Swan Lake from Russia with love

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A scene from Swan Lake by the Kremlin Ballet Theater

Jan. 26 -- Even a few years ago, ballet in China meant just one thing, Swan Lake, and Russian companies were almost always the most popular. This has gradually changed as more renowned ballet companies from around the world grace the capital's stage.

We've seen British's Royal Ballet, romantic French ballet, contemporary German ballets and mixed American ballet. At the same time, we've realized there are dozens of Russian ballet companies touring the world every day. They boast about their Kirov/Bolshoi pedigrees and have confusing names. The result is that people are becoming more fastidious about which shows they watch.

Picky audiences have forced producers to bring high-class productions to Beijing, otherwise the tickets do not sell.

Beijing XDR Cultural & Communication Company has organized a "Spring For Ballet" festival for the past 10 years and it succeeds because it always invites the Russian National Ballet. It's not as famous as the Kirov or Bolshoi, but is working hard to rise above the second tier and their performances retain real Russian energy and passion.

"Their performances are not without flaws and curious historical details, but its well-trained dancers convey a sense of warmth and personal pride that is rarely seen in touring companies," says Zhao Hong, deputy manager of Beijing XDR Culture & Communication Company.

When the company toured the United States with Swan Lake last year, the Washington Post reviewed it "a cut above many of its rivals. The Swan Lake was the real thing."

The Russian National Ballet Theater was founded in Moscow in the late 1980s when many of the great dancers and choreographers of the Soviet Union's ballet institutions were exercising their new-found creative freedom by starting new companies dedicated not only to tradition but to new developments in dance from around the world.

The principal dancers of the company came from the top ballet companies and academies of Moscow, Riga, Kiev; and even Warsaw, in Poland. In 1994, the legendary Bolshoi principal dancer, Elena Radchenko, was selected as artistic director. She has focused on inheriting the tradition of Russian ballet and developing new talent, with a repertory of virtually all the works of Marius Petipa, including Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker.

For the 10th anniversary of "Spring For Ballet", Beijing XDR Culture & Communication Company will also invite another acclaimed Russian ballet company, the Kremlin Ballet, to this year's festival.

The Kremlin Palace used to be the second stage for the Bolshoi Theater. When Bolshoi stopped using the stage in the late 1980s, Andrei Petrov who had danced as soloist with Bolshoi since 1965, decided to found a new ballet company there. Its premiere production was a full-length ballet Macbeth in 1990.

Petrov, as the artistic director, had a clear vision of the company's development. Its repertoire would be based on the masterpieces and modern dance trends.

"We won't go out to conquer, astonish, enter into competition with the Bolshoi Theater. We simply want to create our own company which will present sound productions in which our young dancers will be able to show what they are made of," says Ekaterina Maximova, who co-founded the company with Petrov.

For "Spring For Ballet," The Kremlin Ballet brings Petrov's 2008 production Figaro, an original comic ballet with music by Rossini and Mozart.

"It's my long time dream to introduce the quick-witted barber on to the ballet stage in a comic work," the choreographer says.

(China Daily)