This year, the Bolshoi Ballet closes its season with the première of A Hero of Our Time, a unique collaboration between choreographer Yuri Possokhov and theatre director Kirill Serebrennikov. The Bolshoi’s artistic director Sergei Filin suggested the two work together on a new ballet, and Serebennikov suggested Mikhail Lermontov’s novel as the subject. They adapted three out of the five short stories in the book for the Bolshoi’s new stage. The result of this collaboration is an interesting and innovative ballet, but also one that is beset by the complexity of the story.

Igor Tsvirko as Pechorin and Olga Smirnova as Bela © Damir Yusupov | Bolshoi Theatre
Igor Tsvirko as Pechorin and Olga Smirnova as Bela
© Damir Yusupov | Bolshoi Theatre
The short stories about the Byronic antihero Grigory Alexandrovich Pechorin are told through travellers’ notes and personal journals and these describe the military officer’s adventures during his travels through the caucasus. His character is one of contradictions, combining melancholic sensitivity with cynicism and boredom. His attitude to women is disrespectful, his affairs causing him trouble and eventually resulting in a dramatic ending. The poetical story is fit for stage adaptations, but its structure and the complex psychology of the characters present some obstacles that are difficult to overcome even for the talented and experienced duet of Possokhov and Serebennikov.

The role of the byronic hero is shared by different dancers, and the Bolshoi is gifted with an exceptional amount of talented male soloists. Each of them shows a side of his character which is influenced by age and circumstances. The first Pechorin danced by Igor Tsvirko is the most convincing one, combining strong technique and solid acting skills. He is indifferent towards his lover Bela but highly emotional in his own solo after her death, showing that Pechorin’s character is one of contradictions. Artem Ovcharenko, who mainly stands out for his virtuoso dancing, plays the young hero in “Taman”, and finally Ruslan Skvortsov impresses with an admirable stage presence as the mature and self reflective Pechorin in “Princess Mary”.

Hero of Our Time seems to be a men’s world with masculine characters dominating the ballet, and the lead figure Pechorin considering women as incentives in his romantic conquests. The female characters deserve more depth. Their backstory and personal motives remain largely unknown, and therefore they lose much of their personality.

However, there is much dance to be enjoyed from the ballerinas. Olga Smirnova made her return following an injury in the role of the Caucasian princess Bela. She is very convincing as the young and innocent woman, who was given to Pechorin in exchange of a horse. Covered in a blanket she is both timid and mysterious, and her dancing is alluringly beautiful with extrinsic upper body work and elegant hand movements. Ekaterina Shipulina appears as the femme fatale Undine, a passionate red swan who is unfortunately a bit underexposed, and the graceful Svetlana Zakharova has some remarkable moments as the naive Princess Mary. But it is Kristina Kretova as Vera who makes the strongest impression. As Pechorin’s only true love she is the deepest character, and her dark and melodramatic solo is one of the most remarkable and emotional moments in this ballet.

Igor Tsvirko as Pechorin and Olga Smirnova as Bela and Nikolai Sokolov (bass clarinet) © Damir Yusupov | Bolshoi Theatre
Igor Tsvirko as Pechorin and Olga Smirnova as Bela and Nikolai Sokolov (bass clarinet)
© Damir Yusupov | Bolshoi Theatre
The atmosphere is very important in this story, and in the ballet this is well rendered by the modern stage sets and Ilya Demutsky's varied score. Each chapter opens with a dance monologue in which the dancer is accompanied on stage by a solo musician or opera singer, increasing the dramatic impact of the dance. The folk influences in the music and the accompanying national dances create an image of the Caucasus mountains in the first act, and in the second act we arrive in a curious village by the shore with small wooden boats and a climber from where the smugglers appear with their flashlights. Here the music contains modern influences, and sound effects increase the tension. The third act takes place in a hall that simultaneously serves as a ballet studio, fitness room, hall and clinic, making it a fascinating yet confusing place to end the ballet.

Lermontov’s Hero of Our Time provides both the creative team of Yuri Possokhov and Kirill Serebennikov and the spectator with some challenges. Although confusing at times, the ballet combines tradition and innovation, and thus connects with modern audiences. 

***11