A little known awards ceremony, the “Spirit of the Dance” awards, was held at the Stanislavsky Nemirovich-Danchenko Theatre in Moscow on 27 April to honour the winners from 2016 in categories ranging from rising stars to talented pedagogues and even informative ballet critics.

The evening, structured in a format that combined award ceremony with gala concert, interspersed the presentation of awards with short numbers acknowledging each winner. Though running nearly 4 hours, specific dancing highlights punctuated the evening that covered a range of styles from folk to classical ballet.

The first artist to make his mark during the evening, Yuri Kudryavtsev, performed the pas de deux from La Sylphide alongside Ekaterina Bulgutova. Both leading soloists form the Kranoyarsk Theatre of Opera and Ballet, Kudryavtsev is a tall young man with clean beats and light ballon with a promising future ahead of him. Bulgutova evoked a mischievous sylphide with clean delivery and proved a lovely onstage match for her partner.

One’s first foray to the historic Bolshoi Theatre, especially in its still post-renovation splendor, is an event indeed, and what programme could more symbolically mark the occasion inside this precious piece of history than Balanchine’s Jewels, a triptych that highlights the different moods and tones of three gemstones with a separate act devoted to each.

On 29 March, Evgenia Obratsova reprised the leading role in Emeralds alongside the ever-smooth Dmitry Gudanov to the Bolshoi orchestra’s steady rendition of Fauré’s haunting score. With her compact stature and one of the most flexible pairs of arches in the company, Obratsova’s physique is a pleasure to watch, but it is her emotional delivery that captivates most. Now the mother of two, Obratsova injected lush movements with moments of rapture in the pas de deux, infusing her Emerald with a composed degree of sparkle rather than cool detachment as can be done. Gudanov managed sets of triple pirouettes in his variation, superior timing in the partnering sections, and a sense of fascination with his partner that lent depth to their duet.

You directed the ballet troupe at Teatro alla Scala for 7 years. How did that differ from running the Mariinsky?

Everything was new for me: a new system, a new culture, new values. Although there are general human values that are shared as well, there were a lot of revelations for me. As interesting as it was for me in Italy, working in the Bolshoi or Mariinsky Theatre you always know that it is a large empire, and there’s some sort of guarantee — that’s the presence of the Vaganova Academy for the Mariinsky and the Moscow Choreographic School for the Bolshoi, and that’s a huge strength. La Scala also has their own school but it’s not what we have here.

After all, our school, our training system is distinguished by the fact that there is practically no place else in the world where students are taught and graduate on the basis of classical dance through means of a complex system of classes: character dance, historical, duet, ballet and others. There are few schools like these two in the world. Another thing is the repertoire these two theatres have.

Upon its creation in 1935, The Bright Stream, a ballet co-written by Fyodor Lopukhov and Adrian Piostrovsky to a score by Shostakovich, had difficulties. That comic expression in mime form does not always translate well in lengthy doses was only part of the problem. Fitting music and choreography to the state-sanctioned dictate of socialist realism resulted in an awkward combination. An early review in Pravda critiqued the art form of ballet as one built on dolls rather than people, and this ballet in particular as “a game with dolls” in which the depiction of collective farm workers was too character-esque to be believable or truthful. It was, in short, a “nonsense ballet.”

On Saturday, 18 February, nearly 5000 people filed into the great hall of the Kremlin Theatre in order to attend the gala concert in honor of Andris Liepa’s 55th anniversary. Film clips of Liepa’s early years greeted the audience pre-curtain — the “Ballet Russes” curtain — referring to the Diaghilev works that Liepa has helped restore over the past few decades in various international theatres.

You were born in Perm and began to dance there?
Yes, both of my parents danced in the Perm Theatre, and I studied there as well for 5 years. But my parents were invited to join the Stanislavsky Ballet troupe in Moscow. So we moved, and I transferred to the Moscow Academy of Choreography, where I studied for 4 years.

Was there a noticeable difference? Perm is known to uphold the strictly Vaganova traditions.
In fact I was advised to repeat one year when I came to Moscow because the two programs differed. A lot of things that I should have known in the 5th year I didn’t, so they asked me to work an extra year. As a result I studied a total of 9 years, not 8.

The upper stage of the Bolshoi Theatre: a small auditorium located under the building’s roof, complete with a small orchestra pit and audience seating that mimics the actual stage where performances are held. It is a hallowed yet impressive space, and today it’s empty except for a small team of six people: Alyona Kovalyova, her partner Yakopo Tissi, two coaches, a pianist, the conductor…and me. It is just five days before Kovalyova and Tissi’s debut in Swan Lake. As the dancers rehearse, their coaches, former Bolshoi soloist Alexander Vetrov and former Kirov ballerina Olga Chenchikova, lead the rehearsals to the sounds of a single piano onstage. The conductor for the premiere, Aleksey Bogorad, sits to mark notes about the score and inquires frequently about the tempo while the rehearsal goes on.

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