The Flames of Paris

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Bel Air Classiques
WORKS: The Flames of Paris; plus interviews and rehearsals with Natalia Osipova, Ivan Vasiliev and Alexei Ratmansky
PERFORMER: Natalia Osipova, Denis Savin, Ivan Vasiliev, Yuri Klevtsov, Nina Kaptsova, Anna Antonicheva, Ruslan Skvortsov; Bolshoi Ballet & Theatre Orchestra/Pavel Sorokin; chor. Alexei Ratmansky


The Flames of Paris was among the first attempts to align the arts in Russian more closely with Soviet ideology. A particular favourite of Stalin, this 1932 ballet drew a straight line from the French revolution to the Russian, while blending a range of musical and dancing styles. Choreographer Alexei Ratmansky’s updated version broadly follows the original, with some aspects of Vasily Vaynonen’s spectacular original choreography, but adds additional levels of meaning.

This is most effective and disturbing in the character Adeline, who allies with the revolutionaries, but is guillotined on account of her father being a Marquis. Her distraught Marseillaise lover, Jerome, provides a visual dissonance to the idealised advancing throng that concludes the original choreography.

Also a major pedagogue, the ballet’s composer, Boris Asafiev, promoted progressive Western composers in the 1920s. There is nothing in his music, though, that would remotely upset Stalin. To call this blend of pastiches neo-classical suggests a flattering degree of originality, for it provides a fun game of spot the model, but little that is truly memorable.


Sadly this combines in the first scene with choreographic story-telling that puts the emphasis on the ham rather than the acting, but the ballet improves markedly. The Act II dances are stunning, with Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev mixing breathtaking athleticism with sparkling joie-de-vivre, captured in stunning pictures and sound. Christopher Dingle