29 June 2008

Быть – или не быть? Таков вопрос.

I went to a production of Hamlet yesterday in Rostov. It was a new ballet set to music by Shostakovich, and despite harboring no great love for Shostakovich, I really enjoyed it. I looked around on the English internet for stuff about it and couldn't find anything, so I translated these two articles I found on the Russian internet, for anyone who's interested in this sort of thing. (I could also share my thoughts, but I'm pretty inept at analyzing ballet. Mostly I just sit there and look at the dancing and listen to the music and feel happy inside.)

From "Rossiiskaya gazeta – Nedelya: Yug Rossii" No. 4678, 5 June 2008.

New Ballet "Hamlet" to Music of Shostakovich Premieres Tomorrow at Rostov State Musical Theater

This is a full-scale two-act show. The modern choreography, the musical material, the sets and costumes – everything has been put together masterfully. Even the most conservative audiences are sure to appreciate the unusual completeness of this unique ballet and the artistic courage of the troupe performing it.

The setting of the ballet is not medieval Denmark, but the 1930's-1950's, when Shostakovich himself lived and composed.

"The musical fabric of the ballet is composed of fragments of Shostakovich's First, Fifth and Tenth Symphonies, his musical score to the [Soviet] film version of Hamlet, and a few of his other works," explained Vyacheslav Kushchev, the artistic director of the theater. "Musical director and conductor Aleksandr Goncharov worked hard to shape these fragments into a musical whole."

For the leader of the Bolshoi Theater's ballet troupe, Yuri Klevtsov, "Hamlet" was something of a debut; not only does he dance the role of Claudius, but it's also his first time working as the assistant to the balletmeister-producer. Two other soloists from the Bolshoi join Rostov's company for the show: Viktoria Litvinova in the role of Gertrude and Aleksandr Smolyaninov as Hamlet.

From "Ekspert-Yug" Number 11, 9 June 2008

In Rostov an unprecedented event has taken place: they've put on a ballet of Hamlet to the music of Shostakovich.

Aleksei Fadeyechev, the head balletmeister of the Rostov State Musical Theater and a holder of the title "People's Artist of Russia," took upon himself several years ago a worthy, but difficult task: to find in Rostov, a city where dance as a performing art had always been somewhat amateur, a home for world-class ballet. And now the patient cultivation of his own school of ballet has begun to bear fruit. The premiere of the ballet Hamlet in Rostov should be a new source of local artistic pride. It clearly dismisses the common stereotypes of the city – slick economic resourcefulness, an overly easygoing character, devotion to popular culture. Rostov has a chance at becoming the theatrical capital of the Russian South; the only serious competition is from Krasnodar, with its ballet "school" led by Yuri Grigorovich.

The new reading of Hamlet uses the Stalinist period as a backdrop: marching, uniform-clad children; benevolently-smiling dictators; the hero – a true maximalist and romantic – struggling not to lose himself. The show leads the audience into a harmoniously constructed reality in which classical dance is "diluted" with Modernist eccentricity and spare, harsh scenery. At a press conference Fadeyechev promised journalists a "cruel Hamlet." If we consider that Ophelia hangs herself in full view of the audience at the very climax of the show, and that the ballet opens and closes on a funeral bier, maybe he's right. However, the general impression is not one of cruelty. The ballet is, in essence, a classic production of the 20th century – the summation of an entire epoch and an attestation to an already-mature tradition.

(A long interview with Fadeyechev followed. It didn't seem worthwhile to translate it.)

I did something Russian and took pictures even though we weren't allowed to take pictures. Obviously, they're not the greatest, but at least you can see the super-cool Stalinist-looking set:

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