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To the Beat of a Hammer

The production that was staged by choreographer Yuri Possokhov and director Kirill Serebrennikov at the country’s main theatre can hardly be called simple ballet. Yes, it includes many dances – pure neoclassicism. But it also has a lot of text and singing. And it is this scale, this immensity, this unwillingness to accept any kinds of boundaries (three hundred people come out on stage – a headache for any manager) that make “Nureyev” resemble its protagonist.

The words (and drama actor Igor Vernik who delivers them) appear in the production’s very first scene. It’s an auction; Nureyev is no longer among the living, his belongings are put up for an auction, and the auctioneer is describing each item in a quick but detailed manner. (“Lot 17. Wallpaper. Five rolls. Gold embossing on leather. China, 17th century. Leftovers from the renovation of Mr. Nureyev’s bedroom at the Quai Voltaire. A gift from Jacqueline Kennedy”). The wallpaper is exhibited, the rugs are rolled out on the floor, costume sequins glimmer in the glass cases, the auction crowd sways. When a white shirt that Nureyev bought back in Leningrad is put up for auction, we find ourselves in late 1950s on Architect Rossi Street at a ballet school rehearsal class. That is how the entire ballet is constructed – dozens of rapid-fire words from the auctioneer, a second’s pause – and the events that are connected with one lot or another are presented to us on the stage.

Denunciations written about Nureyev during the Mariinsky (then Kirovsky) Theatre’s guest performances in Paris, where he behaved too liberally for a Soviet person, as well as the remarks of the main protagonist himself when he bossed other actors around while working on his own productions, are also heard from the stage. This multitude of words, so unusual to the ear of a ballet fan and one that seemingly interferes with the flow of the melodies created by composer Ilya Demutsky, is, in reality, a conscious move on the part of the producers, their commentary on the time. In the 20th century – and now – ballet can no longer live in the ivory tower constructed with the beautiful sounds of music. The hustle and bustle of this world as well as the malice within it (as in the case with the denunciations) will undoubtedly barge into the world of ballet, will insist that they, too, are part of life’s score.

But it is not just words alone (that century after century were considered to be the enemy of dance), this production also wages war with singing. Ballet triumphs at the Vaganova Academy, where Yuri Possokhov creates an all-out “parade of possibilities”, starting with simple ballet class moves. And it’s not just Nureyev (Vladislav Lantratov), who stands out with his exceptionally aerial leap, but the entire bulk of corps de ballet that demonstrates excellent skill, their characters seem to be ready to go work at the Mariinsky Theatre. But then it is immediately followed by a “gala concert” scene, where forty grim-looking choir artists come out on stage, an imposing soloist lady (Svetlana Shilova) stands before them – and so begins a monumental patriotic song. Its heavy, formal rhythm stands in clear counterpoint to the aerial art of ballet.


Read more in our new issue №41


Anna Gordeyeva

Publication date

13 December 2017

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