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The golden age of Soviet ballet

Yuri Grigorovich, the Golden Age. The life and art of the Bolshoi’s controversial choreographer, a DVD re-
cently released by Bel Air Classiques will be a must in the video library of anyone who is studying, loves or is
interested in the history of Russian ballet last century. It is a documentary shot in Moscow in 2015 and
commissioned to director Denis Sneguirev by the Bolshoi Theatre itself.
Over and beyond its celebratory intent – albeit serious, devoid of rhetoric or excessive accolades – as befitting
of a towering choreographer of his era and country, this documentary is above all important because it sets the
record straight, with clarity and first-hand accounts, on misconceptions and prejudice concerning Yuri Grigorovich
who for decades he has been described as an authoritarian conservative and a ‘regime artist’. Conservative is a
misunderstanding. When the young Grigorovich began his career as a creator in Leningrad in the 1950s, ballet
in the Soviet Union obeyed the aesthetic and ideological ground rules of socialist realism: easily understandable
and edifying subjects for the people, political rhetoric, mime yet not much dancing as choreographic art per se
which was considered abstract and distant from healthy popular tastes (apart from traditional classical ballet
which was tolerated, indeed encouraged, by the regime). Whereas, from the very start, Grigorovich affirmed
with determination the priority of dance and always created in terms of dancing. The elderly artists inter-
viewed on this documentary tell us quite plainly that in their eyes and in those days Grigorovich was an innovator, a real choreographer in the
true and modern sense of the word in his choice of subject-matter and music, above all in the construction and concept of dance – and to them
this seemed an exciting novelty. Even in his versions of the 19th-century classics – a necessary task in a big official theatre with a big classical
troupe like the Bolshoi – Grigorovich tended to reduce mime and draw out the choreographic dimension.
A regime choreographer? No way could he who was for more than thirty years the authoritative director of the Bolshoi Ballet – the flagship of
Soviet art as shown to the world during the Cold War years – not have been. Yet he was always, insofar as was possible, in argument with the
party (of which he was never a member), as testified by his clashes with the powerful minister of culture Ekaterina Furtseva.
Grigorovich himself, in his stern and serious manner, speaks of the above, and of more artistic matters, on this DVD, as do those interviewed
(in the original Russian, with subtitles in French, English and German), from Irina Kolpakova to Mikhail Lavrovsky, not forgetting critics
Clement Crisp and René Sirvin, while numerous film extracts of both rehearsals and stage performances show the dancing of Maya Plisetskaya,
Vladimir Vasiliev (the first Spartacus), Ekaterina Maximova, Irek Mukhamedov etc. We are struck by these simple words of the old choreogra-
pher: “I’ve been called everything. It makes no difference. I created by observing the world around me. Like any artist. Tolstoy said that a writer is
someone who cannot go without writing. I wanted to create choreographies. That’s it.” A.A.

artistic avant-garde movements were harshly repressed and Alexander Pisarev, but also with the famous Al-
and “Socialist Realism” upheld. Once the war ended, exander Pushkin. Already during those school years
in 1946, civil life re-emerged and theatres, orchestras he was wont to pester his schoolmates to induce them Bolshoi Ballet:
and ballet companies were revived. That was the year to dance in his early creations. Grigorovich’s chore- “The Golden
that Grigorovich graduated as a dancer from the “Len- ography was influenced principally by Fedor Age”,
ingrad Choreographic School”. He had studied with Lopukhov (with regard to ensemble moments), while c. Yuri
Boris Shavrov (friend of the young and restless historian Yuri Slominsky mentored his acquisition of Grigorovich
Gheorghi Balanchivadze, later to become Balanchine) a vast culture. (ph. D. Yusupov)