The Mikhailovsky’s visit to London had on offer the kind of varied items you would expect at a restaurant in a tourist town. There was the house specialty done to excellence (Don Quixote with Osipova and Vasiliev); the tired old regional dish that everyone in town has to have because it’s expected (Laurencia); and then the last two programs of the visit, which featured something the chef added to keep the menu up to date for the locals, and then one special dish that he had lavished all his care and attention on knowing that only one or two diners might order it …but he wanted to do it to challenge himself, and because one fantastic ingredient was in season.
Multiplicity and Forms of Silence and Emptiness were done to be popular, taking well-known classical music (Bach) and setting dance to it that was intellectually unchallenging. I cringed a bit when the curtain went up, because, it turned out, I had seen it before (I call it “the ballet with the chair”) and disliked it. It’s kind of crushing because I love Bach, but for Duato to use the same trope over and over again – of dancers as musical instruments – just made me want to claw my eyes out. If he had done it once (the harpsichord duet would have been my choice) I could have handled it, but instead it was a whole damned ballet of cutesiness. Bleah. Bonus points for the hot shirtless men in panniers but otherwise the entire thing was a trial.
Next up was “Forms of Silence and Emptiness,” which I had also seen before, way back when it was new and Duato brought it to Seattle. Why, why have Bach as a character? Why “embody” inspiration? It all just seemed a way to ham-fistedly find a way to make modern ballet “accessible.” At least there was some gorgeous singing (Svetlana Moskalenko, thank you!) which coincided with my favorite bit: a gorgeous little duet to the aria “Seufzer, Tränen, Kummer, Not” in which Victoria Zaripova ans Rishat Yulbarisov lost and found each other again. It was plotless and perfect pure dance, but before I knew it, the spell was over and Duato was back with his wooden bat of obviousness. At least it was a short program, and my half-priced tickets in the front row gave me the opportunity to really enjoy the dancers in a way I normally never can.
The final evening completely made up for it with a work of breath-stealing amazement. No, not “Prelude,” which seemed to be designed to please the locals (in Saint Petersburg) by showing them “oh look, I can make pretty, classical-esque dances that are modern but not so much that you can’t relate to them, don’t worry about having me run this group, everything is going to be fine;” but “Nunc Dimittis,” which took the amazing music of Arvo Part (and David Azagra) and built a work of art that completely engaged the eye while showing of the talents of Ekaterina Borchenko. Watching this work, a perfect unison of movement, costume, lighting (the little cavern of red at the back of the stage!) and music, I couldn’t believe this was the same company that, just a few days ago, left two thirds of the corps dancing in the murk for Don Quixote. Is Duato going to pizazz up the rest of the repertoire? I certainly hope so. The dancing was equally lovely for Without Words, an older piece I found hypnotic in its endless partnerings and repartnerings and mysterious entrances and exits. It’s a pity they didn’t ditch Laurencia in favor of a third modern bill; and I’m a bit miffed that Vasiliev and Osipova were too grand to make a showing for either of these evenings. Maybe they just haven’t been with the company long enough; maybe they’re too rigid in their views of what kind of dancing they’re willing to do. At any rate, it was wonderful to end the Mikhailovsky’s visit with this excellent evening of dance, and I look forward to their return. But next time, can they announce it before I book my holidays? I don’t want to have to miss two shows next time!
(This review is for performances that took place on Friday, April 5th, and Sunday, April 7th, 2013.)