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Major tour for Russian dancers

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Audiences across the country will be able to experience the magic of two of the world’s most popular, and well loved ballets this autumn, as the Russian State Ballet and Komi Opera House embark on a mammoth UK tour. While the company were hard at work rehearsing, I spoke to Alexej Ignatow, chief executive and producer for Amande Concerts, the event agency that is organising the tour.

I understand that the Russian State Ballet and Opera House of Komi are about to tour the UK.
Yes, we are bringing Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty over to tour the UK and these are two of the three most popular ballets ever to be performed – the other one is The Nutcracker. I think they are especially popular because of Tchaikovsky’s music, which is just amazing on its own. The ballets are so popular that we are doing a full 64-date tour of the UK from early October right up to the middle of December.

Are the cast of the ballets very young?
Not especially, no. In the past we have brought academies over to the UK but this year, and going forwards, we will be bringing the professional company so the age range of the dancers will be from about 18 or 19 through to the early 30s.

How long is the “life” of a ballet dancer?
Well, we know from our academies that some of the dancers will start at a very young age. Of course they are not in professional ballet classes – they usually start with just dance lessons – but, here in Russia, and I am sure it is the same in the UK, children of five or six will display a potential to do more.

The proper Academy School, where they also learn the more educational parts of dance and it all gets a bit more serious, starts from about the age of 11 or 12. That continues until you are 18 years old and then, at this stage, you can graduate from the Academy (and there are only a handful of Academies). You then, hopefully, make your name known to one of the big ballet theatres and, maybe, get the offer to dance in their company.

And how long can they expect to continue to dance?
It depends really – as with any professio,n you have people in different categories. I mean you have the prima ballerinas, the principals and the soloists and they, at their peak, would be from early 20s to late 20s. Then, some of the dancers may stay and dance until they are in their late 30s by taking some of the more minor roles and the character parts. By the end of their 30s that is usually the last time that they will be seen on stage; their skill is still there but it’s just that as you get older you maybe can’t jump so high – and the youngsters are very keen to overtake you.

How do you vary the shows that you bring from one year to the next?
What we do, and I am really very proud of it, is the fact that each time we come back we bring new things. So, if you came last year to see Swan Lake or The Sleeping Beauty, this year you will see a completely different show because it might have different sets, different costumes, different artists performing and sometimes we even do new things with the storyline.

That is how we try and differentiate ourselves from other companies. We make sure that we bring variety and that is very close to my heart because I don’t want our audience to see the same show over and over again. They shouldn’t be punished because they are coming to see us for the second or third time.

How tough is the training that ballet dancers go through?
It is very tough indeed. I am a very athletic man and I have tried, sometimes, to do the jumps but it is just impossible. At the end of the day it is all about technique and the Russian schools have taught this for centuries and, I think, that is why Russian ballet is so valued. The schools get in there right from the start and the way the artists are taught the technique is very unique. Most of the effortlessness and the grace of the ballet dancers comes from learning good technique.

I think the combination of grace and power is what makes ballet such a wonderful art form.
Oh yes, I totally agree. But they are artists and that is their profession. They have to put the dance on the stage in a way that the audience doesn’t see that the body is sometimes in distress doing it, that it takes so much effort to get it right, because that is what makes it even more beautiful.

With a 64-date tour, do you have more than one company to perform the ballets?
No, it is the same company performing all 64 shows. For the whole of October we will be performing just one-day shows at each venue, and that includes Worthing, so each day we are at a different theatre.

Then, in November, the company will be joined by an orchestra and then, as well as the one-night shows, we also have longer residencies at some of the bigger theatres, like Eastbourne, and we will perform the ballet with a large live orchestra but, for the whole two and half months it will be the same company of dancers.

And, of course, when we come over they will already have done two months of rehearsals; in fact they are rehearsing as we speak – but that is what they are used to and that is the ballet artist’s life. They don’t want to perform this in their living rooms, they want to take it to the stage and make people happy and, although it is a lot of effort, it is very rewarding for them and they really enjoy it.


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