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New Yorker at the Bolshoi Ballet


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There I was at 10 a.m. on a Sunday, dragging myself to a Times Square megaplex to view the Bolshoi Ballet and David Halberg in Sleeping Beauty. It was a first for me - my first time seeing the Bolshoi, and all happening in actual time! In the half hour before curtain, we were able to get a backstage view of company members, including Halberg, stretching, half-costumed, practicing pirouettes in leg warmers. Svetlana Zhacharova (sp?) was in sweats with a lace shawl tied around her waist. Halberg was pacing nobly, detached from the goings on around him. Coaches gave last minute pointers and presumably, encouragement.

Then there was the Bolshoi as a building. A long shot of the outside of the building. There was no explanation, so I thought - naive me! - that it must be a Potemkin village, created for a movie scene. It was the actual Bolshoi as I soon realized, amazed. To this provincial New Yorker, I always thought the Metropolitan Opera the grandest theater imaginable. Well, readers, I was wrong. The interior was as imperial as the entrance - red carpets, chandeliers, along the lines of the Met, but much more ornate, much more theatrical.

It was some time before we got past the unnecessary narrator in English and French, and finally, the ballet commenced. I was surprised at the level of costuming - it seemed every member of the cast was bewigged and elaborately hatted, as well as decorated jackets for men and trailing gowns for women courtiers. As we know, Sleeping Beauty takes a while to get going, and the Bolshoi took every passage, no cut, danced it all, and after awhile I began to miss the Peter Martins streamlined version! When will this be over, I thought. I preferred Merrill Ashley's Carabosse to the Russian man who mugged the role at the Bolshoi - too grotesque. Ashley played her as an evil beauty, and I loved the long fingernails which the Russians dispensed with.

I realized as I absorbed the "style royale" of the Bolshoi that they act as well as dance. They are emotionally present, they do not withhold their feelings. Also, every member of the corps de ballet was chosen for beauty as well as dancing, and that is certainly not the case at New York City Ballet. The female corps in the Bolshoi are uniformly rows of very pretty girls. That is their tradition. Also, they don't need their corps de ballet to be as skllled as Balanchine's corps needs to be. The athletic aspect for every member of the New York City Ballet is very demanding, and it's impossible to choose an entire corps de ballet of beautiful girls who also can do Balanchine choreography, where every dancer has to be top notch and ready for solos. Yet on the NYCB stage all give the illusion of beauty. (I just passed the Theater Formerly Known as State before a Nutcracker performance, and I saw the dancers sans make up, hanging out, eating lunch - I would never realize they were dancers if I weren't so familiar with every member of the company. I could have named each one. And they were far from conventionally "pretty". They were accomplished Balanchine dancers.

So I was impressed with the ornateness of the theater, the production values, the beauty of all involved.

At first I thought Svetlana Zacharova was a bit too mature for the 16 year old Aurora. You see these things on film which are not apparent in the theater. She was technically perfect and smiling, always radiant. David Halberg I had only seen in Ratmansky's Nutcracker last year at BAM and there I saw very close to the stage and noticed his look of wonder as he accomplished a feat with his ballerina. It was as if he was amazed they did it! His entrance on the Bolshoi stage was I can only call thrilling. His leaps, his command of the huge stage. You'd never know what suppressed power he possessed as you observed him walking slowly before performance.

In the wedding scene, I felt more comfortable that Svetlana Z was more suitable for the part as she had matured with the role. I noticed Halberg's concentration as he centered her in her pirouettes, ending in a noble pose for both.

I could have criticized the fairy tale characters, the cat without a tale and without catlike motions, Puss in Boots who never capturesher, the wolf who lacked menace. But it's late and after all, it's only a fairy tale, isn't it?

If anyone saw this performance in Moscow today or the live film, I'd love to hear your responses.

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