Review: Astana Ballet, Royal Opera House

Some may like their ballet classical, some modern; you may prefer romantic, or dramatic – whatever your preference is, the Astana Ballet has something for everyone. As they make their way through their four act ballet of short stories, it is wondrous to see Kazakhstan’s leading ballet company direct their youthful energy into this classic art form.  This young company surely will develop and perfect their craft over the coming years, but even now their talent radiates throughout the Linbury Theatre. 

The evening is made up of four short segments of ballet, all inspired by the multifaceted theme of love. First is Love Fear Loss, a piece set to the music of Edith Piaf. Three duets track the journey through the three title emotions: the first duet is an image of softness and tranquillity, the second of despair and conflict, and the third of separation and tragedy. My highlight is the second duet performed by Ainur Abilgazina and Ilya Manayenkov, with their visceral connection to the story giving Ricardo Amarante’s choreography increased gravitas. Instead of a set, Amarante’s choice of costume, coordinated with the colourful lighting, creates the visuals of a Wes Anderson film with a consistently in sync mood and colour palette. 

My favourite piece of the evening is the company’s performance of Salomé. Seductive and sumptuous, Mukaram Avakhri’s choreography creates a new ballet format. This piece proves there is strength in numbers, with the ensemble creating the dark drama of the story whilst the soloists carry the storyline. Salomé and John’s duet performed by Aizhan Mukatova and Farkhad Buriyev is exquisite; Avakhri’s choreography is able to judge when the slightest touch or the most complex sequence is needed, with the pair’s performance exhibiting a high level of skill, both in dance and drama. 

The third piece, The Heritage of the Great Steppe, is a collection of small performances by the whole company, exhibiting the heritage and culture of Kazakhstan. The pieces showcase traditional Kazakh dress and music, all of which display a great pride in this company’s own legacy. The director of the Astana Ballet Theatre Alexandr Sovostyanov says in their foreword that this section aims to honour Kazakhstan’s “precious heritage” – the level of pride onstage during this segment makes each piece truly magical. 

Finally, we are presented with A Fuego Lento, a blend of tango and ballet. This section’s concept excites me immensely but, although well performed, Amarante’s choreography hints at the same softness from Love Fear Loss, when this piece calls for a more intense, passionate approach. The idea itself is intriguing, but currently the elegant precision of the ballet dilutes any raw flair. 

The structure of this evening allows us to sample the delights of the various styles which fall under the umbrella of ballet; I believe it to be a novel way of programming such a show. This company may still be developing, but that being said, if they were back in London next month, I would happily watch them again.  

The Astana Ballet played the Royal Opera House until 14 September. For more information and tickets, visit the Royal Opera House website.