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Ballet Review, June 2010

In reconceiving Chekhov’s ensemble play The Seagull as a ballet, Plisetskaya has made the young girl Nina the central character, dancing it rather than Arkadina, the aging actress (at fifty-five her natural role), while everyone else is shown only in relation to her. Her choreography has a few interesting moments, mainly in the duets, but she depends too much on the audience to fill in the big gaps in the story. Shchedrin’s ingenious score (twenty-four linked preludes plus three interludes) is atmospheric and serviceable.

This 1980 film, probably made at the premiere, too often attempts to be more than a record, seldom showing entrances and exits other than hers and focusing on details rather than the whole stage, while the filmic effects feel gratuitous. But all the performances are all strong.

The half-hour “extra,” in which Shchedrin and Plisetskaya explain in detail what they wanted to do, comes before the ballet, as if not trusting us to make up our own minds.

Gramophone, February 2010

I expected to dislike Maya Plisetskaya’s adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull, in which she herself, at the undignified age of 55, plays the teenager Nina. It looked like a vanity project—and what could be more futile than an attempt to add to a masterpiece of nuanced subtlety and emotional understatement by removing all its text?

But I found myself surprisingly moved and involved. Plisetskaya has found a credible choreographic idiom closer to expressive mime than full-blown classical ballet, and through her astonishingly lithe and supple body manages convincingly to transform her middle-aged self plausibly into a shy, ardent girl, made very much the centre of dramatic interest. Chekhov’s plot line and characters are closely followed, but the narrative is broken up with scenes depicting the hostile reception of the play’s original reception. The Bolshoi’s dancers attack it all with the uninhibited passion for which they are celebrated, and there’s a bravado about the whole enterprise which sweeps one’s reservations away.

Filmed live at the Bolshoi in 1980, the picture is of high quality, and the disc has the additional attraction of containing the only complete recording of a vividly coloured and richly melodramatic if harmonically Soviet score by Plisetskaya’s husband Rodion Shchedrin. Plisetskaya and Shchedrin talk extensively (and somewhat windily) on the extras menu about the thinking behind the piece.

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