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The Art of Svetlana Zakharova at The Bolshoi
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Swan Lake
, Op. 20 [125 mins]
Sleeping Beauty, Op. 66 [138 mins]
Ludwig MINKUS (1826-1917)
La Bayadère [126 mins]
Cesare PUGNI (1802-1870)
La Fille du Pharaon [101 mins – ballet, 29 mins – bonus]
Svetlana Zakharova, Prima Ballerina
Denis Rodkin and Artemy Belyakov, (Swan Lake), Vladislav Lantratov and Maria Alexandrova, (La Bayadère), David Hallberg and Maria Allash (The Sleeping Beauty), and Sergey Filin (La Fille du Pharaon)
Orchestra of the State Academic Bolshoi Theatre/Pavel Sorokin (Swan, Bayadère), Vassily Sinaisky (Beauty), Alexander Sotnikov (Fille)
Choreography: Yuri Grigorovich (Swan), Marius Petipa (Beauty, Bayadère), Pierre Lacotte after Petipa (Fille)
rec. Bolshoi Theatre Moscow, 2003 (La Fille du Pharaon), 2011 (The Sleeping Beauty), 2013 (La Bayadère) and 2015 (Swan Lake).
Format: NTSC, Region Code 0, Colour, 16:9 Audio 2.0 PCM & 5.1 DTS
BEL AIR CLASSIQUES BAC615 [4 DVDs: 519 mins]

This set of four DVDs is a tribute to the art of Svetlana Zakharova, ‘prima ballerina assoluta’ and superstar of the Bolshoi Ballet, Moscow, featuring her in performances of four full-scale ballets recorded at the Bolshoi Theatre between 2003 and 2015, sequenced in the package and in the listings on the back in reverse date order, the most recent, Swan Lake, placed first, and La Fille du Pharaon last. No booklet, no plot summaries, and no information about the works is provided apart from what is in the above heading and the casting details in the credits at the start of each film, which is also the only place where you will find track/scene listings, so if you wish to switch to a specific scene, you need to go back to the top menu.

Not that many balletomanes will need a plot summary for Swan Lake, and even to a novice the broad narrative is clear enough in the choreography and settings here. The atmospheric settings of this Bolshoi production are impressionistically evocative, with traditional costumes and lighting adding to the dramatic effect. This is clearly a classic production, but the role of Odette/Odile has to be the star turn, which it certainly is when danced as here by Svetlana Zakharova.

She has the ideal physical characteristics of course – beautiful, slender, strong, long-limbed - but all those are used in the service of poetic and dramatic expression. She can stop the show with a dazzling technical display, as with Odile’s rapid series of fouettes in Act III (Chapter 30 of the DVD), but her lyrical gift serves the poignant role of Odette particularly well, and she is especially touching in her solos and her scenes with Prince Siegfried, superbly danced by Denis Rodkin, who is hardly less talented than his leading lady. Artemy Belyakov, too, is impressive and makes just the sort of Evil Genius we could all enjoyably hiss at. So the ballet is well-nigh perfectly cast, as we might expect of the Bolshoi company.

The Sleeping Beauty shares many of the same qualities but has even more of a fairy tale setting than Swan Lake, and is seemingly set in the court of the Sun King. The single set is realistic and monumental, with a rotunda as a backdrop and on either side massive golden columns and a Watteau-esque harbour scene. The costumes are elaborate and detailed, with many a plumed hat and frock coat and almost entirely in pastel shades. It is an extravagant confection of a production and thus a fine representative of one aspect of the Bolshoi style. The dancing is just as good. Zakharova has principal colleagues as skilled as she; this company has real depth. Aurora exploits her range of expression no less than Odile. Sinaisky is as effective a conductor as Sorkin, phrasing the great Rose Adagio superbly, although the famous waltz in the Prologue lacks sparkle, doubtless because it lacks the steady, solid beat needed for the ensemble dancers.

The musical quality comes down a notch or two in La Bayadère, as Ludwig Minkus was no Tchaikovsky, but he, too, has his place in classical ballet, and the score has its charms. Nikiya, a temple dancer (or bayadère), has secretly sworn her eternal love for the warrior Solor. When she rejects the High Brahmin’s advances, he determines to take revenge. The production makes the most of exotic settings for the temple in the jungle of Act I, the Mughal-style palace of Act II, the third act twilit dream sequence and “The Kingdom of the Shades”, one of Petipa’s most celebrated choreographic scenes. Zakharova is just as eloquent in her temple maiden costumes as she was in a traditional tutu, which she has to relinquish until the appearance of her shade in Act III. Once again, her colleagues are very fine and there are some splendid set pieces for everybody. We can readily see why the piece endures, and not only in Russia.

The same cannot quite be said for La Fille du Pharaon, which has all the same production standards and superb dancing from Zakharova and the other leads, but a ludicrous scenario and music of a quality that few MusicWeb users will enjoy, I suspect. It is difficult not to endorse the review [here] posted on this site when the individual DVD was issued, but it does have extras, in which Pierre Lacote explains how his work on the archaeology of the ballet and his links back to Petipa himself came about. He describes Zakharova, then 23 years of age, as “already one for world’s great ballerinas”. The backstage scenes and rehearsals give a real flavour of the preparation for a Bolshoi performance, too. A live horse waits in the wings, ready to pull an Egyptian chariot, and a collection of bows and arrows are brought out of storage – in a supermarket trolley.

But the prima ballerina is the whole point of this set, and as a tribute to supreme classical dancer, this collection will not disappoint. It is also a fine document of the state of classical productions at one the world’s great dance companies, its essentially conservative style, its reverence for its magnificent legacy, and the work it does to preserve it. The film and sound quality are very good, as is the video direction and editing. In 2016, Bel Air offered the two performances of Tchaikovsky ballets in this set, but with the addition of an excellent Nutcracker (in which Zakharova does not appear). For fans of Tchaikovsky’s ballets specifically, that will be the better choice, while this present issue is essential for those wanting a comprehensive view of Zakharova’s astonishing gifts.

Roy Westbrook

Previous review (La Fille): Paul Shoemaker



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