Today Moscow Ballet tours the US and Canada annually performing in the top twenty major markets including New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Washington D.C., Houston and over 140 more North American cities. Where did it all begin?
The Moscow Ballet Story begins in Moscow and St. Petersburg
In the 1980’s artistic life in the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev flourished with his encouragement of freedom and reform “Glasnost,” the policy calling for increased artistic openness, and “Perestroika,” a political movement for reforming government institutions. Talmi traveled several times to Moscow creating the annual “International Glasnost Festivals” which toured the best ballerinas and danseurs including Prima Ballerina Assoluta of the Stanislavsky Ballet Tatiana Chernobrovkina and partner Alexei Malykin of the Bolshoi Ballet; Jana Kurova, Prima Ballerina of the Czechoslovakian National Ballet in Prague and winner of 6 International Ballet Competition gold medals; Svetlana Smirnova and Vadim Bondar of the Russian Perm School; Katharine Wolf and Zoltan Nagy of the Hungarian National Ballet; and Kirov Ballet Artistic Director Emeritus Oleg Vinogradov, who hosted Akiva Talmi at the Kirov offering Principal Artists Margarita Kullik and Vladimir Kim for Talmi’s Glasnost Tour. Vinogradov was invited as Artist in Residence at Yale University and was invited to present with Akiva Talmi at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. in 2012.
During one of the Moscow visits, Talmi met Stanislov Vlasov, former Bolshoi Ballet principal dancer and partner to Lilia Sabitova, People’s Artist of Russia. Together they created one of the first independent, internationally-touring Soviet ballet companies naming it “Moscow Ballet”. The company had a permanent residency at the Moscow State Academic Children’s Theater (aka Natalia Sats Theater). Talmi was fascinated by the pioneering work of Natalia Sats, specifically her unique way of reaching young audiences and her inspiration from the Greek god Pan who envisioned all art originating in nature. She staged Maeterlinck’s The Blue Bird, even putting a Blue Bird of Happiness statue on the roof of the theatre and constructing a large aviary inside the building, encouraging children to observe how the birds lived harmoniously among each other. The company was invited by Taiwan’s President Lee to Taipei, off of mainland China, and soon after came the annual North American tours. In the early nineties, Vlasov created the Great Russian Nutcracker’s “Land of Peace and Harmony” and the “Dove of Peace” role which are both exclusive to Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker. The role, the animal puppetry and birds pay homage to Sats’ ideals.
The Moscow Ballet Great Russian Nutcracker becomes a North American Tradition
As the company grew, significant repertory was added to the annual North American tours including Romeo and Juliet, Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and Carmen. Moscow Ballet includes artists from the great Russian Ballet and Opera Houses such as Perm from where super stars Sergey Chumakov and Elena Petrichenko trained, and National Ballet of Ukraine in Kiev from where stars Iryna Borysova and Oleksandr Skulkin hail; and Kazan National Opera and Ballet’s Principal Ballerina Alexandra Elagina who was called out as “brimful with feeling” by New York Times Chief Dance Critic Alastair Macaulay.
Moscow Ballet’s acclaimed Great Russian Nutcracker is a holiday tradition in households across North America, and has been enjoyed by prominent figures, including former first family Barack and Michelle Obama, a memory she retells in her 2018 best-selling memoir Becoming:
“It was nearly Christmas, and Sasha was among a group of local children selected to join the Moscow Ballet for two performances of The [Great Russian] Nutcracker, both happening on the same day as the vigil in Newtown. Barack managed to slip into a back row and watch the dress rehearsal before leaving for Connecticut. I went to the evening show.
The ballet was as beautiful and otherworldly as any recounting of that story ever is, with its prince in a moonlit forest and its swirling pageantry of sweets. Sasha played a mouse, dressed in a black leotard with fuzzy ears and a tail, performing her part while an ornate sleigh drifted through the swelling orchestral music and showers of glittering fake snow. My eyes never left her. My whole being was grateful for her. Sasha stood bright-eyed on stage, looking at first like she couldn’t believe where she was, as if she found the whole scene dazzling and unreal. Which of course it was. But she was young enough still that she could give herself over to it, at least for the moment, allowing herself to move through this heaven where nobody spoke and everyone danced, and a holiday was always just about to arrive.”
The Moscow Ballet story begins in 1979 when Bolshoi Ballet principals Alexander Godunov and Leonid and Valentina Kozlov met producer Akiva Talmi, son of Russian immigrants and graduate of The Julliard School. Talmi produced two US tours with the Bolshoi stars: “Godunov and Stars” and “Kozlov’s from Bolshoi to Broadway” and went on to produce American Ballet Theater Prima Ballerina Cynthia Gregory’s “Celebration Tour,” a benefit for the “Just Say No” campaign chaired by First Lady Nancy Reagan; and PBS special “From the Top” featuring NYC Ballet star Violet Verdi and violinist Itzhak Perlman. This production was noted as doing “an excellent job of presenting the subtle and intangible benefits of learning through and about the arts” by David Rockefeller, Jr., a theme that runs through the Talmi’s subsequent years of touring. As Talmi produced tours, partner Mary Giannone was among a select group of emerging ballet artists chosen by Mikhail Baryshnikov to choreograph the Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 for American Ballet Theatre II. Some of the talented artists also selected include: Dennis Spaight, who danced with the Irish National Ballet, Bejart’s Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet and was Oregon Ballet Theatre’s associate director and resident choreographer; and James Kudelka who became artistic director for the National Ballet of Canada and is now serving as the National Ballet's artist in residence. In the late seventies Akiva Talmi and Mary Giannone, a Juilliard trained choreographer and assistant to modern dance legend Jose Limon, were poised to start 4 decades of producing and touring Russian ballet across North America. Today Moscow Ballet, and its acclaimed Great Russian Nutcracker, promotes appreciation of the ballet art form and brings families together at the holidays.