fri 01/08/2014

The Flames of Paris, Bolshoi Ballet, Royal Opera House | Dance reviews, news & interviews

The Flames of Paris, Bolshoi Ballet, Royal Opera House

The Moscow company saves its truest and most brilliant for last

Leap of faith: Ratmansky's The Flames of Paris is a 21st-century take on a Soviet landmark ballet (picture Damir Yusupov)Images Bolshoi Ballet

The Bolshoi left it till last to be most itself, to dance a ballet that is truly of its blood, its seed - its closing on Alexei Ratmansky's The Flames of Paris will leave much happiness in the memory to override the problematic productions of classics, the unidiomatic Balanchine and the awful backstage events. Here at last, in a work by the most gifted of recent Bolshoi directors, you met on stage young people who dance, who act, who love the theatre, fresh in their performing, skilled in their means, open-hearted in reaching the audience, and loved right back.

The previous night the visiting stars Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev had raised the roof; for the final performance Vasiliev was there again, but this time with Ekaterina Krysanova, the redhead whose Sleeping Beauty had been so charming, replacing the original Maria Alexandrova (pictured above and below, regrettably injured early in the tour). Without the blinding effect of the Vasipova razzle-dazzle the entire cast could come into focus, and some tremendous performances and company cohesion could be enjoyed. This, like Osipova and Vasiliev, is Ratmansky's generation of dancers.

flames of paris flat yusupovThe Flames of Paris, despite its French Revolution theme, has Moscow written through it. This 2008 version has travelled a long way from the original Soviet creation of 1932, starring Galina Ulanova who confessed herself utterly bewildered by her role as the actress Mireille de Poitiers. But then the original stars were not individuals but the glorious forces of the Bolshevik revolution. Vasily Vainonen’s vibrantly rhythmic ensemble dances were what whipped up the packed audiences and Josef Stalin himself, but the story insisted on a muddled whirl of characters - Cyril Beaumont’s synopsis of it covered eight pages.

Ratmansky took enormous liberties with it when, as the embattled but farsighted artistic director of the Bolshoi from 2004 to 2008, he decided to rediscover this Communist totem and renew it as ballet theatre for the new generations of Bolshoi dancers and audiences. He’s retained the flamboyant setpieces of Vainonen’s but added love interest; more courageously, he invented a new narrative momentum that ends with an ominousness that wasn’t there in the original upbeat work that so pleased Stalin.

From this plait of stories emerges not just a lively human momentum inside the grand doings, but a palimpsest of ballet and history

True, it takes a little while in the opening scene to realise that the individual young people will cohere in two sets of lovers, linked by brother and sister Jérôme and Jeanne. Once they’re in place we can suffer and cheer with them in a contemporary-feeling narrative where Vainonen’s popular dances can sparkle and thrill. The added bonus is that this more layered scenario by Ratmansky and his colleague Alexander Belinsky works so well with Boris Asafiev’s jolly score, which expertly amasses baroque musical styles that tell their own fun time-warp story.

Now the original heroine Mireille de Poitiers complements the young people’s emotional narrative with her own malleable symbolism, as a gorgeous theatrical actress who can be hired to embody this or that metaphor, whoever pays her.

From this plait of stories emerges not just a lively human momentum inside the grand doings, but a thought-provoking palimpsest of ballet and history, the myths taken from baroque and Soviet times as well as the 18th century - a many-stranded sparky mixture of the art of the Bolshoi, athletic, satirical, fresh.

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