In the beginning of Valery Panov's ballet "The Idiot," based on the novel by Dostoevsky, two men meet on a train. One man is small, dark, fiery, with burning eyes, and seems to clasp the other too tightly. The second man is a listener, although he too makes known his condition freely.
Panov played the role of Parfyon Rogozhin, and Vladimir Gelvan was Prince Myshkin, in the recent performance by the Berlin Ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House. By the strength of their characterizations, evident from the opening scene, the focus of Panov, as in Dostoevsky, was the relationship between the two men, despite the myriad of action still to unfold in the three-hour-long ballet.
Although this first scene seems to follow the literary creation of Dostoevsky , except for the omission of Lebedev, the aspects that transmute one artistic form to another were present. There are no words, but movement, gesture, and facial expressions, highlighted by the men's eyes. The setting is a three-dimensional set pice of a train compartment with a moving landscape projected on the window, backed by a second level where the dialogue is mimed as if the two men were speaking visions.
It is this sense of the pictorial that delineates Panov's viewpoint of "The Idiot." Panov himself is known to his friends as an artist who expresses himself in small sketches. He has made a work in which the essence of Dostoevsky's novel is distilled in a swiftly movng series of stage pictures, animated by the larger-than-life characters of Rogozhin, Myshkin, Nastasya, and Aglaja, rather than chains of dancing.
His is a visualized "Idiot," as if the themes of the book and relationships of the characters can be caught in stage tableaux and frozen for an instant in one's memory. The climactic moments are framed on stage: the carnival in Act II with the huge Mother Russia Babushka doll, the charming country dance that opens Act III, with the small children seated on the rim of the stage, the ending, with the distillation of Myshkin's feelings symbolized by the enormous bell ringing out his personal doomsday. Over this hands the atmosphere of 19 th-century Russia, a combination of nostalgia and despair slightly askew, made more poignant by the real-life story of Panov's flight from his homeland.