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"Class Concert/Giselle" presented live in HD by the Bolshoi

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Okay I trudged through the cold to see this at Big Cinemas at 11 a.m. on Sunday morning.

"Class Concert" is a piece choreographed in the 1960's by Asaf Messerer, commissioned by the Bolshoi Academy and later presented at the Bolshoi Theater. It was restaged by his nephew, Mikhail Messerer. Basically, Messerer and the Bolshoi staff saw Harald Lander's "Etudes" danced by the Paris Opera Ballet in the late fifties and it reminded them of the classes that Messerer taught on the Bolshoi stage throughout his career. You can see him giving his class in clips to such luminaries as Plisetskaya, Maximova, Vasiliev et al. as late as the 1980's. The ballet uses children, teenagers and then soloists and principals in a virtuoso display of technique to music by Glazunov, Liadov, Lyapunov, Rubinstein and Shostakovich.

The main soloists included Maria Alexandrova (with a sequence of killer fouettes including multiples), Maria Allash, Anna Antonicheva and Nina Kaptsova. The ballet started very familiarly with children, male and female, performing barre exercises in narrow shafts of light. Lander's estate should get royalties. However, the patchwork score is much less annoying than the Czerny used in "Etudes". The piece as a whole is repetitive and Messerer does not attempt to show different styles of ballet such as the "Sylphide" section of "Etudes". The whole style is 20th century classical with nods to lyrical and bravura dancing styles. However, many of the later solos and pas de deux for the principal adult dancers are extremely attractive small pieces and would be ideal to use as competition, pedagogical or recital pieces. I must say that the intermediate men look very impressive and that there is a lot of raw talent in the school. The piece as a whole only lasts a little over half an hour.

It seems that there has been a "Back to Grigorovich" movement at the Bolshoi. The "Giselle" production was his staging with designs by Simon Virsaladze familiar to American viewers from two videos with Bessmertnova. When I last saw the Bolshoi's "Giselle" it was a Vasiliev production at the New York Theater with Lunkina, Tsiskaridze and Alexandrova a decade ago. Most of the choreographic text is authentic Perrot/Coralli/Petipa but the order of scenes is rearranged in Act I and the mime is cut. Gone are pieces like Berthe's Wili narration and the little (dramatically ironic) conversation between Bathilde and Giselle discussing sewing and fiancés. We lose dramatic points and characterization is flattened - Hilarion loses a lot when his mime is cut. The order of the dances involving the hunting party and grape harvest festival is changed and not for the better. I don't remember seeing Albrecht hear the hunting horn and get out before he is discovered and his Loys cover blown. The hunting party comes in and then goes into Berthe's house for refreshment. Then the Harvest Festival comes on to crown Giselle the queen of the May of whatever. The peasant pas de deux dancers come with them. So you have Harvest Festival revelers/Peasant Pas de Deux and then the Spessivtzeva solo. Usually the hunting party is gone and Giselle dances the Spessivtzeva solo for Albrecht's benefit blowing him kisses. Not here, he wasn't in sight.

However, the dancing was generally excellent but in the brisk, don't make poses, don't swan around, keep it moving forward Bolshoi style. A highlight was the peasant pas de deux female soloist Chinara Alizade. Alizade had delicious sparkling footwork, smooth coordinated arms and epaulement and charm galore. Keep your eye out for her. Andrei Bolotin was good but landed messily from some turns and jumps. He had good elevation but not 100% control (I am spoiled by the likes of Daniil Simkin and Herman Cornejo in this choreography).

The sets by Virsaladze are bright yellows, ochres, browns and greens for Act I with a sort of folk art look - not romantic biedermeier paysannerie. The second act forest I felt was ugly with electric lights and a shaggy looking flat trees. But the lighting was so dark and there were so many close-ups you could ignore the ugly Act II set.

Now for the leads: Svetlana Lunkina was Giselle, Dmitry Gudanov was Albrecht and Maria Allash was Myrtha. All danced well but no interesting characterizations or new insights were given to the familiar characters. Lunkina was coached by Maximova as Giselle and I remember when I saw her live she had much of Maximova's Spring-like freshness and eagerness to experience life and love. Lunkina is now older and her characterization is very middle of the road innocent shy girl. None of the wildness of Osipova or Vishneva or the doomed quality of other famous Giselles. Lunkina's acting is very understated, non-histrionic and truthful - the camera loves what she does and she registers as sincere. I just didn't find her terribly interesting - it was unexceptionable but rather flat. Dance-wise she didn't have great elevation in her jumps and wasn't flaunting high extensions (a good thing perhaps). The Spessivtzeva variation was excellent danced with winning sequence of hops on points with flowing arms and a smile and killer piques at the end. In Act II, her initial developpees were a little shaky but she gained momentum with good entrechats. Again, her second act Wili lacked a certain desperation to save her love and seemed a touch passive.

Dmitry Gudanov is handsome, blond and danced excellently. I could bore you with the list of Albrechts I have seen but he wasn't on the Malakhov or Bujones level. He did brisés volees in his Act II solo. Allash didn't have the forbidding coldness or supernatural technical assurance of Gillian Murphy or the floating menace of the Kirov Myrthas. Again, a good performance that somehow missed the point or lacked power. Vitaly Biktimirov was a thuggish Hilarion lacking sympathetic tenderness for Giselle.

Camera-work and lighting (by French director and technicians from Ciel Ecran) were first-rate - we saw the feet in all major dances and nothing was eccentric in terms of camera angles. In Act II there were too many close-ups which forced the editor to choose between showing either Giselle or Albrecht in their first encounter in the woods. Theater was comfortable and there were no glitches in the transmission.

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