A Night at the Bolshoi, and meeting the fanaty of the ballet

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Russian football fans, the fanaty, are notoriously passionate, unruly and often violent. (Like the Brits, and the Italians, and the…). Now, no one threw any flares, or wielded iron bars, but there was an interesting kinship to be found with them in the audience at the Bolshoi. Let me explain.

Earlier this month, I made my first trip to the ballet, and to see Swan Lake at the Bolshoi, at that. I was expecting the theatre to be sumptuous, and it absolutely was, a dazzlingly imperial palette of red and gold. The staff, in classic Russian style, ran the gamut from friendly and helpful to decidedly neither (not least the cloakroom attendants who snarled us away when we dared approach them, given that we had unaccountably and selfishly failed psychically to divine that their coatracks were full).

The performance was visually stunning, and the sheer physical conditioning of the dancers amazing to someone who, let’s be blunt, had never really devoted much thought to the matter. But I must say–and not to minimise the spectacle of theatre and performance alike–what surprised me the most was the audience.

Largely done up to the nines, as one would expect, but younger than I had anticipated. Lots in their 20s and 30s, and not necessarily groups or couples, but also two or three girls or, sometimes, guys. More to the point, though, was the exuberant enthusiasm and, I presume, expertise they displayed. Accustomed more to restrained Anglo-Saxon audiences, where polite applause between acts is the norm, I was taken aback by the often uproarious applause and calls out, not even just between scenes but in the middle, when a dancer completed presumably some especially difficult move or pulled it off with unwanted aplomb.

Thinking about it, in their genteel and well-dressed way, this felt more like an audience of sports fans at a match. Passionate about the process, well-versed in the players and the game, able to see and appreciate a particularly good kick, throw or move, and not shy about recognising it. The fanaty of the Bolshoi, an unexpected extra find on my first venture into the realms of the ballet.

 

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