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Finnish Ballet takes Bolshoi road trip

By Peter Marten and Anna Ruohonen, March 2013, updated June 2013

Photo: Sakari ViikaFinnish National Ballet, Bolshoi Theatre, Jorma Elo, Ilya Bolotov, Double Evil, The Rite of Spring, Bella Figura, Walking Mad, Helsinki, Finland, Moscow, Russia
Ilya Bolotov (left) and Maria Baranova dance in Jorma Elo’s choreography “Double Evil,” one of the pieces the Finnish National Ballet performs during its first visit to Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre. (Click on photo to see an uncropped version.)

Double Evil, Walking Mad, Bella Figura and The Rite of Spring: The Finnish National Ballet’s schedule included a visit to Moscow’s renowned Bolshoi Theatre in April 2013. We talk to top Finnish choreographer Jorma Elo and Helsinki-based Russian dancer Ilya Bolotov.

Two triple bills were performed in Moscow. Both included Vaslav Nijinsky’s Rite of Spring and Jiří Kylián’s Bella Figura, supplemented by either Jorma Elo’s Double Evil or Johan Inger’s Walking Mad, depending on which day you attended. The Finnish National Ballet, which celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2012, had previously performed these works to packed houses in Helsinki, and several of the pieces continued their run in the Finnish capital after the Bolshoi visit.

Dance Magazine calls Jorma Elo “one of the ballet world’s most sought-after choreographers.” He holds the position of resident choreographer at the Boston Ballet and has created pieces for numerous companies, including the New York City Ballet, the Royal Danish Ballet and the American Ballet Theater.

Going in unexpected directions

Photo: Sakari ViikaFinnish National Ballet, Bolshoi Theatre, Jorma Elo, Ilya Bolotov, Double Evil, The Rite of Spring, Bella Figura, Walking Mad, Helsinki, Finland, Moscow, Russia
Jiří Kylián’s entrancing choreography “Bella Figura” forms one of the pieces that the Finnish National Ballet took on the road to Moscow.

It’s a “big honour” for Double Evil to be selected for the trip to Moscow, Elo says, but he’s also no stranger to audiences in the Russian capital. “I did a creation in summer 2012 for the Bolshoi Ballet, called Dream to Dream, set to Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto no. 2.” His work has also been performed at Moscow’s Stanislavsky Ballet, and Elo’s connection to Russia goes back to his days as a dance student, when he spent one year at the Kirov Ballet School in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg).

The name Double Evil comes from “two of my favourite film noir movies, Double Indemnity and Touch of Evil,” Elo says. The piece “has contrast like film noir. The ballet goes in directions that you might not expect at the start. It kind of spirals into something that is not quite in control.”

Contrast also drove the music selection, with Vladimir Martynov’s Come in! juxtaposed against Philip Glass’s Concerto Fantasy for Two Timpanists and Orchestra. “It’s the contrast that excited me,” says Elo. “The Martynov is very over-the-top beautiful and touching, while the Glass has raw, manic energy.”

“It will be interesting to see how the Moscow audience reacts to all the pieces that the Finnish National Ballet is bringing to the Bolshoi,” Elo said before the dancers departed for Russia. “It’s quite a big mix of different styles and eras of dance.”

Russian dancer Ilya Bolotov, a native of Perm and a member of the Finnish National Ballet, was part of the group travelling to Moscow. “I like dancing in Double Evil,” Bolotov says. “Jorma Elo is a very positive person who brings a lot of energy to the process. Even if you’re not feeling much like working, he lifts the mood.”

Ballet neighbours

Photo: Susanna AlataloFinnish National Ballet, Bolshoi Theatre, Jorma Elo, Ilya Bolotov, Double Evil, The Rite of Spring, Bella Figura, Walking Mad, Helsinki, Finland, Moscow, Russia
Russian dancer Ilya Bolotov enjoys working at the Finnish National Ballet. “Conditions here are very good,” he says.

“Audiences in different countries are not all that different,” says Bolotov. “It probably depends more on the dancers, and on which particular performance you see. Ballet plays an important role for Russians and many people take a keen interest in it. Russian viewers are very aware of who should be doing what on stage.”

Bolotov was performing at the Bolshoi Theatre for the first time, not including participation in the 2005 International Ballet Competition. “I think every dancer wants to perform at the Bolshoi,” he says. “Of course, for me as a Russian, it is something special. In your home country you have even more desire to do your very best.”

After studies at the Perm State Ballet School, Bolotov worked in Zürich and Leipzig. He arrived in Finland in 2010, and in the 2012–13 season his contract was made permanent, meaning that he may dance in Helsinki until the company’s official retirement age of 43.

“Finland has been really positive for me,” he says. “I’m planning on staying here. Conditions here are very good, and that’s not something you can say about every company. We have our own gym and even a sauna.” The Finnish National Ballet’s home, the Opera House in Helsinki, was built in 1993, so it’s still relatively new. “Older theatres may look like real classics from the outside, but inside they are sometimes not so great,” says Bolotov.

“In Finland they dance all styles, from modern to classical and neoclassical. There may be less modern dance in Russia. I studied classical, so I had to relearn a little.

“I think that Moscow audiences are interested to see how things are going in other countries and what they have achieved in terms of art. And we’re neighbours, so the Russians have contributed something to the development of Finnish ballet. What’s more, the Finnish National Ballet company of today includes dancers that are Russian or Russian-speaking.”

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