The Bolshoi Ballet is the perfect dance company for Wolf Trap. The huge stage suits choreographer-director Yuri Grigorovich's penchant for massed effects. His choreography uses armies of dancers that surround, explain and bedevil the handful of individualized characters in his ballets, and these dancers have plenty of room for their famous leaps. Because of the size of the stage, the dancers aren't scrunched together and the ballets seem more spacious, the patterns of the choreography more visible. And Grigorovich's repetitive, simple and instantly accessible choreography makes the Bolshoi the world's leading candidate for lawn viewing.
"Ivan the Terrible," which received its second performance Wednesday evening, exemplifies Grigorovich's streamlined approach to storytelling. The ballet has the look of an all-dance silent film, with its epic scale and broad, clear scenes. The story doesn't unfold through dancing and mime but is told in a series of danced tableaux and at a pounding pace. The program notes are the audience's personal subtitles.
As in most of his ballets, there are only a few principal characters ("Ivan" has three), and the story moves forward through the conflict between these and the several ensembles, often composed of soloists. Even when they're dancing the same steps, the dancers have a lot of leeway in characterization. The seven Boyars in "Ivan" are wonderfully individualized. Each seethes with his own dreams of power, and one knows their coalition to dethrone Ivan is fragile at best. The group choreography in "Ivan" is stormy; the men and women seem, respectively, thunder and lightning, with the contrast of the men's heavy, forceful, chest-forward jumps, and the lighter, quicker darting movements of the women.
The three leading roles -- Ivan himself; his wife, Anastasia; and their enemy, Prince Kurbsky -- are psychologically meaty and choreographically clearly defined. Aleksandr Vetrov, a tense and wiry dancer, was certainly tortured enough as Ivan. His dancing was sharp and clean, and he obviously poured his soul into it. But history's Ivan was a larger-than-life figure, and Vetrov didn't quite have the magnetism, the palpable projection of power, that would make this believable.
His Ivan was so twisted and askew in both body and soul that it was hard to see how Anastasia (whom Ivan selected at a sort of primitive beauty contest) could love him, and Lyudmila Semenyaka's coolly elegant Anastasia, though beautifully danced, seemed understandably emotionally remote. It was left to Gedeminas Taranda, who has both warmth and magnetism to spare, to provide the fireworks.
Prince Kurbsky, in the ballet, is a once-trusted ally of Ivan who would like Anastasia and the throne for his own, and Taranda wrung every ounce of love, jealousy, self-doubt and self-loathing out of the role. He's a big man with a force appropriate to his size and a speed surprising for it, and there's an equally surprising sweetness underlying the all-Bolshoi technique. His was the kind of performance one associates with the word "Bolshoi," and both the huge jumps and the equally huge emotions would be visible a football field away.