Guest post: Renuka Narayan on “Bolshoi Confidential”

bolshoi-confidential(In 2013 Sergei Filin, Artistic Director, Bolshoi Ballet was attacked with acid. Later Pavel Dmitrichenko, a dancer at the Bolshoi was convicted of organizing the horrific acid attack. On 3 November 2016 it was announced that Pavel Dmitrichenko has been allowed to return to the world-famous theatre to use its rehearsal suites but did not say whether there was any prospect of him returning to the stage with the renowned ballet company. “Yes, I have been training there for a couple of months,” said the 32 year old soloist, who gained fame for starring in roles including Ivan the Terrible.

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Journalist and writer, Renuka Narayan, read Bolshoi Confidential documenting Bolshoi Ballet’s 240-year-old history and recommends it highly. With her permission I am reposting her short review of the book published earlier on her Facebook wall.) 

Caught up with ‘Bolshoi Confidential’ that came out last month. It’s a big fat backstage view of 240 years of the underbelly of the Bolshoi Ballet. Its author, Simon Morrison, an American professor of music at Princeton, has gathered lots of material and shared all kinds of interesting and shocking facts and millions of miles of gossip.
I didn’t like his tone about how the rural Russian masses brought to watch the ballet in the old Soviet era had to be told when to clap. So what? Did American ‘hicks’ understand George Balanchine back in the day? Watching great ballet, opera and theatre can be life-changing for people. Nureyev, for one, as a little boy, heard Chaliapin sing at the provincial theatre of Ufa, fell in love with the stage and became a dancer.
Also, with this gossipy approach, the author reduces some legendary dancers into flat caricatures…for eg, someone like Mathilde Kschessinskaya, a Tsarist favourite who taught Margot Fonteyn the most exquisite things in Paris (read it in Fonteyn’s book), comes across as a horrible creature in one-sided stories. Unsatisfying. I especially felt the author’s basic disconnect with dance in his long chapter on Maya Plisetskaya.
I cannot analyse ballet with any expertise, not having learned it or watched nearly enough. But I have watched ‘the dance’ almost all my life. So I know the genuine impact on me of Plisetskaya’s steely legs, the movements of her long powerful arms, the lyrical ‘Russian back’ that entranced me even on film. She ‘danced strong’. Some of my most concentrated hours were spent watching her films at IIC for she seemed the power and soul of movement personified. But this man basically says she was all over the place. What? Are you supposed to dance like a prim WASP lady taking tea? I felt a bit cross that this writer possibly didn’t ‘get’ her, that he had no real feeling for the dance itself, just for the tittle-tattle. Perhaps I’m mistaken in my first impression and I’ll read it again.

Nevertheless, an ‘unputdownable’ book about that mysterious, secretive world. Many Indian dancers will relate to the horrors described here of how Russian artistes had to pander and submit to bureaucrats and politicians.
Recommend highly, with these initial reservations, for anyone interested in info about that iconic dance institution!

Bolshoi Confidential published by HarperCollins 

19 Nov 2016 

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