Angelina Vorontsova in The Flames of Paris. Photo by Stas Levshin, Courtesy Mikhailovsky Ballet.
Though audiences have long idolized the Bolshoi and Mariinsky Ballets, the Mikhailovsky Ballet is gaining ground as one of Russia’s most forward-thinking classical troupes. With more than $40 million in investments from general director Vladimir Kekhman, who built his fortune in fruit imports, the company has attracted some of the biggest names in ballet, including Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev. And in November, the Mikhailovsky will tour to the U.S. for the first time, stopping at New York City’s Lincoln Center and Southern California’s Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
Despite its recent successes, the company has had some hurdles to overcome. Nacho Duato, who was artistic director for three years, left recently to direct Staatsballett Berlin. Leading dancers Kristina Shapran and Oksana Bondareva migrated to the Mariinsky in July. “Nacho didn’t go very far,” says ballet master in chief Mikhail Messerer, who has been directing the company since 2009 (he shared duties during Duato’s years). He points out that Duato is Mikhailovsky’s resident choreographer and that many strong dancers remain: Bondareva will continue to perform with the company through the tour and stars like Anastasia Soboleva, Victor Lebedev and Angelina Vorontsova—the much-advertised pupil of former Bolshoi dancer and Vaganova Academy director Nikolai Tsiskaridze—have joined.
On the tour’s bill are works that represent Messerer’s renewed vision. “We really have three prongs: classical 19th-century repertoire, Duato ballets and the Soviet ballets,” he says. This includes Giselle and Messerer’s restagings of The Flames of Paris and Don Quixote; Duato’s Prelude; and Russian gems like Konstantin Boyarsky’s The Lady and the Hooligan and The Cavalry Halt. The Mikhailovsky has toured more in recent years, including three visits to London, which earned it the British Critics Circle’s Outstanding Company award. “This, despite the fact that other Russian ballet companies performed in London during that season as well,” says Messerer. “It’s a big achievement for us.”