Evil spirit exorcised from `Swan Lake'

The Bolshoi's new ballet is causing controversy, writes Helen Womack in Moscow

A new production of Swan Lake has opened at Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre, where the stagnant repertoire is at last being refreshed after the departure of the so-called "dictator of ballet", the former artistic director Yuri Grigorovich.

But his replacement, Vladimir Vasilyev, has yet to win the hearts of Muscovites with his new version of the popular classic, in which he has taken the controversial decision to drop the evil black swan.

Vasilyev, who promised to bring a belated dose of perestroika to the Bolshoi after he ended Grigorovich's 30-year grip on the ballet in 1995, knows that he may disappoint those in the audience who love to hate the baddy. But he justifies dropping the black swan on the grounds that she was not originally envisaged by Tchaikovsky.

The composer's first ballet, dating back to 1877, was not much of a success when it was initially staged, and Tchaikovsky was so disappointed that he waited 14 years before venturing to write another. He died never knowing that Swan Lake would come to be appreciated.

The St Petersburg choreographer Marius Petipa brought in the black swan when he revived the ballet one year after Tchaikovsky's death. The story is that Prince Siegfried falls in love with a maiden turned into a white swan by a magician. But by mistake, he swears eternal love to an evil black look-alike.

Grigorovich, who first staged his version of the ballet in 1969, wanted the romantic prince to die tragically as a result of his failure to reconcile the pure ideals of the white swan and the dark fantasies of his subconscious, represented by the black swan. But he was working in the darkest days of the Brezhnev era. Soviet cultural watchdogs insisted on a happy ending and, rather than ruin his career, Grigorovich bowed to pressure.

Dancers who went on strike in support of Grigorovich before he was forced to retire said he was a victim of his time and no more of a dictator than any other ballet master. Vasilyev is more co-operative with the media than his predecessor. And he keeps his dancers on their toes by insisting that they have renewable contracts, a shocking change for artists brought up in the Soviet jobs-for-life system. His artistic achievements have yet to be judged, however.

Many Russians are cynical about Swan Lake, since the Communist hardliners who tried to oust Mikhail Gorbachev in August 1991 kept repeating the ballet on television in the hope of distracting popular attention from the coup.

Nevertheless, tickets were sold out for the first night, coinciding with Western Christmas, which some New Russians think it chic to celebrate before the traditional New Year holiday and the Russian Orthodox Church Christmas in January.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project