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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bolshoi Standard Is One Step From Good to Bad

Bolshoi TheaterThough guided by ballet legend Yury Grigorovich, the production fails to compete with Frederick Ashton’s version.

It was no doubt an excellent idea, in principle, for the Bolshoi Theater to turn its stage over to the students of its training school, the Moscow State Choreographic Academy, and to give them the opportunity to present a full-length ballet, with all the trimmings, under the guidance of Yury Grigorovich, the Bolshoi’s ballet master from 1964 to 1995 and now, at age 82, a near-legendary figure in the annals of Russian ballet.

Chosen as the vehicle for the students to dance was “La fille mal gardee” — known in Russia as “Tshchetnaya Predostorozhnost” (The Vain Precaution) — the oldest work in the modern ballet repertoire and one that the Academy’s students have long danced in different form.

Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out as the Bolshoi presumably expected. At the premiere last Friday, the dancing rarely rose above the routine and displayed only a single talent, and a very young one at that, which seemed likely someday to make a significant contribution to the Bolshoi’s own dance company. Grigorovich’s choreographic setting also had much of the routine about it. And taken as a whole, the production came nowhere close to matching in quality the version by British choreographer Frederick Ashton that has graced the Bolshoi stage for the past eight seasons.

“La fille mal gardee,” originally called “The Ballet of the Straw, or There is Only One Step from Bad to Good,” was first danced in Bordeaux, France, in July 1789. Over the intervening 220 years, it has undergone numerous changes of title, of music and of choreography. Almost nothing of the original ballet remains today, apart from its story, as devised by its first choreographer, Jean Dauberval.

In a nutshell, the story revolves around Lise, the daughter of a wealthy widow named Marcelina, and a young farmer named Colas. Lise and Colas are in love, but Marcelina has promised Lise’s hand in marriage to Nikez, the doltish son of Michaud, a prosperous vineyard owner. In Marcelina’s absence, Colas gains access to her house. On her mother’s return, Lise hides Colas in her bedroom, only to be locked in there herself by the suspicious Marcelina. Nikez and Michaud arrive, a wedding contract is signed and Nikez is handed the key to the bedroom door. Nikez opens the door and Lise emerges with Colas. The couple beg Marcelina’s forgiveness and blessing, which she eventually gives, and all ends amid general rejoicing.

“La fille mal gardee” first appeared in Moscow in 1800 and has been revived here many times since. Probably the most important of all Moscow stagings was the one created at the beginning of the 20th century by the Bolshoi’s then-ballet master, Alexander Gorsky.

Grigorovich describes his version of the ballet as “based on motifs from Gorsky” and also cites in the program book some indebtedness to 19th-century French choreographer Jules Perrot (who created “Giselle”). But certainly the predominant choreographic vocabulary is very much Grigorovich’s own. The result is a very boisterous affair, altogether lacking the subtlety and wry humor of Ashton’s version, pasted together with choreographic devices that Grigorovich has used elsewhere to good effect, but which seem tired and time-worn as applied to “La fille mal gardee.”

At the opening performance last Friday, Daria Bochkova, as Lise, and Klim Yefimov, as Colas, looked their parts to perfection, but only intermittently brought real polish to their dancing. Of the rest, the girls clearly outshone the boys, underlining today’s alarming shortage of aspiring male dancers with superior talent. Ballet is no longer the privileged profession it was during Soviet times and boys with the requisite physical qualifications who might have once chosen it are now very likely to opt for a better-paying career in the world of sports.

Grigorovich has inserted into the ballet’s final act a brand-new dance for the youngest of the Choreographic Academy’s students. And it was one of them, 10-year-old Andrei Koshkin, who stole the show last Friday. Crowned with a mop of blond hair and wearing a mischievous smile, he danced his rollicking solo so winningly and with such gusto that it met at the end with the evening’s only real storm of cheers and applause.

For all its faults, the new “La fille mal gardee” is likely to have much appeal to younger audiences. For nearly everyone else, Ashton’s setting, with its beautifully wrought choreography that pays homage to the ballet’s French origins, must surely be the version of choice. Unfortunately, at least for now, the Bolshoi’s performance rights to Ashton’s work are due to expire in little more than two years’ time.

“La fille mal gardee” (Tshchetnaya Predostorozhnost) next plays Feb. 13 and 14 at 11 a.m. and Feb. 27 at 12 noon at the New Stage of the Bolshoi Theater, located at 1 Teatralnaya Ploshchad. Metro Teatralnaya. Tel. 250-7317. www.bolshoi.ru.