Zhukov Dance Theatre

September 16, 2010

Zhukov Dance Theatre
September 16–18, 2010

Cowell Theater

San Francisco, CA

Reviewed by Rita Felciano


by Sandy Lee, Courtesy ZDT.
Bordenave, Devaney, and de Souza in Zhukov’s
Shared and Divided.

In its third season, Zhukov Dance Theatre’s “Product 03” took to the stage with excellent performances of two contrasting premieres. The sharply focused and pure dance Shared and Divided was right on the mark; the loosely structured and conceptually problematic Cinematic, however, missed its target. Both works benefited from a fine group of performers, all of them with strong ballet training: Darren Devaney, Josh Haines, Allie Papazian, Sergio Junior Benvindo de Souza, Katja Bjorner, and Christopher Bordenave.

Considering that Yuri Zhukov’s was essentially a pick-up group—four of the six dancers were new, the others in their second year with the company—Zhukov managed to mold them into a cohesive ensemble, one that acknowledged each dancer’s individuality.

In 1989 Kirov Ballet soloist Zhukov was the first Russian dancer to officially emigrate in order to join San Francisco Ballet, where he danced for six years. A refined and elegant formalist, he joined the Royal Birmingham Ballet for a time and returned to San Francisco in 2003 to join the faculty of City Ballet School.

For the formally precise Shared, the dancers, recalling a tablao, sat on boxes around the stage’s perimeter. Devaney stepped into the center for an extended solo which laid out Zhukov’s premise: choreography in which extreme fluidity is checked by control. Together and alone the dancers picked up and varied motifs—drop-to-the-ground pliés, runs that turned into slides, curling arms in which energy flowed out the fingertips. Shared suggested a vibrantly pulsating sense of being. Yet for all the turbulence and apparent spontaneity, you could feel the shaping hand in every gesture. Bjorner’s adagio evolved into a contentious pas de deux with Bordenave. He later tried unsuccessfully to tame the volatile, petite Papazian. She looked liked the spirit of dance.

For Cinematic, Zhukov switched gears. Television has never seemed particularly dangerous territory. Here it was. Choosing a dance theater format, heavy on text though also rich with lively choreography, Zhukov pastiched together bits and pieces from sitcoms, soap operas, reality shows, dance competitions, high drama and crime stories. (There were no emergency rooms in sight.) The meandering chain of scenes redefined the word episodic. Cinematic’s climax was a hilariously choreographed shoot-out that went on forever. It had grown out of a spurned lover’s dreaming of shooting a rival.

The choreography probably could have been sharper but Zhukov’s challenge was to portray banality without being sucked into its mindlessness. He is not the first to fail at this conundrum. Cinematic needed a good dose of either wit or charm, preferably both.

Zhukov also designed the costumes and Cinematic’s superb white-on-black projections. He is clearly a multi-talented artist.