Heroes of the past
In past years, the ballet company would bring to Moscow their best performances: Rogneda, Carmina Burana, and The Legend of Ulenspiegel. This time, our artistes went to Moscow for the Days of Belarusian Culture, choosing to astound Moscow audiences with Vytautas.
Vytautas Ballet appeared on the theatre’s repertoire just three years ago but has since become a theatrical hit, being given the President’s ‘For Spiritual Revival’ award. Yuri Troyan, one of the most renowned Belarusian performers of Soviet times, and currently Art Director for Ballet with the National Bolshoi Theatre, staged the performance. Honoured Artist of Belarus Vyacheslav Kuznetsov created the score, while playwright Alexey Dudarev (whose plays are popular in Russian theatres) wrote the libretto.
Belarusians view Vytautas as a national ballet, its characters representing historical personalities from the glory days of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Cousins Vytautas and Jagiello, brave warriors and heroes of the Battle of Grunewald, become enemies in their struggle for power and for the heart of young beauty Anna.
This is the first time when the performance has been shown outside of Belarus. On the eve of the tour, the artistes were clearly full of anticipation and some nerves, despite having rehearsed for hours. The best line-up went to Moscow, with the two main men’s roles played by the theatre’s leading performers, Anton Kravchenko and Oleg Yeromkin. Russia’s Lyudmila Khitrova, from the Nizhny Novgorod Drama School, performed the part of Princess Anna. For many, it was their first performance on the famous Russian stage.
“We feel great responsibility, as every performer dreams of dancing on the Bolshoi stage, at least once in their lifetime,” noted Anton Kravchenko, shortly before the beginning of the performance.
Art director Yuri Troyan reassured the young dancers during the full-dress rehearsal, saying, “As an artiste, I performed on this stage many times, although it’s been quite a while. The historical stage has been renovated and I have the chance to be here and see all the novelties with my own eyes, at last.”
The audience applauded the Belarusian performers with admiration. Vytautas is an elegant impressionist-style ballet that touches on past events. The spectacle is not about military valour or territory division, but rather about universal human values, such as love, trust, and courage. Conveyed through dance, these are clear to everyone.
Alongside Moscow citizens, many foreign tourists came to see the ballet. Judging by lively after-performance conversations, everybody enjoyed the show.
FIRST HAND INFORMATION
Director Yuri Troyan, leader of ballet at the National Academic Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theatre of Belarus:
I’ve always wanted to stage a ballet about the history of Belarus, being interested in our people’s famed past. I ran across the play by Alexey Dudarev, ‘Duke Vytautas’, which was popular with drama theatres in our country in the 1990s, and thought it would be interesting to stage it as a ballet. It’s a men’s ballet with the plot focusing on the relationship between Vytautas and Jagiello, whose diverse destinies intersected. Men’s dance is underestimated in ballet, with women tending to perform the classics. Therefore, I wanted to restore the balance. I hope that Russian artistes will soon come with a return tour, where they’ll perform to very grateful audiences.
CONVERSATION WITH AUTHOR
Playwright Alexey Dudarev tells us about writing the libretto and explains why historic events are so popular in contemporary theatre:
Mr. Dudarev, the libretto is based on your play, ‘Duke Vytautas’. What is this story about?
To me, all stories primarily examine love’s endurance in the face of adversity. In this case, it’s the love story of Vytautas and Anna. A patriot of Belarus, I find it important that our legendary heroes are kept alive — in literature, drama and on the screen. Theatre should praise the land it stands on.
How can historical inaccuracies be avoided?
By studying primary sources. Real, genuine history is in our archives and academies. Artistic people shouldn’t infringe on it.
Did you help at rehearsals?
I only listened to the music. I made some comments, but I didn’t insist on changes, as I’m a playwright and don’t understand ballet staging.
Are you pleased with the result?
Of course! And so is the public — I know that it was hard to buy tickets for the performance. Historical themes are hugely popular in drama nowadays.
By Irina Mustafina