Everything You Can Imagine Is Real

Amy Danielson

Widely deemed to be ballet’s greatest living choreographer, Yuri Grigorovich originally planned to stage his interpretation of “Swan Lake” for Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet in 1969. But the Soviet Minister of Culture, upon viewing the dress rehearsal, demanded that Grigorovich sweeten his tragic ending. After being banned in his country for years, Grigorovich recently remounted his version of “Swan Lake,” which had become a legend in Russian theatrical circles. Now, the censored ending has re-emerged, allowing for Grigorovich’s expression of political drama and philosophical inquiry. He also underplays Tchaikovsky’s score to concentrate on the story. In a caustic twist from the original version of “Swan Lake,” the character Prince Siegfried fails to conquer evil on earth and perishes with Odette, his romantic ideal, as he succumbs to corporal enticement in his quest for happiness.

Similarly, “The Nutcracker,” which is also classically presented with a mirthful ending, is more realistic, albeit tragic, in Grigorovich’s interpretation. Instead of the typical idealism associated with this piece, Grigorovich transforms “The Nutcracker” into a meditation on the notion of ideal love.

His interpretations of classic ballets strongly reflect his unique style, as he is known for his belief in enriching performances with dramatic narrative expressed through dance. Yet narrative is not the most important thing here. Grigorovich, somewhat ironically, is known for paring down the Bolshoi’s standard of grand theatrical dance productions (Bolshoi, after all, is the Russian adjective for big). As the Bolshoi’s artistic director in the ’70s and ’80s, he remolded the company’s style to emphasize the dancing while weeding out the dramatics and circus-like, acrobatic vignettes – elements for which the company had been criticized by smaller Russian dance companies.

The Bolshoi Ballet has been producing spectacular, lavish performances for 225 years now, and this December’s performances of “Swan Lake” and “The Nutcracker” at Northrop Auditorium will be the company’s first ever full-company productions in Minnesota, featuring 100 dancers and a full orchestra.

It is not entirely surprising that our state has not seen much of the Bolshoi. The company only made its debut in the United States in 1959 (not very long ago considering their history), and until 30 years ago, international tours by major dance companies were relatively common. But that was back in the day of impresarios like Sol Hurok, who accumulated a mint promoting attractions in the United States. Since then, private commercial operators drifted out of the business and large dance companies curtailed their touring schedules. Now, it takes a barrage of corporate sponsorships to feasibly commission these tours.

Think of the cost of an eight-city U.S. tour for a company as enormous as the Bolshoi. Contrary to popular belief, ballerinas actually do eat, and some of them scarf down more than the average college student at a holiday party buffet table. Feeding, transporting, promoting and housing a mega corporation-sized dance company can cost a fortune. Without the support of large organizations, cities like Minneapolis might miss out on the unparalleled corps de ballet.

“Swan Lake” plays Dec. 3-4 and “The Nutcracker” plays Dec. 6-7. Both performances are at Northrop Auditorium, (612) 624-2345.

Amy Danielson welcomes comments at [email protected]