The Forsythe saga
Published: July 29, 2005 (Issue # 1091)
LONDON — Still known overseas as the Kirov Ballet, the Mariinsky Ballet will close its two-week season at the Royal Opera House in London on Saturday with a performance of “La Bayadere” led by its top stars Ulyana Loptakina and Igor Zelensky. On Monday the Mariinsky Opera, which tours London less frequently than the Mariinsky Ballet, will open its one-week season with “Boris Godunov.”
Loptakina’s superlative performance of “Swan Lake” opened the Covent Garden season on a high note, while the first week of the Marriinsky Ballet’s London engagement ended with two performances last Sunday of a program of short works by William Forsythe. Now an almost monthly fixture in the troupe’s St. Petersburg repertoire, the Mariinsky’s program of one-act ballets by the 56-year-old American choreographer was presented to London audiences for the first time.
The Forsythe program included the Mariinsky’s newly acquired ballet “Approximate Sonata” (1996) which was premiered in this year’s Mariinsky Ballet Festival in St. Petersburg in March. It is a fascinating work consisting of five duets with some dialogue thrown in. Andrei Ivanov, usually cast as a jester figure, was brilliant as the lead dancer who appeared in the beginning and end of the ballet.
Yevgenia Obraztsova, his partner in the first and fifth duet, was totally ravishing in her classical purity. In the second duet, the young corps de ballet dancer Yelena Vostrotina was most eye-catching; her stunning long limbs lent an amplitude to the choreography. The colorful casual costumes designed by Stephen Galloway enhanced the ballet.
Another 1996 Forsythe work “The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude,” which received the loudest applause last Sunday night, is Forsythe’s homage to George Balanchine, the greatest choreographer of the 20th century; its sunny and joyous choroegraphy evoke Balanchine’s masterpiece “Symphony in C.”
Tatiana Tkachenko was particularly impressive among the three women, and danced with amazing control. Andrian Fadeyev and Leonid Sarafanov, two of the Mariinsky’s most exciting male virtuosos, were dazzling in the demanding, speedy choreography.
In the afternoon, Fadeyev’s role was competently danced by the the 20-year-old coryphee dancer Vladimir Shklyarov, who is surely another male star in the making. What a pity that Shklyarov was not featured more prominently in London.
The program opened with the 1985 work “Steptext,” set for a ballerina and three men, apparently intended by Forsythe to re-examine the tradition of the duet and the role of the ballerina. It is the least satisfying work in the program. The gimmickry — house lights being turned on and off unexpectedly, and the abrupt stopping of the taped music of Bach’s Chaconne — was rather offputting. However, Diana Vishnyova and Daria Pavlenko were equally splendid in the two casts. Igor Kolb was trim and incisive in his rapid solo.
The closing work, “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated,” is Forsythe’s most famous ballet and is danced by a number of companies worldwide including London’s own Royal Ballet.
This ballet has a split focus instead of a central focus, with more than one dance happening simultaneously. For instance, a duet can take place at the same time as a solo on another part of the stage. Dancers often face the back of the stage instead of the front. There is a constant tension and disequlibrium in this ballet, enhanced by Thom Willems’ music.
Forsythe’s choreography fits the Mariinsky Ballet’s supreme classical style perfectly. This Forsythe program marks another triumph for the Mariinsky Ballet on the London stage.