Dance review: La Bayadère - The Bolshoi's Olga Smirnova is precise and otherworldly


The Bolshoi Ballet’s Olga Smirnova dances with a moonlit glow. In the “Kingdom of the Shades” scene of La Bayadère, she gives the ghostly heroine a hypnotic beauty. Her bursts of dazzling speed don’t break the smooth flow of her dancing: she’s both precise and otherworldly.

This year, the Bolshoi has hit the news with stories of backstage crisis and an acid attack on its artistic director, Sergei Filin. Smirnova, a remarkable young star, pulls attention back to the famous Russian company’s artistry.

Smirnova was born and trained in St Petersburg, graduating from the Vaganova Academy in 2011. Leaving school, she was already causing a stir when she was invited to Moscow to join the Bolshoi. She’s tall, thin and long-limbed, with her head carried proudly on a long neck. Her technique is strong, with fluent line and strongly-controlled turns, matched by distinctive stage presence.

As Nikiya, the heroine of La Bayadère, an exotic 19th-century melodrama originally choreographed by Marius Petipa, she goes from a love triangle to the trance-like Shades scene, where the grieving hero sees her as a vision. She carries the story with aplomb.

Smirnova does show a few exaggerations, sometimes distorting her line with sky-high legs. Dancing a mournful solo when her beloved Solor is betrothed to the princess Gamzatti, she stretches into deep backbends, letting her flexibility overtake her sorrow. It’s still a vivid account of the dance, moving between unhappiness and hope.

Yuri Grigorovich’s production, created in 1991 and recently revised, is opulent but bland. Nikolai Sharonov’s sets and costumes evoke a brightly-coloured India, but Grigorovich fiddles with details of the traditional choreography. In Nikiya’s opening solo, key steps are simplified. The grand parade for Solor and Gamzatti’s betrothal starts in front of a drop-curtain, in a narrow no-man’s-land. Grigorovich’s sense of stage space is weak, and his alterations take both characters and dances out of context.

As Solor, Semyon Chudin dances briskly but can’t get much character out of the role. Ekaterina Krysanova is an imperious Gamzatti, dancing boldly. In the Shades scene, conductor Pavel Sorokin takes the corps de ballet’s famous entrance very, very fast. Though the individual women dance in stretched, spacious phrases, the collective effect is too hectic. Even so, there is fine corps and soloist dancing: I particularly liked Anastasia Stashkevich as a speedy first Shade.

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