A Gentleman in Moscow - Part Three

The "Royal Box" in the Gilded Interior of the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow (LEO Design)

My biggest reason for visiting Moscow was to attend the premiere of the Bolshoi Ballet's new Giselle which opened tonight. My partner, Robert Perdziola, designed the evening's sets and costumes, inspired by multiple earlier Giselle productions by the Russian designer-artist Alexandre Benois (1870 -1960). Choreographer Alexei Ratmansky re-created the steps of an earlier production by Marius Petipa (1818 - 1910)—embellishing the dance with long-lost gestures and other conventions that have been abandoned over the past century. The project aimed to revive and present (to a modern ballet audience) the look and sensibility of the ground-breaking ballet master, Petipa, 200 years after his birth.

Giselle is based on a German folk tale about a young peasant girl who is pursued by two men—a working class "gamekeeper" and a high-born Duke (naturally, in disguise as a simple—though handsome—villager). The nobleman wins Giselle's affection, though, alas, he is already engaged to an aristocrat. The spurned gamekeeper brings this truth to light publicly (at a village celebration), where Giselle goes mad and dies, ending the First Act.

When the curtain rises on Act Two, we find ourselves in a dark and spooky forest—well known as being the haunting grounds of "The Wilis."  The Wilis are the spirits of deceased young maidens who, while still alive, had been betrayed by men before marriage. As a roving gang, they surround any man who happens to pass through the forest—and they force him to dance non-stop, until he is exhausted and dies. As Giselle has been buried in this forest, both the Duke and the gamekeeper come into the woods to visit her grave.

First the Wilis, lead by their queen, Myrtha, exterminate the gamekeeper after which they pursue the nobleman. But Giselle, who has risen from her grave, intercedes to protect her love. The Duke clings to the cross on her grave—which seems to preserve him—until the church bell tolls, signaling that it's time for the Wilis to return to the underworld. After a romantic and tearful pas de deux, he places Giselle on a grassy mound where she is assumed into the earth. The lush music was composed by Adolphe Adam for the 1841 premiere in Paris.

 The Gilded Interior of the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow (LEO Design)

The Bolshoi Ballet is the oldest and (arguably) the most-important ballet company in the world. It performs in the Bolshoi Theatre, originally built in 1780. After burning-down twice (in 1805 and 1853), the current theatre was completed in 1856. During the Soviet years, the Imperial Crown over the "Royal Box" was removed—but was restored after the fall of the Soviet Union. The theatre holds 1,600 spectators and is used for ballet, opera and classical music concerts. Many of the world's greatest dancers have performed on its stage: Vaslav Nijinsky, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Anna Pavlova. Rudolf Nureyev was accepted into the company but chose to study at the Mariinsky (in Saint Petersburg) instead. Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake premiered on this stage and opera greats like Anna Netrebko and Elena Obraztsova have performed in the house.

More from Moscow tomorrow.


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