In this new series of blogs from our guest contributor Isabella Zijp, who was lucky to spend the last few months in a Russian ballet immersion, we spotlight young dancers and companies that are changing the Russian ballet establishment:
Although dance in Russia has traditionally been associated with classical ballet, an increasing number of contemporary dance works have entered the repertory of companies like the Bolshoi and the Stanislavsky. But there are other companies making their own mark on the Russian contemporary dance scene. One of the most interesting among this set is Theatre Ballet Moscow, better known as Balet Moskva.
Balet Moskva was founded in 1989, with two distinct groups of dancers offering performances in a wide range of styles. Today, the company retains the same structure, but with new repertory focusing on exclusive creations, and, since 2013, a new Artistic Director in Elena Tupyseva. I spoke to her after a successful performance of Eros. Minos. by Netherlands-based choreographers Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and Juanjo Arques, which marked Tupyseva’s third season with the company.
“We are quite an exceptional company”, she says. “First of all, we have two dance groups performing under the same name. The ballet cast performs contemporary works rooted on classical ballet technique, while the contemporary cast combines dance with physical theatre and other genres.”
The company is situated near the Bolshoi and Stanislavsky Theatres, but Tupyseva doesn’t feel that competition is an issue: “it is challenging to perform near those theatres”, she admits, “but we are a company specialised in contemporary choreography. When these companies present contemporary works, they are typically by choreographers who have already proven their excellence. We would like to be seen as the ones who experiment and take risks. Our choreographers have artistic freedom and the opportunity to try something new.”
One of Tupyseva’s main tasks is to introduce new repertory to help Balet Moskva raise its profile. She explains how she chooses the choreographers she wants to work with: “I try to invite a new generation of choreographers who are working their way to the top. At the moment, there is this small group – well-known names like William Forsythe, Nacho Duato and Jiří Kylián – who are staging works all around the world. I try to find people who will follow in their footsteps.” This season, the company is working with Karine Ponties (Belgium), and in 2017 with Robert Binet (Canada). “I would also like to invite Crystal Pite, and Hofesh Shechter.” In addition to bringing international choreographers to Moscow, the company also tries to nurture Russian talent: this autumn has seen the premiere of Café Idiot by Alexander Pepelyaev, a mix of dance theatre and interactive graphic arts, as well as the revival of Four Seasons by Kirill Simonov, Anastasia Kadruleva and Artem Ignatiev.
As one of the very few contemporary companies in Russia, Balet Moskva‘s main challenge is recruiting dancers. “The majority of our dancers are educated in folk dance. Some of them studied classical ballet, and others have experience in dance shows. Because we present productions from different genres, we welcome different skills. One of our newest dancers worked as a puppeteer. He was not formally trained in dance, but he is a good mover. By contrast, we have a female dancer who trained in France and who brings a lot of experience. Some of our classical dancers are interested in learning contemporary choreography as well.”
Another challenge is finding the right venues and funding. In general, government-funded companies are obliged to stage a certain amount of performances in their home cities, which means that most theatres are occupied throughout the season. “Here, every company performs in its own venue instead of touring and performing at festivals. Therefore, it is difficult for us to find places to perform when most theatres are occupied. As an independent group, it is also nearly impossible for us to get government subsidy, so we need to fund the company with private money.”
Although Tupyseva has already achieved a great deal in the last three years, she still has strong ambitions for the company. “The past few years have been devoted to creating a name in Moscow, so I would now like to travel to other Russian cities and abroad, as the contemporary dance scene is very international. There’s this opportunity to show to audiences that Russian ballet is more than Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty. I have been networking with other artistic directors and choreographers, and hope this will lead to interesting future collaborations and opportunities for Balet Moskva.”
For more information and a schedule of upcoming performances, check Balet Moskva’s official website.