Choreographer Melissa Barak has said that when she heard Shostakovich’s Sonata for Violincello and Piano in D Minor, she knew she would choreograph a piece with a forbidden-love theme. Her ballet begins with a lone woman standing in the center of a bare stage, set against a deep ocean-blue backdrop. Costumed in a black tunic, she is accompanied by four men who also wear black. The male principal, in white, dances with a group of four women who are also clad in white. The principal dancers’ movements suggest that they are lonely and seeking one another. Their respective groups keep the couple apart until they break free for a quiet pas de deux. Their duet ends with a striking image when, as they nearly steal a kiss, the man forcefully pushes the woman’s hands from his face. Underlying Russian folk themes are also reflected in the corps’ dances.
Dimitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) studied at the Leningrad Conservatory, where his work was encouraged by Alexander Glazounov, the Conservatory's principal. During his career, he fell in and out of favor with the Soviet government. His creative development was often determined by political events in the Soviet Union. Shostakovich’s 1926 graduation piece, The First Symphony, catapulted him to prominence. During the next decade he composed a satirical opera, The Nose (based on a story by Nikolai Gogol), three full length ballets, and the first of many film scores. Shostakovich, whose work was influenced by Gustav Mahler and César Franck, wrote 15 symphonies (several of them with epic themes relating to the Russian Revolution and World War II), concertos, quartets, operas, and patriotic cantatas.