Shostakovich’s The Golden Age was, alas, to prove something of a misnomer, but as the final piece in the jigsaw of the Kirov’s centenary celebrations in London, it struck many a true note about the composer and the difficult artistic conditions in which he somehow flourished. There never was a ‘golden age’ – the result, once again, of Soviet politics, where plotlines were unexpectedly altered and Shostakovich’s music denounced. As a consequence Shostakovich’s first stage work, after a few initial performances, lay dormant for the remainder of his life.
That this was a brand new production, choreographed by Noah Gelber, heightened the expectation, with the musical numbers dropped in Grigorivich’s production of the 1980s reinstated, together with the central theme of football that the authorities had such a problem with.
The plot crossed between ‘then’ and ‘now’, the ‘now’ coming up from the outset in the form of an unexpected reunion between Sophie (Daria Pavlenko) and Alexander (Mikhail Lobukhin). They reminisced on past times as gymnast and footballer respectively, aided by a giant camera whose front end preserved the present, and whose back cleverly showed images of their past.
Set in three acts, Gelber’s setting brought vibrant colour to the first two and an overbearing grey to the third, which concerned itself with the devastating effects of war. Since Shostakovich was 23 at the time of writing the piece he was not to know the full extent of the forthcoming horrors, but his music nonetheless provided a chilling soundtrack as the football team as prisoners began to be killed off.
Before that, the mood was far more positive, the football scenes offering a convincing blend of athleticism and grace, like watching Barcelona rather than Shostakovich’s chosen team Dynamo Moscow. Alexander’s first venture on to the dancefloor with his new love was appropriately with two left feet, with amusing consequences. Not that he stumbled as badly as Andrey Ivanov‘s Mr Von Klein though, the host of the ball becoming the comedy turn of the ballet.
With the bright football team colours – red and white versus an Antipodean green and yellow – it came as a shock when the curtain rose for Act Three. The giant camera hulked alongside the stadium ruins, images of war projected onto it, the football team held prisoners at the front of the stage. Still there was time for healing of old wounds, though, the ending coming as the two main characters rediscovered their feelings, some seventy years on.
Just as poignant was the projection of a young Shostakovich onto the back of the giant camera for the orchestra’s Finale, the culmination of a score that had at turns flirted with jazz, tango, swing and foxtrot. It was a rare chance to see the composer’s first ballet, and in the clichéd spirit of the football press conference, one that hit the back of the net.