Russian ballet has been slow to open itself up to new influences since the fall of the USSR. By 2010, local companies had yet to try their hand at the works of Jiří Kylián, long a mainstay of the ballet repertoire elsewhere. The Stanislavsky Ballet stepped up to the plate first, and while the Bolshoi and Perm Ballet have followed suit, the Moscow troupe has developed the relationship further, staging its first all-Kylián evening last autumn.
Its first acquisitions were Petite Mort and Sechs Tänze, two of the Czech master’s most popular works. Set to Mozart, they now often appear together on stage, with a short musical interlude. The first is among Kylián’s most sensual ballets (“petite mort” is a euphemism for orgasm in French) while the other goes for whimsical comedy, but they share a number of visual elements. The crinoline dresses on wheels that act as the boundary between decorum and intimacy in Petite Mort return as a jokey prop for men in wigs; rapiers alternatively suggest sexual tension and the wackiness of Sechs Tänze’s powdered aristocrats.
The latter and Petite Mort’s six couples, clad, in the words of Kylián, in “Mozartian underwear”, can be construed as two sides of the same coin, but what the two works share above all is a scintillating musicality. Every pas de deux in Petite Mort is a study in texture and contrast, accelerating and slowing down at the drop of a hat. The preternatural fluidity of the Russian style serves the Stanislavsky’s women well, but synchronisation issues marred the hushed opening scene with the rapiers, and Sechs Tänze was played for laughs at the expense of musical timing in several scenes.
The works the Stanislavsky premiered in 2012 and 2013 are more elusive compositions, and the company deserves plaudits for bringing them to Moscow. With its dark unitards and stark solos and pas de deux, Wings of Wax, which opened the programme, feels at times like Kylián’s placid answer to Forsythe’s In the Middle. Instead of Forsythe’s two golden cherries, a tree hangs upside down above the stage; a lone spotlight drifts around it, casting shadows. Ostensibly inspired by Icarus, it is not uniformly strong yet but its cast succeeded in lending it the right sense of mystery, with a velvety final pas de deux from Oksana Kardash and Dmitry Sobolevsky.
Sleepless is a more fragmented experiment set to a sound landscape by Dirk Haubrich, inspired by Mozart’s Adagio and Rondo for glass harmonica. A woman is drawn by her shadow into a gap in a white backcloth, and seems to fall through the looking glass into a world of insomnia. Like a danced cadavre exquis, dancers, or just an arm or leg, appear and disappear through the wall formed by the backcloth, moving as if underwater. From the initial non sequiturs to a suspended pas de deux, Sleepless has the eerie texture of dreams, and drew unexpectedly warm applause. The style may be a work in progress (stiffness is an issue among the men), but the Stanislavsky is taking its audience on a promising journey.