First Night: Mariinsky Triple Bill, Coliseum, London

Manic, flapping choreography makes Shostakovich sound weak
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

The dancers of the Mariinsky Ballet (formerly, and better known, as the Kirov) prance across the stage with tireless zaniness, flapping wrists and joggling elbows. The music, a patchwork of Shostakovich fragments, grinds on alongside. This is "The Bedbug", and it's a disaster.

The news story behind this season is the Mariinsky-Bolshoi rivalry. At first, a Mariinsky season was planned for Covent Garden. It fell through when Valery Gergiev, the director and chief conductor of the Mariinsky, insisted on an all-Shostakovich programme, marking the composer's centenary. The Bolshoi stepped in at Covent Garden. Then Gergiev announced his own rival season, at the London Coliseum, starting just before the Bolshoi's.

An all-Shostakovich opera season makes sense but though the composer wrote various ballet scores, few stagings have established themselves in repertory. This triple bill of early 1960s ballets poses a lot of questions. How can such manic choreography be so listless? How can such simplistic works be so hard to follow? Why did Gergiev think this would do Shostakovich any favours?

The first two works are story ballets, though neither tells its story clearly. In "The Lady and the Hooligan", Igor Zelensky is a slum thug in a soft cap. His love for a demure young woman in white calls him to higher things; he tries to protect her from other thugs, but expires after a death agony of big jumps and turns. Before that, a spiv and his girlfriend, presumably representing lower things, strut through, leading cabaret dances in an under-populated nightclub.

The leading characters are stereotypes, yet it's hard to unpick their relationships. The choreography, by Konstantin Boyarsky, uses a trotting walking step, gyrating for the nightclub and some very odd mime. Zelensky is the best thing here: he can't bring the character to life, but he spins and bounds with clean efficiency. "The Bedbug", with choreography by Leonid Jakobson is much worse. Nikolay Naumov is a poet character, manipulating the plot. Andrey Ivanov, in false nose and unbecoming trousers, causes havoc among a weird bunch of characters. Their hideous costumes, all pompoms and mismatched stockings, mark them out as characters without actually helping to identify them.

Perhaps it seemed new in 1962. It must have been more energetic. The Mariinsky don't put their backs into the moves.

Hands flap, feet shuffle, but there's no spring.

The evening ends with "Leningrad Symphony". Choreographer Igor Belsky brings on ranks of good Russians and bad Fascists, but though there are plenty of them, they don't have much force. The ballet looks weightless, and its repetitions make Shostakovich sound weak.