Le Mariage de Figaro is meant to be a bit of a romp; a frothy drawing-room comedy of errors. In this respect, the National Ballet of Ukraine's ballet production (ch:Victor Yaremenko) works perfectly.

Inspired by Beaumarchais' original play, the story follows a young couple, Figaro and Susanna, as they prepare for their nuptials.

© Courtesy of the National Ballet of Ukraine
© Courtesy of the National Ballet of Ukraine

However, there are many barriers to Susanna and Figaro's wedding; their employer Count Almaviva pursues Susanna relentlessly, Figaro is reminded of a previous promise of marriage, and all seems lost at certain points in the narrative. But as with most comedic ballets, love wins in the end, and the couple are given clearance to marry, despite court cases, instances of mistaken identity and other farcical plot twists.

It's not easy to convey a story as rich and convoluted as Le Mariage de Figaro by dance alone.

Most story ballets can be condensed into roughly tweet-length synopses, and the story is designed from the outset to be told through dance.

Think of the ballet Giselle, for example. She dies of a broken heart after discovering her lover is betrothed to another. The Wilis, a group of ghostly women who dance men to death, summon Giselle from her grave. They target her lover for death, but Giselle's great love frees him from their grasp. The themes are dramatic – madness, death, redemption, true love – but the plot itself is fairly simplistic when it comes down to it. Le Mariage de Figaro, on the other hand, is highly eventful, with a colourful cast of eight main characters, each with their own motivations and agendas. The subplots alone could fill a book. The National Ballet of Ukraine's production has to stray into mime territory to convey the detailed—but crucial—plot twists.

One particularly striking example of this is when Marcelina, who has been romantically pursuing Figaro, sees his bronze medallion and realizes that he is in fact her long-lost son, who was stolen away from her as a baby by bandits. It's absolutely vital that the audience understands this section, as it is the only explanation of her sudden support for Figaro's marriage, but it means that the dancers literally drop everything and reinact the kidnapping right in the middle of the courtroom, complete with a crib and fake baby. I wouldn't say that it didn't work, but I will say this: condensing four opera acts into two ballet acts means there was a lot of narrative material to get through in two hours (and no words to explain it). 

The libretto of this production of Le Mariage de Figaro was conceived by choreographer Victor Yaremenko and dramaturge Yuriy Stanishevsky, with the collaboration of orchestra conductor, Oleksiy Baklan.

The ballet doesn't use Mozart's score for the opera Le Mariage de Figaro, instead utilizing his less famous orchestral pieces to support the narrative. This seems a good decision, as an opera score without singing might come off as somewhat empty.

The production design is very good overall; brocade furniture and ornate backdrops to convey the aesthetic of the Count’s palace, along with an array of elaborate costumes for the dancers.

The performance itself was excellent, and the soloists shone in their respective parts, with clean technique and strong acting throughout. In the role of Susanna, Kateryna Kuhar displayed lovely precise footwork; her batterie, petit allegro and fouettés are beautifully articulated and she was a pleasure to watch. Oleksandr Stoianov, who danced the role of Figaro, had great elevation and big, space-eating tours en dedans. Igor Bulychev was brilliant in the role of Count Almaviva; he communicated his character's motivations and reactions perfectly with direct expressions and gestures, and provided the backbone to a lot of the production's best comedic moments. Oksana Guliaeva as La Comtesse had expansive ports debras and graceful épaulements, and a lovely musical quality. Marat Ragimov (Cherubino) is one of those male dancers who can spin like a top and jump like a jumping jack. His effortlessly energetic performance charmed the audience. However, the design decisions around his costuming make it difficult for us to understand how old he's meant to be. Is he a child, an adolescent, or a young man? The baby pink wig and bows are perhaps too feminizing, or infantilizing. In the opera version, though, the part is sung by a woman, and in Act 2, she dresses up in a woman's clothes (so a woman, playing a man, dressing up as a woman). Perhaps this was intentionally vague.

Vitalii Netrunenko is hilariously campy as the slightly ridiculous figure Marcelina, with surprisingly strong pointe work, flailing limbs and strong comic acting. His sweeping persona gave a lot of life and laughs to Le Mariage de Figaro, and it's hard to imagine a different dancer in the role.

The corps de ballet were solid throughout, despite some spacing issues in the first half. However, The Marriage of Figaro is very much a story ballet, so the choreographic focus was definitely trained on the main characters, not the corps. Happily, given the strength of the soloists, this didn't present a problem at all.