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The Royal Ballet's 2014 Tour: Stop #1 - Russia

First Artist Nathalie Harrison on her second Moscow tour, performing in 'balletic Mecca', and the aroma of Manon's sets.

By Nathalie Harrison (Royal Ballet First Artist)

26 June 2014 at 3.39pm | Comment on this article

Travelling to Moscow for this year’s Royal Ballet tour felt like a pilgrimage to balletic Mecca – such an honour and truly a career highlight for us all. None of the Company was able to contain their inner ballet geek at this opportunity to perform in the grandeur of the famous Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. I came here as a green 19-year-old student when I visited in 2003, fresh from the Royal Ballet School with professional contract in hand and bursting with excitement. Even then, I was awestruck to be performing in a place so fundamental to the development of ballet. I remember the fascination and nervy conversations I had in total awe of Company members back then. Now I'm the one chatting with the young dancers who've joined us recently.

With 11 years between this tour and my last visit, I allowed myself a swagger on the way to the airport, sure that a decade-plus of touring experience would mean that I was fully prepared on the packing front for anything that the tour could throw at me. Not quite, however: I'd misjudged the temperature by ten degrees meaning a quick trip to the shops to pick up cool weather gear. A cold ballerina is an unhappy ballerina!

In the years since I was last here, the Bolshoi has changed immensely. The theatre was restored to its former sumptuous glory over six years – also renovating the acoustics and gaining high-tech functionality behind the scenes. Looking around the place, you can see why Russian dancers move the way they do – it's as if they reflect the grandeur, beauty, passion and poise of the building itself.

In the areas the opera and ballet-going public don't see there are miles of beautiful corridors and stairwells, which are a real test to navigate. Particularly disorienting are the series of bridges and underground passages. After much backtracking and testing of doors, eventually we found our dressing rooms to get ready for our first class on Russian soil.

The following few days saw us settle into a rhythm that combined rehearsals with the obligatory sightseeing. Particularly memorable highlights included a foray into the iconic Red Square and a trip out of the city with tour supporters to visit Tchaikovsky's house and museum. There we were treated to a private informal concert of his works on the composer's own piano – the very instrument he used to compose the scores for core pieces of Royal Ballet repertory, including Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty. It was a concert I won't forget.

But back to the business at hand – bringing a taste of British ballet to the country that gave the world Pavlova, Nijinsky and (of course) Nureyev. The works we've brought to Russia are intended to showcase the style of the Company, both classical and contemporary.

For our opening show we performed a Mixed Programme of RhapsodyTetractys and DGV. This triple features the work of three diverse English choreographers, and a different kind of style to what Russian audiences are used to. It's odd when the entire company isn't on the stage for the buzz of an opening night, but it’s great to display the array of talent spanning all ranks of the Company.

The following night, we show off our acting chops with Manon – a production we tour frequently and which travels really well. I particularly love the smell of the production's set and costumes. It's weathered but still a beauty – a flat-pack charm! I think it not only demonstrates the entire company's capabilities but also the wonderfully varied flavours of our Principals' interpretations of the roles. To arrive and tell a story, perform what in essence is a timeless tale transferable across languages and borders, is hugely rewarding.

The curtain rises and falls over the following performances and before we know it we're packing up and Taiwan-bound. Moscow has been a great start to our tour. Hopefully it won't be another 11 years before I'm back!

Read Director of The Royal Ballet Kevin O'Hare's blog about the tour

Nathalie will also be blogging from Taiwan and China as The Royal Ballet's Tour continues.

The Royal Opera House would like to thank Aud Jebsen for her support of the Royal Ballet touring programme, corporate sponsors Vitol, Coutts and the Tsukanov Family Foundation for their support in Moscow and Alta Advisors in Shanghai, and all tour supporters: Geoffrey & Judith Batchelar, Linda and Tania Bennett, Jill Bowen, Janine Roxborough Bunce, Fiona, Lucinda and Annabel Cruddas, Graham Fletcher, Lady Shauna Gosling, Geoffrey Griffiths, Nigel Grimshaw, David & Diana Pilling, Lady Barbara Pitman, Kristina & Isabella Rogge and Eric Tomsett.

By Nathalie Harrison (Royal Ballet First Artist)

26 June 2014 at 3.39pm

This article has been categorised Ballet and tagged Blog, Bolshoi, Moscow, Russia, tour

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