The Mariinsky Orchestra and Ballet were in town at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and I saw their tribute to Maya Plisetskaya on 2/25. I've been meaning for years to see more ballet, and I needed something to fill out my BAM subscription, so I chose this. I'm so glad I did, I loved it.
Plisetskaya was a Soviet-era ballet star who died last year. She joined the Bolshoi in 1943, becoming their official prima ballerina assoluta in 1960. She remained a huge international ballet star through the 80s. My friend Svetlana told me that she's "the Barbra Streisand of Russian ballet." Who knew they had one, or needed one?
The program was made of three pieces that were specialties of Plisetskaya. The first half was a suite of music from *Carmen*, arranged by her husband, composer Rodion Shchedrin, choreography by Alberto Alonso. You might remember a few years ago I saw a contemporary Russian opera at BAM, *The Enchanted Wanderer*. Don't feel bad if you don't remember my review of it, I hardly remember the opera myself. Anyway, it was by Shchedrin. His *Carmen* arrangements were rather peculiar - - heavy on percussion, especially the marimba. Now I love the marimba as much as the next guy, but it draws too much focus in a piece that's supposed to be about the dancers.
The role of Carmen was danced by Diana Vishneva. She was a little cutesie at first, but got over that pretty quickly. The most interesting role was the role of Death, danced by an impossibly tall and thin woman, wearing a shiny black body stocking with a hood. Everything but her face was encased in shiny black Lycra - - that, combined with her devious, off-center body positions, she looked like a semicolon.
The intermission was a show unto itself. The audience was full of Russians, of course, and let me tell you, those Russian ladies present quite an impressive array of hair color, makeup techniques, and fur.
The second half started with Uliana Lopatkina dancing "The Dying Swan" by Saint-Saens, choreography by Fokine. This was my second time seeing this ballet live. The first time was about twenty years ago, at the Milwaukee Ballet. That ballerina annoyed me with all her manic wing-flapping. Lopatkina may have flapped her wings the same number of times, but somehow she made it touching and tender. Or is it I who have changed?
The bows! These ballet dancers know how to bow, it tickled me to no end. When Lopatkina took her bows, oh dear Lord, I felt like I was at the Bolshoi a hundred years ago. I wish I could do a demonstration, but I can't. I might have to study ballet just so I can do the bows.
Here's Plisetskaya herself doing "The Dying Swan":
The program ended with a film of Plisetskaya doing "Bolero" with choreography by Bejart, with the Mariinsky Orchestra playing the score live. Has anyone written a piece of music more exciting? The key change near the end, it takes my breath away every time. The orchestra played the hell out of it, and of course they were bound to the film in terms of tempo. Bravo to them for playing with seeming flexibility in such a rigid format.
I had never seeing Plisetskaya before, and let me tell you, she could eat those other girls for breakfast! If her personal magnetism was like this in a film, I can only imagine what it was like onstage. God bless youtube, you can see it for yourself:
The film is from 1975, and the 70s vibe is very strong, more than a whiff of Fosse. Which is not a bad thing! Plisetskaya is a revelation. The piece is abstract and rather modern, but you can tell by her discipline and complete control and precision that she was trained in the ballet tradition, that she had done *Swan Lake* and all those other ballets. They are in her bones when she dances this.
She gives a profound seriousness of purpose at the beginning. In the middle she has a strong tragic aura, like she's playing Medea or Lady Macbeth or Madame Ranevskaya in *The Cherry Orchard*, or all three. By the end, it's unbridled joy, absolute ecstasy. And so was I.