MOSCOW (Reuters Life!) - The first foreigner to be appointed chief choreographer of a leading Russian ballet troupe since the Bolshevik revolution has vowed to overturn the Soviet-era constraints of dance and bring modernity to the Russian stage.
Nacho Duato will leave his native Spain in January 2011 for the Mikhailovsky Theater, the second largest in Russia's artistic capital St Petersburg, in a bid to bring modern dance to the traditional home of Swan Lake.
Duato said Russia had dragged old repertoires onto the 21st century stage and is in dire need of an overhaul.
"They have never really danced," the 53-year-old said of Russians in an interview with Reuters by telephone.
"They (Mikhailovsky) have the best dancers in the world, a lot of money, a lot of publicity, a lot of soul, but they need renovation, and they are very conscious of that," Duato said, adding that he signed a five-year contract with the near 200-year-old Mikhailovsky, with an option of extending it.
He said he made the decision to prematurely end his contract with Spain's National Dance Company after 20 years when he became unhappy with poor government support for dance.
"I needed to leave Spain," Duato said. "I don't have much support, I've been directing with very little money," he told Reuters, saying that Spain's refusal to give him his own theater gave him the final push to leave.
He added that Mikhailovsky would be his last company.
Mikhailovsky's general director, Vladimir Kekhman, said he was delighted that with Duato, Russia will "get the rights for the new choreography which most troupes around the world have adopted," he said at a televised conference made available on state-run RIA news agency's site www.rian.ru.
After attending a modern dance performance by Duato in the Russian capital last week, classical concert organizer Valery Leskov said: "We could use an update... Russian ballet is like sour milk."
The Russian audience at Duato's Moscow show, in which he performed and directed with the Spanish National Dance company, said they were amazed by the unusual amount of sexuality, transparent costumes, uncommon pairing of male dancers and the non-classical shapes amongst them.
"We saw a lot of sex," said former political scientist Laska Nizkaya, 78, as she held hands with her 81-year-old husband Vadim following the show. "And that's a very good thing! Because it's beautiful," she told Reuters. Duato said he was not planning to completely eliminate Mikhailovsky's classical repertoire, but warned: "If I believe I don't want the classical ballet because it doesn't live up to my standards, I will change it or take it out."
Reporting by Nastassia Astrasheuskaya; editing by Amie Ferris-Rotman and Paul Casciato