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The Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Ballet 
Text Raymond Stults
Photos Oleg Migachev, Svetlana Postoenko

Though hardly boasting a brand name like “Bolshoi Ballet,” the ballet troupe of the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theater plays a very significant and perhaps sometimes undervalued role on the Moscow dance scene.

Over the past year, following the appointment of former Bolshoi Theater star dancer Sergei Filin as its artistic director, the troupe has emerged from a long period of hardship and uncertain direction to hold promise of creating the most exciting and perhaps revolutionary repertoire in the entire world of Russian ballet.

The Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko, as we know it today, was formed through an amalgamation, completed in 1941, of the experimental opera companies created by two renowned theatrical directors, Konstantin Stanislavsky and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, and a dance company called the Moscow Art Ballet.

For most of the three decades that followed, the theater’s ballet troupe was led by choreographer Vladimir Burmeyster, whose enchanting and very distinctive version of “Swan Lake” still remains in the theater’s repertoire and whose “Esmeralda” is scheduled to re-join the repertoire later this year. Burmeyster was followed, from 1971 to 1984, by Alexei Chichinadze, of whose choreographic achievements only “Don Quixote” is still on view, and from 1985 until his mysterious death 20 years later by Dmitry Bryantsev, who choreographed a host of new ballets, none of which is currently performed, though one is scheduled for revival in July and several others, including his very successful “The Taming of the Shrew,” are due to reappear next season.

In the summer of 2003, the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko closed its doors for a thorough-going renovation and expansion, and for nearly three-and-ahalf years its dancers were forced to lead a gypsy-like existence, touring extensively and occasionally performing on some borrowed stage in Moscow. Adding to their woes was the sudden disappearance of Bryantsev on private visit to the Czech Republic in June 2004. Some eight months later, Bryantsev’s body was discovered in a forest near Prague, his death the result of a murder thought to be connected with some transaction in which he was involved.

Appointed to succeed Bryantsev was Mikhail Lavrovsky, a star dancer of the Bolshoi from the 1960s to the 1980s. Lavrovsky presided over the troupe’s return to its home stage in the autumn of 2006 and remained its director until the spring of last year. Mainly to be remembered from Lavrovsky’s brief period in charge is the stunning production of American choreographer John Neumeier’s “The Seagull,” which demonstrated a grasp of contemporary ballet previously unequaled at the theater.

In assuming artistic directorship of the ballet troupe, Filin brought to an end a distinguished 20-year-long career at the Bolshoi, where he was widely regarded as its most elegant male soloist and highly prized as a partner by his female counterparts. Like Lavrovsky, Filin is not -- or at least not yet – a choreographer. His tasks are to raise still higher the already high standard of dance on display at the theater, to seek out new dance talent and to bring to fresh and innovative choreography to the theater’s stage. After less than a year at the job, he has already taken significant strides in all three of those directions.

The current season at the Stanislavsky & Nemirovich-Danchenko has already seen two ballet premieres. In December, longtime Bolshoi balletmaster Yury Grigorovich revived his very first major ballet, “Stone Flower,” created for the Kirov (now Mariinsky) Theater in 1957 and brought to the Bolshoi two years later, where it played until Grigorovich’s departure in 1995. At the very end of March came “Napoli,” a 19th-century classic, choreographed for Copenhagen’s Royal Danish Ballet in 1842 by the legendary August Bournonville and authentically re-created for the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko by Frank Andersen, one of Bournonville’s successors as head of the Copenhagen troupe.

The theater’s final premiere of the season is a triple-bill scheduled for late July and begins a parade of works by leading contemporary choreographers that, if carried out as now planned, seems almost certain to turn the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko into Russia’s most cutting-edge theater of ballet.

Featured on the triple-bill will be a work called “Na Floresta, by the highly acclaimed Nacho Duato, artistic director of Spain’s Compania Nacional de Danza. So impressed was Duato by the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko’s dancers when he came to Moscow to cast the production that he has already promised a return to the theater to produce a completely new ballet.

Together with “Na Floresta” will be a staging of the late British choreographer Frederick Ashton’s “Marguerite and Armand,” a compact re-telling of the familiar tale found in Alexandre Dumas the Younger’s novel “Dame aux Camellias.” Created it 1963 for Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev, it served to revitalize the great ballerina in the closing phase of her distinguished career. Dancing Fonteyn’s part will be two senior members of the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko ballet troupe, Tatyana Chernobrovkina, at the height of her career probably the finest ballerina to be seen on the Moscow stage, and Natalya Ledovskaya. A revival of Bryantsev’s “The Ghostly Ball,” danced to music of Frederic Chopin, is set to round out the July triple-bill.

Next season will bring to the theater a towering figure in world of ballet, Czechborn Jiri Kilian, the long-time director of the Netherlands Dance Theater, who until now has steadfastly refused to stage his ballets in Russia as a protest against action taken by the Soviet Union in Prague in the summer of 1968. Kilian recently created his 100th ballet, and from his vast storehouse of works he is planning to present two that are set to music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, “Six Dances” and “Petit Mort,” the latter a very popular ballet that has been danced by companies throughout the world since its creation in 1993.

Another highlight of next season will be the staging of a yet-to-be-determined ballet by Jorma Elo, the highly acclaimed Finnish-born artistic director of the Boston Ballet in the United States.

“Vokaliz,” music by S. Rakhmaninov, choreography by D. Bryantsev. In the picture: Honoured Russian artist N. Krapivina, Honoured artist G. Smilevski.
Photo: Svetlana Postoenko

Episode from “Stony flower” ballet, music by S.Prokofiev, choreography by Y. Grigorovich,the performers: M. Semenyachenko and A. Lubimov.
Photo: Svetlana Postoenko

Looking beyond next season, the theater has reached at least preliminary agreement with three other prominent choreographers. John Neumeier, who expressed great satisfaction with the level of dancing achieved by the troupe in “The Seagull,” is due to return to the theater with “The Little Mermaid,” a work he created in 2005 for the Royal Danish Ballet. The Bolshoi’s recently departed balletmaster, Alexei Ratmansky, is expected to stage his “Anna Karenina,” which also premiered with the Royal Danish Ballet and has subsequently been staged in Vilnius, Lithuania. And something can also be expected from Frenchman Jean-Christophe Maillot, who has achieved wonders of choreography in his 15 years as director of Monaco’s Ballets de Monte-Carlo.

Ballet is costly form of theater. And the plans for coming seasons described above were largely drawn up before the current financial crisis took hold in Russia. When the full impact of the crisis finally strikes home, at least some of what Filin and the Stanislavsky-Nemirovich- Danchenko hope to present may have to be postponed or cancelled. As of now, however, they seem determined to forge ahead and, come what may, transform the theater into Russia’s liveliest and most-forward-looking venue for ballet.

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