A modern ballet with music by cult US rock band The White Stripes has wowed Bolshoi Theater audiences, helping the company shake off a conservative image as it plans a return to its historic home.
Chroma, British choreographer Wayne McGregor’s 2006 exploration of the influence of psychology on movement that he created for Britain’s Royal Ballet, is a sharp contrast to the 19th-century narrative ballets that have been the staple of the Bolshoi repertoire.
Set to a pulsating, dissonant score of orchestrations of White Stripes songs as well as original music by British composer Joby Talbot, Chroma demands from its 10 performers a whole new vocabulary of dance.
Legs are flung out in extensions at all angles, arms whirled through the air and dancers intertwined in intricate couplings. The set resembles a gigantic white box with an open back whose color changes throughout the show.
With no tutu or pair of tights in sight, the dancers wear thin drapes that merge with their own bodies in a world that inhabits a different universe to the ritual formality of The Sleeping Beauty or Don Quixote.
However, the Moscow dancers and audiences have embraced the work’s stark modernity, earning the ballet’s creative team a rousing reception at its July 21 premiere.
“For the Bolshoi Ballet, Chroma is a breakthrough into a new era,” wrote Tatyana Kuznetsova, the ballet critic of the Kommersant newspaper. “The troupe has jumped into the 21st century.”
McGregor, who came to Moscow to rehearse the dancers, expressed amazement at their abilities and is now set to choreograph a new version of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring specially for the Bolshoi in 2013.
“It’s a fantastic time for the Bolshoi to be experimenting with very modern choreography,” McGregor said. “They have these incredible dancers who can really do anything, so why not explore it. The dancers have great proportions, amazing limbs and they can do extraordinary things with their bodies — they have a real kind of elasticity, which is something that I really love.”
Artem Ovcharenko, one of the soloists in Chroma, said: “You hear the first chords of that music standing in the wings. You start to burn, you want to get on stage and to dance to this.”
The success of Chroma has come at a crucial time for the Bolshoi company which has in recent years been accused of being held back by its own traditions and being afraid of experimentation.
On Oct. 28, it is finally to resume performances in its historic theater, which closed in July 2005 for urgent restoration, the completion of which was embarrassingly put back year after year. In the interim, the company has performed on its New Stage theater nearby, whose smaller proportions have frustrated some of its stars.
The Bolshoi Ballet — run for three decades from its Soviet -heyday until 1995 by the -authoritarian Yuri Grigorovich — has endured a rocky time since the 2008 departure of modernizing director Alexei Ratmansky.
Ratmansky left allegedly because he fell out with the pro-Grigorovich old guard and the company appeared to tread water after his departure. This year a top candidate to become the new artistic director became embroiled in a dark campaign to smear him using pornographic images.
However, the Bolshoi then scored a coup by appointing as ballet director former dancer Sergei Filin, who had turned Moscow’s Stanislavsky Musical Theater into a rival of its more famous -counterpart by promoting innovative dance.