Sunday, December 16, 2012

Men in Tights (or: Why I Love the Ballet)

One of the things I was NOT expecting to get my fill of in Mongolia was ballet.  Hell, I lived in Kansas City for 7 years, and saw not one single ballet amongst all the gallery openings, operas, plays, and symphonies I feasted on during my college years.  Chalk that up to the fact that the dancing segment of the conservatory never seemed to do anything, and the KC ballet was..eah, hard to get to, or expensive, or something.  In fact, I may be wrong, but I don't think I've been to a ballet since Mrs. Andrew took us (as impressionable young Bright Ideas students) to see the Nutcracker.
And there's a decent probability it would have remained that way a while longer, had Five not sent around the calendar for the Mongolian State Academic Theater.  Apparently she saw Swan Lake here last year and decided it was pretty decent considering that tickets were less than ten dollars.  And THEN she found out that Sascha Radetsky was coming over from the American Ballet Theater to guest star in Giselle.  He was in Center Stage, and while - as she pointed out - he's not a particularly good actor, he is a Fantastic dancer.  And he is nice to look at.  Especially in tights.  We were devastated to find out that tickets were 120,000 tugrugs for his shows, and while I just ignore anything I write remotely resembling a budget, Five does not, so we were not going to make it.  But then, our Fairy Godmother (otherwise known as the housing manager) decided she couldn't go, and gave her FRONT ROW SEATS TO US!
Well, that was it for me.  I am now officially a Ballet Fan.  I have scoured the schedule and plotted out which shows I want to see.  Last weekend a bunch of us went to see Scheherazade.  It was...interesting.  The dancing was splendid.  The music was excellent.  The storyline?  I have no idea what Rimsky-Korsakov was thinking.  There were two acts.  The first shows Shahryar discovering his wife's unfaithfulness and having her executed.  And then the second opens on a young woman visiting a grave, presumably Scheherazade, but it proceeds into a dance battle between two suitors, and the one she doesn't like kills the one she does, and then kills himself.  That never happened in any of the Arabian Nights stories I ever read.  Still, the costumes and dancing were awesome - the first act was almost like belly dance/ballet fusion, while the second seemed influenced by Persian dancing (or so I thought - my friends connected it to Mongolian dancing.  Who knows?  Maybe the two are cousins).
And tonight - holy twinkling titties, Batman! - we had Spartak.  I had no idea what it was about until I looked it up online, but the photos of it in the lobby of the theater sold me.  It's actually the story of Spartacus, composed by a Russian before Stanley Kubrick got ahold of it.  You can imagine how well the story of a king-become-slave-become-gladiator leading a slave revolt against their oppressive excessive Roman rulers went over with the Soviets of the day.  And do you know what's better than men in tights?  Men in Roman costume.  Yes, I'm shallow.  But the thing that made me want to laugh hysterically was the sparkling fake nipples on the slave dancers' costumes.  I'm not totally shallow, though - the music was exciting and emotionally stirring and, as always, the dancers did a beautiful job.

I can't wait for the rest of the season - we've got Swan Lake, Don Quixote, Sleeping Beauty, Coppelia, and some Mongolian ones to look forward to.  The National Academic Theater is that pink building on the east side of Sukhbaatar Square.  Tickets cost between 5,000-15,000 tugrugs (splash out - we've been sitting in the second row and paying just over $10 for the privilege.  It's totally worth it) except in a few cases (Spartak cost 20,000 T for some reason, and I already mentioned what it cost to get the yummy Mr. Radetsky on stage).  The ticket office opens in the morning from 10-1 and the afternoon from 2-5, although they are closed on BOTH Monday and Tuesday, so don't show up on either of those days (I made that mistake - not fun in -20 C weather).


  1. So far, Spartak was definitely my favorite. The music was moving, the dancing by Spartacus and the female lead was great, and the dramatic poses and lighting at the end were perfect. I give it two thumbs up!

  2. Oh, I forgot to mention that people actually take their kids here. Don't go if you don't want to be surrounded by children. Even in the second row. As for whether or not Spartak was my favorite, man, it was a toss-up. By far the most interesting music and story, but I dunno...Sascha Radetsky was one fine specimen of manhood...that kind of keeps the scale evenly balanced in Giselle's favor. Especially since Giselle was played by the same ballerina as Phrygia (Spartak's partner).