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MOSCOW (Reuters Life!) - Russia's famed Bolshoi Theater will host the Paris Opera Ballet on Friday for the first time since the fall of communism, producing four neo-classical works from the second half of the 20th century.
Though global ballet giants Russia and France have shared ideas and choreography for centuries, the Paris Opera Ballet had shied away from Moscow as the Bolshoi underwent a controversial grand $1-billion rebuild.
"Over the past decade, it was mostly the Bolshoi traveling to Paris," said Bolshoi general director Anatoly Iksanov, adding that they went three times to the French capital in the last 10 years.
The Bolshoi's main stage closed in 2005 and was meant to reopen in 2008. However, the eight-columned, cream-colored ballet and opera house is now expected to be completed in October 2011.
Officials are still investigating allegations that millions of roubles destined for the renovation of the main stage were stolen, claims that have embarrassed Russia's cultural authorities.
That means performances must take place on the much smaller, cramped stage in the adjacent building.
The Paris Opera Ballet said it chose productions that would specifically suit a smaller stage, its artistic director Brigitte Lefevre told Reuters.
"The works we picked are more intimate to suit the New Stage of the Bolshoi," Lefevre said before a final dress rehearsal at the Bolshoi on Thursday.
Three one-act ballets over February 10-17 represent different styles within neo-classic works, including a love story, a hypnotic bolero and one piece entirely void of plot. A fourth full-length modern ballet, "The Park," will also be performed.
Russia prides itself as the epicenter of the ballet world, which is little wonder considering the list of Russian stars reads like a who's who of ballet over the last 100 years, with names such as Balanchine, Pavlova, Danilova, Nuriyev, Baryshnikov and many others.
But critics say its rigid ideas about classical dance have also put a damper on innovation. Last month the U.S.-Russian modern ballet "Reflections" took a risk when it premiered to a sold-out audience at the Bolshoi.
Paris Opera Ballet etoile Jose Martinez said ballet's appeal for Russians meant it would be popular regardless.
"I think the advantage of our work is that ballet is an international language, which has no borders and we can draw inspiration from works of different nationalities and personalities," he said.
Martinez, who first danced on the Bolshoi stage in 1990, a year before the collapse of the Soviet Union, said Russians' appreciation for ballet gave the French troupe inspiration.
"The Russian public not only loves ballet, it understands ballet, which gives us motivation to perform at a maximum here," he said.
Editing by Amie Ferris-Rotman and Paul Casciato