“The expectations here were very high,” Anna Galaida, a dance critic for the Vedomosti newspaper, said Wednesday. “And the ballet has lived up to them.”
ABT visited for the first time in a six-month State Department-sponsored European tour in 1960, and Nikita S. Khrushchev saw their last Moscow performance of that tour just days after he banged his shoe at the United Nations and called the Philippines delegate a toady of American imperialism.
Never mind. The Soviet premier clapped through three enthusiastic curtain calls and invited some of the company to a midnight supper of champagne and caviar. Khrushchev found the performance “quite good,” according to Seymour Topping, reporting for the New York Times.
The company made its last visit in 1966, when Soviet officials stayed away because the United States was bombing North Vietnam. These days the United States is bombing Libya, Afghanistan and Pakistan, relations are a little cool but not Cold, and neither president nor prime minister went to opening night at the new stage of the Bolshoi Theatre — no slight perceived.
While the 1960 visits were State Department-sponsored, this time ABT came at the invitation of the Mstislav Rostropovich Foundation, which is sponsoring an arts festival here to honor the memory of the great cellist, who conducted Washington’s National Symphony Orchestra for 17 years after he was exiled from Russia in 1974.
Rostropovich’s daughter, Olga, artistic director of the festival, said ABT brought not only the highest level of achievement, but an American presence that would have pleased her father.
“He loved Washington,” she said, “and he loved his orchestra, and it was a very special time.”
In his honor, Benjamin Millepied, of “Black Swan” fame, choreographed a new ballet, “Troika,” for three men dancing to selections from Bach’s Suite for Solo Cello No. 2 in D Minor and Suite for Cello No. 3 in C, music that Rostropovich famously played.
“It has a wonderful sense of male camaraderie and competitiveness and playfulness,” says Kevin McKenzie, ABT’s artistic director.
Well-received as they are, today’s troupe stands in the historic shadow of the 1960 tour, which forever transformed American dance.
Once a 22-year-old Rudolf Nureyev saw Erik Bruhn soaring through the air in the American company’s “Swan Lake” pas de deux, he defected to the West at the first opportunity, which arrived the following year in Paris.
“If this is male dancing in the West,” he said, according to McKenzie’s telling, “I’m going.”