Bolshoi Ballet

February 21, 2007

Bolshoi Ballet
Kennedy Center Opera House, Washington, DC

February 21-25, 2007

Reviewed by George Jackson

Pictured: Svetlana Zakharova

Photographer: Carol Pratt

Courtesy: Kennedy Center

Moderation isn’t a policy ordinarily practiced by the ballet company whose name means big, yet the Bolshoi’s new (2006) Cinderella is downright temperate. Everything about it seems carefully balanced, be it fairytale magic by tongue-in-cheek touches or pomp by shenanigans—as when the Prince, having appeared imposingly atop a grand staircase, suddenly acts like a kid and slides down the banister. Heroes and villains are hard to tell apart at times—as when Cinderella, like Lizzie Borden wielding her ax, takes a broom to her stepfamily. Pathos is muted and crowds never become so large they can’t be counted in Yuri Possokhov’s first choreography for the company with which he originally danced.

Possokhov (now longtime at San Francisco Ballet) listened carefully to Prokofiev’s tempting but petulant score. The melodies, although romantic, may be ironically so. The rhythms are capricious. Moreover, the composer inserted prominent thematic quotes—but for what purpose? The choreographer’s judicious approach seems partly due to the puzzling music and partly to the smaller New Stage on which Cinderella was premiered because Moscow’s big Bolshoi Theater is under renovation. For the dancing he used both classical and popular step combinations, opposing them tastefully. Few passages, though, are satisfyingly long. To the quote from Prokofiev’s opera Love for Three Oranges, Possokhov does a take off with orange balls on post-modern choreographer Charles Moulton’s Precision Ball Passing. The result is funny even for those who don’t get the reference.

The title role seemed made for Svetlana Zakharova. Her temperament has become sunny since she joined the Bolshoi; she’s blonde now but retains her long, elegantly articulated Kirov line. Zakharova’s Cinderella had wit and gumption. Sergey Filin made the dashing yet shallow Prince likeable, and danced his taxing solos at full steam part of the time. Excellent soloists supported the principals, especially mime Victor Barykin, whose finely understated Storyteller is supposed to be none other than Prokofiev, although he functions as the Fairy Godmother.

The familiar Don Quixote (Alexei Fadeyechev after Petipa and Gorsky) proved that under Alexei Ratmansky’s leadership the Bolshoi can still sizzle. Controversial was a new, young and short leading pair—Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev. Her body leaps, snaps, and turns amazingly. He cuts through the air and spirals incredibly. For me, though, Osipova had as much charm in Act 1 as a Singer sewing machine. Although she became more human later in the ballet, I never found the quality of her movement comparable to the quantity. Vasiliev has plenty of personality. My reservations are minor—his upper legs’ current bulk and that some of his feats looked chancy. Many fell for this pair totally.