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Russia: Mikhailovsky's Male Ballet Troupe Is One Of A Kind

St. Petersburg, 10 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - Valeri Mikhailovsky's ballet company receives the level of love and reverence that Russians customarily lavish on ballet. But it's an unusual troupe. Mikhailovsky describes his all-male company's distinction in these words: "A professional exhibition of manners and style, with a fine touch of humor, of female roles from classical ballet."

Though this racy element has earned him fame at home and abroad, Mikhailovsky also takes pride in the dancers' versatility and their ability to perform complex and original modern dance.

Mikhailovsky's male ballet is the only one of its kind in Russia. Not even Moscow boasts an all-male ballet undertaking female roles. For five years, his troupe has been welcomed as a sensational revolution in ballet in cities throughout Russia, the Baltic countries, a host of West European countries, Japan, Korea, and the United States. Its publicity has consumed a downpour of ink in publications including The New York Times and Dance Magazine.

The lines of people at the box office aren't a lot shorter than those at the stage doors. Would-be dancers form queues seeking roles in his performances. But, Mikhailovsky told our correspondent in St. Petersburg recently: "Not everyone is cut out for this work. Some, when they learn that they have to don a tutu and play a female role, refuse."

Mikhailovsky says his quest is to show that male dancers can attain a level of feminine grace and poise equal to that of the best classical ballet companies. Lilya Savitova, who leads her own troupe, told him after a recent performance that he has succeeded. More than 2,000 people packed the Oktyabriski Hall on St Petersburg's Ligovsky Prospect for that performance, the first, of a five-year retrospective.

Founded by Mikhailovsky in 1992, the St Petersburg Male Ballet is a state-financed ballet troupe. It got its first break during the culturally liberal administration of former mayor Anatoli Sobchak.

Mikhailovsky studied dance in the Ukainian capital, Kyiv, at the Kiev Choreographic Institute. In 1967, at the age of 14, he met St. Petersburg's chief iconoclastic choreographer, Boris Eifman. Soon after, Eifman invited him to continue to study in St. Petersburg. Mikhailovsky finally branched out on his own in 1992, but he and the choreographer remain friends. Eifman's influence is evident in some of Mikhailovsky's serious modern dance presentations.

At first, Mikhailovsky planned a traditional company. But then, seeking innovation, he hit on the idea of performing with an all-male cast. He worried that St Petersburg would react indignantly. But the company's first performance in September 1992 was greeted by the audience and critics with cheers.

Mikhailovsky said that people do laugh during the performance. The dancers play to this with costumes, exaggerated feminine gestures and other devices of parody. But, Mikhailovsky says, his first objective is fine ballet.