The Bolshoi Returns

Friday, Sep. 14, 1962

As the most fabled of a long procession of Hurok-sponsored dance companies to reach the U.S., the Bolshoi Ballet was received in 1959 with curiosity and great gusts of cold-war camaraderie. Last week the Bolshoi was back at the Metropolitan Opera House, and balletomanes were eagerly queuing for tickets in the pelting rain. Some of the carnival air of the first visit was gone—as was the Bolshoi's great ballerina, Galina Ulanova, who now serves the company as a repetiteur, i.e., an overseer of rehearsals and performances. But the Bolshoi had brought with it three new ballets, a satchelful of classic favorites and, in Maya Plisetskaya, a prima ballerina with a justly prized and famed technique.

For its three evenings and one matinee last week, the Bolshoi scheduled Swan Lake in the same four-act version that it introduced to U.S. fans on its first tour. Looser and more romantic than the version danced by the New York City Ballet or by Britain's Royal Ballet—the two versions most frequently seen'in the West —the Bolshoi's Swan Lake offers some gaudy passages for soloists. The City Ballet emphasizes the ballet corps more effectively, and both the Royal Ballet and the Kirov Ballet of Leningrad use choreography of greater continuity. The Bolshoi is bent on producing spectacle—and on opening night, the spectacle did not quite come off.

Athletic Skill. There were some fine individual moments—a pas de trois danced with capering grace by, among others, Ekaterina Maximova, the company's reigning beauty queen; a lesson in elasticity by Georgi Soloviev as an acrobatic jester ; a spasmodic death dance by Vladimir Levashev as the Evil Sorcerer. But Nicolai Fadeyechev was a sluggish and unconvincing Prince, the corps de ballet was occasionally ragged, and at times Conductor Yuri Faier had his pickup orchestra of U.S. musicians pumping away like a steam calliope.

The ultimate success of Swan Lake depends on its ballerina, and Plisetskaya was scheduled to dance three complete Swan Lakes in three days—a feat roughly equivalent to Whitey Ford's pitching two doubleheaders in a row. Technically, Plisetskaya could do no wrong: equipped with a spring-steel body, she went through her explosive leaps, her wiry extensions and whippet turns with glittering skill. A dancer who is at her best in fiery dramatic roles, she gave the part of Odile an air of barely leashed violence that was consistently effective. But she was less successful as Odette—chiefly because she only occasionally displayed the delicacy and lyric quality the role requires. There was something thin, haunted and anguished about her performance—but little that was soft or warm.

Western Influence. The Bolshoi will remain three weeks at the Met—and then set forth on a ten-week cross-continental tour. In addition to such classics as Swan Lake and Giselle, the company will give one world and two U.S. premieres: Ballet School, a totally new work, showing the progress of a dancer from the time of admission to the Bolshoi School until entrance into the company; Paganini, one of the new short ballets with which the Bolshoi has been experimenting under the influence of Western companies; Spartacus, a gaudy spectacular about the Roman slave revolt. At the Moscow premiere, a Hollywood producer took one stunned look at Spartacus and remarked that if Cecil B. DeMille had been "alive to see this, he would drop dead." >>> Koenemann genealogy >>> Georgi Soloviev >>> The Bolshoi returns by TIME