If the Bolshoi Ballet’s The Flames of Paris didn’t actually set the stage of the Royal Opera House alight, then the dancing certainly scorched it with its exuberant and exhilarating performers. The action-packed ballet was originally created by Vasily Vainonen in 1932 to music by Boris Asafiev. Its revolutionary scenario perfectly fitted the early Soviet regime’s ideals in relating how common people, fuelled by patriotic fervour, overcome the decadent nobility – just as had been seen in the Russian Revolution of 1917. No wonder it was Stalin’s favourite ballet.

Ekaterina Krysanova (Jeanne) in <i>The Flames of Paris</i>, Bolshoi Ballet © Elena Fetisova
Ekaterina Krysanova (Jeanne) in The Flames of Paris, Bolshoi Ballet
© Elena Fetisova

The uprising of this ballet however, takes place in 18th century France during the reign of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette when the people of Marseille rebelled against the powdered wigs and wasteful frivolities of the French aristocracy. The original ballet was successfully performed in both the (then) Kirov and Bolshoi theatres for many years, but then lost favour. Only the dazzling and extremely tricky pas de deux from Act 2 has been seen gracing stages at galas and ballet competitions. Then, in 2008, the young and dynamic Alexei Ratmansky, (then director of the Bolshoi Ballet and now an internationally acclaimed choreographer living in the West), restaged it, and the company brought this version to London in 2013 to great acclaim. (The Mikhailovsky Ballet in St Petersburg also has a production, closer to the original, restored the same year by Mikhail Messerer whose mother, Sulamith, and uncle, Asaf Messerer danced in the original ballet.)

Ratmansky, while still keeping much of the Soviet essence, presents us with a fresh palette of colour, characters and contrasting choreography. In addition to the purely classical, there are superb national and court dances, which he has meticulously researched, and which the company performed on this tour with fervour and conviction. Unlike the Soviet original, Ratmansky focuses on the love stories between the two leading couples, and stages memorable visual effects such as in the opening shot where the silhouetted sans-culottes muster forth to battle amid lashings of smoke. The scenes are usually short and to the point and there is much rushing on and off stage, along with fast paced folk dances by the revolutionaries which conjure up the zeal and urgency of the revolt. In sharp contrast, the inclusion of the ballet Rinaldo and Armide in Act 1 – to entertain the court – goes on far too long.

However, the dancing of Anna Tikhomirova and Artem Ovcharenko more than compensates for this overlong interlude. Tikhomirova is a natural ballerina, with sparkling eyes and eloquent arms. Her movements flow from the inner joy she always expresses, and her performance was delightful in every way, especially her hopping turns in arabesque on pointe – so delicately done that her pointed toe looked as though it bounced off a trampoline rather than a hard stage floor.

Ovcharenko is a handsome classical dancer of perfection with his whole body demonstrating refined, fluid lines, strong unforced technique and high jumps with soft landings.

Denis Savin was the fun-loving Jerome who joins the revolutionaries, and Nina Kaptsova was Adeline, the Marquis’ daughter, who loves him. They perform a beautiful and tender classical pas de deux together. She is a ballerina we should have seen more of on this tour. Petite but technically secure, she demonstrated the demure fragility of her role with sensitive and convincing acting and exquisite dancing.

Igor Tsvirko, performed the role of the hero Philippe with supreme strength and confident, bold dancing. In the Basque traditional dance in Act 2, he jumped high and stomped robustly, and one marvelled at his energy since minutes later, he then returned to dance the demanding pas de deux. Here, his energy level leapt even higher as he sped across the stage in snap-open jetés, encircled the floor with barrel turns and soared high into the air with legs neatly crossed under him. His vigour, intensity and charm show him to be a dancer to watch.

But this London season of the Bolshoi Ballet belongs to Ekaterina Krysanova. During its three-week visit, she has appeared in the leading roles of all five ballets – Don Quixote, Swan Lake, The Taming of the Shrew, The Flames of Paris and Le Corsaire – showing us her versatility and exceptional talent. Here in the role of Jeanne in The Flames of Paris, she transforms from a shy, home-loving playful young girl, mindful always of her manners to curtsey to the Marquis despite his lecherous desires, to the zealous patriot who races around the stage at Olympic pace, flying the tricolour and inspiring her fellow citizens. In the grand pas de deux, she matched Tsvirko’s bravura with lightning diagonal pirouettes that blurred the vision with their speed. Her effortless 32 fouettés – many doubles – challenged conductor Pavel Sorokin and the excellent Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra to keep pace with her.

The daredevil duo of Krysanova and Tsvirko were well matched and their dancing whizzed faster than a line of lit gunpowder, fairly shaking the timbers of the auditorium with its energy and exuberance – and had the audience cheering them on.

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