Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Grand Kyiv Ballet of Ukraine - Forest Song and Don Quixote

Reviewed by Tony Magee

Performance May 22, 2023

Grand Kyiv Ballet of Ukraine - photo courtesy

After taking our seats in Canberra’s wonderful and beautifully designed Playhouse, which has a large and versatile stage, it soon became apparent there would be no live orchestral accompaniment.

In Melbourne and Sydney, the dancers were accompanied by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra respectively.

I fully expected the Canberra performances, of which there were four, would be accompanied by our own and excellent Canberra Symphony Orchestra. 

Alas, the dancers performed to a CD backing.

The presence of a live orchestra in my view, is 50% of the whole experience, particularly with the inclusion of a conductor. Plus, crucially, the flexibility of slight variations in tempo and dynamics.

At first I was grumpy about this and felt that we’d all been short-changed.

As the evening progressed however, I forgot about the lack of an orchestra and fully turned my attention the the dancers.

Then it dawned on me. In the Playhouse there is no orchestra pit. In addition, the orchestra would not have been able to be placed at the back of the stage, as they would have blocked the bottom half of the excellent set and greatly reduced the space needed for the dancers to accomplish their extensive, vast and excellent choreographic and dancing skills.

Using the Canberra Theatre instead, which has a seating capacity of 1200, as opposed to the 600 in the Playhouse, would have been a much better option. Here, there is a dedicated orchestra pit. 

Ultimately, the company could have presented just two performances in The Canberra Theatre instead of the four needed in the much smaller Playhouse, still seated the same number of audience members and still raked in the same amount of money.

Now to the ballet’s themselves.

Forest Song tells a tale of love between a fantastical forest creature Mavka and a man, Lukash. The story is of the fearless and brave Mavka, who longs for peace in her world, just as Ukraine longs for peace in her country today.

The Ukrainians describe it as a legendary ballet, which for over 75 years has remained not only the pride of Ukraine, but also of world choreography and cultural heritage.

In this, I found the dancing to be adequate at best but not the sensational international quality I was expecting.

Soloists Oleksandr Stoianov, who is also founder and artistic director of the company and Vladyslav Yevtushenko shared the role of human male character Lukash. Veronika Hordina and Diana Stetsenko shared the role of lover and forest creature Mavka.

It was an enjoyable performance with some of the choreography and resulting dancing very good, but “very good” is not an acceptable outcome for a ballet company whose publicity and program notes indicated they would be superstars of world class, first rate, and unbeatable quality.

The cast of Don Quixote - Grand Kyiv Ballet of Ukraine.
Photo courtesy

Don Quixote on the other hand presented a different cast and the resulting dancing and performance levels were of superb quality. I was transfixed with the entire presentation.

Now we were seeing what the Ukrainians can really do and The Grand Kyiv Ballet of Ukraine pulled out all the stops to present a wonderfully danced and choreographed production of this very famous work.

The story in this ballet is more complex, resulting in six principal soloists and five minor soloists as well as the rest of the company which comprised another twelve dancers. 

Maksym Bernadskyi played Don Quixote and Mie Nagasawa played Kitri, whom the Don is secretly in love with. Alas, Kitri is already betrothed to another man, Basilio, beautifully danced by Viktor Tomashek.

The Don and his companion Sancho Panza, played by Oleksandr Derhunov, eventually leave the village, which is filled with people celebrating various festivities and full of fun and laughter, deciding instead to continue on and find new adventures elsewhere.

Despite the lack of a live orchestra, and also the astonishing blunder of stage crew and some cast members being able to be seen wandering around between the inadequately prepared side curtains, the evening was most enjoyable, particularly Don Quixote.

To close, the audience was invited to stand for the National Anthem of Ukraine, which we all did, some of the cast singing along with the recording. It was a nice touch to the conclusion of the evening.