Grand Kyiv Ballet of Ukraine

Grand-Kyiv-Ballet-of-Ukraine-Forest-SongAn encore visit to Canberra by this brave company on the tail-end of an arduous two-month Australian and New Zealand tour, with the same program it offered two years ago, provided the opportunity for a second look at a much-loved heritage ballet that is based on a Ukrainian folk story with music by Ukrainian composer Mikhail Skorulskyi.

Forest Song has been performed in Ukraine for over 75 years and the Grand Kyiv Ballet is the only company to proudly perform this ballet outside Ukraine, as an example of Ukraine’s unique ballet heritage.

Although the story and staging are old-fashioned and hopelessly melodramatic to contemporary western eyes, the ballet means a lot to this troupe of accomplished dancers whose artistic heritage is being destroyed while they share what they can with the world.

At this performance the doomed lovers were danced by Marta Kaliandruk and Daniil Kish. Both were excellent, executing the demanding choreography, which includes some spectacular lifts, with admirable style and panache.

Anna Stoianova repeated her eye-catching turn as the Field Mermaid, while Kseniia Dronova and Margaryta Kuznietsova were outstanding as the vengeful bride and her mother.

Grand Kyiv Ballet of Ukraine Don Quixote Viktor Tomashek and Mie NagasawaHowever it is in the second half of the program that the company really shines. Scenes from the ballet Don Quixote featuring the original Petipa choreography and stirring Minkus music, provide the company with the opportunity to show off some spectacular scenery and costumes as well as thrilling dancing.

The company is fortunate to have diminutive pocket-rocket Japanese ballerina Mie Nagasawa as the only non-Ukrainian dancer among its ranks. Nagasawa displays an exceptional technique, amazing extensions and a confident, endearing personality making her perfect casting as the cheeky heroine, Kitri.

She’s perfectly matched with the strong, ebullient, Viktor Tomashek as her Basilio. Together they dance up a storm thrilling the audience with a succession of exciting lift’s and catches, among them the famed lift in which Tomashek balances Nagasawa on one arm fully extended high above his head while the music pauses until the dancers are ready to continue. It’s a thrilling move which only the most skilled dancers can accomplish. This pair repeats it twice just to prove the first time wasn’t a fluke.

Oleksandr Harkavenko as Kitri’s father had his hands full trying to control his wilful daughter, while Anna Stoianova, this time teamed  with Marta Kaliandruk, delighted as her two girlfriends.

Kristina Kiiko and Myloka Khoma tore up the floor as the flamboyant Street Dancer and Toreador Espada and Vladyslav Yevtushenko survived being tossed dangerously high as a delightfully mischievous Sancho Panza to Zack Tidswell’s elegant, if misguided Don Quixote.

Though they could have been forgiven for looking a bit jaded after such an arduous tour, the perfectly groomed, fastidiously trained ensemble was anything but, accomplishing multiple quick costume changes and dancing with admirable accuracy and flair to provide enthusiastic support throughout.

Following the finale, and after acknowledging the enthusiastic applause of the audience, the entire company re-assembled on stage to remind the audience of its mission by singing an emotional rendition of the Ukrainian National Anthem for which the principal dancers draped themselves in the Ukrainian flag.

Grand Kyiv Ballet of Ukraine
The Playhouse – Canberra Theatre Centre, Civic Square, Canberra
Performance: Friday 28 June 2024
Season: 28 – 29 June 2024

Following the Canberra season, the Grand Kyiv Ballet of Ukraine will perform in Brisbane (2 July), Wollongong (4 July), Dubbo (5 – 6 July) and the Gold Coast (7 July).

Images: Artists of the Grand Kyiv Ballet of Ukraine in Forest Song (supplied) | Viktor Tomashek and Mie Nagasawa in Don Quixote  (supplied)

Review: Bill Stephens OAM