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Russian ballet imports a Spanish dancemaker

January 22, 2011 |  7:30 am

DuatoExplaining his choice of celebrated choreographer Nacho Duato to lead St. Petersburg's Mikhailovsky Theater, arts patron Vladimir Kekhman complained that “already two generations of Russian dancers practically don’t know what a choreographer is who is also staging productions for them.”

“Ballet is considered a national treasure, and so far it is really so,” Kekhman said in a written response to questions. “But it is impossible to preserve the art of ballet limited by the repertoire created several decades ago as ballet dies when it stops developing.”

The Mikhailovsky Theater was founded in 1833, employing mostly French and European performers. The Mikhailovsky ballet under a different name became famous in the 1920s and ‘30s under choreographer Fyodor Lopukhov. These were the years when Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev saw their ballet and opera productions premiered at the Mikhailovsky. The theater employs more than 800 people, including 130 dancers.

Handing a prized dance company over to a foreigner is more than an impertinence in this land. After all, in the ‘60s and ‘70s, a very popular underground song composed by Yuri Vizbor included this line: “But we are making rockets, and we dammed the Yenisey river, and we are ahead of the entire planet in the sphere of ballet.”

“Duato’s appointment is a vivid sign of change which I hope will affect the most conservative part of our culture,” said Artemiy Troitsky, an independent culture expert, formerly the editor in chief of Russian Playboy. “Back in the Soviet times our ballet was turned into an ideological fetish, and in my perception stood proudly next to such monsters as the KGB and the Communist Party. It will be fantastic if our hardened and bronze-like ballet eventually gets diluted with new aesthetic values and new people, especially if these people come from the West.”

For a full report on how Senor Duato is taking the reins of this Russian troupe, click here for the Sunday Calendar article.

--Sergei L. Loiko

 Photo: Nacho Duato conducts one of his first rehearsals in St. Petersburg. Next to him is Ekaterina Borchenko, the company's prima ballerina. Photo by Sergei L. Loiko/Los Angeles Times