The Moscow Ballet story begins in 1979 when Bolshoi Ballet principals Alexander Gudunov, Leonid Kozlov, and Valentina met producer Akiva Talmi, son of Russian immigrants and New York City Julliard School graduate. Talmi produced two US tours with the Bolshoi stars: “Gudunov and Stars” and “Kozlovs from Bolshoi to Broadway.” He also produced American Ballet Theater Prima Ballerina Cynthia Gregory’s “Celebration Tour,” chaired by First Lady Nancy Reagan, and the PBS special “From the Top” featuring NYC Ballet star Violet Verdi and violinist Itzak Perlman. As Talmi produced tours, partner Mary M. Giannone was selected by Mikhail Baryshnikov to choreograph the Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 for American Ballet Theatre II. The project, underwritten by ABT/Rockefeller Foundation, starred the young Allegra Kent. In the late seventies Akiva Talmi and Mary Giannone, a Juilliard trained choreographer and former assistant to modern dance legend Jose Limon, were poised to start 4 decades of producing and touring Russian ballet across North America.
At the same time, artistic life in the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev flourished with his encouragement of freedom and reform. Talmi ventured to the USSR just as “Glasnost,” the policy calling for increased artistic openness, and “Perestroika,”a political movement for reforming government institutions,emerged. Talmi traveled many times to Moscow in the eighties creating the “International Glasnost Festivals.” The 1988 to 1991 tours included the best ballerinas and danseurs in the world including Prima Ballerina Assoluta of the Stanislavksy Ballet Tatiana Chernobrovkinaand partner Alexei Malykin of the Bolshoi Ballet; Jana Kurova, winner of 6 International Ballet Competition gold medals, Prima Ballerina from the Czechoslovakian National Ballet in Prague and partner Stanislav Fetcho , currently Ballet Master of Perm Ballet and former principal danseur at Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet; Maria Ivanova, of Stanislavski Ballet and currently head teacher at Moscow State Academy of Choreography/Bolshoi School and her partner Andrei Glazsheider, with Stanislavsky Ballet; and Svetlana Smirnova and Vadim Bondar of the Perm School. Kirov Artistic Director Oleg Vinogradov arranged the appearances of Kirov/Mariinsky principal artists Margarita Kullik and Vladimir Kim. The Glasnost tours were received to appreciative audiences and critical acclaim.
During one of the Moscow visits, Talmi met Bolshoi soloist Stanislav Vlasov and together they created one of the first independent, internationally touring Soviet ballet companies named “Moscow Ballet.” The company was based at the Moscow State Academic Children’s Theater (aka Natalia Satz Theater) which was founded by Lenin and where Sergey Prokofiev and Natalia Satz co-created “Peter and the Wolf.” The new company’s inaugural tour traveled through China and subsequently to the USA and Canada annually. Today’s Moscow Ballet is the continuation of this early collaborative group. As Russia evolved into its expanded role as a modern-day, free-world leader in the arts, Moscow Ballet has evolved into a free, innovative, Russian touring company with extensive education programs reaching over 5000 North American children annually.
In 1993 Vlasov created Act II’s “Land of Peace and Harmony” and the “Dove of Peace” role which are exclusive to Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker. As the company grew, significant repertory was added to the Great Russian Nutcracker production including Romeo and Juliet, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and Carmen. Moscow Ballet expanded its talent pool to include artists from the great Russian ballet and opera houses of Kazan, Kiev, Nizhniy Novgorod and Odessa.Moscow Ballet also gained access to top talent from the Perm school where current super stars Sergey Chumakov and Elena Petrichenko trained, and National Ballet of Ukraine in Kiev from where Moscow Ballet stars Viktor Shcherbakov and Olga Kifyak hail. Kazan Opera and Ballet principal dancer Alexandra Elagina was called out as “brimful with feeling” by New York Times Chief Dance Critic Alastair Macaulay. Kirov Ballet Artistic Director Emeritus Oleg Vinogradov provided assistance in later years as well. Moscow Ballet is now one of the largest touring ballet company in the US performing annually in major markets from New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami to over 80 other cities, as well as in Canada and Latin America. Who knew a quarter of a century ago that out of the USSR, and its people’s zeal for freedom of expression, some of Russia’s best artists would come to Moscow Ballet, free from state control and open to new artistic expression.