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Maryinsky Ballet at ENO
July 27 & 29 2006

















The Young Lady and the Hooligan – Choreography – Konstantin Boyarsky
The Bedbug – One-act comic ballet Choreography – Leonid Jakobson
Leningrad Symphony Choreography – Igor Belsky

The Golden Age - Choreography Noah Gelber (2006) [PICTURES]

Mariinsky Ballet Company
Orchestra of the Mariinsky (Kirov) Theatre/Tugan Sokhiev

These ballet evenings provided a great opportunity to hear some less-known Shostakovich scores. All of them were given with superb impact and lustrous tone by Sokhiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra; one's only criticism is that during the heat wave the intrusive air conditioning was kept on for part of the performances, interfering with the quieter music - of which there wasn't much in The Golden Age! During the two sessions, familiar Shostakovich music popped up unexpectedly from time to time; legitimate recycling.

In the triple bill I enjoyed best The Young Lady and the Hooligan, with touching dancing between Igor Zelensky and his diminutive partner Svetlana Ivanova. The hyperactive The Bedbug was all too busy, though the bright costumes were eye-catching. There was no synopsis of the action in the programme book; it all remained bewildering and not all that funny. I was relieved that we were given only the first movement of the Leningrad Symphony, which brought to an end a disparate programme of more historical than intrinsic dance interest. Shostakovich's war symphonies and sonatas are not for too frequent listening.

I was glad to see the three act ballet The Golden Age, commissioned in 1929 when the young football-loving Shostakovich was only 23, its radical score deploying expansively his inventive powers. We preferred its first act to the rest of it. Unfortunately the Mariinsky dancers did not suggest world cup football skills!

The confrontations at the stadium were not convincing, and the gloomy apocalyptic reworking of the last act linked with the reminiscences of the siege of Leningrad in the triple-bill. The illustrations above, all from Noginovina's costume designs, indicate what a mix of elements that do not gel together has been worked up by Gelder, in attempting to revitalise this dated and probably no longer really viable work. To signify hope for the post-Soviet future the affectionate elderly couple (Gabriella Komleva a one-time famous ballerina) 'danced' a little tenderly, without even getting to their feet...

For the brash, optimistic final music the stage was empty but for a photo of a happy young Shostakovich which gradually receded into oblivion - I wondered if we were being given a symphonic movement from elsewhere? I was sufficiently engaged that I shall be returning to my BBC TV video of the original Bolshoi version of The Golden Age.

Opinions from dance critics were polarised and very individual. The best and most comprehensive review of the triple bill is Tim Ashley's.

Judith Mackrell, writing about The Golden Age, offers a helpful and cogent analysis of Gelber's attempt to capture the once-banned ballet's period 'without resorting to Soviet kitsch', concluding fairly that 'Gelber's Golden Age feels like a pièce d'occasion - with no artistic life beyond the moment of Shostakovich's centenary'. For a ruthless demolition job, see Debra Craine in The Times!

Survivors; interesting recent testimony from Tikhon Khrennikov and Irina Shostakovich



Golden Age photos John Ross


© Peter Grahame Woolf