- The Washington Times - Friday, June 16, 2006

The Kirov Ballet opened a week’s engagement at the Kennedy Center Tuesday night with one of the most starkly modern programs any ballet company has danced here.

It is especially startling coming from the Kirov — home to the great 19th-century ballets created by Marius Petipa (“Swan Lake,” “Sleeping Beauty”) —which will dance the ultimate Romantic ballet, “Giselle,” over the weekend.

The opening program, to be repeated tonight, goes for the jugular with a full evening of works by William Forsythe, the American-born choreographer who has spent his career in Germany creating taut, visceral and controversial works.

Mr. Forsythe brings us an enigmatic world, peopled by dancer-athletes of stunning power who stretch positions to the extreme, burst into explosions of fast turns and jagged leaps, then suddenly come to a halt and saunter flatfootedly offstage.

This stop-and-start motif appears frequently. His opening “Steptext” is set to a fragmented recording of a Bach chaconne. (Mr. Forsythe appears to prefer canned music rather than live.) Short bursts on the violin, the volume turned up, are followed by silence and then another brief phrase. The intermittent sounds, as well as sudden blackouts, are arresting, presumably Mr. Forsythe’s intent; there is nothing soporific about his staging.

“Steptext” is a virtuoso turn for four dancers. Daria Pavlenko, the lone woman, dressed in a red body suit, has a lithe, steely-strong and flexible body that does wonders. She appears this weekend as the ethereal Giselle. (Talk about versatility.)

Igor Kolb, her equally impressive partner, and Andrey Merkuriev and Maxim Khrebtov, all dressed in black, completed the cast of this vigorous work.

Although the aesthetic of the evening was postmodern, the four works on the program are not new; they date from the 1980s and ‘90s and have become Forsythe classics.

“Approximate Sonata,” a series of sequential duets for four couples, was the least inventive. It ran out of steam before it was over. Again, though, the Kirov’s dancing was brisk and bright.

The closest thing to ballet classicism on the program was “The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude.” For starters, it was set to the last movement of Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 and featured actual ballet tutus (in any case, postmodern tutus that looked like perky pancakes). It also had bright illumination (a relief after the glumly dark lighting that preceded it).

Most of all, the work had a range of classical ballet steps, always enlarged and deconstructed as is Mr. Forsythe’s wont. It was given a bang-up performance by a brilliant quintet of dancers — ballerinas Tatyana Tkachenko, Nadejda Gonchar, Ekaterina Osmolkina, and two striking males, Leonid Sarafanov and Andrian Fadeyev.

“In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated,” with bravura dancing set to thumps and crashes designed by frequent collaborator Thom Willems, brought the evening to a close.

It is exhilarating to see the human body used so gallantly; Mr. Forsythe certainly has brought new life to basic classroom steps.

But, the greatest works of art have an aura of the ineffable about them. In dance, the human body is the instrument; in that sense, it’s the most personal of all art forms. It can do more than merely stir us with the admitted allure of seeing powerful honed bodies challenging space.

At its most inspired, dance can tell us about our ideal selves — our tenderness, our inner fears, our pursuit of perfection.

As exciting as it is to see the imaginative way Mr. Forsythe has enlarged the vocabulary, he leaves dance’s grandest challenges unmet.

***

WHAT: Kirov Ballet in works by William Forsythe and “Giselle”

WHEN: Tonight at 7:30 p.m., Tommorrow at 1:30 and 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: Kennedy Center Opera House

TICKETS: $47 to $112

PHONE: 202/467-4600MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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