- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 15, 2002

The Bolshoi Ballet is the largest dance company in the world, so it seems fitting that its virtues and flaws are writ large.
Both are on display during the company's weeklong appearance at the Kennedy Center Opera House, which concludes with performances today and tomorrow.
The company's powerfully flamboyant style is designed to galvanize a huge audience, and it is doing just that at sold-out performances of "Swan Lake" and "La Bayadere."
Surprisingly, the Bolshoi looked better in "La Bayadere," the lesser ballet, with inferior music, than it did in the revered "Swan Lake" with its Tchaikovsky score.
Perhaps it is because "Bayadere's" tale of rajahs and slave girls is mostly a pretext for the cascade of spectacular dancing at which the Bolshoi excels.
"Swan Lake" is another matter. Here choreographer Yuri Grigorovich, who revised and mounted both ballets, has attacked with a heavy hand.
Where his hubris is most glaring is in his tampering with the beautiful second act, a glorious icon of romantic classical ballet. He begins with little riffs of his own on what is to come, blunting the effect, so that we already have seen Odette, the Swan Queen, before her inspired entrance scene. We also already have seen the bevy of 24 swans milling around, taking the edge off their dramatic first appearance in traveling arabesques hopping on one foot with the other leg raised behind.
Mr. Grigorovich's idea of modernizing "Swan Lake" is to eliminate mime.
He substitutes instead yards and yards of virtually interchangeable dancing, heavy on a few basic steps split leaps, arabesques, pirouettes that make the arsenal of classical dance seem impoverished.
But to his circumscribed aesthetic world, the Bolshoi brings its no-holds-barred style. The company relishes large, perfectly synchronized ensembles. The dancers' line in arabesque is strong and clear. Both men and women have dazzling split leaps; it is an airborne company with astounding elevation in jumps. Most impressive of all is the unity of the company's style, the sense that its structure and tradition have forged a clear, coherent way of dancing.
Balancing these virtues are some striking weaknesses.
The Bolshoi is the least musical of companies: It dances to often inferior music and has the curious tendency to treat connecting steps with equal importance. This results in uninflected dancing without nuance.
The dancing of the 32-member corps in the Shades scene in "Bayadere" is exemplary once it is in formation, but that is preceded by a long, slow entrance as the dancers enter one by one and wend their way down a ramp. Boulders obscure the feet of the dancers during this passage (definitely a no-no), legs are raised in arabesque at different speeds and to different heights, and the port de bras (the delicate carriage of the arms) are shaped without elegance.
The Bolshoi's technique-driven style makes for little warmth or human feeling onstage. There was no rapport between Odette and Prince Siegfried in their great romantic duet in Act II of "Swan Lake" on opening night. It seems surprising that the reaction of some Russians to the work of George Balanchine was that his work was cold (perhaps because he seldom told a dramatic story) when his ballets are suffused with the tenderest kind of love between a man and a woman emotions that have not been in play here this week.
The emphasis is on dance as display, which can be exciting but is removed from the heart of great dance.
Through it all, though, the dancers wear the brilliant Bolshoi style with ease. There have been many moments (and probably will be more to come this weekend) when they have been enthralling.
Nikolay Tsiskaridze, tall, dark and lean, devours space with breathtaking split leaps and barrel turns. Anna Antonicheva is dancing a herculean schedule this week. She's a brilliant technician who seemed just that during her first "Swan Lake" this week but came into her own in "La Bayadere" in a role that called for a certain remoteness in the Shades scene. Andrey Uvarov had an easy, airy elevation but a disconcerting habit of playing to the audience instead of his partner.
Among the soloists, Maria Allash and, especially, Maria Alexandrova were outstanding. Denis Medvedev was a sensational Golden Idol in "Bayadere."
The Bolshoi Ballet's performances were preceded Tuesday night by a gala the company shared with the Bolshoi Theater Chorus. The evening was glitzy but short on substance. Unlike an earlier gala this year with the Kirov Ballet, Orchestra and Opera, the Bolshoi Chorus performed as a choral unit, not as an opera participant, except for the finale, a colorfully staged Coronation Scene from "Boris Godunov."
The dancing featured far too much Minkus music and threatened to turn into the battle of fouettes the spectacularly pyrotechnic, whipped-leg pirouettes that climax the Black Swan pas de deux and were featured in three of the short variations.
Mr. Medvedev was outstanding with a sunny Nina Kaptzova in Alexander Gorsky's "La Fille mal gardee" and a provocative performance in the grand pas de deux from "Don Quixote" by Anastasia Volochkova.
Pavel Sorokin was the energetic conductor for the gala and the entire week of Bolshoi performances.

***
WHAT: The Bolshoi Ballet
WHEN: 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. today and 2 p.m. tomorrow
WHERE: Kennedy Center Opera House, F Street and New Hampshire Avenue NW
TICKETS: Sold out
PHONE: 202/467-4600
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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