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Bolshoi's new director promises the best

Associated Press Associated Press 18/04/2016 Kate De Pury

Just a few weeks into his job, the new artistic director at Moscow's Bolshoi Theater is making only one big promise - to keep doing what he says Russia does best - classical ballet.

But that doesn't mean that the illustrious ballet company will be stuck in the past, Makhar Vaziev said in his first interview with a Western media outlet since starting at the Bolshoi last month.

"Any young generation of dancers who come to ballet, in one way or another, they bring something new, modern," said Vaziev.

His first steps will be closely watched inside and outside the theatre. The Bolshoi has a special status in Russia, where it is considered a national treasure and a symbol of Russian culture if not of Russia itself. And as a state theatre, it has close links to the Kremlin.

Vaziev took over after a period of scandal and bickering under his predecessor Sergei Filin, who lost much of his sight as the result of an acid attack organised by a disgruntled dancer in January 2012. The attack shocked the international ballet world and exposed infighting within the famed theatre.

Vaziev was brought in by the theatre's new general director, Vladimir Urin, who after months of negotiation persuaded him to leave a flourishing career in the West at Milan's La Scala and return to Russia.

Despite breaking his contract at La Scala, Vaziev says he parted on good terms with a company that he says is still very dear to him. He has been credited with reviving La Scala's ballet company and his traditionalist repertoire was popular with Italian audiences.

Still, Vaziev insists it was time for him to return home to the tradition he grew up in as a dancer. He says he brings few lessons back from his time in the West, other than being firmly convinced there is nowhere in the world that ballet is danced better than in Russia. He says the success of the Russian tradition is based on its strict school and a performance repertoire where the company dances a lot of different ballets in a fast and frequent rotation.

"I know very few ballet companies in the world who are capable of dancing ballet at the highest level. Do you know why? Because if you only dance Swan Lake once a year or once every three years, I can tell you straight away - you have no chance of dancing it well. That's just the way it is," Vaziev told AP.

The company will be on tour in London this summer, where Vaziev says British audiences will not see obvious signs of a new regime. They will see what they came for - classical ballet from the Bolshoi.

Vaziev may represent a safe pair of hands, but he's keen to counter accusations of dusty traditionalism at the Bolshoi. His company will be open to all genres of dance, he says, on pointe or not on pointe, as long as the result is world-class.

And the fact that ballet is a young, athletic discipline means dancers bring a modern sensibility to the classics, a process he believes automatically refreshes the traditional repertoire.

All that is needed to ensure this is honesty and openness so the dancers can work, Vaziev said in a carefully worded reference that was the closest he came to describing his solution to ridding the theatre of the rivalry, corruption and infighting that apparently characterised the past few years.

He says his main task is to create an environment at the Bolshoi where the most talented dancers can flourish.

"You must be honest, don't bully or humiliate anyone - and the rest is just hard work," he says.

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