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Bolshoi Czar in Stormy Seas

Amid glasnost-era turmoil, Grigorovich draws inspiration from young. DANCE INTERVIEW

By Laura Van TuylStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / July 19, 1990


IF there is any ``textbook truth'' in classical ballet, says Russian choreographer Yuri Grigorovich, it is that ``ballet is the art of the young.'' That is a theme song for the Bolshoi Ballet this summer as it tours the United States. ``We're bringing a new generation of young dancers that America hasn't seen yet,'' said dance czar and artistic director of the Bolshoi, sitting with an interpreter in a hotel here.

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The brightness of youth brings inspiration to a man who has reigned at the Bolshoi for over 25 years, but who now finds that the art of leading this 210-year-old national treasure is not getting any easier. The company's seven-city tour coincides with heightened political infighting at the Bolshoi Ballet and Opera Theater in Moscow, glasnost-related changes, and persistent criticisms of the Bolshoi's artistic and administrative standards.

``There are a lot of people wanting to take the company away from [Grigorovich],'' says Anna-Marie Holmes, ballet mistress and assistant to the director of the Boston Ballet.

Through it all, Grigorovich appears poised and unflappable, a small but sturdy man with a distinguished silvery crew-cut. His optimism lies with the host of newcomers who grace the stage on this tour - youngsters such as Natalia Arkipova, Nina Speranskaya, Yuri Klevtsov, and American Michael Shannon.

Grigorovich spent his own youthful days at the Kirov Ballet in Leningrad where he was principal dancer for 16 years. The Kirov's refined, graceful style served him well when he joined the more heroic and flamboyant Bolshoi in 1964 as chief choreographer and director.

``He wanted to keep the macho attack and athleticism of the Bolshoi, but he has refined it more,'' says Ms. Holmes, who received much of her training in Russia. His use of counterpoint in dance, imitating musical lines, punctuates his works, she says, which include ``Legend of Love'' (1961), ``Spartacus'' (1968), and ``Ivan the Terrible'' (1975).

On the current tour, the Bolshoi is presenting Grigorovich's versions of ``Swan Lake'' and ``Giselle,'' as well as two original works, ``Ivan the Terrible'' and ``Romeo and Juliet,'' and numerous short pieces.

Artistically, the forces of glasnost are being felt at the Bolshoi, where dancers are finding themselves free to ``guest'' or hire on with foreign companies. The company's latest casualty is Irek Mukhamedov - one of the Bolshoi's top stars - who joined England's Royal Ballet last month. But Grigorovich says the muscular powerhouse might still appear on the Bolshoi's US tour.

``He is a dancer I love very much - a great talent,'' he says. ``If he is not here, it will be a shame.'' Still, the Bolshoi does not depend on one person, he adds. The loss will not alter the tour's repertoire, which features other bright lights such as Nina Ananiashvili and Aleksei Fadeyechev.

For the Bolshoi, glasnost has also brought a more intense touring schedule, one that reaps not only improved public relations, but economic benefits. The current tour, being the second major trip here since the US/Soviet cultural exchange agreement in 1985, comes on the heels of appearances in Italy and Japan.

``Touring is fun and great,'' observes Holmes, ``but it's hard to keep the standards up.''

Balletomanes in both the USSR and the West have complained the Bolshoi is no longer living up to its reputation for high-quality, bravura dancing.

``Bolshoi is a name which will sell,'' and ``people are ready to buy into that no matter what they see on the stage,'' says a New-York based dance journalist who requested anonymity. With ticket prices in New York as high as $105, the company, desperate for hard currency, ``has been turned into a cash cow.''

But Grigorovich seems undaunted. Recently, several members of the Bolshoi's Communist Party committee staged a one-day hunger-strike, a protest directed at the entire leadership of the Bolshoi Theater, whom they accused of artistic misrule and a money-making mentality.