Two new ballets enter the Bolshoi Ballet repertoire this Spring: Jerome Robbins' The Cage and Harald Lander’s Etudes. In A Contemporary Evening, they are performed together with Alexei Ratmansky's The Russian Seasons.

Anastasia Stashkevich (Novice), Erick Svolkin (The Second Untruder), <i>The Cage</i> © Damir Yusupov/Bolshoi Theatre
Anastasia Stashkevich (Novice), Erick Svolkin (The Second Untruder), The Cage
© Damir Yusupov/Bolshoi Theatre

The Cage was created by Jerome Robbins for New York City Ballet in 1951 to Stravinsky’s Concerto in D for strings and it has remained in the repertoire ever since. The ballet is about a colony of female insects that kill and devour the males of its species. The central role is the Novice, a newborn insect who kills two males, the first using pure instinct, and the second when pressured by the colony to do so. When the ballet premiered, it was considered shocking and scandalous. By today’s standards – with explicit violence a daily occurrence on television and in films – the ballet is quite tame.

Anastasia Stashkevich – known for her gentle lyrical and classical style – gave a strong performance as the Novice. As a newborn, she twists and turns out of her cocoon and explores her body’s abilities and limits. Once she feels comfortable in her body, she dispatches the first male quickly, but is enticed into a sexual encounter with the second before killing him. Stashkevich was convincing and committed herself fully to the choreographic language so different from her usual dance vocabulary. Yanina Parienko as the Queen and the 12 female corps members danced with menace and malevolence. While the choreography still looks fresh, the ballet comes across as an oddity from another era. It neither repels nor engages.

Given Robbins’ oeuvre of over 50 ballets, it is surprising that The Cage was selected to be the second of his ballets presented at the Bolshoi (Afternoon of a Faun was the first.) Hopefully, the Bolshoi will stage additional Robbins works, a personal wish would be to see his lesser known but imposing ballet to Stravinsky’s Les Noces.

Ekaterina Krysanova, Denis Savin (Couple in Red), Vladislav Lantratov (in Yellow) © Damir Yusupov | Bolshoi Theatre
Ekaterina Krysanova, Denis Savin (Couple in Red), Vladislav Lantratov (in Yellow)
© Damir Yusupov | Bolshoi Theatre

Alexei Ratmansky’s Russian Seasons, set to Leonid Desyatnikov’s score for string orchestra, solo violin, and soprano, was created for the New York City Ballet in 2006 and premiered at the Bolshoi in 2008. The ballet features six couples, who separate and come together in various combinations for solos, pas de deux, and group dances. The entire cast was exceptional, their dancing flowed seamlessly in the 12 scenes, and their emotional expressions were finely tuned to the music and the ballet’s folk tales.

Etudes – Harald Lander’s ode to classical ballet – was created for the Royal Danish Ballet in 1948 with Carl Czerny’s piano music arranged for orchestra by Knudage Riisager. In 1952, Lander recreated Etudes for the Paris Opera Ballet, and this version is presented by numerous companies worldwide. The ballet begins at the barre, but quickly transitions to performance mode, demonstrating complex dance steps, romantic lyricism, and classical bravura, and ending with spectacular leaps and turns by the entire company in a rousing finale.

Etudes is a challenging work for both the corps de ballet and the three soloists, who must all convey the beauty and power of classical ballet as well as the joy and excitement of its performance at the highest standard. Performing pure classical ballet has sometimes been called “dancing without a net” because there is absolutely no margin for error. Even the slightest wobble will be glaringly obvious. Both the corps and the soloists need to be perfect and by the end of the ballet, as it has slowly built through multiple crescendos, the audience should also feel the power and ebullience of the entire company.

Semyon Chudin as Principal Dancer in <i>Etudes</i> © Damir Yusupov | Bolshoi Theatre
Semyon Chudin as Principal Dancer in Etudes
© Damir Yusupov | Bolshoi Theatre

The company performed exceptionally well, though not quite perfectly. Olga Smirnova danced the part of the Ballerina, a perfect match for her glorious classical pedigree and exquisite use of épaulement. She danced radiantly with a warm and gracious manner, excelling in the lyrical sections of the ballet. But in the finale, her dancing needs more power and a touch of flamboyance.

Her two cavaliers (Semyon Chudin and Artem Ovcharenko) danced almost perfectly. Chudin’s beats, jumps, and turns were sharp and precise but his intense look of concentration as he did them lessened the stylistic flair the role requires. Ovcharenko’s pirouettes, tours à la seconde, and fouettes, were performed with control and energy, but several of his seven double tours en l’air in quick succession were wobbly on the landings.

 Despite minor flaws, it was a bravura performance of a wonderful ballet that is a very welcome addition to the Bolshoi’s repertoire.

 Tugan Sokhiev masterfully conducted the Bolshoi orchestra in the program’s three very different scores.