Abay Kazakh State Ballet make their London debut in two Fokine classics

London Coliseum
November 17, 2019

Charlotte Kasner

As the Kazakh ambassador said in his introduction to the evening, Kazakhstan has embarked on something of a cultural onslaught of London. Following recent impressive debut of the Astana Ballet, this was a chance to see the state ballet company for the first time.

Dating from 1938, the Abay Kazakh State Ballet (their home theatre is named after Abai Qunanbaiuly, 19th-century Kazakh poet, composer and philosopher) is very much in the Soviet tradition of being Russian with a local national flavour. It at one time boasted Leonid Zhukov as ballet master and hosted some of the greats of Moscow and Leningrad during the Second World War. They chose to present two Fokine pieces for their one-night only London appearance, no doubt with an eye to the box office.

The company gave a solid rendition of Chopiniana if one that lacked the cool intensity that marked the classic Soviet-era performances. The highlight was undoubtedly the synchronicity of the corps de ballet who truly danced as one with commendably strong ports de bras throughout.

Saule Rakhmedova and Farhad Buriev in ScheherazadePhoto Abay Kazakh State Ballet
Saule Rakhmedova and Farhad Buriev in Scheherazade
Photo Abay Kazakh State Ballet

Rahim Dairov as the poet was a gentlemanly partner and executed all his solos with precision. Zhanel Tukeeva in the mazurka struck a slightly jarring note, however, seeming unwilling to use the expanse of the stage and dancing with all the stops in. I just longed for the fluidity to spill over the edges. Everyone without exception had superb, soft footwork and feather-light landings.

Scheherazade could not have provided more of a contrast, not least in the vibrant costumes realised by Daniele Ament and Toni Candeloro (who also provided some new choreography) and. Malika Elchibayeva was a powerful Zobeyda and somewhat eclipsed Azamat Askarov as the Golden Slave. He was more of an attentive partner than a man exploding with passion and, while an excellent technician, rather lacked the fire of his partner. Elchibayeva simply blazed across the footlights and imbued her suicide with as much tragedy as any Giselle. Her pliant body almost bent in half with grief after the slave was slaughtered by the vengeful Sultan.

A short evening, it was nevertheless gratifying to have a chance to see this established company. I hope they do not remain strangers to the international scene.