Just watched this documentary made by the Moscow “Central Documentary Film Studio” about the first Bolshoi tour to America in 1959. I’m not sure who this was made for, as it has a narrator speaking flawless English about the tour. What a fascinating film, though. Of course there’s a fair amount of diplo-speak about “peace and friendship” between the USSR and America brought about through art. Someone should go back and count how many times those two words were used; my guess is at least seven.
Some of the biggest highlights include the company’s sightseeing itinerary. In New York, they visit the NY Stock Exchange. They visit NYCB; we see footage of Agon, and are informed that Lavrovsky told Balanchine that non narrative dance has no future. Backstage, the dancers meet luminaries such as William Randolph Hearst, Van Cliburn, Issak Stern, and the Russian ambassador to the US. These meetings are always filmed with the artists in costume.
On the west coast, things get stranger. The company went to Marineland in Los Angeles, where we are shown footage of dolphins jumping through hoops to background music of Ravel’s La Valse. They go to visit Bette Davis at her house, and she appears to drink and smoke non-stop. Not to mention: encounters with USC student communists, Sleeping Beauty’s castle at Disneyland (a favorite), meeting “Aunt Jemimah” and the Bolshoi ballerinas participating in a “dance of friendship” with an unspecified American Indian tribe. Finally, and most bizarre to me, the company in San Francisco appears to do no other sightseeing than go to Oakland to see Jack London square. They show up on a Monday, and most of the stores and restaurants are closed. I think I remember reading somewhere that Jack London was a favorite author in Soviet Russia, so maybe that had something to do with it. But of all the places to highlight in a tour of San Francisco?
The caliber of the dancing is very high. Plisetskaya, Ulanova, and Struchkova are featured. But I was really impressed with the corps de ballet in Giselle.
This reminds me to make time for some of the books on ballet and cultural diplomacy that have come out by Clare Croft, Cadra Peterson McDaniel, and Naima Prevots. Fascinating material, and I’m so glad people are writing about it.