The Bolshoi

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Finding the time and energy to blog is becoming more and more difficult, as you may have suspected considering the dearth of new posts since I got back from vacation.  Luckily for you, I did manage to squeeze in a very very Russian activity a few weeks ago: I went to the Bolshoi Ballet!  I'm not sure how it was managed, but word went around the office before my vacation that tickets were being arranged and I put my name on the list.  They were not cheap (7,000 roubles), but it seemed ridiculous to be living in Moscow with the means and the opportunity to see the Bolshoi Ballet and to pass it up in favour of another night on the couch with the latest episode of Masterchef.  Weeks later that I realised I'd managed to double-book myself.  The Ballet was on the same night as a huge and legendary Halloween party I'd been invited to by some Moscow Hash House Harriers.  I was semi-gutted, but having committed to a £140 ticket, there was no turning back.  Also, it meant I didn't have to scramble around trying to cobble together a Halloween costume, which was a definite bonus. Then, after a few conversations with local ex-pats, I realised what a big deal it is to get tickets to the Bolshoi.  In fact, anyone I mentioned it to immediately replied with, "You went to the BOLSHOI?  HOW DID YOU GET TICKETS? I've been trying for (six months... four years... since Stalin was in power... blah blah blah)"  Here's the answer: I don't know how I got tickets.  Someone at work arranged it.  I think one of the Russian people in the office has a high-up connection at the Ballet.  When I sais this, people inevitably nod sagely, and understand.

Months ago when we were first starting, our lovely Russian team member Anna was trying to explain the relationship of a particular potential supplier or workshop or something to one of the producers.  She was clearly struggling to find the right English word because she finally said, "He is, umm, he is… do you have this word in English, umm… trusty-face?"  This was met with either blank stares or giggles, I can't remember which, but regardless it was mostly clear what she meant.  Apparently there is a word in Russian that translates literally as "trusty-face" and sort of means "someone I've worked with/ trust/ can call on for a favour" etc.  It's actually a very useful (and very Russian) concept, and one that has passed into the vernacular in the Props Department.  We've also expended it into the very useful acronym: MRTS.  For instance, months ago we were trying to figure out how to get a prototype made, struggling with identifying a workshop, and figuring out how to get the expenditure approved (impossible).  Then one day we were in a meeting and looked across the room to see the very prototype we'd been trying to get, sitting there on a table.  Where did it come from? The MRTS. Someone picked up the phone, called a trusty-face of theirs, and boom, one prototype.  It's the Magical Russian Trusty-face System.  To be fair, I think it's the same everywhere.  It's just the Russian version of the old adage.  In Russia, just like everywhere else, it's not WHAT you know…

So that's where the ballet tickets came from: the MRTS.  And back to the Bolshoi.  The Bolshoi Ballet (which translates literally as "Big" or "Grand" Ballet) is one of the world's oldest and most prestigious classical ballet companies.  It was founded in 1776, though only rose to international fame in the early 20th century, during the Soviet era.  The ballet tours the world, but its home is the similarly-famous Bolshoi Theatre, opened in 1825.  The theatre itself is stunning, and recently re-opened after a six year renovation and restoration.  Seeing the Bolshoi Ballet anywhere is a treat, but seeing them in the Bolshoi Theatre is a big deal.

The exterior of the Bolshoi Theatre.  Not bad.  If you were to turn 180 degrees, you'd be facing towards Red Square.

Luckily, I packed my dress-up clothes, so I was able to look more or less like I belonged when we set out from the hotel in a fleet of taxis.  We arrived just in time for a drink before the curtain, so we stopped in one of the side rooms for a glass of champagne, which seemed the only sane thing to do. That is, until I discovered that a glass of champagne (I think it was Moët) cost a staggering 1,350 roubles.  For these keeping score at home that is £27.  Or about $42.  That is not a typo.  They were also selling candies and strawberries and little open-shelled tarts filled with red caviar.  I shudder to think what they were worth.

Me, with about $36 worth of champagne left.

And the rest of the delights on offer.  Right next to this display was a RosBank desk offering short-term loans with quite reasonable interest rates.

Irritatingly, the bell sounded almost immediately after these pictures were taken, meaning that I had to chug my liquid gold down in two slurps and head off to find my seat.  Luckily, once I actually entered the theatre, any irritation vanished because the auditorium itself is frankly stunning.



These photos don't really do it justice, taken as they were with a shaky iPhone camera.  
But you get the idea.

But wait, it gets better!  My seat was in the SECOND ROW.  Not up in the back of the ninth balcony.  Not in the standing-room-only seats that came with oxygen tanks and safety harnesses.  The second row.  It was a-mazing.

Equally lovely was the fact that the ballet was accompanied by a full orchestra, in a very spacious pit, which included not one but TWO harps and five double basses, along with the usual classical assortment.  Excellent.

The orchestra, warming up before the performance

"But wait!" I hear you cry.  "What about the actual BALLET?  You know, the reason for you being there?"  Here I have to confess that I am not actually a massive fan of ballet, or indeed of any form of dance.  However, I was lucky in that the performance we saw was one of Gisele, which has a strong storyline and a bit of a pantomime flavour to it, meaning that after I'd been clued up by the more ballet-savvy in the group, I generally enjoyed it.  There was still, you know, an awful lot of dancing, but on the whole, it was great.

Speaking of the ballet-savvy, I was surprised to hear from them during the interval that the woman who started the performance in the lead role of Gisele (the young peasant girl with a heart condition) (no, really) was not the same dancer who finished the act.  Apparently there must have been some big ballet disaster because the first dancer exited after a solo and was never seen again.   Also, the ballet experts were a bit sniffy about a few of the other soloists, who I have to admit did look shaky in some of the more challenging lifts and spins.   Then again this didn't really bother me, probably because I spent most of the first act looking at the thighs of the male soloists, which appeared to exhibit entire muscle groups I didn't realise existed. (Artëm Ovcharenko, you rock.)

As far as the production values were concerned, I have to allow that they were less impressive than I was expecting.  In fairness, the repertoire of the Bolshoi is staggering, so keeping all of the bits and pieces for all the different shows in good nick must be daunting. And I think that the sets and props for these kind of productions get passed around the world more or less endlessly, appearing for a year or two at the Bolshoi, then being rented to another company in Japan or Paris or San Antonio or Canmore until they pretty much turn to dust.  I noticed a few dodgey props, including one notably rubbery sword.  And I haughtily decided that the cut backdrops really needed a bit of steaming or stretching to take out some of the wrinkles, but all in all that was a mere footnote.  (Though I do have to reserve particular scorn for the very tacky chasing LEDs lighting effects built into the second act graveyard set, which blinked on an off like a cheap department store display while attempting to portray the foreboding arrival of the Wilis - the beautiful but deadly spirits of women jilted by their lovers.  Really? Blinky blue lights?)

Cheesy lighting effects aside, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening.  Despite the comically never-ending curtain calls, and the crush of people at the mandatory coat check after the performance (the Russian definitely have a very loose grasp of the queueing concept), and the outrageously priced champers, and the rubbery sword and the Wal-Mart LEDs, there's still a undeniable level of elegance, sophistication, talent and fabulous old world grandeur that made the whole evening simply fantastic.  And in the end it was all over in time for me to hop on the metro and make it over the the Halloween Party while there was still witch's brew in the punch bowl.  All in all, a most satisfying evening.

1 Comment:

Colleen said...

Bolshoi! Wow! Movin' on up and looking quite sophisicated with your high-priced bubbly! Are you still in Moscow? Take care, ck

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