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Kirov Ballet - Forsythe at the Mariinsky

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

by Catherine Pawlick

February 12, 2006 -- Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg

To say that Forsythe’s choreography is forgiving would be amiss, but one benefit of his movement lies in its complexity. The eyes follow a continuum of ever-changing lines and poses, accented with unexpected changes in speed, sudden snaps of the head, right angles and unusual circular lines. The Kirov dancers managed to emphasize all of this with fair accuracy on Sunday night during the third all-Forsythe evening this year.

The program, which has grown from three pieces to four, is now a full evening of Forsythe, beginning with his enigmatic “Steptext” as an audience warmer.  It featured Ekaterina Petina in her debut as the sole female in the ballet. To the backdrop of Anton Pimenov, Mikhail Lubokhin and Maxim Krebtov, Petina danced with power in nothing but a bright red unitard. Repeated viewings of this ballet suggest the female lead’s indifference to the men on stage. Between her “get your hands off me” gestures and urgent arm language (akin to sign language, but using the elbows and fists instead of the hands), Petina’s message was the same:  “leave me dance in peace”. But having pushed a boy or two away, she would then dance with them, the supposed meaning of each gesture suddenly lost in the movement. Petina is graced with an impossibly lean frame, and her flexibility fits this role well.

Among the men, Lubokhin began the ballet, as he did in the previous two performances, with the arm gestures downstage. Pimenov this time excelled in his solo, expending more energy in a matter of minutes through lightning speed movements than perhaps some of the other dancers combined. Krebtov was attentive in his partnering efforts but lackluster in solo work. Nonetheless, the overall impression was one of a fresh, modern ballet with sharp accents.

Following a brief intermission we viewed “Approximate Sonata” with its ever-puzzling opening sequence. Here Alexander Sergeev carried out the roaring, purring, pawing lion with certainty, despite some inappropriate snickers from the upper reaches of the balcony. Once his dancing began, Sergeev showed not only a mastery of steps, but a mastery of Forsythe’s style on a deeper level. His energy set him apart, as did the clarity of his movements. Evidently a scholar of motion, Sergeev’s serious and thorough approach to his work is visible. He devours the choreography rather than fearing it as can easily be the case. He already surpasses others in the same ballet for his professionalism.

The rest of the cast must also be noted. Sergeev’s partner was the agile Elena Sheshina who danced with fluidity and conviction. Maxim Chasegorov stood out for his attentive, accurate partnering of Yana Serebriakova in a pas de deux that demands ultra alertness. Yana Selina lent fresh accents to her work with Anton Pimenov, dancing the section previously danced (in other performances, including the ballet’s premiere) by Ekaterina Petina. Pimenov again stood out for his vigor and evident enjoyment of the piece. Ksenia Dubrovina and Alexei Timofeev, relevant newcomers to the ballet in this their third performance of it, while energetic in their approach, were slightly less clear in their lines – an issue, no doubt, simply of experience.

The third ballet of the evening, “The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude”, is, if nothing else, and accurate description for its own choreography. The whirlwind of more classically-based steps begins to Schubert’s 9th Symphony in D Major, and the movements do not stop until the final note of the whirlwind is played. Here Tatiana Tkachenko, Olesya Novikova and Ekaterina Osmolkina danced between Vladimir Shklyarov and Alexander Kulikov for the marathon of pointe work, pirouettes and petite allegro. Of them all, Novikova drew the most attention for her unbelievably pure and beautiful lines. Each échappé displayed exquisite feet, each arm movement was fluid but never messy.

Osmolkina deserves the prize for the most manifest emotions, for larger smiles and more palpable expression. And while Osmolkina tended to languish in the steps, taking her time within the phrasing, Tkachenko played with her sequences, dancing even the most complex of them with ease. Both Shishov and Kulikov are veritable power houses of petite allegro work, and undoubtedly for that reason excel in this ballet.

The final ballet of the evening, “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated”, is Forsythe’s tribute to the extremes of flexibility pushed to the limit, set to Tom Williams’ pulsing electronic music. Irina Golub danced the leading role; Viktoria Kutepova danced the second soloist role, while an absent Sofia Gumerova was replaced by Olesya Novikova in the other second soloist role. Golub’s slight frame managed to contort itself into any number of positions, but the shock quality, delivered so well by a much-missed Natalia Sologub, was absent in this performance. Kutepova also seemed too meek a match for the acute extensions and whipped up momentum of this piece. Only Novikova and Sheshina managed to hit the requisite energy level, which is easily overlooked among the constant maze of moving bodies, formations and steps.

Despite a few moments of unevenness, the evening underlined the Kirov’s growing mastery of Forsythe, whose choreography is able to utilise these dancers' lines and movements, and, in a roundabout way, emphasize the best of their Vaganova foundation and historical traditions.

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