Review: Mariinsky Theatre (formerly Kirov) in The Young Lady and the Hooligan/ The Bedbug/ Leningrad Symphony at Coliseum

Performance: 25 - 27 July
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Thursday 27 July 2006

Rudolf Nureyev left the USSR and the Kirov when he defected at Le Bourget airport in June 1961; Leonid Jakobson’s The Bedbug premiered a year later; perhaps Rudi saw it coming!

Originally a satirical play by Vladimir Mayakovsky, for which Shostakovich composed the score in 1929, the preposterous scenario defies any rational explanation. Shostakovich disliked Mayakovsky intensely and he described The Bedbug as ‘a fairly bad play’. Nothing is improved upon in the libretto for Jakobson’s choreography which is mind-numbingly absurd, populated by a strange tribe of comic book and commedia del’arte renegades, each of whom seemed to have a story which remained untold. Whilst the comic intention was obvious, humour was far from evident: The Bedbug is clearly an example of comedy’s failure to transfer across national boundaries even when language is not an issue. If you find a comic suicide funny, then this might be your cup of tea!

The Bedbug was a disagreeable interlude separating two much more palatable works. The programme began with Boyarsky’s The Young Lady and The Hooligan’ which was worth seeing despite a clichéd libretto: good girl/bad boy fall in love; bad boy finds nobility and saves girl from his bad buddies but dies in the process. Despite predictable choreography, this ballet-by-numbers was exquisitely performed by Igor Zelensky, Svetlana Ivanova and Tatyana Tkachenko as a naughty showgirl. There was a rich palette of diagonal and circular virtuoso trajectories for the male lead and Zelensky met every expectation with effortless ease. The Hooligan’s death scene has to be the longest in ballet (outdoing Mercutio and Giselle in spades!) with huge leaps and turns punctuated by the occasional desperate fall to remind us that he is actually dying! Ivanova and Tkachenko were at each end of the stereotype spectrum: one beguilingly innocent in her frailty and the other deadly dangerous in her raunchiness.

The best was saved until last, not least in the awesome and inspirational music of Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony (known as ‘The Leningrad’) the opening of which provides the score for Belsky’s Leningrad Symphony, made for the Kirov in April 1961, and conducted here by the incomparable Valery Gergiev. It is a straightforward story of good versus evil (representing the communist/fascist struggle in the siege of Leningrad), the music mounting in its intensity towards the final reckoning where the heroic Igor Kolb defeats Nikolay Zubkovsky’s Traitor. The action is viewed through eight ghostly figures – motionless at the front of stage, clad head-to-foot in pastel blue – eventually set free by Uliana Lopatkina’s mimicry of their individual poses. Where Lopatkina’s serene and fluid dancing understandably receives the limelight, I was equally impressed by the passion and heroic nobility of Kolb, a dancer who has grown significantly in stature since the Kirov last came to town.

With three ballets all made within two years at the beginning of the 60s, this programme is well worth seeing to understand the cultural imperatives of that era in soviet history …… but seeing The Bedbug once is quite enough.

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