Moving ballet forward in St Petersburg: the 16th Dance Open Festival

(Photo credit: Rahi Rezvani)

The 16th Dance Open Festival has started in the cultural capital of Russia—with new artists, new inspiration, but the same feeling of love. Prospekt Magazine took a look at the personalities behind the event and discovered what’s new in the festival this year and what it can mean for the city in the future 

The artistic path of Ekaterina Galanova is impressive. Once a ballerina of the Mariinsky Theatre, she later began to organise events in the concert music industry and launched a company providing event services. But the achievement she is most proud of is the creation of one of the largest ballet festivals in the world, which has currently opened in St Petersburg for the 16th time—the Dance Open.

(Photo credit: Dance Open Festival Press Service)

Ekaterina left ballet as a dancer but true love never seems to end. As the manager and organiser of the Dance Open Festival, she seeks to promote her favourite art to attract people’s attention to its physical and spiritual beauty and to make it more accessible for different types of audiences.

She does this by bringing great troupes and prominent artists together from around the Earth. They represent different styles and movements but never stop creating something new, moving ballet—and classical dance—forward. They are open to new approaches and want others to be open to them as well.

“This is why the programme of our festival is so diverse—it completely justifies its openness to different styles and genres,” says Ekaterina.

“We have classical ballet, neoclassical ballet, and even radical, spectacular avant-garde productions, featuring both foreign and Russian troupes. Some of the troupes have come to St Petersburg and even to Russia for the first time,” she says.

According to Ekaterina, making ballet more available and understandable for everybody means, first of all, making it clear and interesting for children. That is why the festival has opened with a performance for children for the first time: the original Snow Queen by the great ballet dancer, and now choreographer of the State Theatre of Yekaterinburg, Viacheslav Samodurov, a good friend of Ekaterina.

(Photo credit: Dance Open Festival Press Service)

“Before, there was not such a thing as a ballet for children,” says Viacheslav, “and our task is to have children and their parents come to the theatre, fall in love with it, and make them want to return.”

This is why the winter and snow have returned to St Petersburg for a while, Ekaterina jokes—Viacheslav is supposed to be a wizard, no less. But he continues:

“At the premiere in Yekaterinburg, we watched the children’s reactions and saw that they enjoyed the performance in the same way as their parents, and even more. I heard how one child reacted to the weird creatures on stage by calling them trolls, while his mother [mistakenly] corrected him by saying that the creatures were mice.”

(Photo credit: Yelena Lehova)

But the most difficult part of the work, which makes the festival so unique and first-class, was inviting the Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT) —considered to be one the world’s leading contemporary dance company. They have come to St Petersburg with three one-act ballets: Shoot the Moon, Silent Screen, and Thin Skin.

“We were literally running after them for four years,” tells Ekaterina, “that’s how busy their schedule is. But the result is worth all the work.”

“The NDT includes 28 phenomenal dancers from all over the world. The company contributes to various art forms and choreography by involving visual arts, music composition, innovative light, and set designs. At NDT’s home based in The Hague, all this comes together daily in surroundings that are regarded as a unique global creative ground, constantly moving ahead to let the future of dance take shape.”

In the span of 12 days, from 13 to 24 April, five troupes will present six shows—each of them a real masterpiece, or, to be more precise, a piece of art. The finale of the festival will be a big gala concert with stars from ballet theatres from all over the world—The Bolshoi Theatre of Russia, Royal Ballet Covent Garden from the UK, Nederlands Dans Theater 1, the La Scala Ballet, and others.

But even here, where ballet will be presented as a type of performing art, the organisers interlace the classical and modern styles and even leave space for a good piece of hooliganism, in the words Ekaterina; they invited the famous American step dancer Savion Glover. But no fear for classical ballet admirers! Representatives from the Bolshoi Ballet will be there as well.

“We really hope that one day, ballet will be the same for St Petersburg—the cultural capital of Russia—as opera is for Italy or Mozart is for Salzburg. We are doing a lot of work for this to happen,” concludes Ekaterina.

Indeed, the festival seems to be doing a great job in achieving its goal: almost all of the tickets for the performances are already sold out.

Event: 16th Dance Open International Ballet Festival
When: From Thursday 13 April to Monday 24 April
Where: Alexandrinsky Theatre, pl. Ostrovskogo, 6.
Price: Varies

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