While baby boomers in the west flocked to Jesus Christ Superstar, their Soviet contemporaries created a cult-following surrounding the surrealist masterpiece – Bulhakov’s Master and Margarita. Meant to satirise absurdity within the Soviet Union, the Devil (Vitaly Netrunenko) is the ringleader, spanning two stories: observing the events in Jerusalem 33 A.D. and invading 1930s Moscow with colourful cronies. In both settings, he finds oppression, corruption, sham-trials, cowardice, martyrdom, and nothing new under the sun.
At the heart of the ballet is Margarita (Ekaterina Kukhar), who makes a pact with the Devil to bring back her lover (Yaroslav Tkachuk) from the Gulag. In the reunion, between the selfless-prostituted woman and the stripped-down visionary, one sees a parallel of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The story is complex; best appreciated if one understands the source.
The ballet here in Kyiv by the National Opera Theatre has magical moments but also inconsistencies. The music understandably bounces around stylistically, but switching between the orchestra and a track is disorienting. The Soviet scenes are correctly absurd, but the corps de ballet lacks the precision to be convincing. Stronger scenes include the lovers, Jesus’ crucifixion, the Devil’s entourage, and indeed the Devil himself. Netrunenko perfects this role with his strong articulating body, intense presence, and his calculating artistic mind. His masterful entrance and solo asserts himself as a conniving incubus. In Act II, he leads an impressive queer ball in a Moscow apartment ala Victor, Victoria. Kukhar, always technically solid, is emotionally accessible to the audience and her duet with Tkachuk is poignant. Tkachuk dances convincingly as the Master, but his limited stage time makes it hard to invest.
Nonetheless, Kyiv was the author’s hometown, making this cult-classic a real favourite local treasure.
Master and Margarita
5 March at 19.00
28 April at 19.00
National Opera Theatre (Volodymyrska 50)
From 50 UAH