KENDRA SITTON | Downtown News
San Diego Spreckel’s Theatre hosts a variety of entertainment, from hometown singers like Jason Mraz to its annual showing of The Nutcracker. Artists from around the world have found a place to showcase their talents to a San Diego audience at the theater, situated in the heart of downtown. Recently, a group of dancers from the Republic of Kazakhstan made their debut at the theater.
The Astana Ballet Theater was founded in 2012 and has gone on several tours since then, but its latest tour in California was its west coast premier. The theater had shows in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Escondido and San Diego in November.
Their presentation was called “Masterpieces” and featured three one-act ballets as well as traditional folk dances from Kazakhstan. While the group hails itself as a ballet company, the multi-genre skills of the dancers stood out the most. The most enjoyable section of the performance was the folk dances at the very beginning. So much of ballet is the feats of legs, and by extension feet. The traditional dance flipped this model with the pinnacle of the dancing being the quick-moving and smooth arm movements. The fluid movements of the dancers were gripping as arms of muscle and bone became liquid. The dancers were also wearing intricate costumes that showcased the beauty of traditional Kazhak clothing. The men’s armor during a war scene and some of the bejeweled dresses were particularly stunning.
The Astana Ballet got its name from the former capital of Kazakhstan, Astana, when the theater was founded by longtime president Nursultan Nazarbayev. When Nazarbayev resigned in March 2019 after leading the country for three decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the capital city was renamed in his honor to Nursultan. The ballet has not changed its name to reflect its founder.
The group remains one of the top performance theater companies in Kazakhstan, and is known for crossing modern dance with the classic art of ballet. This was most evident in the second one-act, when three pairs of dancers used lighting, music and dance to tell the story of a couple getting together, fighting, then breaking up. While the dancers still wore ballet shoes, their costumes looked like casual streetwear. The other two one-act ballets’ storylines were less clear. Still, the dancers showcased their impressive athleticism and strength with choreography featuring many lifts. With no sets or live music, the audience’s attention was fully on the dancers. Unlike ballet companies that rely on a prima ballerina, the more democratic choreography showed the group’s ability to work together to execute a pretty dance and let many different dancers in the spotlight.
The Astana Ballet’s one night in San Diego gave the audience an enjoyable ballet experience, as well as introducing many of them for the first time to the joys of Kazakhstan’s traditional dance.
Kendra Sitton can be reached at email@example.com.