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Astana Ballet Gala
(Astana Ballet Facebook Page)

Assel Kurmanbayeva, Artistic Director
Aigul Tati, Chief Choreographer
Mukaram Avakhri, Chief Producer, Choreographic Team
Mayra Kadyrova, Teacher-Repetiteur, Honored Artist
Zaure Umbetkulova, Teacher-Repetiteur, Ballet Manager

Alice Tully Hall
Lincoln Center


Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
November 30, 2015

It was a pleasure to attend the Astana Ballet Gala at Tully Hall, tonight, presented by the country of Kazakhstan, the Foundation for the Development and Support of Ballet and National Dance, DCINY (musical concert producer), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan, and the Ministry of Culture and Sport of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Despite the formality of these prestigious titles, tonight’s program was transporting, lush, romantic, and genuinely impressive. In fact, I wish they had scheduled a longer run, as I’d have seen it again. In particular, the ingenious use of backdrop projections on the Tully stage, unique, like the costumes, for each of the twelve dances, added contrast in tone, color, and mood. Before this elegant, aesthetic display unfolded, the audience was treated to a lobby concert, by folkloric musicians from Kazakhstan, costumed in embroidered and fur-trimmed finery. Once inside the theater lobby, posters of Kazakhstan culture and a stunning, decorated interior living space were available to explore. I was happy to meet Ambassador Kairat K. Abdrakhmanov, Permanent Representative to the U.N. and his guest Masud Bin Momen, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the U.N. and Mrs. Momen. The aura of this welcome was warm and festive.

Prior to the twelve, one-act or excerpted ballets, Ambassador Abdrakhmanov and Kazakhstan’s Vice Minister of Culture and Sport, Galim Akhmediarov, greeted the packed Hall. Through these esteemed gentlemen, the audience learned some historical facts about Kazakhstan and the Astana Ballet. All of the company dancers are women, and, with most ballets including an expansive ensemble, there must have been quick costume changes happening throughout. The program opened with Honored Artist, A. Tati’s “The Beauties”, with music by Turan, an ethnic folk group. The projection here was filled with pink cherry blossoms and falling petals, in perfumy dreaminess. The full company of dancers, all in pink, then pink and yellow, swirled about the stage like the windswept petals. The costumes were long, pink or yellow, ruffled dresses, with pointed hats, from which were flowing chiffon scarves. From this moment, we were all drawn in, and I should mention that Tully Hall has a raised, orchestral seating plan, so, even from the rear rows, there’s a full, open view. “Seven Beauties”, next, by People’s Artist, G. Tutkibayeva, was danced by seven women to music by K. Karayev. A majestic projection of rushing waves, black rocks on shore, and black doorway décor was breathtaking. The ballet dancers, en pointe, in purple chiffon costumes with feather ornamentations, moved in synchronized elegance.

“Californian Poppy”, by A. Pavlova and directed by People’s Artist of Russia, A. Asylmuratova to a Tchaikovsky score, was danced in front of deep pink poppies, that open and close, just like the pink and black costumes. Nadezhda Kim was featured in a gorgeous solo, lifting each of her costume's petals, first up, then allowing them to fall, as if she were a live poppy flower, within such a creative and whimsical design. The audience, at this point, was breathless, awaiting each new artistic introduction. “The Dawn”, by M. Avakhri, to music by K. Shyldebayev, Dauletkerey, was an excerpt from a lengthier ballet, “Zhusan”. Darina Kairasheva was featured in this bucolic ballet, with the dancers in slippers, walking beneath giant sunrise-blue sky-sunset projections. The music (all music was recorded) included eloquent flutes, with vocal passages adding lovely cultural effects. An extended chiffon scarf was a lovely visual prop for the ensemble. M. Avakhri’s “Dreams of Kyz Zhibek” featured Riz Kanatkyzy, dancing to a score by Y. Brusilovsky and R. Salavotov. Pointed hats reappeared, this time with white feathers, with a purple-on-black projection of mystical lights. An ensemble of fourteen moved with outstretched arms, with one dancer, en pointe, collapsing on the stage. Later, a line of dancers ran through another line, revealing the lone soloist, in choreography evocative of familiar, classical ballets. “Rejoicing”, by A. Tsoy, to a score by A. Alipbekuly, showcased Anel Baltenova. Sumptuous clouds, green, grassy hills, and yellow flowers were seen in the backdrop, with dynamically propelled dancers in red shorts and black-gold tops.

“Obsession”, by N. Markelov, Honored Artist of Udmurtia, was brilliantly danced to Stravinsky’s score for “The Firebird”, with a trio of dancers in red, feathery costumes and red, feathered hats. The early media backdrop is thunder and lightning, shifting to floating amorphous colors, then white feathers on darkness. These magnetizing projections were critical to the visual impact of each ballet. As the company is all women, the dancing is not partnered, but rather structured ensemble and solo choreography that blends with the texture of fabric and shading and shapes of the projections. The full effect is spellbinding. “Swallow”, by P.G. Emerson, featured eight dancers and a score by K. Jenkins. Pulsing bubbles float on the backdrop, with dancers in red pointe shoes, black costumes, and glistening tiaras. Vocal music added depth to this fascinating ballet. In “Bridal Pair”, excerpted from M. Avakhri’s “Zhusan”, to a score by K. Shyldebayev, featured Riza Kanatkyzy as the bride in a white gown. There was no groom in this excerpt, but there was an ensemble in blue, flowing gowns, with a luxurious, blue backdrop. Punctuated percussion was infused in this ballet. Women danced in duets and a fast-moving circle. “Almei Dance”, by N. Kalinina, was an homage to “Scheherazade”, music by Rimsky-Korsakov, just as “Obsession” was an homage to “”The Firebird”. In “Almei Dance”, Zere Ismailova led an ensemble of seven, to the exquisite violin solos. The belly dance motif, with the ensemble in red, billowy pants and cropped blouses, was exotically designed.

“Scythian Mural”, by M. Avakhri, was danced by the full company, with a total percussive score, by Chemirani, an ethnic folk group. The backdrop mural included stones with hieroglyphics and bronze, mythical animals. The nude leotards and black skirts matched the beige-gold-black projections, a striking effect, especially danced in sharp, percussive rhythms. I noticed evocations of the Graham genre, with pelvic and torso thrusts, within the riveting motion. The finale, with the full company onstage, was an excerpt from the ballet “Alem”, by N. Dmitrievsky, music by Armand Amar. The notes indicate characters called Peri, Fairy patronesses of the wanderers, Souls living on the world, Three Bayterek, Averters, and Horses. The ongoing, projected voiceover poetry, by Bakhyt Kairbekov, introducing portions of the ballet, was written and spoken in Kazakh. However, the program does note that the ballet “is an ancient Turkic epic about the birth history of the soul and the beginning of life”. For the non-Kazakh members of the audience, the ballet, projections, and music carried the moment. “Alem” included projections of white clouds, a lustrous, full moon, and giant stone structures, like Stonehenge. Dancers wear a combination of black-white, avante-garde dresses, with deep cuts at the hem, and red-blue or red-black costumes. Three dancers in long, black braids are evocative of the ballet “Les Noces”, and there’s much Kazakh folklore woven throughout. At one point, dancers lift cloth mats, in synchronized motion, with mats concealing new dancers. This ballet was enthralling.

Kudos to Astana Ballet.

Astana Ballet in "The Beauties"
Choreography by A. Tati
Courtesy of Astana Ballet Photography

Astana Ballet in "The Dawn" (Excerpt from "Zhusan")
Choreography by M. Avakhri
Courtesy of Astana Ballet Photography

Astana Ballet in "Dreams of Kyz Zhibek"
Choreography by M. Avakhri
Courtesy of Astana Ballet Photography

Astana Ballet in "Bridal Pair" (Excerpt from "Zhusan")
Choreography by M. Avakhri
Courtesy of Astana Ballet Photography
Courtesy of Roberta Zlokower

Astana Ballet in "Alem" (Excerpt)
Choreography by N. Dmitrievsky
Courtesy of Astana Ballet Photography

Republic of Kazakhstan Folk Musicians
Performing in the Lobby of Alice Tully Hall
Courtesy of Roberta Zlokower

Republic of Kazakhstan Cultural Posters
Courtesy of Roberta Zlokower

Republic of Kazakhstan Cultural Posters
Courtesy of Roberta Zlokower

Kairat K. Abdrakhmanov
Ambassador / Permanent Kazakhstan Representative to the UN
in the Kazakhstan Cultural Exhibit
Courtesy of Roberta Zlokower

Masud Bin Momen (and Mrs. Momen)
Ambassador / Permanent Bangladesh Representative to the UN
in the Kazakhstan Cultural Exhibit
Courtesy of Roberta Zlokower

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at