Russian ballet dances from coast to coast

The Russians are coming.

Next week, dance lovers on both coasts will be able to sample the yin and the yang of Russian dance.

While Washington plays host to the well-known Bolshoi Ballet, the passionately athletic embodiment of everything that the West has come to expect from that country's rich dance traditions, Los Angeles will be entertaining the company that Muscovites know as "the other ballet company in town," the Moscow Stanislavsky Ballet.

This lesser-known company was created in 1941 when Konstantin Stanislavsky, the famous Russian acting teacher, merged his music theater with another one run by a Stanislavsky disciple. This background in theater is what has given the company its distinctive profile.

"The art of dancing is what is in between the lines," says Dmitry Bryantsev, artistic director of the Moscow Ballet. "This is not written, it must be danced and felt in the whole body."

In Shakespeare's "Hamlet," "You cannot dance 'To be or not to be.' But you can dance the state of his soul when he says those words," he says. "It's what Stanislavsky would call acting."

That, he adds, is the connection between Stanislavsky and his company today. "When ballet is just illustration, it's not interesting. We do not want to merely illustrate the story."

In 1998, New York Times dance critic Anna Kisselgoff called the Moscow Stanislavsky Ballet, then touring the US, "a cozy foil to the more spectacular Bolshoi. Its dancers ... communicate on a direct, human level."

This is most evident in the troupe's signature work, a reinterpretation of the ballet classic "Swan Lake," created by choreographer Vladimir Burmeister in 1953. This version returns to the original score by Tchaikovsky and details Princess Odette's bewitchment into a swan and her return from that state. The story line makes more sense psychologically and is easier for the dancers to perform, says artistic director Mr. Bryantsev, who is also the company's choreographer.

This interpretation is at odds with the one performed by most classical companies, including the Bolshoi. But Bryantsev is concerned more about the future of ballet and its appeal to younger audiences than with tradition.

"Ballet technique is only a means for expressing an idea," he says. "There is no reason for the idea to be unclear." His task, he says, "is to make classic ballet exciting and accessible to the young, and not be boring."

Beyond that, Bryantsev says, the company has its roots in the technique that is widely known as "Method acting," but the influence of the well-traveled Russian acting teacher stretches across the globe.

"Everyone sees themselves as an actor or a performer now," Bryantsev says. "Stanislavsky was just studying people and showing them how to re-create themselves. Everyone is so aware of this state of self-consciousness ... that it is no longer just the theater. Stanislavsky influenced the entire world."

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