The Libretto

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Unknown photographer, N.P. Bazarova as Goshka and L.S. Leontev as Lenka Gulba rehearsing Act III of The Bolt, 1931

The Bolt tells a rousing Soviet tale of socialist labour, sabotage and victory over counter-revolutionary subversion. The ballet opens with the factory workers engaged in their morning exercise ahead of an exciting new day: a state-of-the art machine has been installed and there is to be a celebration in the workshop. Everyone enjoys an amateur performance from factory staff who impersonate characters such as a pompous Bureaucrat or a burly Blacksmith. Olga, the secretary of the local Komsomol group – the young communists’ league — also performs with her peers. But as work on the new machine gets underway, three workers arrive late for the morning shift fresh from a night of drinking: Ivan Corkscrew, Fedor Beer and their ringleader Lenka Gulba, or Lazy Idler. They attempt to interrupt their colleagues but the chief engineer catches them and reports their behaviour. As the curtain falls on the first act, work continues and the hum of the machines rises.

Act Two opens on a village scene, with the workers’ small log huts, a traditional wooden church and a tavern. The local priest and his parishioners dance to the music of accordions, played by Komsomol members. Among them is Kozelkov, the pompous factory clerk, who shows off a dance he learned in the city, hoping to impress the Komsomol musicians. As the crowd moves into the church for the day’s service, Lazy Idler and his fellow hooligans stumble out of the tavern. Determined to continue their drinking into the next day, the men hatch a plan to sabotage the factory. Lazy Idler persuades Goshka, a young village boy, to drop a large bolt into the factory machinery. At this moment Boris, the shock worker brigade leader and Olga’s boyfriend, passes by the conspirators. Though he has overheard none of their plans, the hooligans suspect him of eavesdropping and beat him to a pulp, leaving him unconscious behind a log. Finishing his sermon, the priest — who is a lazy and drunken man himself — leaves the church and finds the hooligans brandishing a bolt. He realises what they are up to and, rather than denouncing them, gives them his blessing.

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Tatiana Bruni, Costume design for Olga, 1931
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Tatiana Bruni, Costume Design for Kozelkov, 1931

The conspiracy succeeds in the final act when Goshka sneaks into the workshop and throws the bolt into a lathe, causing the machine to short-circuit. Boris tries to foil the plot by dashing in to retrieve the bolt, but instead gets locked in the room by Lazy and his comrades. The guards are called and Boris is handcuffed, but Goshka soon crumbles under the weight of his guilt and confesses to the crime. Olga is overjoyed when Boris is released and Lazy is arrested, while all the factory’s workers celebrate the victory over the saboteurs. Another variety performance takes place mocking imperialist stereotypes such as the Colonial Slave Girl or the Job Hopper. The recital ends with several dances by Red Army soldiers who are on leave. The curtain falls on the whole gathering raising triumphant banners that proclaim: ‘Protect the Machines’ and ‘Saboteurs Go Home’.

THE CAST OF CHARACTERS

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Unknown photographer, L.S. Leontev as Lenka Gulba rehearsing The Bolt, 1931

The Bolt employs a typical cast of Soviet protagonists, pitting the heroes against the villains. The leading lady is Olga, the secretary of the local Komsomol group, while her boyfriend, the upstanding shock worker Boris, is the leading man. They are surrounded by their peers, the other Komsomol members and the factory workers, technicians and engineers. These exemplary characters are not however the focus of the ballet. That role is fulfilled by the villains, namely Lenka Gulba and his drunken cronies, the dupe Goshka, as well as the priest, the sexton and the petty bourgeois women who appear in the village scene. Even the factory clerk, Kozelkov, is a wannabe city slicker who wants to impress his female friends with the latest dance craze. This did not go down well with ballet’s critics who saw this focus on the negative characters as anti-Soviet. Some years later Lopukhov, the ballet’s choreographer, considered this the main failing of the production: ‘It is not possible to place at the centre of a spectacle negative characters, except in a satiric review…. Having avoided making the best qualities of Soviet man the main feature of the spectacle, we actually excluded the most powerful and attractive element of the act of dance.’

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Tatiana Bruni, Costume Design for the Japanese Navy, 1931
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Tatiana Bruni, Costume design for the Bungler, 1931
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Tatiana Bruni, Costume design for a Petit Bourgeois Woman, 1931
The ballet also includes two fictitious amateur performances staged by the factory workers, the Komsomol members and a group of Red Army soldiers who are on leave. This device allows the inclusion of a series of outlandish characters, such as the Colonial Slave Girl, the Carter or the Japanese and American naval fleets who face each other off in a parody of the Geneva Disarmament Conference, a major news item of the period. In that respect The Bolt follows the conventions of classical ballet which often features so-called ‘divertissements’, a selection of dances that do not advance the plot but serve as an entertaining interlude.
The Bolt, Scene from Act III from the 2005 revival at the Bolshoi Theatre by Alexei Ratmansky