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TICKET TO BOLSHOI: Documentary about the new ballet by Edward Clug “The Master and Margarita”

Aktualisiert: 10. Feb. 2022

The long-awaited premiere of the ballet The Master and Margarita staged by the artistic director of the Slovenian National Ballet in Maribor, Edward Clug, premiered at the Bolshoi in December and is now covered by an interesting documentary released within the YouTube series Ticket to Bolshoi. It is also the first episode which can be enjoyed by the international audiences as it is completely subtitled in English.

The Master and Margarita ballet is based on one of the most complex literary works I have ever read: It is a Soviet satire full of different layers of narration, which combines supernatural elements with satirical dark comedy and Christian philosophy. Some call it the Russian Faust as one of the main characters is Voland, a devil-like figure reminiscent of Goethe's Mephistopheles. After having read this jewel of Russian literary classics twice (once in Russian and once in German) to present it in the literature class at my German high school, I watched the 10 episodes miniseries with high profile Russian actors released in 2005. This is when I realized how difficult it is to translate the multi-layer narrative into quite linear cinematic narration. The ballet creation by Edward Clug seems to have faced the same challenge according to the interview with Denis Savin who dances the role of the Master. The legend of the Soviet dram ballet, Yuri Grigorovich, tried but never finished the piece based on this monumental novel.

Moreover a lot of people fear the so-called curse of the novel, in Russian we call it "чертовщина" (pronounced: Chertovtchina) - when something bad happens unexpectedly and in a very mysterious way. There is a lot of Chertovchina happening in the novel, but also around any attempt to use it a source for a movie, drama theatre and now also a ballet. Maybe it helped that Edward Clug is neither Russian, nor supersticious, and therefore was probably less influenced by the fearsome stories, for example the fact that several leading actors of 2005 miniseries died at a relatively young age, most of them unexpectedly and some in very mysterious circumstances.

Nonetheless, the ballet adaptation at the Bolshoi was not spared from bad luck. Due to the COVID pandemic, the premiere was postponed for a year and a half. Then Shostakovich’s heirs did not give permission to use his music in the performance and Schnittke's music was allied with compositions of the contemporary composer Mirko Lazar, with whom Edward Clug has already collaborated on the Faust ballet created for Ballett Zürich. A week before the premiere, on the day of the Archangel Michael, which Bulgakov celebrated every year as his name day, the chief specialist in the work of the writer Marietta Chudakov died of the Covid. And to top it all off, a few days before the premiere the sprinkler system acted up suddenly during the night when nobody could stop it and flooded the stage with several tons of water. This was the night before the technical set-up of the production. On the next day, the interview with Edward Clug for the documentary was shot, during which he visits the Bulgakov museum in Moscow and says that despite the so-called "curse", the preparation of the premiere is going well. In the same very moment the crew was working hard back at the Bolshoi to remove the water from the stage and they managed to set up the sets with only one day delay with miraculously undamaged electronics which did not suffer after the flood, so the premiere could take place as scheduled. Good luck in bad luck can happen as well!

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