Russian ballet goes 'boneless' with modern upgrade

MOSCOW Fri Jul 22, 2011 8:44am EDT

Bolshoi Ballet's dancers perform during a rehearsal for Ballet in one act ''Chroma'' by British choreographer Wayne McGregor at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow July 20, 2011. REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov

Bolshoi Ballet's dancers perform during a rehearsal for Ballet in one act ''Chroma'' by British choreographer Wayne McGregor at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow July 20, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Denis Sinyakov

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's famed Bolshoi Theatre got a modern British upgrade on Thursday evening with the premiere of a one-act ballet that tries to capture fluidity on the stage.

"Chroma", choreographed by 41-year-old Stockport native Wayne McGregor, forms the closing dance of the Bolshoi's 235th season and will become a permanent part of the 18th century opera and ballet house's repertoire.

Bolshoi's veteran, classically trained Russian dancers were initially resistant to the ultra-modern dance, which is dominated by abrupt, rippling body movements that make dancers appear boneless.

"When the artists first saw McGregor's ballet there was fear. There were many letters from artists refusing to take part in the production, which they said was either not for them or too difficult (to do)," Sergei Filin, the Bolshoi Ballet's artistic director, told Reuters ahead of the premiere.

The Bolshoi has recently embarked on a series of modern dance performances, inviting choreographers from abroad to work with their dancers. But the large majority of modern dance at the Bolshoi is performed by foreign troupes.

"Ballet is a contemporary art form, it has to speak to the audiences of today. One has to think 'how do we encourage more and more younger people?' said McGregor, who used alternative rock music and a white square backdrop for "Chroma".

McGregor, who studied experimental psychology at Cambridge University while already heading his own company Random Dance, jetted into Moscow only a week ago, where he tried to help the 10 performers push through their physical boundaries by training their minds.

"At first it seemed impossible, because we had to transform ourselves into invertebrate boneless creatures," said Ekaterina Shipulina, Bolshoi's leading soloist.

"Wayne says every cell of the body has to separate and work individually," she added moving her head and shoulders in opposite directions to demonstrate the dance.

McGregor, who first choreographed Chroma for London's Royal Ballet in 2006, said working with Russians was perfect for the dance's style as "the dancers here have such great proportions, they've got amazing limbs".

"They have real curiosity, they are very open-minded, and they really want to embody style, so it's a real tribute to where the company is at the moment." Mc Gregor said.

"Chroma" will show until July 25th.

(Reporting by Nastassia Astrasheuskaya; editing by Amie Ferris-Rotman and Paul Casciato)

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