ESCONDIDO — The California Center for the Arts, Escondido made history on Nov. 21, playing host to a Kazakh ballet troupe performing on the West Coast of the United States for the first time.
Called Astana Ballet, the group is sponsored by the government of Kazakhstan. Escondido was one of four stops for Astana Ballet, sandwiched between performances in San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles.
For the group itself, its name is a bit of a misnomer. Astana formerly was the name of the Central Asian country’s capital city. But it is now dubbed Nur-Sultan, the namesake of the country’s first president, Nursultan Nazarbayev.
The Astana Ballet performed a four-act show, with one of the four segments featuring traditional Kazakh-style ballet. While the Astana Ballet has dozens of acts it has performed across the world, it chose the quartet for the Escondido show.
Act one, “Legacy of the Great Steppe,” focused on Kazakh traditional dress and folk dancing styles. Act two, “Love’s Lost Idols,” kept a Zen-like focus on the concept of “now,” knowing everything will eventually come to an end. Act three, “Love Fear Loss,” zeroed in on the lifecycle of finding love, struggling through middle age fighting and argumentation and then eventual mourning late in life. Finally for act four, “A Fuego Lento,” it centered around the theme of the give and take of interpersonal love and passion and combined tango-style dance moves alongside ballet.
The government of Kazakhstan, a resource-rich country founded in 1991 in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union, has made a concerted effort to boost ballet and the arts more broadly.
Nazarbayev once said that “a country that builds factories is thinking years ahead,” reported the outlet Agence France-Presse. But he added that “a country that builds theatres is thinking in terms of centuries.”
San Diego resident Gulzara Seitova, who attended the show and grew up in Kazakhstan, praised the performance.
“It was beyond amazing,” she said. “The dancers are very talented, and costumes were gorgeous. I was pleasantly surprised by how nice the performance was. Very well done. I am proud of Kazakhstan and Astana Ballet.”
Tatiyana Ten, a performer for the group, told The Coast News she had a great experience in California, as well.
“You see young people, you see old people,” Ten said of the audience. “It’s interesting to see them because it shows people have interest to see a Kazakh program, I think.”
Ten said that due to rehearsals and travel spanning the state north to south, she did not have much time to explore any of the four California cities.
“We have rehearsal, we check the lights, we check costumes also because we have to change really fast,” Ten said of the intense rehearsal process.
Yet, Ten said that despite the whirlwind nature of the trip, she walked away with a good impression of the Californians she encountered along the way.
The first thing she noticed was a “free mind” nature shared by many Americans and a lack of inhibitions.
“They can do what they want, so for me it was like ‘Whoa, different people,” she said. “Good people also. Very polite. ‘Excuse me,’ ‘You can go.’ It was a great pleasure.”
In the aftermath of the West Coast tour, the Astana Ballet offered a positive retrospective about its Golden State experience.
“California met the ‘Astana Ballet’ artists with sunny weather and, more importantly, with a storm of applause: the troupe of the metropolitan theater won the hearts of residents of San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles!” the group said in a press release.