When Russia exports its world-renowned brand of ballet, it's more often than not via the much-traveled Moscow Classical Ballet. This young troupe, liberally sprinkled with medal-winning dancers, regularly tours throughout the USSR and has danced in at least 30 countries. Since its founding in 1968, the Classical has earned third rank in Russia, only exceeded by the Bolshoi and the Kirov.
Now making its North American debut, MCB will include Ogden, Utah on a first-ever U.S. tour, which takes it from Florida to California. These 100 expert performers, about 70 dancers plus orchestra, will bring glasnost to Utah, where they will play the Val Browning Performing Arts Center Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m., as a crowning arts celebration of the Weber State College Centennial.Thursday's show will be a variety program of pas de deux and excerpts, including the second (white) act of "Swan Lake," and Friday and Saturday audiences will see the company's full-length, recently premiered version of "Swan Lake." Saturday night is sold out, but a few tickets ranging from $10-$40 remain for Friday, and a better selection for Thursday. Pick them up at the WSC Dee Events Center box office, weekdays from 10 a.m.-6 p.m., or call 626-8500.
Ekaterina Maximova, prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Ballet, may or may not dance in Ogden, depending on her progress in overcoming an injury. But definitely scheduled are guest artists Alla Khaniashvili and Vitaly Artyushkin, foremost stars of the Bolshoi, and MCB's own star ballerinas, Galina Shlyapina and Tatyana Paly. Among men medalists will be Vladimir Malakhov and Stanislav Isayev, also Ilgiz Galimullin and Valery Trofimchuk.
The Russian compulsion to excel is well known; and in the arts this translates to a thirst for the gold that is very frequently gratified. The Moscow Classical Ballet has been quick to tap into this priceless lode of talent, for it counts in its ranks more medalists from international ballet competition than any other company in the world: 11 gold medalists from the Varna and Moscow competitions, and three prize holders from the Paris Academy of Dance. The dancers' average age is 27, as compared to about 10 years older in the Bolshoi or Kirov.
Expect pyrotechniques upon pyrotechniques in Thursday's show, featuring these young soloists in pas de deux and other excerpts from "Raymonda," "Don Quixote," "The Flames of Paris" and "Gayane," also Bach Prelude, "St. Petersburg Twilight" and the Adam and Eve Suite from "Creation of the World." For swan lovers, the second act of "Swan Lake" will also be included.
The MCB's new "Swan Lake" represents an Anglo-Russian collaboration, for it was designed by England's Tim Goodchild, with lighting by Brian Harris and costume supervision by Kim Baker. Costumes and settings described as "applause-prompting," "highly romantic," "reflecting the colors of Tchaikovksy's prismatic music," and "magnificent," were made in Great Britain.
The work was premiered in Manchester, England in July, where critics found it a traditional but refreshing look at an old favorite, and hailed the restoration of the character dances in the ballroom scene. The production just made its North America bow at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, on Oct. 11.
The court jester and the villainous Von Rothbart take leading roles in this "Swan Lake," which owes its antecedents to the Petipa-Ivanov original, with ideas from Alexander Gorsky's 1901 version, and staging by artistic directors Natalia Kasatkina and Vladimir Vasilyov. Asaf Messerer assisted with the choreography, and consulted on the production, as did Marina Semyonova. These legendary teachers of the Bolshoi have given invaluable counsel and teaching to the company.
Kasatkina and Vasilyov, husband and wife, are former stars of the Bolshoi Ballet, in whose school both studied under Messerer and Semyonova. Vasilyov is not to be confused with Vladimir Vasiliev, also a great star of the Bolshoi, internationally known for his filmed version of "Spartacus." Vasiliev has long been married to Ekaterina Maximova.
It was apparent, even over the telephone and speaking through an interpreter, that Kasatkina is a jolly person, quick to laugh. She immediately expressed the pleasure of the dancers in being in America. "They enjoy everything they see," she said. "They are making social contacts, they have been boating and to private homes, and they look forward to visiting Disneyland before leaving California. But best of all is the acceptance of the audience, the full houses we have every night, and the great success we are enjoying.
"We are a theater of soloists," Kasatkina explained. "The same dancer might be in the corps one night and the next night will dance a lead. Those who are accepted into the Moscow Classical Ballet may be sure that they will receive a fair share of starring roles."
This chance for flexibility - to escape the hierarchy and repressiveness of the giant Kirov or Bolshoi, with set echelons of stars and corp dancers who have little opportunity to advance - has proven a powerful influence in keeping these young dancers with the MCB.
From the first it was a foregone conclusion that this company would tour, and its productions are designed to travel. MBC has danced in places ranging from the largest theater stage in Russia to the boards of the Alvaro tent circus at Marina di Massa, Italy; from the Maracan Stadium of Rio de Janeiro to the antique amphitheatre at Bosra, Syria. Everywhere they have been greeted by heartfelt approval.
The Moscow Classical Ballet was founded by Igor Moiseyev, Lenin prize laureate famed for his peerless Moiseyev State Folk Dance Ensemble. The MCB continues to pursue Moiseyev's vision - to explore the contemporary and the new, as well as the classical. Their repertory includes concert programs and one-act ballets, along with nine full-length productions. Choreographers Bournonville, Balanchine, Petit and Bejart have works with MCB, and Kasitkina wants to move farther into the contemporary scene.
A majority of the MCB's dancers come from the Bolshoi school, though some were trained by other prestigious Russian schools. Although the company receives full financial support from the government, it has been essentially homeless, working out of a converted drama school in Moscow. Performances are staged in the Kremlin Palace of Congresses and elsewhere in Moscow. All that will soon be changed, said Kasatkina, excited by her plans.
"We have already received a very large grant, and in three years we will have our own theater, just for ballet. Normally the opera and the ballet share a building," she said.
"We hope the building will be used not only for us. When we are on tour we want to make the stage available to ballet companies from all over the world. We also hope to open an international ballet school, to which students can come from everywhere.
"The buildings that we will remodel were built a century ago as stables. They are on a historic, very picturesque street in Moscow, and right next door is a horse racing track! We will use horses and carriages to bring people from the metro station to concerts, through a beautiful park, to create atmosphere. Horses are such graceful animals, like ballet dancers.
"During the next three years, the company will surely continue to tour abroad, we already have many invitations. We will also tour the Soviet Union and its many beautiful cities that do not have ballet companies," said Kasatkina.