Can Russian ballet get past classics to go modern?

Thu Mar 3, 2011 10:15am EST
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By Nastassia Astrasheuskaya

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian ballet troupes trying to wean themselves off the classic repertoire so loved by their countrymen and embrace the minimalism of modern dance, have embarked on an uphill battle.

Some dancers have strayed into modern waters by bringing in foreign choreographers and opting for contemporary pieces, while others remain of the firm belief that Russia should serve as the keeper of the classics.

"It won't happen immediately, (going modern) is a slow process," said Spain's Nacho Duato, who started as chief choreographer of the Mikhailovsky Theater in imperial capital Saint Petersburg on January 1.

Ambitious to renovate Russian ballet, the Mikhailovsky took a risk with Duato: he is the first foreigner to be hired as a choreographer for a leading Russian ballet troupe since the Bolshevik revolution almost a century ago.

"The dancers at Mikhailovsky are talented and learn fast, they just needed someone to tell them they could move freely, that it is okay to express their personality in dance," Duato, 54, told Reuters in an interview.

Duato won over the local audience when he visited Moscow's Bolshoi Theater with his Spanish company last year.

But his relationship with Russia will be put to a new test on March 15 with the world premiere of Nunc Dimittis at the Mikhailovsky, when Russian dancers will perform their first modern dance under Duato's command.

A one-act ballet set to music by contemporary Estonian composer Arvo Part, Duato has said Nunc Dimittis has "no characters as such."   Continued...

<p>World-renowned French choreographer Angelin Preljocaj attends a meeting with the media at Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, February 14, 2011. REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov</p>