The Long-Awaited Premiers at the Astana Ballet Theater

November 2021 has been an unusually fruitful month for premieres. Only in the field of choreographic art, the premieres of four bright ballets took place within one week gap. This is the colorful "Romance of a Rosebud and a Moth", presented by the Kazakh National Academy of Choreography at the Astana Ballet Theatre; and the children's ballet "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" at the Astana Opera. And, finally, two long-awaited premieres appeared on the playbill of the Astana Ballet Theater - a neoclassical masterpiece by J. Balanchine to the music of "Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra" by I. Stravinsky and the original ballet "The Lasso of Fate" based on the music by K. Abdullina in the choreography of M. Avakhri. All premieres took place thanks to the active support by the Ministry of Culture and Sports of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

The theater has a special attitude to Balanchine's legacy. From the first years of its existence, the theater has strived to have ballets by the American reformer of classical dance in its repertoire, knowing well that mastering this choreography, standing at the junction of modern and classical ballet, gives the troupe undeniable advantages. In 2017 the famous “Serenade” based on the music of P.I. Chaikovsky, two years later - "Concerto Baroque" to the music of I.S. Bach were performed. The performance organisation in the first case was carried out by Victoria Simon, and in the second case by Nannet Glushak. Both former soloists of the New York City Ballet, both are representatives of the George Balanchine Foundation and carry his performances around the world. Paul Boos, who danced in the troupe of J. Balanchine from 1976 to 1990 at the invitation of the founder of American ballet himself, was also invited to stage “Rubies” from the “Jewels” cycle. Currently, Paul Boos is not only one of the choreographers who has a right to organise performance, but also director of the video archive for the George Balanchine Foundation.

Stravinsky's “Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra” is an incredibly difficult work, even for musicians. And given that Balanchine staged precisely “music”, and not “to the music”, this ballet became a real challenge for the ballet troupe. Moreover, the performance was not accompanied by a soundtrack, but accompanied by the own orchestra of the theater under the direction of chief director Arman Urazgaliyev. The well-known musician Amir Tebenikhin was specially invited to the premiere, who brilliantly performed the solo piano part.

The virtuoso pianist's fingers fluttered lightly over the keyboard, performing the composer's virtuoso passages, and the artists had to translate them into no less virtuoso choreographer's pas. Reaction speed, extreme musicality, sharp, technical feet and a free, slightly "jazzy" body - such a recipe for the performance of this ballet, better known under the name "Rubies", was proposed by Paul Boos. According to the artistic director of the Astana Ballet Theater Nurlan Kanetov, the artists coped with the challenging choreography, although it was not easy: “Stravinsky's music does not let you relax for a minute!

One has only to be distracted and enter at the wrong time - and that's all, you are hopelessly behind. Each artist here has his/her own theme, and his/her own score, artists must count all the time, and at the same time you need to catch inspiration and completely surrender to the dance. It's incredibly difficult! But for our troupe it is very useful. I am sure that the experience gained in working on these ballets will affect the performance of other performances as well.”

"Rubies" are the central part of the triptych "Jewels", which was composed by Balanchine in 1967. And if the final parts of "Emeralds" to the music of G. Faure and "Diamonds" to the music of Tchaikovsky's third symphony bear a clear stamp of academic ballet, including reminiscences from classical performances, then the middle one, dressed in red, undoubtedly pays tribute to the American style dance, the creation of which Balanchine himself influenced significantly. Ironic, sharp, with a slight Broadway accent, the dance requires perfect control of the body, speed of reaction and, most importantly, a sense of the ensemble from the performers.

The central duet was performed by two compositions: leading soloists Tatyana Ten and Kazbek Akhmedyarov on the first day, and Ainur Abilgazina and young soloist Sundet Sultanov performed at the second premiere. If the first duet emphasized the exact adherence to the choreographic score and the technicality of performance, then the second one brought its own individuality into the reading of the choreographer's text, which, in fact, George Balanchine always demanded from his artists.

A certain detachment and a mysterious half-smile that played on the face of the leading soloist of the theater Ainur Abilgazina, combined with perfected technique, filled the duets with that playful elegance that Paul Boos sought in rehearsals: “Your duet resembles a game of cat and mouse. You have to be like Tom and Jerry, always chasing each other, but all in halftones”. In the context of the ballet "Jewels" it resembles the flickering of stones. Sundet Sultanov, with his passion and unbridled energy, favorably set off his partner, giving the duet dynamics, in which you can reveal the conceived image. It is the beauty that cannot be fixed, but which is wonderful in its variability and impermanence.

The part of the main soloist, which is the center of the choreographic score, was danced by Aizhan Mukatova. The owner of luxurious beauty, a large step, long arms and legs, a bright and technical leading soloist of the theater has very important abilities for this part - a sense of rhythm and the ability to lead. This is probably why Paul Boos gave her the opportunity to dance two premiere shows, although the choreographer-repetiteur prepared 4 casts.

Even light negligence in performance which was probably the result of a long break in work due to trauma did not prevent Aizhan Mukatova from performing with confidence. Balanchine ballets seem to be natural, in fact, the current comprehension comes with time, as happened with “Serenade” and “Concerto Baroque”.

In the meantime, both the soloists and the corps de ballet comprehend the challenging music of Igor Stravinsky and develop Balanchine's technique. In the near future, the management of the theater intends to organise a special evening of the founder of neoclassical style which would present three ballets. George Balanchine's ballets in Central Asia can only be viewed at the Astana Ballet Theatre.

The premiere of the second ballet "The Lasso of Fate" was not only a long-awaited event, but also an intriguing one. The theme of the ballet and the name of the composer who wrote the music for it were also unusual. Although the name of Karina Abdullina is widely known as a songwriter and performer from the beloved duet "Musical". Karina Abdullina dedicated her first ballet to the memory of her friend, teacher and colleague Bulat Syzdykov.

The idea of ​​a ballet based on tarot cards belongs to Karina Abdulina, who is also the author of the libretto. Karina Abdullina perceives the ancient cards that have come to us from ancient centuries as a projection of the subtle world of the subconscious. And each lasso is like a step to the knowledge of oneself by a person. And the music, inspired by the images drawn on the cards, came, as it were, by itself. “No one taught me how to compose music,” admits Karina Abdullina. I just portray it and then transfer it on the piano. Karina Abdullina is undoubtedly a visualist. Probably, the written music began to inspire plastic images.

The choreographer Mukaram Avakhri really liked the music. To date, one of the most talented modern choreographers has found her key to the implementation of the proposed images. This is how the ballet was born, consisting of twenty two scenes combined into a suite. Each scene corresponds to the name of the card and has its own musical theme.

The first at number zero represents the Jester (Zhananur Zhanabekov, Azamat Zhankabaev). His first entry is written in a minor key. The last scene of "Peace" also begins with the entrance of this "son of God" as it is indicated in the libretto. But here his theme sounds already in a major. And the brightest themes of the ballet are woven into it - "Wheel of Fortune", "Judgment", "Emperor" with "Empress", "Sun", "Moon" and, of course, "Devil" and "Death", uniting everyone into an eternal cycle of life.

The ballet, however, cannot be called divertissement in any way, since the theme of fate and the general atmosphere of the Middle Ages run through the entire performance. A talented team from St. Petersburg, represented by set designer and costume designer Olga Shaishmelashvili, lighting designer Denis Solntsev and video projection designer Vadim Dulenko, who have already created more than one performance for the Astana Ballet Theater, easily picked up the idea. The spirit of the Middle Ages, clearly audible in music, found its finished embodiment in Gothic stained-glass windows, costumes, in the idea of ​​carnival and masks. The unobtrusive video content of Vadim Dulenko organically fit into the proposed stage solution.

It is noteworthy that the choreographic text was born in close cooperation between the composer and choreographer. “I was immediately inspired by the idea of ​​Karina Abdullina, and when she began to send me written fragments, I saw that the music of each scene is so self-sufficient that it would be difficult to connect them with some kind of through dramatic line,” says Mukaram Avakhri about the process of creating the ballet. – Although it cannot be said that this is a plotless ballet. There is a plot, it is in these images, they draw their own world. This, in fact, is all of us, in each of us lives one of these images, and maybe several.

However, the choreographer, who feels the structure of his ballets so subtly, could not simply compose a string of dance scenes. The ballet has its own drama, it is indicated in the alternation of solo, duet and crowd scenes. This is how the pictures “Wheel of Fortune”, “The Tower”, “Judgment”, “Peace” become unifying mass scenes, in which the actions of “Death” (Wesley Carvalho) or “The Devil” (Arthur Edson) are intertwined, or the “Star” (Riza Kanatkyzy), shedding its unearthly light on all living things. Spectator tenderness causes the appearance of the “Sun” performed by a student of the Kazakh National Academy of Choreography (Bekdaulet Sarsenkhan).

The choreographer follows the music, and there is a wide scope for the most diverse palette of dance styles - the Devil dances a habanera, Death - tango, Lovers are spinning in the rhythm of a waltz, and in the scene "Court" the artists dance an incendiary lezginka, the melody of which is clearly heard in the music. It should be noted that there are a lot of recognizable melodies in the music that are easy to hear, perhaps this is the secret of such a stormy reception by the audience of this ballet. As if you are plunging into the familiar, native world of images familiar from childhood.

The lightness and recognizability of the melodic pattern of the ballet score is also noted by the ballet's director Arman Urazgaliev. The ballet clavier composed by Karina Abdullina was orchestrated by the Moscow composer Viktor Gurevich, who has long friendly relations with the Duet “Musicola”. In general, all participants of the project unanimously note that the work on the ballet "The Lasso of Fate" was easy and a pleasure. And the reaction of the audience after the performance testified to the same - everyone liked the ballet which caused the most positive emotions. Perhaps this is the providence of fate and the authors were helped by the stars.

Author: Flyura Musina, ballet critic