Battle of the ballets: From Russia, a pas de deux

Two big names of ballet, two exciting summer seasons at London's main opera houses. And not a hint of rivalry in sight. Yeah, right, says Arts Correspondent Louise Jury

They are two of the biggest names in world opera and ballet, with pedigrees stretching back to the days of Catherine the Great and the Russian empire. And this summer the British public will get the chance to make a direct comparison of the Mariinsky (formerly the Kirov) and Bolshoi companies as they go head to head on the London stage in an astonishing clash of the titans.

The Bolshoi begins a month-long residency at the Royal Opera House on 25 July with the first-ever visit of its opera company to Covent Garden, followed by a season of performances by its ballet company. This is the 50th anniversary of its first appearance in London, and interest was expected to be high.

But Russian fever heightened further yesterday when it was announced that the Mariinsky Theatre will also undertake a London residency in July, with performances of both opera and ballet at the London Coliseum starting five days earlier.

For fans, there was both delight and surprise at what could prove an expensive summer for those eager to catch not only two world-class companies, but some new and rare repertory. And although all parties are trying to play down the element of competition between the two great Russian ensembles, it is clear that comparisons will be made.

Valery Gergiev, the charismatic artistic director of the Mariinsky (which was renamed Kirov by Joseph Stalin and has since reverted to its historic name), managed to step up the tension even while trying to insist there was none when he spoke from New York yesterday. "I hope that both companies will be successful. I think we do not have a sense of rivalry or competition, though maybe it looks like that on paper - two famous companies trying to out-do each other," he said.

"I've been responsible for the Mariinsky for nearly 18 years. The Bolshoi has changed maybe three or four or five times in the leadership position. Maybe that's a good thing ... but it feels we have much more stability.

"I wouldn't comment on the quality. I think you can see it for yourself. But we make a lot more recordings with the symphony orchestra, we play maybe 10 concerts against every single concert that the Bolshoi plays and we play regularly at the Carnegie Hall and the Barbican. Maybe it's not that we say we're better, it's a totally different structure."

Music and ballet-lovers will be champing at the bit to see both. Zoe Anderson, dance critic of The Independent, said she was genuinely excited because the companies were not normally in the same place at the same time.

"They don't usually go head to head and balletomanes like to compare and contrast. But it's also exciting because they are both doing unusual repertory."

The Mariinsky residency announced yesterday will be called Shostakovich on Stage. It will include highlights of the company's celebration of the centenary of the birth of Dmitri Shostakovich which will be presented in May and June at its Stars of the White Nights festival in St Petersburg.

There is the chance to see works the company has never presented in Britain before, including the Shostakovich operas The Nose, based on a satirical story by Gogol, and Katerina Izmaylova, a revision of his earlier opera, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. There will also be the ballet version of his Leningrad Symphony and his ballet, The Golden Age, which is a new staging especially for the centenary year.

The Bolshoi season, too, includes three new works, including a new version of Prokofiev's ballet Cinderella and, continuing the Shostakovich theme, the first British performances of his ballet The Bright Stream, which was banned by Stalin in the 1930s but, now revived, has attracted rave reviews in Paris and New York.

The opera programme will include the Bolshoi's celebrated production of Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov at Covent Garden for the first time.

Lilian Hochhauser, the promoter who has been bringing Russian stars to the UK for half a century and is presenting the Bolshoi this summer, is obviously slightly disappointed there will now be a clash. "It's not a question of concern about the clashes but it's a pity one can't savour the companies separately. All of these artists are at the height of excellence. They are top of the league. It seems strange that it should happen."

She notes, sadly, that five years ago when she was bringing the Mariinsky, she courteously dropped its production of Lady Macbeth from the programme because the English National Opera was presenting its own. She questions the wisdom of having The Nose at the Coliseum and at the Linbury Studio of the Royal Opera House at virtually the same time.

And she defends the "immensely strong and rich repertoire" of the Bolshoi. They had always had "a great resonance," she said. " We first brought the Bolshoi over in 1963. Subtly, things change, but they have never lost their bravura, they're still a very dashing company."

But she is also generous about the rival programme - not least because Shostakovich was a personal friend until his death in 1975. "He was a genius and he deserves it," she said. "He was a very nice and gentle man to talk to. He had a great deal of turmoil going on in his life, he was obviously under great stress [working under the Communist government], but he was never less than polite."

Valery Gergiev said the Mariinsky would probably have been at the Royal Opera House with the Hochhausers had they wanted to return to London for "another season of traditional repertoire". But he said: "I do not believe this is what London expects or wants from the Mariinsky. I think we should not do another seven Swan Lake performances or four Bayadères. We can do it very well, everyone knows, but that is not what I wanted."

British audiences were already responding warmly to the cycle of Shostakovich symphonies he has been conducting at the Barbican Centre in London and he believed they would be interested in the work the Mariinsky was preparing for the Shostakovich centenary - namely, all the great Russian composer's works for the stage. "Unquestionably Lady Macbeth and its second version, Katerina Izmaylova, are gigantic, impressive works for the theatre. Then there is The Nose, a very provocative opera, a very important step for a young man. Then there are an number of ballets that show his contribution to the progress of opera and ballet as a genre," Gergiev said.

"Visitors will maybe go to see Swan Lake [with the Bolshoi] but maybe those who are curious and experienced and want interesting presentations will be ready for Shostakovich evenings in London."

John Allison, editor of Opera magazine, said the buzz in opera circles had been around Gergiev and the Mariinsky in recent years - not least because their hectic programme made them seem to be everywhere. "It's interesting. I'm sure people will make comparisons and I'm not sure whether that will favour either in the end," he said.

"Historically for a long time, the Bolshoi was perceived as being the greater company but when Gergiev came in he reinvigorated [the Mariinsky]. It is perceived as having the upper hand over the Bolshoi. If you had to say which company was stronger, I would say the Mariinsky without a doubt, but that is not to dismiss the Bolshoi in any way. They do lots of interesting work and the Mariinsky does some quite duff work."

The Bolshoi production of Prokofiev's opera The Fiery Angel directed by the international superstar Francesca Zambello took Moscow by storm, for instance, when it was performed for the first time two years ago (it was never performed during the composer's lifetime). Covent Garden has previously presented the Mariinsky's own acclaimed production of the opera. "They really are going head to head," Allison said. "But I think it's good news. I'm sure the critics will be happy to have them both here at the same time. Competition is very seldom a bad thing."

Zoe Anderson said that what dance-lovers would be comparing was partly a matter of the two companies' respective styles. "Historically, the Bolshoi had a reputation for big, heroic, passionate dancing, while the Mariinsky were elegant, lyrical, refined," she said.

But some of these differences were less pronounced today, she feels. " They were both Soviet state flagships and therefore until the end of the 1980s they were well-funded and well-looked-after. They have both had a tough time since and both have had to adjust - including taking on Western repertory," she said.

The repertoire from the Mariinsky was a surprise, Anderson said. "I wasn't expecting to see this repertoire from them and the Shostakovich theme is interesting. This is a bonanza for Shostakovich fans. There are works that are being resurrected, while the Bolshoi is showing a new Shostakovich ballet."

Ticket prices for the Shostakovich on Stage season at the Coliseum will range from £15 to £80 for ballet performances and £18 to £115 for opera. It was "clearly a non-commercial project," Gergiev said. To go ahead with the season, the Mariinsky has needed backing from the Russian Federation government, the foundation of the pools philanthropist Peter Moores and the Mariinsky Theatre Trust, whose 1,000 members have been supporting the company's work since 1993.

Caroline Gonzalez-Pintado, the Theatre Trust's chief executive, said: " The idea was really Gergiev's baby, we're just very pleased to be able to make it a reality." She added: "I don't think there will be an evening when the Mariinsky ballet is on stage at the same time as the Bolshoi ballet is on stage. I think there will be ballet at one [venue] and opera at the other. It's just a wonderful chance to see so much Shostakovich which we very rarely have the opportunity to see. UK audiences are going to be in for a real feast."

The Bolshoi

1776: Founded in Moscow by Michael Maddox, an English entrepreneur, and Prince Urusov, a patron of the arts

1806: taken over by the Imperial government

1825: The present 2,000-seat Bolshoi Theatre opens. Permieres of Glinka's Ivan Susanin and Ruslan and Ludmila in the 1840s mark the birth of a truly Russian school of composition

1877: First performance of Swan Lake, originally a failure but now a much-loved favourite

1917: Left-wing critics demand the removal of "bourgeois" composers such as Tchaikovsky from the repertory but moderate voices prevail

1920s: Bolshoi Theatre gives free concerts for soldiers and workers

2005: Reconstruction of the main Bolshoi Theatre stage begin, with performances only on its New Stage

2007-2008: Performances on both stages will restart

Mariinsky Theatre (formerly the Kirov)

1740s: First Russian ballet company is set up in St Petersburg, laying the foundation for what becomes the Mariinsky

1783: Catherine the Great establishes an official home for the Imperial Italian Opera

1860: New theatre for the Russian troupe opens, named Mariinsky after the Empress Marie who ordered it

1862: Verdi's La Forza del Destino receives its premiere

1935: The Mariinsky is renamed the Kirov by order of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in honour of Sergey Kirov, a Communist leader whose assassination the previous year marked the beginning of the Great Purge

2003: Dominique Perrault wins an architecture competition to design a new building for the theatre, which will sit alongside the old

2006: The Mariinsky Theatre closes for refurbishment

Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
'Africa' will be Angelina Jolie's fifth film as a director

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week

Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

Arts and Entertainment
Bryan Cranston will play federal agent Robert Mazur in The Infiltrator

Books
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

    Immigration: Obama's final frontier

    The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

    Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

    You know that headache you’ve got?

    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

    Scoot commute

    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
    Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

    The Paul Robeson story

    How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
    10 best satellite navigation systems

    Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

    Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
    Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

    Paul Scholes column

    England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

    Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
    Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

    Frank Warren column

    Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
    Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

    Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

    Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
    Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

    'How do you carry on? You have to...'

    The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

    'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

    Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
    Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

    Sir John Major hits out at theatres

    Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
    Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

    Kicking Barbie's butt

    How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines