Title: Tough moves and cool poise
Author: Hilary Ostlere
Date: April 17, 2008
Publisher: The Financial Times
Taken in the spirit of a retrospective, an evening devoted to four William Forsythe ballets is not as unusual as it sounds, even for the Kirov. Some love his work, others loathe it. My own feeling about this controversial choreographer is, to borrow one of his ballet's titles, in the middle, somewhat elevated.
Forsythe took classical ballet and shoved it into a new phase but he has not renounced its basic tenets. He has just made it over into his sometimes savage, modern idea of what ballet should be. That, at least, is the impression he gives in his early works. Nothing in the Kirov's all-Forsythe programme is from later than 1997; all the works are from his period as artistic director of Frankfurt Ballet and predate his interest in more political themes and in using big, complicated sets. It is as if the company is stepping tentatively into this, for them, new world or, perhaps, Forsythe's more recent works were not available.
Either way, all four ballets rely primarily on lighting and a few odd props for atmosphere. It is the dancers who engage the concentration. Which is just as well, as Forsythe makes enormous demands on them. But they seemed to love the challenge and in every ballet showed new facets of themselves.
The low-key opening of Steptext set the mood: with the auditorium lights on, a dancer stood casually to one side, swinging his arms about; then the lights dimmed and the piece exploded into technical fireworks. To a taped score (the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra had a night off) of Nathan Milstein playing a fractured Bach partita - a few bars followed by silences - Diana Vishneva (on this night; casts vary) in flaming red leotard slid into the arms of Igor Kolb, then danced with Mikhail Lobukhin and Alexander Sergeev. Everyone had a chance to dance together, apart and alone, twisting their arms in a rolling motion and stretching into impossible, ligament-straining poses in this saga of Forsythian abstraction. But Vishneva injected voluptuousness into her movement, even when being dragged across the stage in slithering, overly extended arabesques. The men were no less virtuosic, performing fast, complicated variations that often ended abruptly in a slouching walk back into the wings.
The setting for Approximate Sonata could have been a photographer's studio (at one point a white backdrop descends to obliterate a blue background) but for the small banner with two V's centred downstage. Round this four couples danced to Thom Willems' unappealing score, which presumably provided some kind of guideline for dance counts. A bit too much like the previous Steptext in its choreographic footprint, the ballet gained class with elegant Ekaterina Kondaurova, who, with Maxim Zyuzin, was outstanding.
As if to prove "I can do straight classical stuff too", The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude (which premiered in 1996) had the strictly textbook ingredients that the other pieces eschewed. Elena Androsova, Olesia Novikova and Ekaterina Osmolkina wore tutus, albeit stiff, pleated plates in a taxing pea-soup shade. Leonid Sarafanov and Andrian Fedeev were in dark red plush leotards. The women came bursting on in high-flying grands jet?s to a simply awful tape of the final movement of Schubert's Ninth Symphony; from then on the pace was almost impossibly fast and furious, the dancers performing with great brio and gamely showing no strain in spite of Forsythe's over-the-top technical demands. Sarafanov and Fedeev were particularly impressive with their brilliant technique.
Forsythe having made his point, we at last got to the best work, In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated , to a zizzy, percussively clanging score by Willems and Leslie Stuck. The dancers, now back in practice clothes, sometimes looked as if they were in class, advancing in groups to the fore, partnering up for impromptu pas de deux, taking off into splendid solos (Lobukhin particularly impressive here) and forming a single line to exit. Kondaurova, even in the impossible stretches and twists the choreography demanded, retained her cool ballerina poise.
Having seen the company for the most part conventionally perform its Petipa and Fokine programmes, I was surprised how well and freely they took to Forsythe. Will they fare as well with their all-Balanchine evening?