And it is merely the overture of what can be a very long day.
From seven until 10 it is time for rehearsals for the corps.’ In one of the Bolshoi’s quintet of canteens and cafeterias I enjoy a luxury that the dancers’ schedules don’t, then, always allow them: lunch.Thereafter, it’s over to the cavernous main stage, where Krysanova is rehearsing Swan Lake with her fellow principal Dmitry Gudanov, she now in a white tutu, he in training mufti. ’ For the next 15 minutes they dissect a triptych of steps that add up to barely one second of dance.With class behind them, they now spend a good two hours working through the intricacies of the Black Swan pas de deux, one of classical ballet’s greatest and most technically demanding passages. Later on, in a previously unexplored studio, another principal, Evgenia Obraztsova, is somehow beaming her way through a rehearsal for Vladimir Vasiliev’s Chekhovian ballet Anyuta along with two youngsters from the company’s 750-student feed school, the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, all under the solicitous eye of the veteran dancer Victor Barykin. The mood is serious, committed and contented: a modern, world-class ballet company going about its business.Afterwards, in the same room – with thunder erupting outside, and raindrops the size of golf balls battering the windows – it is the turn of the chiselled Alexeyev, who (also under the tutelage of Barykin) dives full-bloodedly into Prince Siegfried’s variation from the very same pas de deux as earlier. And when I briefly talk to the 18-year-old corps member Anastasia Denisova – so elfin that she could only have gone into a profession that deals in fairy tales – she spontaneously comments, ‘I was wondering how the company would take to me when I joined [in September], but everyone is welcoming – I feel comfortable here.’ Yet it takes only a cursory awareness of ballet to know that the Bolshoi’s behind-the-scenes fortunes have, of late, been frightful.Moscow is the most mercurial and contradictory of cities.In late January this year midday temperatures were approaching -20C, with snow ploughed up 8ft high beside roads; when I return, in spring, it is almost 50 degrees hotter.
On the pavement near my hotel three teenage boys, loitering suspiciously, suddenly snatch up woodwind instruments and barrel into some delightfully jazzed-up Bach; a little later, in the hotel lift, I’m joined by a lustrously besuited middle-aged man who, on closer inspection, appears so drunk that he can barely hit the button for his floor or conceal the inch-thick wad of banknotes in his other hand. In almost the very centre of this strange, feral, thrilling capital, sits the Bolshoi Theatre.
If you want to cross the vast expanse of Moscow by metro, that’ll be the equivalent of 75p. The colonnaded showpiece of Teatralnaya Square, five minutes’ walk from the Kremlin, it was founded in 1776 and recently restored between 20 for an alleged €1 billion; the exact amount is already lost in time.
The Bolshoi comprises several hefty interconnected buildings: the now resplendently sparkling main theatre, the smaller New Stage and the ‘auxiliary’ administrative and training centre, as well as a fourth building for the orchestra and choir.
For anyone with any interest in ballet, to explore this vast rabbit warren is to feel very much like Charlie Bucket must have as he embarked on his tour of the chocolate factory.
In morning class, serenely presided over by the retired ballerina Svetlana Adyrkhaeva, I spot – among the 16 other perfectly straight-backed girls – the principal dancer Ekaterina Krysanova.
As their modest warm-up of barre exercises gives way to more demanding centre work, without the support of the barre, Krysanova is conspicuous not only for the particularly playful musicality of her movements, but also for her training garb, which – by even ballet-dancer standards – is eccentric: a baggy orange top over a burgundy vest, a floral diaphanous skirt, stripy leggings and, to set it all off, faux-leopardskin thermal boots. The hour-long morning class is a daily duty for every dancer in the company (no matter how grand), essential for maintaining form.