Spanish Choreographer Nacho Duato at Mikhailovsky Theater

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In 2001 Mikhailovsky Theater returned its’ historic name and 6 years later it managed to bring back the fame of the most temporal musical theater in St. Petersburg.

Mikhailovsky’s chief savior and sponsor, banana magnate Vladimir Kekhman (who now is the managing director) has invested $35 million of his own money to revamp the theater. Restored in accord with the original version, the interiors of the theater look very impressive. Besides, V. Kekhman began involving outstanding persons to head the opera and ballet staff.

V. Kekhtman has repeatedly said that in his activities he is mainly oriented at the experiences of the Emperors’ theaters, i.e. at the golden age of the Russian ballet. The last foreigner to run a Russian dance company in 1890s was Marius Petipa. In some way Nacho Duato can be considered his direct successor.

After 20 years of depressive stagnation, the theater has finally became stable, since it has gained its own niche, namely a respectable enterprise, aimed a mass public, but regularly attracting ballet-lovers with the rarity premiers and invited stars. One thing is clear – Mr. Kekhman decided to focus more on modern ballet, because only in this sphere Mikhailovsky theater can compete with Mariinsky and Bolshoi theaters – leaders of classical ballet.

Last year, displeased with the failures of homegrown directors, Kekhman invited Nacho Duato to give the company an upstart fillip. The contract was signed for 5 years, with the possibility of further prolongation. With Nacho Duato the Theater is supposed to enter the highest “ballet league”, and Vladimir Kekhman is literally making a cultural revolution in Russia.

On January 1, 2011 the Spanish choreographer started his work in the position of the art-director for the ballet troupe. Born in Valencia Spain the 54-year-old Duato is one of the 5 top choreographers in the world. In his youth, he studied in the ballet schools of  London, Brussels, and New York City – though he completed none of them. In 1980, Duato signed his first professional contract with the Cullbebecome Ballet in Stockholm, and a year later Jirí Kylián brought him to Holland’s Nederlands Dans Theater, where he became a resident choreographer in 1988. His works have been featured in the repertoires of major dance companies across the globe.

After 20 years as director of Spain’s national ballet company, and more than a decade at the American Ballet Theater, Duato is facing the biggest artistic challenge of his career: dragging Russian ballet, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century.  Duato assures that he intends to find the balance between the classical and contemporary ballets in the repertoire of the theater. The choreographer’s plans include a contemporary dance festival to be conducted annually starting from 2011.

His contract with Spain’s Compania Nacional de Danza, where he had been artistic director for the past 20 years, expired on July 31, 2010. During a few years he had managed to turn an insignificant provincial theater into one of the most requested and highly paid dancing companies in the world. Duato left Spain in frustration, being offended with the underestimation of his work by the officials of the Spanish Ministry of Culture.

We might add that the style of his choreography differs greatly from the Russian one. The National Spanish dancing company this summer has participated in Moscow based International Chekhov’s festival with the performance, staged by Duato. The show was incredibly beautiful – no words are enough to describe it. By the way, Duato has the right to the works he staged, and in a month they expire for the Spanish dancing company, so they will have no right to show them any more. Mikhailovsky Theater, in its turn, hopes to purchase it.

When the ballet dancers get used to working with Duato, he plans to invite other prominent foreign choreographers to stage new things. Thus, the work to Europeanize St. Petersburg ballet has started. Nacho Duato believes that Dance is a universal language, not a national one. No one tradition can be alive unless it develops – and only then it will be able to truly inspire and transform its audience.