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Kirov Ballet - Forsythe Repertory

'Steptext', 'The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude', 'In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated'

by Catherine Pawlick

Feburary 5, 2005 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg

It is impossible to leave an afternoon of Forsythe without a reaction. It might be shock, or distaste, awe, surprise, confusion or simple admiration, but some kind of impression is bound to remain. Today's Mariinsky matinee included their typical Forsythe bill: "Steptext", "In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated", and "The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude". Despite the fact that these works will reach their one-year mark on this stage next month, the Petersburg audiences are still reacting to them as if they were brand new.

The opening of the first ballet, "Steptext" always throws balletomanes for a loop. House lights on, no orchestra and no music, the first dancer appears downstage to the left, and begins a series of arm movements. Only some audience members realized that the performance has begun. A woman two seats to my left was so intent on chatting with her seatmate, that it wasn't until the recorded violin music began that she decided to quiet down. And as those familiar with the ballet know, it is a good five minutes into the first dancer's arm movements before the violin chords are turned abruptly on and off over the speakers. It seems the audience assumes it's not a ballet without music, or that the performance doesn't begin until the music starts. A logical deduction that doesn't follow the open-minded artistic bent of Forsythe's approach to theatre. One can almost hear him saying to the lighting technicians, "no, the house lights stay ON when the first dancer begins." He undermines the very cornerstones of classical ballet, the small traditions of the theatre. It's thus understandable how those from the older generation would frown on his avant garde approach.

Two other obvious bucks against tradition are the a-musicality and the walking. This recorded music is turned on and off throughout "Steptext", and the dancers don't necessarily adhere to sound in order to complete their steps. The amount of intuition this must demand is assumedly on a par with counting a Stravinsky score. The second anti-traditional element is the walking. After completing a series of movements the dancers may walk a flex-footed, walk normally to another place on stage, or offstage. Granted, this is not classical ballet. And the walk underscores that, lest anyone think Forsythe is a classicist.

"StepText" has a small cast. Resident gumby-ist Natalia Sologub appeared in spare red unitard to the backdrop of Anton Lukovkin, Mikhail Lobuxin and Maxim Khrebtov, each in all black. Sologub's movement is Forsythe's choreographic hand; her body the pen he writes with, at least when she performs his work. She has the flexibility of a gymnast, feet and legs that most ballerinas should envy, and the musicality to accent her lines in a most befitting manner. Her three partners provided interesting arm movements, strong partnering and independent solo work.

Forsythe steps towards the classical in "The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude", aided by Schubert's Ninth Symphony and costumes that mimic tutus. Tatiana Tkachenko, Marina Zolotova and Svetlana Ivanova danced alongside Maxim Ziuzin and Alexander Kulikov. The patterns here echo the score, as the five dance in every combination possible, duets, trios, solos – now syncopated, now synchronized. Tkachenko has mastered Forsythe' vocabulary, dancing with verve and strength; Zolotova's arms did not escape classical confines, although she never missed a beat. Ivanova was sweet, but might also consider more abandon in her dancing. Zuizin, a strong newcomer, seemed slightly tense but danced and partnered well. Kulikov's delivery is joy-filled and boyish, a pleasure to watch.

The final work of the afternoon, "In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated", is a true entertainment piece – in the sense of dark nightclubs, pulsing electronic music, sparse costumes and unexplainable movements that, well, must mean something. The choreography here is fluid, but not lyrical, patterned, complex, mysterious. Billiard-table green is the garment theme, but again, in utmost simplicity – green leotards and black tights for all. Nothing to hide and nowhere to run to here. Of the nine dancers on stage, Ekaterina Kondaurova tended to draw one's focus. That she seems as comfortable as the Lilac Fairy as she does here is testament to her versatility. Forsythe's vocabulary seems instinctive to her, not artificial. Tkachenko danced a solo in this ballet as well, still strong and energetic. Kitty Papava, apparently one of the taller girls in the cast, impressed with her own solo work and long lines.

If all goes as planned, the Mariinsky is slated to premiere another Forsythe ballet next month. It will be interesting to see how it compares to these, and how quickly the dancers will adapt to another one of Forsythe's works.

Edited by Jeff.

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