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"This is Vasiliev the dancer - going to the limit, unself- conscious, forceful, roaring with an inhuman energy, Grigorovich- style"
15 APR 15
Ivan Vasiliev’s debut in Grigorovich’s Ivan the Terrible at the his old company, the Bolshoi, was, by the reckoning of Kommersant’s dance critic Tatiana Kuznetsova, extraordinary.
Her review does that fascinating Russian thing of saying he is so brilliant in one kind of dancing because he is so bad in another. She describes him as the ultimate Grigorovich dancer, no half-measures, going to the limit and beyond.
Given that we in Britain have seen how a previous Grigorovich superman, Irek Mukhamedov, came over here to learn to triumph over that typecasting - and given that we’ve recently been seeing Vasiliev himself in London with ENB and elsewhere, trying to do the same - this is a revealing reaction (as well as wonderfully descriptive).
With a tsar in his head
Ivan the Terrible was revived at the Bolshoi in 2012 after a 22-year absence from repertoire. This production, celebrating an inhuman tyrant, was made not for political reasons but for Ivan Vasiliev. It was reckoned that the charisma and incredible jump of the finest Spartacus of recent times would be highly suitable in the other “state” ballet of Yuri Grigorovich. But while legal matters were being settled with the heirs of Sergei Prokofiev (the ballet’s score made use of many of his works, as well as some supplements from Chulaki’s compositions) Ivan Vasiliev quit the Bolshoi for the Mikhailovsky in St Petersburg. The Muscovites survived the loss - as many as four other Ivan Groznys were unearthed from the company’s depths.
But recently force majeure intervened - the first Ivan is doing time, the second is injured, the third sick, and the fourth, Mikhail Lobukhin, simply can’t get through a series of four shows of a role as exhausting as hard labour in the mines. It’s said that Grigorovich personally phoned the fifth Ivan and asked him to learn the part as fast as possible, with the help of Vasiliev’s personal coach Yuri Vladimirov, who was the first to play the role and the finest Ivan Grozny of all time.
No to Mayerling
For the sake of Moscow’s sovereign, Ivan Vasiliev renounced another royal outing, that of the mentally unbalanced Crown Prince Rudolf, a role he had contracted to perform in the ballet Mayerling with the Stanislavsky Theatre, causing that theatre considerable losses, both material and moral. Ivan Vasiliev prepared the role of Grozny with his on- and off-stage partner Maria Vinogradova, who fortunately has danced the role of Tsaritsa Anastasia before. All these circumstances generated huge anticipation among balletomanes.
Let's say straight away: not everything was pulled off, due to the shortage of stage time and long, thoughtful rehearsal. There was a botch of one of the climaxes: the heavy spear that the tsar hurls at the crowd of boyars did not stick in the floor (and besides Ivan threw it not at the front apron where the victims were crowded but at a safe place four metres from them). The duets had uncertainties: the dancer did not hoist his beautiful bride to the necessary height but held her at a perilous angle, and once practically soldered her to a solid wall, only just getting his fragile but comparatively tall lover (given his own size) up there. Still, in such circumstances especially, it’s not being over-indulgent to find that this Tsar’s emotional restraint could be the result of his natural severity.
Overall, though, expectations were fulfilled. Ivan Vasiliev’s perky curls had been straightened and smoothed with a straight parting, the hollows in his cheeks from the tough rehearsal period were enhanced, and the feverish glitter of his eye - it all emphasised his insane temperament and physical power.
His place by right
In the very first scene Ivan, even sitting immobile on his throne, made it quite clear to not only the boyars around him but to the whole auditorium, that this was his place by right, and he would give it up to nobody. His first jumps - jeté en tournant on the diagonal, capped with some sort of double spin in splits in 540 degrees (something like that, as he was so wired-up that he performed his favourite trick none too cleanly) - were testament that his claims on ballet royalty are justified.
The apotheosis of the role was the capture of Kazan in the first act, when the warrior tsar swept through the stage like a hurricane, giving one goose-bumps, and making the hairs stand up on the neck. In two and a half circles of raging jetés en tournant, filled with high-flying fouettés in attitude and flashing double sauts-de-basques, crowned with a unique triple saut, Ivan Vasiliev proved worthy to join the list of the greatest performers of the role. One must add to the pearls the final, desperate and powerful leaps - not one Ivan, including the first and best Yuri Vladimirov, ever made these so soft, juicy and high, arms and legs thrown out far behind him.
Besides these athletic feats, we had dramatic ones too. Ivan was excellent portraying the sick tsar, the creeping bodily feebleness as well shown as the fighting force; he was convincing in his praying after Anastasia’s death; to see this wild tortured man with trembling fingers and eyes starting out of their sockets was sinister and piteous. In fact, in every single scene one saw how organically this role lies within Ivan Vasiliev’s physical and artistic nature.
How well this character was understood by the dancer, and this style of dramatic playing; how instinctively his powerful body, which knows no half measures, handles this choreography, which doesn’t demand exact academic positions or orthodox line and pose, or perfectly spotted landings or fast little footwork. Only here can you excuse the unlovely line of those overpumped legs, and his pigeon-toed soutenus, the rough, boorish hands and exaggerated grimaces. Really, this is Vasiliev the dancer - going to the limit, unselfconscious, forceful, roaring with an inhuman energy - and that is what Grigorovich’s ballets demand. And it is this Grigorovich-style dancing that Vasiliev offers no matter what role he performs.
Ivan Vasiliev's Ivan is superbly terrible
Ivan Vasiliev as Ivan the Terrible at the Bolshoi (© Damir Yusupov / Kommersant)