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by Lucy Komisar

The Bolshoi's "Love for the Three Oranges." Photo by Mikhail Logvinov.

Music by Adolphe Adam. Choreography by Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot, and Marius Petipa. Directed by Vladimir Vasiliev.
"La Sylphide"
Music by Herman Lovenskjold. Choreography by August Bournonvlle. Adapted by Elza-Marianne von Rosen. Directed by Oleg Vinogradov.
"Love for Three Oranges"
Music by Sergei Prokofiev. Based on the play by Carlo Gozzi. Directed by Peter Ustinov.
Bolshoi Theater, Teatralnaya Ploschad 1.
7095 927-6982; pr@bolshoi.ru. http://www.bolshoi.ru
In repertory
MOSCOW, JULY 3 -- The elegance of the Bolshoi Theater is almost overwhelming -- the outside facade like a pale pink Greek temple, the hall in red and gilt, edged in six tiers of private boxes banking the central "Czar's box," with its red drapes and gilded chairs under a shield that if you look carefully features a gilded hammar and sickle. (This will doubtless be removed in the planned restoration!) A huge crystal chandelier hangs from a high, round, dome ceiling decorated with classical paintings.

In the long intermission, people stroll in the marble hall or repair to the buffets to nibble open caviar sandwiches or quaff champagne. (Russia's "champanskoya" is actually a lot better than its wine. A Russian friend blames that on Mikhail Gorbachev whose attacks on drunkenness were interpreted by some dim-witted bureaucrats as instructions to destroy Georgia's vineyards.)

The magic of the gods still resides in the Bolshoi Ballet. Its premier company is on tour in the United States now and will appear July 18-23 at the Lincoln Center Festival in New York City. It will do Vladimir Vasiliev's 1997 staging of Giselle and a repertory program with highlights from Don Quixote, La Bayadere, Grigorovich's Spartacus, and the complete Balanchine Symphony in C.

In Moscow, I saw two graceful ballet programs: the traditional"Giselle" and "La Sylphide."

This "Giselle," music by Adolphe Adam, choreography by Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot, and Marius Petipa, produced by Vladimir Vasiliev, was first performed at the Bolshoi in 1944. It's the tale of a peasant girl who falls in love with a young man who pretends to be a simple villager, but really is a prince. With a royal fiancee. Her heart, of course, will be broken.

Nadezhda Grachoyova's Giselle practically floats on air in front of trees in gold leaf and a cardboard cutout cottage with a red tiled roof. Count Albert (Vladimir Neporozhnv) twirls effortlessly as he pays court.

Jaunty hunters arrive holding spears or falcons. The bejeweled duke (Rinat Arifulin) and his daughter (Irina Dmitrieva) are wonderfully, even comically, patrician as they arrive on a walk in the woods and ask the peasants -- Giselle's family -- for some drink. This is the chance for the villages to arrive carrying a sprite on a keg.

But Albert's identity is revealed, marriage is obviously impossible, and poor Giselle dies of grief. When Albert visits the nether world to find her, that's the opportunity for a visually stunning bit of corps de ballet movement in synchronous formation.

It's a delightfully hokey drama and the elegantly dressed audience -- many of them guests celebrating the 140th anniversary of the Russian Central Bank -- clapped their appreciation in synchronous beats.

"La Sylphide," composed by Herman Lovenskjold, choreographed by August Bournonvlle, adapted by Elza-Marianne von Rosen, and staged by Oleg Vinogradov in 1994, is another charming classical fantasy. In a Scottish stone cottage decorated with a giant deer head and tartan wall hangings, James (the splendid Yuri Klevtsov) sits dreaming of an imaginary fairy (Elina Palshina) who suddenly appears and dances, appropriately, in a floating fantasy vision.

James, however, is bethrothed to Effi (Lubov Filippova), who can't seem to stop him from mentally and even bodily wandering off. The mortal triangle is completed by Hurn (Alexei Popovchenko), a peasant who loves Effi. (Hurn was one of Nureyev's famous roles.)

Klevtsov's double turns in air are breathtaking. And the witch Madge (Svetlana Tigleva) and her ratty coven mezmerize with evil, brooding angles.

The Bolshoi may be rightly famous for ballet, but another standout this season is an opera, albeit one with plenty of terpsichore. "The Love for Three Oranges," music by Sergei Prokofiev and based on Carlo Gozzi's fairy tale, has been staged to stunning effect by British actor-director Peter Ustinov.

This opera has an absorbing history. It is the story of a prince (Sergei Mavnukov) who is dying of boredom and is cured when he laughs at the red drawers of an evil witch, Fata Morgana (Irina Udalova). He is cursed to fall in love with three oranges, and sets out on a quest for them. Inside the fruits, of course, he'll find princesses. Meanwhile, his father's prime minister (Yuri Vedeneyev) and niece (Marina Shutova) are plotting to take power.

Like Gozzi's "The Green Bird," staged in New York this year, this is a parable with political lessons. Prokofiev wrote the work in 1919, premiered it in Chicago in 1921, and took it to Leningrad in 1926. The Bolshoi presented it in Moscow a year later. But, Soviet authorities reportedly felt it parodied the bureaucracy, and it wasn't staged again in Russia till Ustinov's production at the Bolshoi in November 1997. Now it's in the Bolshoi repertoire.

It is startlingly original, with an emphasis on the avant garde. Much of the credit for that must be shared by designer Oleg Sheintsis. Courtiers appear in black monks' gowns with miners' head lamps. A chorus, dressed in white pants, black vests, and black berets, sits (and mugs) on a hanging steel bridge. Truffaldino (Vladimir Kudryashov), Gozzi's favorite comic, wears a black cutaway and later a red one. There's plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor: the prince sets off on his quest wearing a pith helmet.

There are also riveting special effects. A huge iron ball shoots real flames. Witches engage in a tug of war with a rubbery man, out of whom pops a ballerina! And then there's the giant electric rat!

The dance sequences by Mikhail Kislyarov are imaginative and energetic, as much Broaway as Bolshoi, and make this an event for ballet aficionados as well as opera lovers. The singers, of course, are up to the Bolshoi standard. As for the political satire, it will always be apropos to poke fun at plotting in the Kremlin. [Komisar]

Theater critic Lucy Komisar gives pre-show briefings and post-show discussions for theater parties to enrich playgoers' experiences. She'll also help find an appropriate show and make or advise on arrangements. Interested parties may telephone (212) 929-1610 for information.

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