Herman Schmerman in a Ruby Surround


On March 3 and 5 the Bolshoi is presenting a triple bill of one-act ballet - masterpieces of the 20th century. Works which have lost none of their contemporary appeal as we move into the 2lst century and are eminently suited to serve as reference points for new generations of choreographers.

Serenade, with which the evening opens, was first danced by the Bolshoi Ballet in 2007 since when the Company has virtually never been parted from it. It is lyrical ballet, evoking the play of moonlight on water, though it derives, to all intents and purposes, from a lesson in ballet class. Serenade was the great George Balanchine's first American ballet (1935). America became for him a promised land where he would find his feet and his talent would burgeon. George Balanchine: "As part of the school curriculum, I started an evening ballet class in stage technique, to give students some idea of how dancing on stage differs from class-work. Serenade evolved from the lessons I gave. <…>… many people think there is a concealed story in the ballet. There is not. There are, simply, dancers in motion to a beautiful piece of music. The only story is the music's story, a serenade, a dance, if you like, in the light of the moon" (from the book 101 Stories of the Great Ballets). The Bolshoi's new (2010) stage version of the ballet is by Sandra Jennings.

"Herman Shmerman".

The second item on the triple bill is Herman Schmerman, a work by William Forsythe whose name has never figured before on Bolshoi Theatre playbills. William Forsythe is one of the most - in all senses - contemporary of choreographers, a bold investigator into the potential of the human body, taking it to its furthest limits in the 'field' of classical ballet or, at any rate, not rejecting on point dancing or other characteristic 'features' of the classics. What is Herman Schmerman? A phrase, taken by Forsythe from Carl Reiner's marvelous American comedy film Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid. A selection of sounds (suspiciously reminiscent of the name of a famous American jazz musician) - it is as simple as that. And, in general, not a bad - even suitable - name for a ballet in which, in a technically complex way, with all the wit that ballet can muster, classical pas and devices are turned inside out. True, it needs a trained eye to discern this. The general public, however, should appreciate just how refined the ballet dancer's muscle-work can be - indeed, from Forsythe, one expects nothing less. They should revel till their head spins in the precision of the execution, for this is Forsythe's gimmick, how he achieves his goal. Herman Schmerman was danced for the first time (talk about an on-going link between periods and names!) by a company founded by Balanchine - the New York City Ballet, in 1992. Ever since the piece has been famous, and attracts the attention of reckless virtuosos, including the illustrious French ballerina Sylvie Guillem for whom technical obstacles do not exist. The Bolshoi artists learnt the unusual to them choreography under the guidance of Noah Gelber, a former dancer with the William Forsythe Company, who stages the latter's ballets and choreographs his own (two of his ballets, for instance, are in the Maryinsky Theatre repertoire).

Rehearsal photos by Damir Yusupov.

The sparkling Rubies, brings the evening to a close. This is again Balanchine. The second part of his three-part ballet Jewels, premiered by New York City Ballet in 1967. It is considered that one of the sources of Balanchine's inspiration here was the collection of a famous jeweler who gave him the idea of reinforcing the brilliance of the ballerinas' parallel lines with precious stones, whose scintillating radiance he mounted to quite different, in terms of character, music. Each part of the ballet is a tribute to one of the three countries in which Balanchine lived (Emeralds - France, Rubies - USA, Diamonds - Russia). He, himself, denied this: "Others seem to have found the second part Rubies, representative of America. I did not have that in mind at all. It is simply [dances set to] Stravinsky's music, which I have always liked, and which he and I agreed to use…" (101 Stories of the Great Ballets). However that may be, if one is to associate each of the three ballets with one of the three countries mentioned above, then the reckless, temperamental, sparkling Rubies 'corresponds' of course to the northern states of America. The ballet demands of its dancers great spirit and courage. Rubies is staged for the Bolshoi by Sandra Jennings.
The premiere series of performances were on 22, 23, 25 December (at 19.00) and on 26 December (at 12.00 and 19.00).