The Russians are famous for their ballets. Having been lucky enough to see members of the Bolshoi dance in very close proximity, I can vouch for this. When we think of ballet, we think of elegance and grace. If asked to describe the costume of a ballerina, you would probably imagine soft pastel colours and delicate details. Yet on display at GRAD London is a completely unexpected exhibition comprising of the clothing for a completely different setup to what we are accustomed to: the attire for Dmitri Shostakovich’s 1931 comedy The Bolt.
The Bolt was an extremely short-lived production having been promptly censored after being interpreted as satire. The storyline was a celebration of industrial life. Music is played throughout the gallery that features noises that replicate those made by hammers and machines. The Bolt acted in support of communism and socialism and recounts the true story of a sacked worker who threw a bolt into his former factory’s machinery in revenge of his position.
The characters on display include bureaucrats, drunkards, factory workers and terrorists with these being the original names given to them by the ballet’s creator. On display in the gallery are a series of elaborately dressed mannequins as well as photographs of rehearsals and illustrations of costume designs from Tatiana Bruni. Bruni’s gouache and watercolour sketches look like works of art in themselves, in fact, if I did not know their intended purpose; I would have had no idea that they were preliminary designs for something else. Her images comprise geometric caricatures coloured in bright, primary colours, with a clear influence from Kazimir Malevich.
Bruni’s watercolours serve as the perfect backdrop to the black mannequins that have been dressed in the original clothing worn by the dancers of The Bolt before they were forced to resign. My personal favourite is a costume in which a male dancer appears to be wearing a boat, that I am sure would not have been at all easy to dance in. The whole ensemble appears to be extremely comical and I have no doubt that the original production would have been a joy to see, even if the Soviet authorities had other ideas about it.
The Bolt has plenty on offer for the lovers of dance, fashion, art and Russian culture, a crowd pleasure that is full of fun!
Bolt is on display at GRAD London until 28 February