I went to the Bolshoi two weekends ago to a beautiful rendition of the ballet Giselle. Though the Bolshoi is in quite a state of disrepair with metal mesh on all the balconies in order to catch the rot falling from the ceiling, the ballet was a visual pleasure. The Bolshoi has now truly become a truly international stage: the prima ballerina was from Romania and the primo ballerino (how is this said?) was form Denmark. Perhaps, if the government ever figures out how to renovate the Bolshoi, which is slated to happen next year but the design of which is being heatedly fought over, the theatre itself will also become world class. This, however, remains to be seen, as the layout of the theatre leaves many tickets holders craning their necks at awkward angles in order to see a mere third of the stage. I felt sorry for the Corsican tourists behind me who couldn’t see very much at all, and would probably not have another chance to see a ballet at the Bolshoi.
It struck me as strange that the story of Giselle, which tells the story of the impossibility of love between a peasant girl and noblemen, played throughout Soviet times. I was sure it would have been something that the notorious Soviet censors wouldn’t have approved. In fact, I am hard-pressed to think of story that stresses the differences between classes so strongly, though perhaps Naipaul’s new piece in the New Yorker takes the cake. Counterintuitively, however, Russia has it’s own version of the story and is the only country where the ballet has not fallen out of the repertoire since it was first performed.
As many people have now explained to me, the Soviet authorities were not interested in censoring classics. According to the Marxist idea of the progress of history, the importance of which David Remnick highlights very well in his book Lenin’s Tomb, classics can be enjoyed as classics without the risk of purging because the stage of history with which the classic deals has been overcome. This is an interesting difference between the totalitarianism as it played out in the Soviet Union and in Germany where many classical works were also subject to censors for their un-Aryan perspectives.
Posted by Aaron at June 18, 2004 02:56 PM