The Art Of David Hallberg At The Bolshoi
Marco Spada, ballet in three Acts (1857) [126 mins]
Choreography by Pierre Lacotte
Marco Spada - David Hallberg
Angela - Evguenia Obraztsova
Marchesa Sampietri - Olga Smirnova
Prince Federici - Semyon Chudin
Count Pepinelli - Igor Tsvirko
Orchestra of the State Academic Bolshoi Theatre/Alexey Bogorad
rec. Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow; 2014
Pyotr Il'yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
The sleeping beauty, ballet in two Acts with a Prologue and an Epilogue (1890) [138 mins]
Choreography by Marius Petipa / Yuri Grigorovich
Princess Aurora - Svetlana Zakharova
Prince Désiré - David Hallberg
Lilac fairy - Maria Allash
Orchestra of the State Academic Bolshoi Theatre/Vassily Sinaisky
rec. Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow; 2011
Audio format Marco Spada: 2.0 PCM; 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio; The sleeping beauty: PCM stereo; 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio
Picture formats: 1080i full HD; 16:9
Region code Marco Spada: A / B / C; The sleeping beauty: 0
BELAIR CLASSIQUES Blu-ray BAC618 [2 discs: 264 mins]
Its identically conceived title and cover design appears to relate The art of David Hallberg at the Bolshoi closely to the recently released The art of Svetlana Zakharova at the Bolshoi (review). There are certainly some important similarities between the two sets. Both include performances of a uniformly high standard from artists exhibiting the finest technical skills – and I am not referring to only the stars but to the whole Bolshoi company which seems, these days, to be going through a particularly fine period. In addition, the performances on both the Zakharova and Hallberg sets are very well filmed and reproduced for enjoyment at home by BelAir Classiques, in my experience the most technically proficient company currently releasing ballet on Blu-ray and DVD.
Nonetheless, as well as the very important similarities just identified, there are also some significant differences between the two sets.
In the first place, the Zakharova release featured four full length classical ballets whereas this one only offers two. One of those two, moreover, is the same performance of The sleeping beauty that was included in the Zakharova set. Thus, anyone who’s already bought the latter will be getting just one unduplicated performance – Marco Spada – here. I can only conclude that the company believes that no Hallberg fan will have wanted the Zakharova set – and vice versa. I’d love to see any market research that supports that particular idea!
The way that the discs have been packaged is also significant. Ms Zakharova’s four were accorded a neat flip-box which keeps the product comparatively compact overall. Less special effort, on the other hand, has gone into presenting Mr Hallberg’s two discs. Still in their original individual plastic Blu-ray cases, though on this occasion lacking booklets or any other documentation, for the purposes of this release they’ve merely been slipped alongside each other into an outer cardboard box.
The significance of the differing approach reflects, in a way, the dancers’ contrasting careers at the Bolshoi. While Svetlana Zakharova has appeared in many roles since she joined the company in 2003, David Hallberg’s opportunities in Moscow turned out to be much more restricted. While he had, in 2011, famously become the first American to join the Bolshoi as a principal dancer, just three years later a serious ankle injury brought his performances there to a premature end. Thankfully, after treatment and convalescence Hallberg has now been able to resume his international career as a principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre. Meanwhile, his association with Moscow was officially brought to an end in 2017. Given the short window of opportunity, therefore, we must be grateful that at least a couple of his full-length Russian performances – one recorded during his first year with the Bolshoi, the other during his last - were preserved on film for us to enjoy.
The sleeping beauty turns out to be the more conventionally delivered of his two performances. That, however, is entirely understandable. In 2011, as a Bolshoi neophyte, Hallberg was presumably still in the process of cautiously adapting to the Moscow house style. Moreover, the company’s long-established performance tradition in an iconic warhorse like The sleeping beauty may also have inhibited him from trying to make his own distinctive mark as Prince Désiré. Even so, his account of that role is an undoubted triumph, with his naturally aristocratic bearing working to convincing effect as he displays an engaging combination of long-legged solo virtuosity and, where appropriate, finely nuanced delicacy as Ms Zakharova’s partner that the theatre audience finds greatly to its taste.
While just as technically accomplished, David Hallberg’s performance as the eponymous hero of Marco Spada is rather more interesting (see my previous and more detailed review). After three years with the Bolshoi company, by 2014 he clearly seems to have carved out a distinctive image for himself. He was fortunate too, in that choreographer Pierre Lacotte’s newly restored Marco Spada offered him a rare opportunity to mould a classical ballet role to his personal capabilities and style outside the smothering constraints of entrenched performance tradition. He could thus demonstrate his uniquely appealing characteristics to full effect. As I observed in that earlier, more detailed MusicWeb review, what differentiates his performance here from those of his Moscow peers is “his ability to act… and, moreover, to interact with the audience. He conveys throughout a playful yet affectionate awareness of the story's absurdities and he deliberately sets out to draw the initially somewhat bemused Bolshoi patrons into his performance. Constantly directing a veritable battery of melodramatically villainous winks and smirks at the front stalls - and the camera - Mr Hallberg very soon wins us over into joining in the fun that he is so obviously having on the stage.”
Such an innate sense of fun and a flair for knowingly-delivered comedy is something that certainly marks Hallberg out from most of the Bolshoi’s other leading male dancers who, while undeniably boasting the most accomplished technical skills, tend these days to lack – at least to my own eyes – much in the way of individual personalities on stage. More specifically, the Moscow company falls down somewhat, I think, in ballets with humorous storylines where its dancers often rely too much on the comic elements within the roles themselves rather than adding anything very distinctive by way of individualised performances. We might speculate, perhaps, that the Bolshoi management is concerned that the company’s dignity might be threatened by too un-serious an approach. Let’s not forget, after all, how the recent well-publicised furore over a spoof version of Benny Benassi’s Satisfaction by military cadets (Youtube) demonstrated both the Russian authorities’ propensity to express outrage at challenges to conservative cultural norms and their lack of a sense of the ridiculous.
I think, then, that what these two performances intriguingly suggest is that David Hallberg might, in fact, never have come to fit the Bolshoi’s Stepford-like template. While he certainly exhibited the lean company “look” and technique of the very highest level, I suspect that his self-evident individuality may not have been, in the long term, a good fit. While this set certainly preserves some astonishingly accomplished performances, it is perhaps to Mr Hallberg’s longer-term benefit, as well as ours, that he has now moved on to work with other companies better placed to exploit his very considerable talents.