of the last three acts of the play with the palace's celebration of the New Year.

The set and costume designer Vyacheslav Okunev brought up the action to the totalitarian 1930s, constructing on stage three turrets from gleaming metal panels (this one Stalinesque ramparts, that one a Palace council chamber) and painted them with tubby imperial eagles. He arrays the castle guard in black full uniform and high-crowned peaked caps. Claudius is in white military jacket with award ribbons, the women are in evening dresses while Hamlet is in shirt and breeches, the timeless uniform of the intelligent man. As distinct from the play and operas, having pretty well worn out the device of updating historical plays to modern times, this home-grown ballet doesn't venture so far . The theatre's artistic director Vyacheslav Kushchev (who is also a deputy on the state Duma) took the risk of abandoning a seditious interpretation, and it was the right decision since in the production's choreography, putting it mildly, there was nothing innovative.

There are two dynamic acts 45 minutes long -- like a ballet comic book in a way. A reader's digest translation of 'Hamlet' arranged by the librettist Oganesov is read by a voice on tape in heartfelt emotional 1950s pathos. Speedy and lively, the act sketches events: here's the grave with the body of old Hamlet, here's the sorrowing procession of courtiers, here's the wedding of Claudius and Gertrude, here's son Hamlet, interrupting the newly-weds' kiss.

The mocking predictive steps, staging and gestures pass by suspiciously smoothly; Fadeechev is a writer in "Classical'' style without pretending to the laurels of a true choreography, he simply strings together competent academic combinations. His assistant, the Bolshoi principal Yuri Klevtsov, playing a handsome, villainous Claudius, gives himself character steps in the style of Grigorovich. Hamlet, created for Alexsandr Smolyaninov, from the Bolshoi, slim and nervy, does all that Hamlet is provided; he jumps depairingly, turns miserably and rolls on the ground, and plays rough with Ophelia; now he clasps her, now he repulses her. The enchanting Ophelia (Victoria Litvinova also of the Bolshoi) is gentle in an adagio that's neurasthenic in its own way, and goes prettily mad, stumbling on numb legs. The cow-eyed, supple Gertrude (Polina Shakhanova) behaves like the typical vamp. The company, given a task within their capabilities, dance precisely and with pleasure.

But all this banal-naive easy-watching covers a second, parodic layer to the ballet. The authors, with trusting expression, have in their pockets a very large fig, and indeed it's the cliches that allow them to get away with distraction. This tale turns out to be for grownups who are capable of seeing jokes in the most unexpected places. An obvious passage is a sports parade in honour of the coronation; the chief personages of stage stand high on a staircase and in front of them proceed files of happy citizens while children rush to the leaders with bouquets of flowers in their hands. Less obvious is the Ghost's appearance: clothes fluttering, he stands, stretching out his hand, on a pillar inside the sliding walls of the "Palace council chamber" tower, like an exact replica of Lenin. And this round space, framing the castle like a crater, resembles the cannon in the film "Tsirk" ("Circus"), at the muzzle of which Lyubov Orlova banged out a tap dance; and when the witless Ophelia climbs the stairs to a noose, to swing high aloft, in one's memory surfaces inevitably "Tigi, tigi, du -- I'll go to heaven from a cannon".

There is purely balletic mockery in a tango danced by Claudius and Gertrude with the sort of rough jerkiness that's in Grigorovich's ballet Golden Age, and their brutish guards freeze in the pose of the notorious "Kissing policemen" [for information, this I think refers to a contemporary picture that very recently caused legal action between the Tretyakov Art Gallery and the culture Minister who said it was pronographic]. In that sequence there is a reckless optimistic duet with devil-may-care overhead lifts, in which Hamlet tosses the apparition of the newly hanged Ophelia, at once a parody of both the well-known Moshkovsky Valse (symbol of ballet in the 30s) and of all ghostly reunions. Hamlet's duel with Laertes -- with the duellists wearing gigantic fencers' masks, the clash of rapiers, blood spots on their shirts, a growing mountain of corpses (at the end, all the courtiers too fall onto the general pile) -- resolves in a kind of clown-like guignol, particularly the finale, in which the dying Hamlet climbs up the staircase to the embrace of his father's monument.

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