MOSCOW (Reuters Life!) - Russia's up and coming dancers and choreographers went home with but one prize this week at the 19th annual "Benois de La Dance" ballet contest, with judges saying the Russian performances failed to push the envelope.
The jury rewarded experimental pieces by a Belgian couple and Finnish choreographer, but no ballets by the world's top dance troupes -- the Bolshoi, the Paris Opera Ballet, the American Ballet Theater -- won as Moscow's Bolshoi Theater stage was transformed into a experimental dance space.
"I can say that the classical ballets, of which Russia has the most, put up this year, were not of good enough quality to represent classical ballet today," jury member Sergei Filin, the Bolshoi Ballet's artistic director, told Reuters.
The prestigious Russian-led award, founded by the International Dance Association in 1991 and held under UNESCO's patronage, attracts the world's best dancers and choreographers and has earned a reputation for having an unusually liberal for Russia approach to dance.
But the multi-national jury did not nominate a single Russian choreographer this year and only one Russian ballet dancers took home a prize: Semyon Chudin from Moscow's Stanislavsky Theater.
"There was a lot done here (in Russian dance) but nothing interesting," said Yuri Grigorovich, 84, the Bolshoi's chief choreographer for more than 30 years, jury chairman and founder of the prize.
The world's major ballet companies trail behind because they do not allow room on their stages for the fearless experimentation valued by the contest, jury members complained. Worse, they said, the top ballet companies have all begun to resemble one another.
"Over the contest's 19 years, all troupes started resembling one another, they put up the same choreographers: always Balanchine, always Forsythe," the contest's artistic director Nina Kudryavtseva-Loory told Reuters.
"Troupes lose their faces. That's a pity. The Bolshoi and Mariinsky theatres, Paris Opera Ballet all need to have something that would distinguish them from others. Today, only the sizes of their troupes set them apart," she said.
Meanwhile, the nominees transformed the traditionally classic Bolshoi stage into a free and modern dance space.
In the winning dance, "Babel" (Words), a topless female dancer emerges as if out of her male partner ribcage, depicting the biblical birth of a woman, choreographed by Cidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet, who won "best choreographer" award.
Kudryavtseva-Loory said that Asian and Arabic influences had increasingly begun to take the lead at the annual competition.
"Art reflects global social changes, the stronger the influence of Asian and Arabic nations gets, the more place it takes in art," she said.
As if to prove the point, Chinese prima Zhu Yan won best ballerina for part in Czech Jiri Bubenicek's "Outrenoir."
Yan shared the award with Monte-Carlo's Bernice Coppieters, who appeared as a soft version of dominatrix in tight pants and a corset, sharp pointes elevating her above her fearfully slouching uncombed partner dressed in a fluffy skirt.
Trend or not, humor and unexpected interpretation set this season's dance fashion and was named 'interesting' by the jury.
Reporting by Nastassia Astrasheuskaya; Editing by Alissa de Carbonnel