The Golden Age
Monday, October 9, 2017 at 4:55PM
Henry McFadyen Jr. in Ballet, BelAir

The Golden Age ballet. Music by Dmitri Shostakovich. Choreography by Yuri Grigorovich to libretto by Isaak Glikman and Yuri Grigorovich. Staged 2016 at the Bolshoi Ballet. Stars Nina Kaptsova (Rita, a young girl), Ruslan Skvortsov (Boris, a young fisherman), Mikhail Lobukhin (Yashka, gang leader), Ekaterina Krysanova (Lyuska, Yashka’s accomplice), and Vyachslav Lopatin (night club compere). Pavel Klinichev conducts the Corps de Ballet and Orchestra of the State Academic Bolshoi Theatre of Russia. Lighting design by Mikhail Sokolov; sets and costumes by Simon Virsaladze; choreography assistants Regina Nikiforova and Andrey Melanin. Produced by François Duplat; filmed by Vincent Bataillon. Released 2017, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: B+

Has any great people suffered more bad luck than the Russians? Have they ever had a Golden Age? Well, the Golden Age depicted in this ballet was part of the Russian Revolution and lasted 5 years between the end of the Russian Civil War (1923) and the beginning of Stalin's Cultural Revolution (1928), which in turn led to the Great Terror of 1934-1939. 5 years is a short time span for an era.

Before the Russian Revolution, the most important art movement in Russia was that of the Wanderers, mostly romantic and impressionist artists who traveled about the vastness of Russian putting on exhibitions to enlighten people. A nice example of the art of the Wanderers is the Girl with Peaches (1887) by Valentin Serov shown next below:

Painting in Russia after the Wanderers was probably headed toward the natural realism of, say, Zinaida Serebriakova (1884-1967). She was an aristocrat who became a wanderer in foreign countries after 1917 and died a French citizen. Below we see her famous Self-Portrait at Toilet (1909) and her also famous Bathhouse (1913):

But then along came the Communists. The devastation of the Civil War forced Lenin in 1922 to allow limited free enterprise under the New Economic Policy (NEP).  This is now viewed as a golden time when "Russian Futurism" flourished. One popular futurist style was "rayism":

And Communist propaganda sprang up as "Agitprop" art. Below is a banner for the New Economic Policy and a poster urging punishment for lazy workers:

Now let's get back to our Golden Age ballet video. The first screenshot below is the final curtain call. I chose this to open with because it gives a clear view of the main set, which is a futurist-style stage in a seaport town where the local Komsomol (Young Communist League) performs. It's 1923. The sign on the back wall reads "АГИТ БРИГАДА" which are cognates for "Agit Brigades" or Propaganda Forces:

Next below we see a scene from a show put on by the Fishermen Agit Brigade. The girls must belong to the local Fish Cleaning and Packing Agit Brigade. The hero of the fishermen is Boris (Ruslan Skvortsov):
 

Now consider below a 1923 painting, Black and Violet, by the Russian futurist artist Kandinsky:

Kandinsky's figures remind me of the Priest, General, and Tycoon who get lampooned in the Boris's Agitprop play:

The People are victorious over the forces of Reaction. Boris is dancing with Rita (Nina Kaptsova), a mysterious new girl who actually isn't a member of the Fish Cleaning and Packing unit:
 

Boris and Rita in love:
 

Rita isn't a member of the Fish Cleaning and Packing unit because she has a double life. She performs with the Agit groups, but she also works as as show girl at the new night club near the City Hall shown below. On the back wall is the name of the club, ЗОЛОТОЙ ВЕК, or, in English, "The Golden Age":

As you doubtless know, the serious classical music of Shostakovich is heavy-duty and not aimed at beginners. But Shostakovich was also always a cross-over artist who wrote popular-style works, cinema sound-tracks, and even music for circus performances. Once on a bet (I think) he wrote, in 40 minutes, a transcription for orchestra of the Vincent Youman "Tea for Two" song. Shostakovich added a part for Hawaiian steel guitar and called the result the "Tahiti Trot." He added the "Trot" to The Golden Age to lighten things up a bit. Grigorovich seizes on this to add elegance to the ballet:

Pure physical beauty is not supposed to be a requirement for a qualified ballet dancer. But with the huge number of women dancing at the Bolshoi, Grigorovich can put on the most elaborate and impressive display of female flesh yet seen in Blu-ray ballet:

And Rita is the star of the show! Her partner here is Yashka (Mikhail Lobukhin):

Yashka is also hot for Rita--no big surprise, you say.  But even worse than that, Yashka is also the leader of the waterfront gang! Oh, Goodness. Yashka is probably extorting dues from the Fish Cleaning and Packing Girls!

You have probably already guessed that Rita will be the good girl in our story. So now meet the bad girl, Lyuska (Ekaterina Krysanova), Yashka’s accomplice in crime:

Next below Lyuska has two shady-character NEPmen in tow. This may turn out to be a more exciting evening for these gents than they bargained for:

Boris catches up with Rita at The Golden Age. Rita must choose a man, and she decides to throw her lot in with her Hero of Socialist Labor:

Now it's all-out war between the gang and the brigades:

My guess would be that this picture next below is the Shopgirls' Brigade. Note the blocky,  futuristic design of their uniforms:

Boris and Rita prepare to live happily ever after---they don't know yet about The Great Terror brewing just over the horizon:

In case you are wondering about the relevancy of this title about a 5 year period in Russia almost 100 years ago, I should remind you that Agitprop still lives. Here's proof from the Dallas Morning News, Friday, October 6, 2107:

The CD-quality music (48kHz/16-bit) is clean, clear, and well performed by the Bolshoi Theater Orchestra. The Shostakovitch style is lively, angular, and takes some getting used to---but there there are also gorgeous lyrical passages that sound fresh even today. The furious drive and variety of the Grigorovich choreography drags the skimpy plot up by it's bootstraps.

But best of all, once again producer Duplat and BelAir have Vincent Bataillon on board to film the video.  I did a Ballet Wonk Worksheet. True to his usual approach, Bataillon comes in with an elegant pace of 16 seconds per clip. Further, 80% of his clips are full-body, most of the remaining shots show the waist up, and there are only 3 close-ups. This is an action filled work, so there are a fair number of clips lasting only a couple of seconds. But Bataillon makes up for this with many luxuriously long clips---I don't know how one could improve on his video content. 

Time for a grade. Ballet and opera are a big industries in Russia, but much of what they stage seems to be ignored by the rest of the world. The brief happiness of Boris and Rita in the Golden Age seems a kind of oddity to us. For this reason, I think a B+ is the correct grade for this this even though this title is in every other respect an A or A+ work.  But if it interests you,  go ahead and buy this now---it's unlikely anyone else will make a better film of The Golden Age than this one.

Here's the official trailer (there are a lot of other Golden Ages out there):

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