Review by Carly Fisher
Generally, when the lights go down at the ballet, a large curtain rises, tutu adorned figures take to the stage, intense but beautiful orchestrals begin and we settle in for something grand. That is ballet as we are used to seeing it. But when the lights dim at the magnificent Assembly Halls and we settle in for the start of the Kyiv City Ballet’s Edinburgh Fringe show, we begin with a humble and powerful welcome from the Artistic Directors of the company. Telling us about how the Company was in France on tour, on only their second day away, when their country was attacked, the Company has not returned to the Ukraine since - over a year away so far. Unable to return home for fear of their safety, they have been travelling, sharing what they love most - dance and storytelling - as they go.
The show opens by walking us through a few minute sample of the daily 1.5 hours of warm up and training that the Company rigorously does daily. The principal ballerina is first to the make shift barre (a bench) to show us how it is done and I have to say that here we get to see just how extraordinarily talented this dancer is - even more so than during the performance. Her lines are stunning and seeing an experienced dancer like this tackle the simplest of steps at the barre really reveals her technique, her training and her wonderful precision in each move.
After the daily training exhibition is complete, the Company launches into their performance of a piece devised by Ivan and Ekaterina Kozlova, ‘A Tribute to Peace.’ It is no surprise that with everything going on for this Company at home, the dances are light, leaning into comedy and tying up with happy endings. It works nicely though - the show is sweet and simple and for a complex art form like ballet to fit in so well into a fringe, in many senses, it needs to be.
The costuming feels as though it needs a bit of an upgrade as it leans in heavily to the ‘old world’ fashions of Europe. Set against a colourful projection of a naive style painting, the stage is certainly vibrant and with only one bench on stage as props/set, the reliance of the work certainly falls on the dancers and not the production elements.
Overall, the storylines are kept interactive, personable and light hearted and the character work was strong. The dancing itself was perhaps not as refined in some of the younger dancers but the principals certainly showed their experience as they glided across the stage. I think that a Company with such promise could likely handle more complex choreography and it would be great to see this Kyiv City Ballet again to see what else they are capable of.
After a slideshow of images of Kyiv - all of which look like postcards they are so beautiful - we are treated to ‘Men of Kyiv,’ a more traditional offering from the Company that features their male ensemble. Wearing a mix of blue and yellow shirts and showcasing the athleticism required to execute a high level of folk dance like this, this piece is extremely dynamic and exciting to watch. Though the women stole the performance in the balletic piece, ultimately Men of Kyiv steals show - I imagine I wasn’t the only one in the audience wishing that part had been longer!
If you come into the show expecting a ballet as you traditionally know it, you are likely to be sorely disappointed. Recognising that this is a fringe show, an opportunity to have ballet included in the Arts festival in an easily accessible format like this is a very valuable contribution. I wouldn’t recommend this show to ballet aficionados. I would highly recommend it to ballet first timers and particularly families visiting the fringe with kids - this is a perfect introduction to what ballet is and the magic that this art form can possess.