Rather like Madonna, Beyonce and Cher, sometimes it only takes one word to tell you all you need to know. Just say “Bolshoi” to any dance fan and they will sigh in delight. The ballet superpower was founded in 1776 and achieved worldwide fame throughout the 20th Century. I am a huge fan of many international companies for many different reasons, but few come close to the Bolshoi for explosive power, precision and artistry. Another grand engagement at the Royal Opera House in late July and August delivers three blockbuster iconic crowd-pleasers but I am most excited about their hidden gem, a little-known ballet over here but one close to the company’s hearts.
The Bright Stream: 7, 8 August at 7.30pm
Alone of the four ballets on offer, this one is able to truly surprise ballet fans, so rarely is it performed outside Russia. There is no denying the pleasures of a shimmering Swan Lake, the drama of Spartacus or the fiery passions of Don Quixote, but it is very rare these days to have a chance to see a grand classical ballet with fresh eyes.
The Bright Stream is also the one that gives the Bolshoi dancers the greatest opportunity to show their personalities and have enormous fun on stage. It may seem traditional with a grand and gorgeous Shostakovich score packed with folk melodies, but this is a ballet that outraged the Stalinist regime and was banned for decades. It pretended to toe the line by being set on a collective farm but the slapstick, risque themes and infectious joie de vivre was accused of undermining Soviet values. Basically, it was obviously too much fun.
This is a joyous chance to see an entirely different side of Russian ballet, revived and ravishingly performed by a company revelling in a riotous mix of grand classical moments and vaudeville clowning. Do not miss.
Spartacus: 29, 30, 31 July and 1, 9, 10 August at 7.30pm, 10 August at 2pm
The entire short season opens with a ballet perhaps still best known for Nuryev’s spectacular virtuosity in one of the most famous variations in male ballet. Very few of the great classical ballets are also focussed on the male characters and Nuryev (and every budding divo ever since)
seized the epic opportunity to shine.We all know the history of the valiant slave who sparked a revolution against ancient Rome and Yuri Groigorovich’s classic production packs a dramatic punch as it unleashes the talents of the Bolshoi’s leading dancers. Khatchachurian’s bombastic score propels the testosterone-fuelled dance towards death and eternal glory.
Swan Lake: 2, 3, 5, 6, 12, 13, 14 August at 7.30pm, 3 August at 2pm
Everyone loves Swan Lake and it’s hard to resist the chance to see an alternate version by one of the great companies. Tchaikovsky’s sublime score and the corps fluttering on point is an ultimate ballet moment. Few dancers anywhere in the world ever attack and elevate that spectacular Odile Black Swan variation quite like the most prima of Bolshoi ballerinas.
Every Swan Lake is based on the original Petipa and Ivanov choreography, however, Russian (and other international) companies also offer an alternate and rather more triumphant ending to the traditional one best known at The Royal Ballet. Personally, I prefer the pathos of our own rather more downbeat denouement, but, like most fans, I’ll take any glorious Swan Lake however it’s offered.
Don Quixote: 15, 16, 17 August at 7.30pm, 17 August at 2pm
As sunny, sassy and sexy as the Spanish passions it is based upon, this tale does not dwell too much on the silly old Don and his long-suffering sidekick.
Instead, all great Don Quixotes are an explosive celebration of the fiery flirtation between Kitri and Basil. The greatest of Russian stars like Baryshnikov have left their mark on Basil’s sky-high leaps and turns but Kitri still manages to steal the show with fancy foot and fan work.
It’s Petipa perfection again, restaged with brio by Alexei Fadeyechev.
THE BOLSHOI BALLET SEASON AT THE ROYAL OPERA HOUSE: TICKETS, BOOKINGS AND MORE INFORMATION HERE