The Bolshoi as it is: Five highlights of the new exhibition at the Lumiere Brothers Centre

The Bolshoi as it is: Five highlights of the new exhibition at the Lumiere Brothers Centre
Natalia Gerasina, the exhibition’s curator, talks about the must-see photographs and stories behind their creation.    

The Lumiere Brothers Centre presents an exhibition of works by London photographer Sasha Gusov. A long-time contributor to prestigious European photo magazines, galleries and art collectors, he is also a ballet admirer and avid fan of ballet, or the Bolshoi Theatre Ballet to be exact. Over the past quarter of a century, whenever the Bolshoi Ballet was in London on tour, Gusov never missed an opportunity to capture the most thrilling moments. The romance that earned the photographer international recognition began in 1992 when the Bolshoi troupe shone on the stage of the Covent Garden Royal Opera House.

After his photos of Russian dancers, taken behind-the-curtain with choreographer Yuri Grigorovich’s permission, were published, the unknown young photographer received offers from Covent Garden, Royal Court and the Royal National Theatre. He collaborated with glossy editions, contributing portraits of celebrities, among them Jude Law, Pierce Brosnan, Gary Oldman, Ewan McGregor, Michael Sheen and even Queen Elizabeth II. And yet, the Bolshoi Ballet dancers remain his favourite theme: he never misses a single tour of the Bolshoi.

The Bolshoi Ballet by Sasha Gusov exhibition features 50 photographs spanning a period from 1992 to the present day. Specifically for, the event’s curator, Natalia Gerasina, chose five exhibits she finds the most interesting and told us why they are so important.

Galina Stepanenko and Sergei Filin. Giselle, 1993

“The first duet ballet in the modern understanding of a duet as a choreographic form and the romantic understanding of ballet as the union of human hearts.” That’s what ballet critic Vadim Gayevsky wrote about Giselle. The premiere of Adolphe Adam’s ballet with Carlotta Grisi dancing the lead part took place in Paris in 1841. Soon after that, Giselle made its way to Russia. Yuri Grigorivich’s version of Giselle is in the Bolshoi’s current repertoire.

In different years, shining in the part of Giselle, a peasant’s daughter ruined by her love for a young nobleman, were Marina Semyonova, Galina Ulanova, Marina Kondratyeva, Yekaterina Maksimova, Natalia Bessmertnova, Lyudmila Semenyaka and other outstanding Russian ballerinas.

In this photograph, taken in 1993, we see Galina Stepanenko as Giselle and Sergei Filin as Count Albert. Sasha captured a very spectacular and sensuous moment: the exquisite crossing of the arms and telling glances convey the incredible emotional pattern of the dancing scene. His photos of the 1993 tour of the Bolshoi ballet troupe were published by The British Journal of Photography, one of the leading art and photography magazines, marking a turning point in Gusov’s photographical career.

Stage. Covent Garden Royal Opera House, 2013

London’s Covent Garden Theatre is an important milestone in the Bolshoi’s history: in 1956, it hosted the first ever foreign tour by the Bolshoi ballet company. The playbill of that four-week tour is now part of Covent Garden’s collection. Back then, the Bolshoi brought Giselle, Romeo and Juliet, The Fountain of Bakhchisarai and The Swan Lake. Galina Ulanova on the front cover of The Illustrated London News weekly became a symbol of the Russian ballet for years ahead.

Covent Garden’s choreographer Peter Wright recalled that tour with admiration: “We never saw dancers of that level before. Their supports, their technique were so different from what we did. I was amazed at how high they jumped and how they work with the spine. It was fantastic.” Bolshoi dancers danced at Covent Garden many times afterwards. This photo was taken by Sasha Gusov during the 2013 tour.

The Swan Lake, 2016

“Only in black-and-white can you feel the expressiveness of a photograph,” Sasha Gusov says. He calls himself an old-fashioned photographer. Drawing inspiration from Jacques-Henri Lartigue, Terry O’Neil and old black-and-white movies, Sasha escapes from stringent realism into theatricalism. He takes behind-the-curtain snapshots of the Bolshoi on film and without additional lighting, trying, like Henri Cartier-Bresson, to foresee and capture moments when moving elements piece together into a whole to create harmony.

The Swan Lake. Behind the Curtain, 2016

It was the Bolshoi Theatre that commissioned Pyotr Tchaikovsky to compose the music for The Swan Lake. Back in 1875, the ballet’s initial title was The Lake of Swans. In a letter to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky acknowledged that two reasons made him accept the offer: “Partly for money since I need it and partly because I have long wanted to try my hand in this kind of music.”

The ballet was premiered in 1877. Probably the best-known Russian ballet, The Swan Lake is in the repertoire of virtually every ballet theatre in Russia and invariably included in every tour. At the Bolshoi, they treat this ballet with reverence. “We are the only ballet company that dances the most beautiful version of The Swan Lake,” says Vladislav Lantratov, a Bolshoi principal dancer.

Sasha Gusov’s photo gallery boasts many works devoted to The Swan Lake. The graceful postures of ballerinas bear a striking resemblance to Edgar Degas’ pastels.

Behind the Curtain, 2013

This photograph wonderfully reflects Sasha Gusov’s ironic attitude to the world around him. With incredible energy and endless curiosity, he explores the world and human beings with all their weaknesses in the most stunning and most absurd situations. “He sees us,” film director Phillip Noyce wrote about Gusov.

Showing us the imperfections of other people, the photographer is trying to say that no matter how different we are, we still have something in common and that each of us may find ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Even behind the curtain of legendary ballet productions, he notices funny situations showing that although they reign supreme on stage, enthralling the audience with the perfection of their movements, dancers are people like us.