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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

An Erotic Take on 'Song of Songs'

Dmitry Bryantsev, the Stanislavsky Ballet's choreographer, celebrated his 50th birthday this week with a new ballet, "Shu'lammite." Unfortunately, it is not a milestone work.


In 20 years as a choreographer, half of them at the Stanislavsky, Bryantsev has created more memorable productions than this latest ballet, which is based on a tale by the Russian writer Alexander Kuprin (1870-1938).


In his original, drawing on motifs from the biblical "Song of Songs," Kuprin portrayed King Solomon as a wise ruler and a gentle lover, the object of his affections being Shu'lammite, or Sulamif, as she is known in Russian.


Bryantsev, however, has turned the plot into a love triangle. The protagonists in this primitive melodrama are Solomon, danced at Tuesday's premiere by Vladimir Kirillov; his nymphomaniac Egyptian wife Queen Astis (Svetlana Tsoi); and the nubile young Shu'lammite (Liliya Musavarova), whom Solomon has earlier saved from becoming a sacrificial offering.


The action, set by designer Vladimir Arefyev against an improbably starry sky, takes a course already well-trod in Soviet classics such as "The Fountain of Bakhchisarai." The queen kills her rival and then dies herself.


When Solomon finds himself with two bodies on his hands, a bizarre trio is formed. Poor Kirillov must maneuver the lifeless ballerinas back and forth. With this dubious invention, the choreographer buries whatever poetry there may have been in earlier scenes.


Other parts of the choreography show the influence of "eastern ballets" by other choreographers, such as "Legend of Love" by Yury Grigorovich or works by Kasian Goleizovsky. Except that Bryantsev, rather than suggesting an erotic element, chooses to focus on the overtly sexual.


The costumes by Arefyev match that impulse. The queen, for example, wears a G-string over her unitard, which is topped by see-through netting from the waist up.


As for the dancers, they seemed constrained by the one-dimensional choreography of their roles. Solomon resembles a moving statue. Sulamif frolics endlessly in small jumps, and the queen's lust and hate take angular shapes.


In his decade at the Stanislavsky, Bryantsev has choreographed 13 ballets. Among his successes are "Illusory Ball," a lyrical piece for five couples set to music by Chopin. Last season's clunky "Taming of the Shrew" and a previous woeful attempt at Shakespeare, "Othello," were less praiseworthy.


A native of St. Petersburg, Bryantsev began his career as a dancer with the Youth Ballet founded by Igor Moiseyev, the director of the well-known Moiseyev Folk Dance Company. After further studies at the State Institute of Theater Arts, Bryantsev began to choreograph ballets.


Bryantsev's early triumphs, staged in St. Petersburg, were the ballet films "Galatea" and "The Old Tango." "Galatea," a version of the Pygmalion and "My Fair Lady" tale, starred Bolshoi performer Yekaterina Maximova, and it is a shame that this felicitous collaboration did not continue.


While "Shu'lammite" was overall a disappointing anniversary piece, the score for the ballet deserves honorable mention.


Composed by Valeria Besedina, the music portrays the contrasts in the plot well. The harp and strings give the love duets between Solomon and Shu'lammite a dream-like air, while the percussion and brass effectively underline the braying sexuality of Queen Astis. Soprano Khibla Gerzmava and violinist Boris Khenkin excelled in solo parts.


After the one-act ballet, Bryantsev was feted with congratulatory messages until almost midnight, including a parody of the choreographer by ballet company members that left the audience rolling with laughter.





"Shu'lammite" will be repeated Feb. 22 at 7 p.m. on a double bill with "Illusory Ball" at the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theater, located at 17 Pushkinskaya Ulitsa. Tel. 229-2835.