ONE of the world’s finest touring ballet companies, the Russian State Ballet of Siberia are also crowd-pleasers. Before touring they look at what audiences want, and every time the answers come back the same.

“The Nutcracker and Swan Lake are unbeatable champions,” says Sergei Selivanov, who is responsible for managing the ballet’s UK tour each year.

“Year after year we try to diversify the repertoire as much as we can,” he says. “We listen to the venues and their preference of the repertoire. But it is not only down to us and the venue to decide what repertoire to bring – we look at productions the audience preferred in the past analysing sales.

“We have to bring more popular repertoire because ticket sales for less known productions, such as Don Quixote or La Bayadére, do not cover our costs. We do bring other ballet productions, but Swan Lake inevitably remains in the repertoire.”

The Oxford Times:

This week the ballet are at the New Theatre Oxford. Tonight (Thursday) they present Cinderella, while tomorrow (Friday) and Saturday is the turn of perennial favourite Swan Lake.

Sergei, who formerly worked for an offshoot of the Soviet Ministry of Culture and then the Bolshoi, is head of international touring for Raymond Gubbay, looking after tours of Russian ballet and opera companies. And, he insists, Russian ballet remains hugely popular.

“It originated in Italy and evolved in France, but ballet became popular in Russia in the late nineteenth century thanks to the great choreographers Marius Petipa and later Lev Ivanov who created such masterpieces as Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Giselle, Le Corsaire and many other famous productions,” he explains.

The Oxford Times:

“The great entrepreneur Sergei Diaghilev gave another impulse to Russian Ballet in 1909, creating the touring ballet company Ballet Russes which became famous around the world and particularly in France and England.

“The exotic appeal of the Ballets Russes had an effect on Fauvist painters and the nascent Art Deco style. Coco Chanel is said to have stated that ‘Diaghilev invented Russia for foreigners’.

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“The flounder of the Royal Ballet Ninette de Valois herself was a dancer of the Ballet Russes and closely worked with former Ballet Russes’ dancers Anton Dolin and Alicia Markova.

“I am sure you will find Russian dancers in nearly every ballet company in the world.”

While the ballets remain unchanged over the years, innovations are made to improve the experience for audiences, and that includes the introduction of digital technology in the form of projectors.

“We felt we had to introduce it for the shows despite quite high costs,” says Sergei.

“Digital backgrounds bring different dimensions to performances and make it easier to follow different scenes and dances on stage.

“For example, there are two scenes in each of two acts of Swan Lake. We can now quickly change the background from the castle park or the castle hall, to the lake scene just with a click of the button.

“Digital scenes make it easier to understand scenes and bring magic into performances.”

And, he says, audiences here see the very best of what the company has to offfer.

“The entire ballet troupe and orchestra of the Krasnoyarsk State Opera and Ballet Theatre is much larger than it tours in the UK,” he says. “The ballet consists of 80 dancers and the orchestra of 80 musicians.

“It’s not an easy process to reach a decision with the company’s best 42 dancers and 30 musicians for a three-month intense tour when artists are away from their families for so long.

The Oxford Times:

“I go on the road at the beginning of the tour to make sure that artistically and technically all goes smoothly, and the dancers are in good form. Then I keep a close eye on the tour staying in touch with the tour manager and attending performances.”

So who does he believe is the best ballet dancer of all time? “I won’t be able to name the best ballet dancer of all time,” he says. “Expression and technique were different from what we see today, but I could name a few who left legacy and fame such as Anna Pavlova, Vaslav Nijinsky, Margot Fonteyn, Rudolf Nureyev, Maya Plisetskaya, Galina Ulanova, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Sylvie Guillem.

“My favourite ballet is probably Swan Lake. It has the most touching and expressive music by Tchaikovsky and immaculate choreography by Petipa-Ivanov. And you can see it in Oxford this weekend.”

  • The Russian State Ballet of Siberia are at the New Theatre Oxford. They present Cinderella tonight (Thursday), while tomorrow (Friday) and Saturday is Swan Lake.
  • Book at atgtickets.com