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Canberra Today 14°/17° | Wednesday, November 29, 2023 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Moving ballet performance with a message

Mie Nagasawa and Viktor Tomashek of the and Grand Kyiv Ballet of Ukraine.

Dance / “Forest Song & Don Quixote”, Grand Kyiv Ballet of Ukraine. At The Playhouse until May 23. Reviewed by Bill Stephens.

FOUNDED in 2014 by Oliksandr Stoianov, the Grand Kyiv Ballet of Ukraine has toured widely overseas. 

Because of the war in Ukraine, the company now devotes itself to raising money for charities assisting the Ukrainian war effort. With this tour, the company is introducing itself to Australian and NZ audiences with two contrasting story ballets.

Though “Don Quixote” is a familiar favourite with Australian audiences, “Forrest Song” has never been seen outside Ukraine and therefore of particular interest. 

No choreographer is credited in the program, but the 75 year-old ballet is danced to music by Ukrainian composer, Mikhail Skorulskyi. It’s based on a folk tale about a forest creature that falls in love with a young man. Not unexpectedly the young man, who eventually betrays her, marries another, and they all live unhappily ever after.

Although this ballet is definitely showing its age and the choreography looks old-fashioned to contemporary eyes, and while the technique of interrupting the storyline with frequent blackouts to allow set and costume changes now feels alienating, it does give a fascinating glimpse into how the staging of classical ballet has developed over the years.

Presented with a charmingly accented narration to enable the audience to follow the convoluted storyline, the ballet progresses through the four seasons, providing opportunity for a succession of pretty costumes and energetic folk-inspired group dancing, particularly in the spectacular wedding scene and an equally spectacular finale for which the female dancers are costumed in glittering silver-encrusted white tutus.

As the doomed young lovers, Lukash and Mavka, Vladyslav Yevtushenko and Diana Stetsenko, gave a stylish account of the choreography which includes some spectacular lifts, which they accomplished with admirable panache. 

Veronika Stepanenko was outstanding as the village maiden, Kylyna, who marries Lukash, while Vitalii Herasymenko impressed with his strong attack as a character called Damn, while Anna Stoianova captured attention with her gracefully danced Field Mermaid.

But it is with the second ballet, two scenes from “Don Quixote”, that the company has the best opportunity to display the virtuosity of its dancers. 

Led by diminutive firecracker, Japanese ballerina, Mie Nagasawa, the only non-Ukrainian dancer in the company, partnered with impressive style, swagger and humour, by Viktor Tomashek, the company really comes alive.

Again the action is narrated, this time by a well-modulated male voice, to fill in the gaps in the story left by the necessity to trim the full ballet to fit it into the program.

Nagasawa is captivating as Kitri. Throwing herself into the demanding choreography with reckless abandon, completely confident in the strong, attentive partnering of Tomashek, she immediately captured the audience with her cheeky playfulness and brilliant technique. 

The high overhead lifts, particularly the one in which the music stops while Tomashek holds her suspended high above his head with one arm while walking backwards, obviously held no terrors, and certainly thrilled the audience. 

Again Veronika Stepanenko was outstanding as the street dancer, as were Anna Stoianova and Veronika Hordina as the girlfriends, while Margaryta Kuznietsova, (Bolero) and Vladyslav Bonda, (Toreador Espada), thrilled with their flashy, brilliantly staged and danced performances. 

Oleksandr Derhunov contributed greatly to the fun as Don Quixote’s off-sider, Sancho Panza, enduring some heart-stoppingly high throws from the village men. 

After exciting the audience with the quality of its dancers, costumes and settings, the Grand Kyiv Ballet of Ukraine brought its performance to a close with a poignant reminder of why it is in Australia by requesting the audience to rise for a moving rendition of the Ukrainian national anthem. 

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