BOLSHOI Ooh La La!
Massine (1896 - 1979) was discovered in 1914 by Sergei Diaghilev,
founder of the Ballets Russes. Massine was in the corps de
ballet of the Bolshoi, and also performing at the Maly Theatre, when
Diaghilev noticed the good-looking eighteenyear- old. Massine was
not a classical dancer in the true sense of the word, in that he was
not very tall, and was stocky as well; this made him unsuitable for
princely roles, but then Nijinsky himself - Diaghilev's former
superstar - was built in the same way.
Massine took up with Diaghilev, in all senses of the word.
Diaghilev gave him leading roles in the company, and gave the youth
an itinerant education in the art galleries, museums and monuments
of Europe. Massine met and worked with the leading artistic figures
of the day - Cocteau, Picasso, Garcia Lorca. Managed by Diaghilev,
he was one of the first pop idols.
Massine had charm and a good stage presence, but the opinion of
the day was that as a dancer he lacked the charisma of Nijinsky, and
as a choreographer he lacked the genius. Nijinsky created just four
ballets - L'Apres-midi d'un faune (1912), Le Sacre du
printemps (1913), Jeux (1913), and Till
Eulenspiegel (1916) - but each one of them moved ballet forward
in new directions.
Massine created upwards of a hundred ballets, and today not much
more than four of them survive. History is not an even-handed thing,
and the circumstances of Nijinsky's life and career have
overshadowed that of Massine's.
Now Massine is being newly discovered by the Bolshoi Ballet, with
an evening of three of his ballets, staged by his son Lorca. There
is much to admire in Massine's work, but if there are moments of
great talent, they are only discrete moments. Only one ballet in
this evening of The Ballets of Leonide Massine comes close to being
a complete work of art.
Alexei Ratmansky, the Artistic Director of the
Bolshoi, has said that even if Massine worked for only a short time
at the Bolshoi, he deserves to be brought back into the repertoire.
Two of the ballets - Le Tricorne and Gaite
Parisienne - are reconstructions of the original stagings, and
they allow us to make an assessment as to how well Massine holds up
in his original form. Ratmansky decided that the third ballet,
Les Presages - would be given a new staging, with sets and
costumes by the couturier Igor Chapurin. The very success of this
ballet, however - the artistic highlight of the evening - makes it
difficult to decide who deserves more credit, Massine for the
original inspiration, Ratmansky for the inspired idea to rework it,
or Chapurin for the inspiring way in which he refashions the past
and makes it new.
Le Tricorne was first staged by the Ballets
Russes in 1919 at the Alhambra in London, with music by Manuel
de Falla, and sets and costumes by Pablo Picasso. Massine and
Diaghilev had been travelling with de Falla in Spain, and the ballet
was the result of Massine's immersion in the traditions of
flamenco. The central role of the Miller was danced by
Massine himself, and then, as now, because of the weakness of the
other dancing parts, it is very dependent upon the flamboyance of
the hero. On this evening, at the Bolshoi, Ruslan Skortsov was
unable to do anything more than show his paces. The steps were
there, but not the machismo and fire.
Les Presages received its premiere in Monte Carlo in
1933. Massine was no longer with Diaghilev (who had died in 1929),
and there is something much more adult and thoughtful about this
second phase of his career. Massine was his own man with his own
ideas, and having decided to set a ballet to Tchaikovsky's Fifth
Symphony he wanted to give it an original look. "For the first
time I dispensed with the traditional formula of male and female
partnering and the usual balanced interplay between men and women
dancers. I decided to avoid all symmetrical compositions and to
render the flow of the music by fluctuating lines, and forms both
static and mobile." Massine achieves his aim, and the result is a
ballet of ebb and flow, the perfect rendering of the music in
Igor Chapurin is one of only a handful of
fashion designers who have worked for the Bolshoi - Pierre Cardin,
Givenchy and Yves Saint Laurent. Chapurin is not eclipsed by them.
His understanding of Massine's choreography goes much deeper than
the exquisitely nuanced dyes he uses (he describes them as
"emotional guidelines"). His costumes cling to the body; the fabrics
by themselves express and enhance the ballet, and yet they never
overpower the needed balance between dress and movement. Chapurin
says that, "In effect, what I do, is undress, rather than dress the
dancers on stage."
Massine is at his best in this ballet. Chapurin has moments of
genius greater than the choreography itself - the moment, for
example, when the couple dancing the roles of "The Hero" and
"Passion" come onto the stage dressed all in white, crystals
shimmering (courtesy of Swarovski no less), and advance diagonally
across the stage, illuminated in a single beam of blazing white
light. The audience was transfixed.
With music by Offenbach, and with a storyline as substantial as a
meringue, you cannot describe Gaite Parisienne (1938) as
anything other than a frolic. It was Massine's most popular ballet,
and it was staged so many times that he came to hate it. Again, as
with Le Tricorne, the ballet is very much dependent upon
the central figure of the Peruvian, and here Morikhiro Ivata was
much more successful in the role, showing both a good plastic
technique and comic acting skills. The ballet ends with the girls of
the Bolshoi corps de ballet dancing the cancan and they do
so with as much exuberance and sauciness as if they were at the
Moulin Rouge. It is a crowd pleaser, pure and simple. Ooh
The Ballets of Leonide Massine
When: 15th May, 7pm
New Stage of the Bolshoi