A flight of fantasy
By Naila Hussain
It seemed as if Greek gods and goddesses had descended in Lahore to pay a tribute to spring on the night before Basant. A friend appropriately called it Bolshoi Basant. Floating on the clouds, skimming the waves or dancing in the air are some of the words that come to mind whilst describing the incredible performance of the Bolshoi theatre group from Moscow.
The dancers seemed to convey a magical sense of timelessness and space. Their art, beauty and a passion in performing intricate ballet pieces extended beyond the stage. Their pirouettes, stretches, twirls, bowing and other fluid movements lingered on in memory after the movement ended. It was difficult to miss out on the mental and physical rapport coupled with mathematical precision that mesmerised the audience and had them clapping enthusiastically after every superbly executed piece.
Whether it was the pathos of Swan Lake, passion of Last Tango in Paris, joyous expression of Waltz no 7 or drama in Madam Bovary, a high level of emotional intensity and flamboyance was unmistakable. The ballet was interspersed by two opera singers - Gilina Borisova and Viatcheslav Osipov. The quality and range of their voice was awesome.
Between packing up, lunch and going to the airport, I grabbed a bit of time to chat with Nina Semizorova, one of the performers, and Gleb Formin, their manager who helped with translation.
Ms Semizorova, who has the distinction of achieving the highest position in Russian Arts, said the repertoire of the theatre has not changed that much since the break up of the Soviet Union - apart from the fact that that she had a daughter after that. She said the artists continued to do their best, but adds that the Bolshoi’s repertoire has widened since chief ballet master Grigorovich left. Now, there is greater stress on modern plays, thanks to new ballet masters who came in from England and France, such as Romimansky. Ms Semizorova said that classics remained a crucial part of the repertoire of the Bolshoi while new compositions and Western plays enriched it.
One example was a new version of Romeo and Juliet by George Balanchi from the United States which won many accolades. Ms Semizorova was part of the innovative presentation of the story of Romeo and Juliet. The director of the Grand Opera in London said he envied anybody who saw the performance in Russia. “Every new work is a step forward for the artist and allows us to express ourselves in a different way,” Ms Semizorova said.
Asked how political changes in the Soviet Union had affected artists, she said that artists were in a good position and President Putin had donated extra funds to theatre. “There is a lot of charity available as well,” she adds.
It generally takes eight to ten years to master ballet. Ms Semizorova started at the age of 10, some 18 years ago. To be a ballet dancer, “you really have to love what you are doing. And then it’s just like drugs - you cannot live without it.”
I wondered whether the dancers felt the same exhilaration as the audience at each performance, or whether the fact that they had performed the same pieces many times over meant they had become routine.
“We are at the edge of very high emotions before each play, how it will turn out, whether we will be able to express the tempo and feelings encapsulated in the composition and how the audience will respond. If everything is perfect and you can step over this edge successfully, then you just fly with joy,” she said, adding that a positive response from the audience created an energy which the artist fed off.
Mr Formin said the Bolshoi had performed in so many countries that it was easier to count where it had not performed. “Now Pakistan is also part of the list,” he said, adding it was a very happy and informative experience.
“Previously it was a closed country for us. What little we knew of it was from news and that was not very encouraging. However, on coming here we realised that people are extremely friendly and very hospitable. Also, the audience is extremely appreciative and has a deep understanding of the classical arts,” he said.
Mr Formin was grateful to the organisers of the event, the Voluntary Women’s Organisation led by Samina Hafiz Pirzada. He felt the organisation of the event and their stay was equal to any place in the West. The proceeds from their performances go towards the Women Vocational Centre at Dhok Kazam near Islamabad. The centre helps teach women self-reliance, thereby enabling them to support their families.