Tuesday, May 23, 2023

FOREST SONG & DON QUIXOTE - Grand Kyiv Ballet of Ukraine.


Forest Song - Grand Kyiv Ballet of Ukraine.

Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse, 21st , 22nd, 23rd May. 2023

Performance on 21st May reviewed by Bill Stephens.


Founded in 2014 by Oliksandr Stoianov, the Grand Kyiv Ballet of Ukraine has toured widely overseas. But 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 New Zealand 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.

Oleksandr Stoianov and Veronika Hordina in "Forest Song"

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 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 accomplish 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, and  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.

Mie Nagasawa and Viktor Tomashek in "Don Quixote"

Led by diminutive fire-cracker, 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 Viktor 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 stand for a moving rendition of the Ukrainian National Anthem.  

                                                             images supplied.

                           This review first published in CITY NEWS on 22nd May 2023.