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Ruzimatov in charge: a Kirov star takes the helm at the Maly.

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A celebrated Kirov virtuoso with an intense, romantic stage presence, Farukh Ruzimatov has been named artistic director of St. Petersburg's Maly Theatre Ballet. The Maly, considered the third ballet company of Russia (after the Kirov and Bolshoi), has had one of the most daring and original repertoires in the country. Dubbed "the laboratory of Soviet ballet," it was a place where artists could take risks in search of new forms. The Maly's premieres were eagerly awaited and discussed among Leningrad's ballet and theater fans (as this writer can attest to from her years dancing there).

The spirit of experimentation was injected in the 1930s by the ballet's first artistic director, Fyodor Lopukhov, an insatiable innovator and erudite choreographer. He was the first to move the action of classical ballet to the real world, populated by people, rather than traditional masques and personages (e.g. instead of a good fairy he would have a rich American uncle). The trend is still in use today. Lopukhov also was the first in Russia to create a ballet on a modern topic--the collective farm--in 1935. The Bright Stream was successful with audiences but was eventually banned for "distorting Soviet life style" (70 years later to be re-choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky, the Bolshoi's current artistic director, to great acclaim).

In addition to this adventurous programming, the theater was known for its careful and stylish revivals, many of them staged by Russia's premier authority on classical ballet, Peter Gusev.

The Maly was often the first in Soviet Russia to explore new theatrical ideas. During the cultural thaw of the '60s, the Maly produced abstract ballets, or "dance symphonies," by choreographers like Konstantin Boyarsky and Igor Belsky. Oleg Vinogradov's Yaroslavna (1974) was the first barefoot modern ballet, and Nikolai Boyarchikov's Orpheus and Eurydice (1979) was the first Soviet rock ballet. The company revived Fokine's ballets Eros, Petrushka, and The Firebird, and produced ballets to music by Stravinsky and Ravel.

Famed Russian dancemakers from Kasyan Goleizovsky and Leonid Lavrovsky to Yuri Grigorovich and Boris Eifman took some of their first choreographic steps at the Maly. From the '70s through the '90s, the company pioneered stagings of western choreographers. When Vinogradov was briefly artistic director, he brought in Bournonville's La Sylphide. Boyarchikov, the director from 1977 to 2007, brought in Balanchine's Serenade and Theme and Variations, Nijinska's Les Noces and Limon's There Is a Time. These ballets were popular with dancers eager to explore new material.

Ruzimatov, the first Maly director who is not a choreographer, has the full backing of the new general director Vladimir Kekhman, an entrepreneur-businessman. The new team has hit the ground running with a major spring cleaning: The building got a face-lift and a new dance floor (after decades of warped hardwood). The auditorium is being restored to its beautiful white-gold-apricot 1830s splendour.

Albeit the name Maly means "small" in Russian, in order to produce sumptuous full-length productions, the company employs 130 full-time dancers. Ruzimatov is looking for dancers in their best form. "The work force is the deciding factor," he chuckles, quoting Lenin. He has invited stars like Anastasia and Denis Matviyenko from the Kiev and the Bolshoi Ballet to join the company.

According to Ruzimatov, "St. Petersburg's audience likes story ballets and would much rather see Swan Lake than an abstract piece. And besides," he adds, "avant-garde does not suit the Imperial Theatre aura." He regards classical ballets as "our golden heritage" and has invited Natalia Makarova to stage Swan Lake and Nikita Dolgushin to produce Giselle. Ruzimatov's goal is to "make Maly big--the best."

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Title Annotation:dance matters; Maly Theatre Ballet's Farukh Ruzimatov
Author:Kunikova, Elena
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2007
Words:597
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