This year the Bolshoi Ballet has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. The horrific acid attack on artistic director Sergei Filin in January which left him almost blind has been followed by a seemingly endless series of repercussions and revelations that have exposed deep divisions and ugly rivalries within the company.
A new series of the acclaimed "Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema" is a timely reminder that if there is a reason we should be talking about the Bolshoi, it is because of its artistic achievements, not its scandals. Indeed, it is a tribute to the dedication and passion of the company's members that throughout the recent vicissitudes they have continued to produce superlative performances.
The new season of high-definition films of live performances starts on November 3 and ends next June, with all films being shown at Palace IFC, AMC Pacific Place and Broadway The One.
The highlights include Le Corsaire, Petipa's balletic romp through an Arabian setting that is sheer fun from start to finish. For this lavish 2007 production, said to have cost US$1.5 million, Alexei Ratmansky and Yuri Burlaka went back to the original production for inspiration. The ballet offers a feast of classical virtuosity plus the full-blooded character dancing for which the Bolshoi is renowned. A top-notch cast is headed by the lyrical Svetlana Lunkina, the sparkling Nina Kaptsova, the elegant Ruslan Skvortsov and the dashing Andrei Merkuriev.
More glittering technique is on display in that pinnacle of classicism, Petipa's The Sleeping Beauty. The title role is taken by Svetlana Zakharova, one of her generation's most celebrated ballerinas, although (like Sylvie Guillem, who she resembles in some ways) she tends to divide critical and audience opinion. Her partner is David Hallberg, a superb danseur noble who made history by becoming the Bolshoi's first American principal. With its wealth of supporting roles, this ballet is an ideal chance to discover the company's up-and-coming dancers, especially the women. Rising stars to look out for include Anna Tikhomirova, Anastasia Stashkevich and Daria Khokhlova.
If women dominate The Sleeping Beauty, there is not a more testosterone-driven ballet than Yuri Grigorovich's Spartacus, the Bolshoi's ultimate signature piece. Set to Aram Khachaturian's opulent score, the tale of the doomed slave rebellion is packed with spectacular male dancing, thrilling pas de deux and dramatic power generated by the commitment of every dancer on the stage. Mikhail Lobukhin, an outstanding actor-dancer who started his career at the Mariinsky Ballet, is the heroic gladiator while his cruel Roman adversary Crassus is danced by Vladislav Lantratov, whose charisma, good looks and soaring jumps have made him the company's most sensational new male star. The lovely Anna Nikulina is Spartacus' gentle wife Phrygia and Zakharova is Crassus' ambitious mistress, Aegina, a role which will make the most of her phenomenal physical gifts.
In 2014 the season continues with the Balanchine masterpiece Jewels and the most intriguing programme, Ratmansky's Lost Illusions, a three-act ballet based on Balzac's novel. Also scheduled is Grigorovich's dazzling production of Shostakovich's The Golden Age - however, that may change as the ballet's planned revival has been postponed.