Ten years after it was last performed, the Bolshoi Ballet brought back The Golden Age. The ballet was first presented at the Kirov Theatre in 1930, with, as its central theme, the battle and triumph of the proletariat against the evil bourgeois. Surprisingly, given the storyline, it was the score that was the subject of political criticism. Consequently, the ballet was presented only 18 times and disappeared into obscurity until a half century later, when the composer’s widow asked Yuri Grigorovich, then Director of the Bolshoi Ballet, to restage the ballet.

The new version premiered at the Bolshoi in 1982 with sets by Simon Virsaladze and a completely new libretto with a love story as its central focus. The love story necessitated the addition of some lyrical music to the original score: the Lento and the Andante from the composer’s first and second piano concertos, respectively. The conflict in the original production was recast as a clash between fishermen – the idealistic and morally superior workers – and society’s criminal elements.

Thirty-four years later, with the Soviet Union gone, the ballet is rather dated: maudlin political déjà vu. But without the political overlay, the story is basically about true love overcoming obstacles and good triumphing over evil – a theme not unfamiliar in the ballet repertoire. And – as in many ballets – the total commitment of great artists interpreting the lead roles can overcome a libretto’s deficiencies. On the opening night, three of the four leads rose to the challenge.

Rita (Nina Kaptsova) meets Boris (Ruslan Skvortsov) in a town square where he is participating in a political theatre performance by young fishermen. When she leaves abruptly, he searches for her and eventually finds her at the Golden Age restaurant, a hangout for spot for Nepmen (businessmen under the short-lived New Economic Policy (NEP) that allowed private enterprise in some areas of the economy in the 1920s).

Jacques (Mikhail Lobukhin) and Margot are cabaret dancers performing in this restaurant, and Boris is surprised to find that Margot is the Rita that he has just met. After the performance, Rita and Boris reconnect happily, watched by a jealous Jacques. Unbeknownst to Rita, Jacques is in fact Yashka, the leader of a criminal gang. His friend Lyuska (Ekaterina Krysanova) lures two drunken Nepmen to an ambush where the gang robs both and murders one.

Upon Yashka’s return to the restaurant dressed as Jacques, he catches sight of Boris and Rita dancing, and picks a quarrel with Boris, but Rita intervenes and Jacques decamps. Once alone, Boris and Rita declare their love to each other. Later, Yashka tries to win Rita’s affections, but she rejects him and leaves to find Boris. Yashka and his gang follow her and when they find her with Boris, the latter is attacked. However, outnumbered by Boris’s workmates and friends who come to his rescue, they are chased off.

After performing again at the Golden Age, Rita decides to abandon her life as a cabaret dancer and join Boris, but a jealous Yashka prevents her. Lyuska overhears him and in a jealous rage attacks Yashka with a knife and in the ensuing struggle, he kills her. Taking Rita as a hostage, Yashka tries to escape, but is caught by Boris and his friends. Rita is freed and reunited with Boris, and they dance together before joining their friends for a celebration in the town square.

Skvortsov is not a dancer in the heroic Bolshoi mold, and his entrance and some early scenes with Yashka lacked energy and power. But as the story progressed, providing much-needed psychological motivation, his dancing fired up and he embodied the story’s conquering hero. Skortsov’s strength in the role lies in his dramatic ability and expressiveness, perfectly matched by Kaptsova – a supremely musical and dramatic ballerina. Together, they shared a deep emotional connection and believably expressed an initial attraction that grows into deep love. The music from Schostakovich’s piano concertos in the two major pas de deux is intensely but gently romantic, and Kaptsova and Skvortsov embraced and perfectly expressed its charged emotional depth.

Lobhukin is a very strong actor who excels in dramatic roles and his portrayal of Yashka was stunning: an electrifying sociopathic amalgam of physical allure, lasciviousness, jealousy, rage, menace, and violence. Whether as Yashka or as Jacques, he dominated the stage. Krysanova is a strong dramatic dancer and surprisingly, her Lyuska did not create much of an impression, lacking the overt sensuality, cynicism, and decadence the role requires. Vyacheslav Lopatin as the master of ceremonies danced with his usual technical perfection and the corps de ballet danced with great energy and enthusiasm.