On September 10th, the Bolshoi Theater opened its 245th ballet season with a surprising premiere. “Four Characters in Search of a Plot” (“Четыре персонажа в поисках сюжета”) featured four young international choreographers, making their debut with Russia’s esteemed ballet troupe. Commissioned were an hour-long piece,“The Ninth Wave” by Bryan Arias (Puerto Rico) and three 15-minute works, “Just” by Simone Valastro (Italy), “Fading” by Dimo Milev (Bulgaria) and “Silentium” by Martin Chaix (France).
The idea for this highly unusual program came to Makhar Vaziev, artistic director of the company, in the beginning of April, when the scheduled performances had been cancelled and the dancers were sent home due to Covid-19. “It was a very difficult situation. Everyone missed their job so much that I decided to inspire our artists and give them energy, power and hope,” Vaziev wrote on the company’s website. “I wanted to motivate our dancers with creativity and new projects.”
To select the choreographers, Vaziev watched video recordings from the candidates and discussed the works with his colleagues at the Bolshoi. The four selected artists—Arias, Valastro, Milev and Chaix—were invited to come to Moscow to begin work with the dancers.
“The Ninth Wave” takes its title and inspiration from the famous nautical painting by Russian artist Ivan Aivazovsky. The painting depicts a tempestuous sea lit by the brilliant gold of sunrise, and its mural-size replica was used as a backdrop for the dance. (The title refers to a traditional maritime belief that the ninth wave is the last, largest and most deadly wave in a series, at which point the storm cycle begins again.) For the accompaniment, Arias selected the music of two eminent Russian composers: Mikhail Glinka and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Unlike the three other works, “The Ninth Wave” utilized a sizeable cast—nearly 40 dancers in total.
Arias, who trained in New York City and performed with Complexions Contemporary Ballet and Nederlands Dans Theater 2, described the inspiration for his ballet: “I have never been to Russia and knew little about this country. When Makhar Vaziev invited me to take part in this project, I decided that I needed to dive as deeply as possible into Russian history and culture. I began to read, watch movies and recordings of performances and get acquainted with Russian paintings. When I first saw the work of Aivazovsky—I was simply amazed. And his life also impressed me very much. Water element was an intrinsic part of his artistic legacy; and it was very symbolic to me. It resonated with our difficult relationship with nature today.”
“It was a very long period of having no art, no inspiration. It was just a period of waiting. And suddenly I had a phone call from the Bolshoi Theater. Mr. Makhar Vaziev asked me: ‘Do you want to create choreography for the Bolshoi Ballet?’” recalled Simone Valastro, describing in his interview on Russian television the moment when he received the invitation from Moscow. A Milan-native, Valastro could hardly contain his excitement and immediately agreed to be part of the project.
Valastro, who danced with Paris Opera Ballet after graduating from the La Scala dance school, selected the music of David Lang—his composition “Just”—for his new piece of the same title: “I love this composer very much and have always wanted to create a ballet to his music. When Makhar Vaziev asked me if I could create a short ballet, I immediately remembered Lang’s song “Just.” It’s about the love of a man and a woman; and today the theme of love seems to be very important, especially during the months of isolation.”
Bulgarian choreographer Dimo Milev danced as principal with the Compañia Nacional de Danza under the direction of Nacho Duato. The starting point for his ballet “Fading” was the tragic life of Spanish pianist and composer Enrique Granadosa. “It seemed to me that feelings of anxiety and looming danger and uncertainty are in tune with what we are experiencing today,” Milev remarked. “There is no plot in my composition. These are only feelings, emotions and atmosphere.”
The second movement of Arvo Pärt’s “Tabula Rasa” was the musical underpinning of “Silentium” (“Silence”) by Martin Chaix, who trained at Paris Opera Ballet School and danced with several European ballet companies, including Paris Opera Ballet. While working on his ballet, Chaix came across a poem, also titled “Silence,” written by Russian poet Fyodor Tyutchev, and decided to build up his choreographic ideas “on the canvas of this poetic work.” “In the era of crisis—art is a catalyst,” said the artist during his interview with Russian press. “Through art we experience catharsis. I wanted to express the current situation of the unknown and the unfamiliar—when we must move forward even if not fully realizing what awaits us ahead.”
Arias aptly summed up the significance of the program when he said: “I feel that this project evolved into something much bigger . . . just out of pure passion of being able to return to work for both the dancers and the choreographers.”