Opening on three couples laying on the floor, a sketched human form on the backdrop, and the wistful piano and strings from Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov, the tone is somber. The female dancers don floor length black mesh dresses and the male dancers are in long-sleeve black leotards designed by Moritz Junge.
Arabesque is the repeated theme step, a one-legged balance requiring strength and concentration to hold. The dancers lean out of their square arabesques into precarious penchés, the body leans forward, the leg points upward, making it more and more difficult to hold onto. Perhaps a metaphor of tenacity in war.
In contrast to the darkness of the opening, the dancers re-enter the stage for the second section in Ukrainian folk wear – blousy shirts, bright flower crowns. Ukrainian folk music reverberates loud and proud. Scenic designs by Wendall K. Harrington included backdrop artwork by Maria Prymachenko which was bright and floral, sometimes featuring the caricature of a man with a balalaika instrument, and sometimes abstract human forms by Matvei Vaisberg.
The four male dancers (Lucien Postlewaite, Luther DeMyer, Kuu Sakuragi, James Kirby Rogers) fly around the stage. A display of bravura, character dance, and humor, Ratmansky showcases the beautiful, rich culture of the Ukrainian people.
The women have a sweet dance with bounding jetés, hops on pointe, and friendly skipping. But the gloomy Silvestrov score interrupts the festivities and the men return in their black leotards. Like a flame put out on a candle, it’s clear we’ve seen Ukraine the way it was and the way it is now. Ratmansky returns to the arabesque, using it tie the piece together. The dancers lay on the floor as they did when the piece began, but this time one dancer remains in arabesque. A beacon of hope.