World Class Choreography on the Black Sea Coast

Performance of the Perm Opera and Ballet Theatre. Days of Dance. Sochi, 2024. Photos provided by the Sirius press service

The second edition of the ‘Days of Dance’ festival in Sochi has showcased the work of contemporary Czech choreographer Jiri Kylian and North American dancer and choreographer William Forsythe, unusual at a time when cultural ties with the West have been severed.

The ‘Days of Dance’ Festival on the Black Sea Coast takes place in Sirius, a region of Russia which hosted the Winter Olympics a decade ago and has been granted the special status of what is called ‘Federal Territory’. There is a stadium, icerink and racetrack as well as hotels and restaurants, now transformed from a huge sports complex into a science and creativity cluster. The Sirius Educational Centre has been established in what was once a hotel, welcoming children from all over Russia, outstanding in diverse fields from music to mathematics. What was once the press centre for the Winter Olympics is now home to Sirius University, and numerous concerts are also held here all year round. There is the New Year Music Festival, the Spring Festival, Jazz Days, Dance Days and soon the Big Summer Music Festival which lasts for a whole month and showcases some of the most celebrated musicians in Russia who perform on Medalnaya Square, near the Olympic torch, surrounded by water. The concerts finish with a light and music display in the fountains. The construction in Sirius of a new state of the art theatre and concert complex, supervised by Valery Gergiev (b. 1953), is nearing completion which will have two new stages, several spaces for exhibitions or recitals, and a library.

The artistic director of Dance Days Festival is Svetlana Zakharova (b. 1979), a prima ballerina at the Bolshoi who also heads up her own ballet school at Sirius. Speaking about the festival programme, Zakharova notes: "We combine timeless classics with new choreography, demonstrating two poles which do not conflict, but are complementary halves of one whole."

Perm Opera and Ballet Theatre launched the festival with two distinctive contemporary dance productions: Igor Stravinsky’s 1923 ‘The Wedding’ directed by Czech choreographer Jiří Kylian (b. 1947) and ‘The Second Detail’ directed by New York based dancer and choreographer William Forsythe (b. 1949). The company has produced these ballets many times but when they were first staged a decade ago, they were seen as bold choices for the repertoire and Kylián's ‘The Wedding’ was a world premiere in Perm in 2012. At that time, only the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky could afford Forsythe's ballets, but it even took Alexei Miroshnichenko (b. 1974), the theatre’s chief choreographer, over a year to obtain a licence to stage it. Today it is perhaps the only production left in Russia made by such a high-profile international choreographer.

On Russian soil, in ‘The Wedding’, which Kylian subtitles as ‘Little Crazy Wedding’ the pre-wedding ceremony is all about mood rather than tradition. Kylian captures the restlessness, excitement, even anxiety in Igor Stravinsky’s original musical score which has helped to popularise the ballet, played by four pianos, percussion and singers together with a bold new dance vocabulary. In Forsythe’s dizzying production of ‘The Second Detail’, dance emerges gradually as it passes from one group of artists to another, until what has become an endless flow of dance is interrupted by a soloist who bursts onto the stage. Only top performers and soloists are selected to perform in these big productions, in the festival, Mongolian star dancer Bulgan Retsendorj played the bride and Artem Mishakov the groom in the wedding.

The Mariinsky Theatre also sent its top performers to Sirius. Victoria Tereshkina (b. 1983) danced in Jerome Robbins’ ballet ‘In the Night’, a poetic production written for three couples set to Chopin's Nocturnes which has been performed at the theatre since the 1990s and in the past has featured legendary prima ballerinas Diana Vishneva (b. 1976), Ulyana Lopatkina (b. 1973) and Yulia Makhalina (b. 1968). These three nocturnal duets are brilliantly interpreted by the choreographer and performed with heightened sensitivity and sensuality. The second ballet performed by the Mariinsky Theatre has also become a contemprary classic, ‘Concerto DSCH’, a production by Alexei Ratmansky (b. 1968) for New York City Ballet, first performed in Europe at La Scala in Milan and then the Mariinsky Theatre. As a sad mark of the times, the choreographer’s name was removed from the posters as he condemned the military operation in Ukraine and left Russia in 2022 when he had been working on the world premiere of ‘The Art of Fugue’ at the Bolshoi. The music of Shostakovich's Second Concerto which plays on the Soviet ‘young pioneer’ style for its bright utopian vision is tangible in Ratmansky's choreography and search for an appropriate style, but it is Chopin's lyrical slow movement that ultimately steals the show for its light touches of sadness inbetween the optimism

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