Bolshoi's `Seagull' turns Chekhov into ballet. `MAKING MUSIC TOGETHER'

The Bolshoi Ballet's American premi`ere of ``The Seagull,'' a version of the Chekhov play presented Thursday in the just-concluded ``Making Music Together'' festival here, was similar to the company's ballet based on his story ``The Lady With a Small Dog.'' Both were sensitive to the text, with some memorable moments. And both were essentially slow-moving, but not always for Chekhovian reasons.

Maya Plisetskaya choreographed and starred in both ballets. She has a flair for painting a living picture with dancers, but the steps often seemed repetitive and their movements flat.

She herself was quite lively in ``The Seagull.'' She played both Nina Zarechnaya, the young actress whose life is destroyed by the callous Trigorin, and the sea gull that symbolizes her.

The sea gull was an interesting stage device and a canny use of Plisetskaya's still fluid and powerful arm gestures. Wearing white on her shoulders and arms, she seemed to soar and dive, disembodied, in the darkness above the scene.

A playwright's cosmic imaginings

The most affecting moment was during the play within the play. Nina, performing on a stage by a lakeshore, is supposed to be representing a ``World Spirit.'' With a few simple but striking gestures, Plisetskaya showed the cosmic imaginings of the young playwright Treplev, as well as the innocence of an actress who may not understand them, but presents them faithfully.

That scene of the actress as a clean slate gave a feeling of youth and vulnerability that belied Plisetskaya's 62 years. But it was fleeting.

She was more natural after Nina's undoing, when she returned, haggard and haunted, to Treplev.

The staging of their pas de deux seemed overwrought. Alexander Bogatyrev, as Treplev, lifted Plisetskaya through a long series of complicated flips and poses.

Their only steps took them from side to side, so, for all their exertions, they seemed to be pacing.

The librettists, Rodion Shchedrin and Valery Levantal (also composer and set designer, respectively), inserted scenes harking back to the poor reception the actual play got in 1896.

This ambitious and intriguing device backfired. The St. Petersburg audience, opulently dressed, lively, and negative, seemed to lead the Boston audience off the track. When the Petersburgers shook their heads and waved their programs, the Bostonians applauded.

Fine choreographic details

Plisetskaya showed a fine sense of detail in the choreography for the other dancers. They tended to be subdued, milling around the edges of the Nina-Treplev action. But they could be seen miming subtle vignettes, perfectly in character.

Like the characters in the play, these dancers never seemed to get anywhere. It was hard to tell whether they were expressing this limitation or bound by it.

``The Seagull'' ended the Bolshoi's contribution to ``Making Music Together.''

The Monitor's wrap-up of the ``Making Music Together'' festival will be published Thursday.

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