This is why Kazakhstan has decided to launch a ‘cultural assault globally’, in the words of Erian Idrissov, Kazakh Ambassador to the UK in a brief address to a packed London Coliseum, introducing the Abay Kazakh State Ballet Theatre.
Based in the former capital of Almaty, the Abay Kazakh State Ballet Theatre has a repertoire including a range of classic and specially commissioned ballets. For its first visit to the UK, though, the company brought two contrasting crowd pleasers: Chopiniana and Schéhérazade.
Set to music by Chopin and also known as Les Sylphides, Chopiniana, originally choreographed by Mikhail Fokine (and tweaked here by artistic director Gulzhan Tutkibaeva) is a plotless moonlit ballet where a poet meets and dances with a group of forest sylphs. A quintessentially Romantic work, it can look dreamy and glorious when properly executed, or conversely a little silly and old-fashioned.
Dinara Yessentaeva in Chopiniana. Photo: Nikolay Postnikov
In this performance it alternated between the two, the dreamy quality seriously eroded by too bright lighting. The corps de ballet of 20 women in ethereal white skirts and little glittery wings, was generally well drilled, though occasional wobbly arabesques and not quite turned out feet belied what must be the company’s Russian training.
The three female soloists acquitted themselves well, Arisa Hashimoto’s floating jumps particularly impressive in the G Flat Waltz. As the poet, Rahim Dairov was a solid partner, but less impressive in his solo work.
Chopin’s music, in an old and fuzzy recording, was just this side of a nerve-shredding racket.
Rimsky-Korsakov’s music fared no better in the second piece of the night, Schéhérazade. Set in a Western man’s fantasy of an Eastern harem, curtain up brought an instant disappointment: Léon Bakst’s glorious original designs – sumptuous silk and satin curtains and cushions, and crucially an ornate golden gate – are entirely absent, replaced here by a dark-hued backcloth representing part of a tent, with a few cushions lined up on both sides of the stage.
The storyline is simple: Zaman (Nurlan Baibusinov) convinces his brother, the Sultan of Shahriyar (Nelson Peña), that his favourite, Zobeida (Malika Elchibayeva), is unfaithful. They set a trap by pretending to go on a hunt. Zobeida persuades the Chief Eunuch (Ulan Badenov) to open the gate and let in a group of virile slaves, includind Zobeida’s own favourite, the Golden Slave (Azamat Askarov). An orgy follows. The Sultan returns and the tragic end is predictable…
All this you should be able to work out from the original detailed mime; but unfortunately Abay Kazakh resident choreographer Toni Candeloro interfered with Fokine’s original choreography, and all but abolished the original interaction between the brothers. Add to this a truly wooden and inexpressive Peña as the Sultan and the narrative is seriously compromised.
Elchibayeva as Zobeida is much the best thing in this ballet. Beautiful in her turquoise harem pants and feathered, bejewelled headdress, she is sinuous and technically accomplished, if not exactly sexy, and there isn’t much chemistry between her and a Golden Slave whose acting is often reminiscent of early silent movies.
Still, cultural offensives are to be welcomed for the opportunities they afford both sides to acquaint themselves with, and learn from, each other. We now know more about ballet in Kazakhstan than we did two months ago; let’s hope the Kazakh dancers have had the chance to see and ponder the work of their Western counterparts.
|What||Review: Abay Kazakh State Ballet Theatre|
|Where||London Coliseum, St Martin's Lane, , London , WC2N 4ES | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Charing Cross (underground)|
On 17 Nov 19, 19:30 Dur.: 1 hour 50 mins inc one interval.
|Price||£10-£75 (+booking fee)|
|Website||Click here to book|