La rende des lutins; Choreographer: Johan Kobborg; Photo: Pierluigi Abbondanza
They are among the finest musicians and dancers of their generation: husband and wife, Vadim Repin and Svetlana Zakharova. A Pas de Deux for Toes and Fingers was born when they decided it was time to combine their talents in a special show. First seen at the inaugural Trans-Siberian Art Festival in Novosibirsk in April 2014, individual performance commitments mean it doesn’t get too many outings. It was not the most challenging evening, this sort of thing rarely is, but it showed the couple’s artistry to perfection. Hong Kong audiences should count themselves very lucky indeed.
Musically and choreographically, A Pas de Deux for Toes and Fingers combines the classical and modern. Most of the dance would have been unfamiliar to most in the audience, Zakharova wanting a program in which she could fully express herself and that helped people understand the sort of contemporary ballet and dance she increasingly works with and clearly feels very much at home with. It was not the most challenging of evenings for the audience, but it certainly sent most home very happy indeed.
Repin set the tone, leading off with Variations on the Carnival of Venice for violin and strings by Niccolò Paganini. The notes flowed in a commanding display of technical virtuosity as he coaxed the most amazing sounds from his violin.
Plus. Minus. Zero.; Choreographer: Vladimir Varnava; Photo: Pierluigi Abbondanza
It was quite a first entrance by Zakharova too, held aloft by Mikhail Lobukhin, as if soaring like a bird. While the Adagio from Asami Maki’s production of Raymonda got all the clean lines and excellent partnering it needs, it is a rather uninspiring piece of choreography; pleasant but very safe.
Things picked up enormously with Plus. Minus. Zero., a duet by Zakharova and choreographer Vladimir Varnava. An exploration of the differences between two opposites, it opens with a powerful solo by Varnava that seems to reflect some sort of inner uncertainty before Zakharova’s appearance signals a change of mood, her movement more lyrical but still with an edgy feel to it. The work’s ballet roots are plain to see, but they are contemporized by flexed feet, straight arms, and harder angles. Like a pair of magnets, the couple are drawn inexorably together, an initial hesitancy is followed by abandon but with moments of sublime stillness. It’s a perfect match for Arvo Pärt’s Fratres, which sounded better coming from Repin’s violin than any recording I have ever heard.
Less engaging was Revelation, a solo created by Mokoto Hirayama to music from Schindler’s List by John Williams. A mix of ballet and modern dance, often in expressionist vein, the choreography speaks of grief, pain, and sorrow. It sometimes feels like overload, though. The best moments come on and around a chair that at one point becomes a barred window that the dancer reaches through pleadingly.
Mikhail Fokine’s The Dying Swan has become somewhat hackneyed over the years, burdened by endless repetition, poor execution, and parodies that stopped being humorous a long time ago. For Zakharova, though, it is the symbol of Russian classical ballet and was a must on the program. Lit by a single spotlight against the blackness, she was spellbinding, proving that when done brilliantly, the work can still astound.
Finally, Johan Kobborg’s La rende des lutins sees two men initially compete to outdo each other in an attempt to get the girl who, it turns out, prefers the violinist. What else! Taken from Les Lutins, the excerpt is full of bravura dancing. Lobukhin may have impressed with his tricky footwork but Vyacheslav Lopatin simply soared. The height on his leaps was quite remarkable but even better was a series of repeated double pirouettes, double tours en l’air, all landed without a hint of a wobble. Zakharova, dressed en homme to match the men, was delightfully and cheekily effervescent.
The musical highlight of the evening came earlier, in another duet, but a musical one between Repin and Anton Barakhovsky. In Igor Frolov’s Divertimento for Two Violins and Orchestra the pair traded passages reminiscent of J.S Bach before a lively jazzy section swept all aside, filling the theatre with its upbeat rhythms. It put a broad smile on everyone, musicians included.
Pas de deux for Toes and Fingers
Dancer: Svetlana Zakharova
Violinist: Vadim Repin
Performance: 27 February 2018 Grand Theatre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre
is a British choreographer and writer working largely in the UK and Taiwan. He is editor of SeeingDance.com and writes for a number of other international publications and websites including regularly for Dancing Times (UK). He has also contributed to several books about dance.