The Bolshoi Ballet are in London for a three-week season at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, hoping to blot out the memory of the recent acid attack on their director with their superlative dancing. They brought the great war-horses with them (Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty) but I opted instead for Jewels, being keen to see how the Russian handled this most American of ballets.
Jewels is a three-act plotless ballet, which Balanchine created in 1967 for the New York City Ballet. The opener, Emeralds, tends to be low-key at the best of times, but I felt that was particularly the case with the Bolshoi. They have amazing arms, full of grace and fluidity, but didn’t manage to rise above the rather glumly-played extracts from Fauré’s Pelléas et Mélisande. A subdued audience decamped to the bar in the interval, coming back for Rubies with renewed hope that its sassy New York-style wit would give them a chance to show us what they could do.
Stravinsky’s Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra is a striking contrast to the Fauré’ but the dancing didn’t match up . Instead of being sharp, teasing and edgy it was controlled and over-perfect. Technically faultless, they were so much on top of it they were all over it, smothering its humour. I found myself longing for the self-mockery of the Royal Ballet.
Fortunately Diamonds gave them a chance to rescue the evening, and they seized it with both hands. Hard-edged glitter and precision is what they do best and they were buoyed up by Tchaikovsky’s highly-danceable Symphony Number 3. I’ve never been so aware before of the little touches of Cossack dancing that Balanchine slips in, the dancers clearly feeling at home with them in a way they weren’t with the edgy angularity of Rubies. The daisy-chain interactions of groups of dancers that is a Balanchine signature note were nicely done and Olga Smirnova, their young new star, handled the challenges of the choreography with aplomb.
It was a relief, too, to lose the rather stark set used for the first two acts (‘like the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern,’ said my friend) and get back to sparkling white tutus against a starlit sky. Diamonds showed the Bolshoi at its best.
The Bolshoi’s sell-out season at the Royal Opera House ends on 17th August.