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IS THE BOLSHOI BALLET'S 'LOST ILLUSIONS' A LOST CAUSE?

 

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 12 FEBRUARY 2014 — From 2004 to 2009, Alexei Ratmansky, the director of the Bolshoi Ballet, gave  the company its artistic credibility back and restored its reputation as one of the best companies in the world. He not only nurtured new talents, but also created a new, exciting repertoire including several of his own works. In fact, there are few choreographers able to create remarkable short, abstract works as well as longer full-length, narrative ballets, all based on an unerring musicality inspired by the scores of composers ranging from César Franck to Shostakovich.

Ratmansky’s staging of Shostakovich’s last ballet, The Bright Stream, programmed at the Palais Garnier in January, 2004 was superb, the inventive choreography so in tune to the music that one could believe it had been written for it. Based on the original 1935 libretto, he created a whole new, wonderful, comic ballet. Performances sparkled, the sets were splendid; this was the Bolshoi at its best. Several years later, his Flammes de Paris, with Bolshoi’s stars, Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev in the central roles, had the whole auditorium on its feet, cheering.


Bolshoi Ballet in Lost Illusions
Choreography: Alexei Ratmansky
 

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Lost Illusions, presented by the Bolshoi Ballet at the Palais Garnier in January. It was not one of Alexei Ratmansky’s most successful ventures. One might have thought that the choice of subject matter, ostensibly based on Honoré de Balzac’s Lost Illusions, that of a young composer whose dreams of love and worldly success come crashing down, a solid base for a ballet particularly when following the libretto of Vasily Vainonen. But the combination of the interpreters ill at ease in their roles, the nondescript medley of music by Russian composer, Leonid Desyatnikov,  the choreography, a bewildering variety of combinations and styles with the inclusion of Bournonville-style ballets within ballets, and the costumes and scenery, both modern and traditional, individually attractive, but clashing when put together, left one’s head spinning. The rapid succession of changes of scenery, with the curtain swishing along and people running on and off gave the audience no opportunity to get to know Lucien, Florine or Coralie, and consequently had little sympathy for any of them. It was all too much. Fortunate indeed were those who had read their programme.

The ballet opens with the arrival of the young composer, Lucien, at the Paris Opera in the hopes of seeing his works performed there. At first rejected, Lucien tries again, this time breaking into the dance studios where two ballerinas, Florine and Coralie accompanied by their ’protectors’ are rehearsing. After hearing him play, Coralie invites him to write the music for La Sylphide, a ballet created for her, and their blossoming mutual love results in the score and in the triumphant reception of the work.


Bolshoi Ballet in Lost Illusions
Choreography: Alexei Ratmansky

Inevitably, Florine is jealous, and seduces him away from Coralie at a masked ball, where Lucien also wins large sums of money at cards. Attracted by this easy life and with Paris at his feet, he succumbs to the charms of Florine, and turning his back on Coralie, creates a ballet for the former. But the work he creates, at her demand, is banal and empty and Lucien loses sight of his high ideals and dreams.

Finally realizing all he has thrown away, not only his own ambitions but also his quest for love, he rushes back to Coralie but it is too late. She has gone forever, and Lucien is left with his lost illusions of glory.  

The American, David Hallberg, is a fine dancer, tall, slimly built and refined, but he is the antithesis of the strong male Bolshoi dancer, big, outgoing and generous as personified by the great Vladimir Vasiliev. As Lucien, the anti-hero of the work, he was neither heroic nor dynamic, accomplishing the steps with grace, but lacking the necessary charisma for the role. Despite his efforts, emotion for him became mere pantomime, resulting in a series of facial grimaces. With so many excellent male dancers of temperament in the company, this was a surprising choice.


Bolshoi Ballet in Lost Illusions
Choreography: Alexei Ratmansky

Evgenia Obraztsova and Ekaterina Krysanova, as Coralie and Florine respectively, were more convincing. They were both delicate and full of charm and it was easy to see how Lucien could lose his head over first one and then the other. The intricate choreography held no difficulties for either of them, nor for handsome Artem Ovcharenko in the basically thankless role of the premier danseur. He is an elegant young man, with clean, high jumps and immaculate landings and it would be interesting to see him in another, more rewarding role. The corps de ballet was exquisite.

While Lost Illusions is no masterpiece, the dancing from this prestigious company is easy on the eye despite the banality of the music which, to be fair, Ratmansky himself did not hear until well into his rehearsals. Usually, he had told me in a previous interview, he was inspired by a piece of music, as had been the case with Shostakovich’s score. 

The score was played by an uninspired Orchestre Colonne, known for their problems with a Minkus partition, despite the most valiant efforts of conductor Igor Dronov. It was also perhaps not the best choice of a work to bring to Paris despite the relevance of the setting. But the main question voiced by everyone at the end, was, where was Balzac? The answer is, nowhere.

Patricia Boccadoro is dance editor at Culturekiosque.com

Related Culturekiosque Archives 

Spartacus and His Gladiator Slaves Battle Roman Legions at the Bolshoi

An Interview With Alexei Ratmansky



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