The Bolt: Shostakovich’s controversial ballet

Dmitri Shostakovich wrote The Bolt in 1931. It was a piece of musical experimentation, a ballet of unruly satire, populated by a host of comical characters.

The Bolt is based on a true story that follows the exploits of Lyonka Gulba (Gulba in Russian means idler), an indolent worker who persuades a young man to throw a bolt into the factory machinery, sabotaging the production of his workplace in revenge for being sacked.

The production featured real hammers and machine-inspired daring choreography by Fedor Lopukhov; the composer embellished the story with aerobics and acrobatics, with several passages mimicking the swishing and hammering sounds of modern factory machinery.

Critics reacted terribly to premiere at the Leningrad Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet that same year. So much so that it was immediately pulled off the programme with any performance thereafter strictly forbidden, until 74 years later when it saw the stage again, this time reconstructed for the Bolshoi Ballet by Alexei Ratmansky.

Gallery for Russian Arts and Design in London is staging an exhibition to celebrate this controversial ballet through costume designs and period photographs. Curated by GRAD’s Elena Sudakova and Alexandra Chiriac, the exhibition is organised in collaboration with the St Petersburg State Museum of Theatre and Music.

It features the witty costume designs of Tatiana Bruni bringing to life the characters that populate the ballet – from the Sportsman, the Textile-Worker or the Komsomol Girl, to the Drunkard, the Loafer and the pompous Bureaucrat.

Bruni’s designs have striking geometrical colour blocking. They are often seen as the apogee of post-revolutionary Russian experiments in stage design, and were inspired by the aesthetics of agit-theatre and ROSTA windows or artist-designed propaganda posters.

Constructivist values and aesthetics are reflected in all of the elements of the ballet, from
the costume designs to the score, choreography to set design.

Shostakovich’s exceptional blend of proletarian music genres play through the gallery space, transporting us to early thirties Russia and evoking Lopukhov’s daring choreography.

Bolt is at the Gallery for Russian Arts and Design in London from 6 December 2014 to 28 February 2015

Nargess Banks

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