Feature: Mariinksy Theatre (formerly Kirov)

Friday 9 April 2010

Shostakovich Season, featuring ‘The Golden Age’

The Coliseum, 25 – 29 July 2006

*This latest version of Shostakovich’s first ballet has been choreographed by
American Noah Gelber, a long time collaborator of William Forsythe.*

Previewed by Graham Watts

The centenary of the birth of Shostakovich is being celebrated this week at The Coliseum with ballet following opera in two programmes: a mixed bill which opens on 25 July and The Golden Age, the first of his three full length ballets, on 28 and 29 July.

Shostakovich had an unhappy early experience with ballet which coloured the rest
of his career. He wrote his three ballets in quick succession for immediate
staging in Leningrad: The Golden Age came first in 1930 shortly after his graduation from the Leningrad Conservatory,
followed by Bolt, a year later and Bright Stream in 1935. Each was badly received and quickly denounced by the soviet authorities
for their inappropriateness. Shortly after Stalin attended a performance of
Bright Stream by the Bolshoi, the vilification of Shostakovich in Pravda editorials began
the process of him being labelled an “enemy of the people”.

All three ballets were essentially forgotten for the next half-century: so much
so that Shostakovich fails to mention The Golden Age in his memoirs (and the two
other ballets each merit only a passing reference). However, shortly before
the composer’s death (in 1975), Mikhail Yurovsky, the Director of the Moscow Stanislavsky Ballet, decided to resurrect it and
the subsequent work of music historian, Sergei Sapozhnikov, in painstakingly piecing together the orchestral pieces, eventually led to
the Grigorovich production which entered the Bolshoi Ballet’s repertory in 1982.

In its original scenario, The Golden Age was the title of a major industrial exhibition held in an unidentified fascist
state. Against this background of demonstrating the dubious achievements of
capitalism, a soviet football team attends a competition staged alongside the
exhibition and the thin storyline concerns the fascists’ attempts to discredit
the footballers. Needless to say the glorious athletes and their fellow workers
triumph. This fight between capitalism and communism was replaced in the Grigorovich
version by a more straightforward battle between good and evil: The Golden Age became a decadent nightclub as the setting for a love story between the heroic
fisherman, Boris, and a showgirl, Rita, and their triumph over a bunch of nasty

The version that will open at The Coliseum on 28 July – exactly a month to the
day since it premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg – is yet another
take on the story, returning to the original concept of the libretto for which
Shostakovich wrote the score, with a football team at its heart. In this new
version, the Soviet team has again come to compete in the west but this story
focuses on the romance between a visiting footballer (Alexander) and a western
gymnast (Sofia), the twist being that it is viewed from the perspective of their
flashbacks following a chance meeting some 60 years later. The original capitalist/communist
conflict is therefore replaced by contrasting an old world dominated by the “iron
curtain” and the comparative freedoms of the present day.

The key responsibility for choreographing this new story has been given to Noah Gelber, a 30-year old American who is a long-time collaborator of William Forsyth and now travels the world setting several Forsythe works on companies new to
them. Gelber had already created The Overcoat for the Mariinsky and was invited to bring a fresh view to The Golden Age on
the back of that success. The new ballet uses Shostakovich’s rich mix of music
(which includes jazz, polka, tango, foxtrot and Charleston themes) in a different
sequence to the previous versions.

The principal roles are danced by Irina Golub/Mikhail Lobukhin; Daria Pavlenko/Alexander Sergeyev and Victoria Tereshkina/Artyom Yachmennikov. In a recent interview, Gelber noted that the ballet was brought together
in record time and expressed his view that it would improve over the first few
months of performance. The reviews in the Russian press following the opening
night on 28 June were mostly negative, although praising some individual performances:
hopefully, the additional opportunities to make improvements for this London season
will bear the fruit of Gelber’s anticipation.

Article posted July 2006

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