Kazakhstan’s leading ballet company, Astana Ballet makes its London debut in September at the Linbury Theatre at the Royal Opera House. David Mead looks ahead to their visit.
In recent years, Kazakhstan has been investing heavily in ballet, developing dancers and building new theatres. Even so, when Astana Ballet made its debut in Kazakhstan in 2013, it marked a significant step-up in the country’s cultural landscape. It quickly became the country’s leading company, followed by fans in and around the region.
The company’s repertoire includes classical international masterpieces from Balanchine to Forsythe. New locally-inspired ballets that also draw on national material are equally important. Astana Ballet is also keen to collaborate with choreographers from different countries as a way of extending the dancers’ knowledge and skills, as well as the repertory.
Touring overseas is important for the company too, and it has already appeared in New York, Paris, St Petersburg (as part of the White Nights Festival in 2016), Tokyo, Brussels and Warsaw among other cities. Chief choreographer Mukaram Avakhri is on record as saying that they are an impetus for further creativity, and an opportunity for the dancers to test their strengths and abilities in front of knowledgeable audiences.
At the Linbury Theatre in London, Astana Ballet will present a mixed programme of three modern works alongside The Heritage of the Great Steppe, the company’s signature piece that presents and celebrates traditional Kazakh folk art.
Astana Ballet’s resident choreographer and artistic associate Ricardo Amarante has two ballets on the programme. His Love Fear Loss, to the songs of Edith Piaf, was inspired by the singer’s remarkable life story. It is a dance about emotional attachments. Each of a series of duets is a journey through the experience of a relationship.
A former student at the National Ballet School Cuba and English National Ballet School, Amarante spent most of his dancing career with the Royal Ballet of Flanders working as a soloist from 2008 -2016. There, he performed in all the major classical ballets and worked closely with leading choreographers including William Forsythe, Marcia Haydee, Hans van Manen, Jiri Kylian and Jorma Elo. He puts it very simply. “Music, dance and passion is in my blood. I am Brazilian.”
Amarante’s interest in choreography developed in Antwerp where he staged several short works, some later restaged for Ballet Dortmund, the Royal Ballet School of Antwerp, the Paluuca School in Dresden and English National Ballet School. In 2014, he was invited to participate in the prestigious New York City Ballet Choreographic Institute, and the same year was commissioned for the Genée International Ballet competition by the Royal Academy of Dance.
In A Fuego Lento, Amarante turns his attention to nascent feelings of emotional heat, burning emotions and the force of first love. With its’ Forsythe bias, the choreography combines emotional mood and virtuoso technique. Described as a ‘slow burn’ generated by the initial stages of a relationship, the choreography combines tango with lyrical contemporary choreography. We are promised dance that follows the waves of excitement of the accompanying tango music by Lalo Shifrin, Astor Piazzola and Carlos Gardel, plus music from New York based Japanese composer Sago Kosugi.
Salome is a one-act ballet by Mukaram Avakhri inspired by Oscar Wilde’s shocking interpretation of the famous biblical story, and brings together a variety of techniques including pointe and barefoot. The music is Turkish pianist and composer Fazil Say’s violin concerto, 1001 Nights in the Harem, previously used for ballet in a 2016 production of Scheherazade at Mainfranken Theater, Würzburg. Say’s music is considered particularly suitable for dance because of its roots in traditional Turkish music with its strongly accentuated rhythms, the uneven time signatures and heavy use of Turkish percussion instruments, here also glockenspiel, marimba, vibraphone, celesta and harp.
Rounding off the evening, the colourful The Heritage of the Great Steppe brings a change of tack. Avakhri and Aigul Tati’s work is a montage of scenes taken from national ballets featuring a cast of female dancers in traditional costume, presented in a modern way but that simultaneously retains the character and originality of classic Kazakh folk dance.
Astana Ballet are at the Linbury Theatre at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden from September 12-14, 2019. Visit www.roh.org.uk for more details and tickets.