Vytautas on pointes, or world premiere at Bolshoi Theatre
[b]The National Academic Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theatre has opened the 81st theatrical season with the long-awaited national ballet Vytautas — based on the play Prince Vytautas, by Alexey Dudarev[/b]Our Bolshoi Theatre is the pride of our country, delighting audiences and keeping us in anticipation of new shows. A visit to its hallowed halls is always a treat. Meanwhile, attending a premiere is an occasion worthy of lifetime remembrance. In fact, the recent premiere of Vytautas was a world premiere, arousing huge excitement. You can’t help but wonder if the professionals involved have achieved their true desire with each performance.
Our Bolshoi Theatre is the pride of our country, delighting audiences and keeping us in anticipation of new shows. A visit to its hallowed halls is always a treat. Meanwhile, attending a premiere is an occasion worthy of lifetime remembrance. In fact, the recent premiere of Vytautas was a world premiere, arousing huge excitement. You can’t help but wonder if the professionals involved have achieved their true desire with each performance.
Vytautas involved such eminent names as Alexey Dudarev, Honoured Art Worker of the Republic of Belarus and award winner of the State Prize of the USSR. He has been the main instigator of the project, first directed by Valery Raevsky, on the stage of the National Academic Drama Theatre of Yanka Kupala in 1997. Vytautas is the first experience of Dudarev’s co-operation with the Bolshoi Theatre. The libretto has been co-authored by Vladimir Rylatko, Honoured Worker of Culture of Belarus, former Deputy Minister of Culture and now Deputy Director General.
Veteran director and choreographer Yuri Troyan, People’s Artist of Belarus, knows the Bolshoi Theatre from within, so it’s no surprise that he has a hand in the wonderful performance. The ballet troupe Creative Director has been in the role since 2009. Amazingly, the last national ballet performed on this stage took place in 1995: Rogneda. Mr. Troyan has been searching for a new story for several years and finally found it among the historical plays of Dudarev. From the collection which Dudarev presented to him, Prince Vytautas took his fancy and Vyacheslav Kuznetsov, the well-known Belarusian composer, soon came on board to create the score. The author of several symphonies, ballets, operas, instrumental, vocal and choral music, he tells us that he allowed the plot to guide him. In fact, he notes that he found the process extremely inspiring and has learnt much about himself in working on this ballet (despite it not being his first). Meanwhile, the set design is the work of Ernst Heidebrecht, holder of the State Award of Belarus.
Alexey Dudarev: After watching this performance, I hope that the audience feels proud of our nation and all that has happened on our land, including the deeds of heroes. Life and truth combine in art. I am interested in myth, fiction and legend, which allow us to interpret our own truths. We’ve placed events from the past on stage, since history often teaches us more than art. History should be known and remembered, whatever its outcome. The history of Belarus is as interesting and eventful as that of any other state. Our land has seen war, treachery and peace. Great people, including legends, have lived here. I desire to poeticize those glorious times, bringing heroes onto the stage.
Yuri tells us, “Based on historical fact, we’ve created a choreographic legend about Prince Vytautas. Of course, it’s impossible to tell the whole story of Vytautas’ long, complex and eventful life in one performance, so we’ve concentrated on his young life, when his character was being formed. I wanted to explore the role of personalities in history. Vytautas is an example of a real leader emerging to tackle a particular historical moment: strong, highly intelligent, independent and determined and able to implement his ideas. He was capable of standing up for his country and people, which seems a topical theme today.”
Of course, one purpose of theatre is to help form our national consciousness. We know from history that Prince Vytautas played an important role in creating the powerful independent state of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. During his rule, it blossomed, considerably expanding its borders. Historical chronicles testify that Vytautas was not only strong but wise, reasonable and able to predict situations. As Troyan noted on the eve of the opening night, it’s fascinating to trace the history of Vytautas’ relationship with his cousin Jagailo. According to history, Jagailo became King of Poland, founding the well-known dynasty of Jagiellonian. The two quarrelled, then reconciled; they fought but were able to finally accept a compromise. During the Battle of Grunewald, they fought side by side.
As for genre of the performance, the directors describe it as choreographic legend. Troyan notes that they have used some historical facts to embellish their ideas on how Vytautas’ personality was formed in his younger years. They perceive love as the guiding force: the motivation which dooms us to both happiness and suffering.
The play is also influenced by the pastoral aesthetics of magical Kupala Night: especially evident in the sets. On this night, the most ancient pagan holiday, the world appears beautiful and exciting — full of possibilities. I’ve spent the summer solstice at the Nizhniy Novgorod Region`s well-known Lake Svyatoyar where, according to legend, the city of Kitezh fell into those waters rather than be conquered. Near the lake, people celebrate Kupala Night. I’ll never forget the sharp feeling of being ‘at one’ with nature and the huge pleasure of health, youth and beauty. I recall a tremendous twilight haze, the aroma of various grasses near the lake, with notes of acerose leaves and sycamore. The warmth of the huge bonfire drew us close, while people sang and danced around it in a ring. That magical night is recreated in the first scene of the ballet: gently pastoral, lofty, romantic, and filled with the particular essence of youth. We feel the primordial strength of life awakening us and endowing us with an enthusiastic feeling of unification with the world. Kuznetsov’s music, even in that first scene, moves from the pastoral to the romantic, as Vytautas meets Anna. Next, Yagailo is rejected, introducing an element of menace. Then, with each scene, emotions rise. Music and dance combine, creating tension and passion. We forget that we are watching a story, being completely absorbed by the spectacle.
Vyacheslav Volich: I think that only our descendants will truly understand the real power, might and scale of Vytautas; that time is yet to come. However, we may be able to comprehend his achievements, uniting lands and people from sea to sea under one state. We share his blood and spirit. The plot reveals the scope and sincerity of his personality, his love for his country and parents, and his romantic life. This beautiful legend is brightly revealed through the libretto and music.
The tangled plot becomes clear to those who know even a little of the history of their Fatherland, although much in the performance is a fictional interpretation. For others, the programme on sale reveals all.
Is Vytautas a success? Resoun-dingly, we can say yes. As Yuri Troyan notes, the performance has no choreographic extravagance, being sincere in its expression. I feel that the choreography is strong, being staged in the best traditions of the classical Soviet age of ballet. Troyan undoubtedly demands high technical and artistic skills from his dancers, with three crews engaged; we cannot help but respect their efforts. Physically and mentally, they give their all, dancing to the point of exhaustion. Many already boast titles of honoured artists of Belarus and have won prizes at international competitions. Some have received the Francysk Skaryna medal while others are still young, yet to gain professional acclaim. We can only wish them, and the show, the greatest of all success!
By Valentina Zhdanovich