& & by Ann M. Colford & & & &

Dance has been an important part of Russian culture since the days of Empress Catherine the Great more than two centuries ago. In March of 1776, a few months before some rowdy upstarts on the West side of the Atlantic decided they'd had enough of British rule, the Bolshoi Theatre opened in the heart of Moscow, bringing opera and dance to Catherine's subjects. The theatre has been through good times and bad since then, but its name has long been associated with the pinnacle of classical dance.

This week, the Inland Northwest will get an infusion of classical ballet in the Russian tradition when the Ballet Stars of Moscow return for a single performance at The Met on Monday. The Spokane show is only the second performance in the group's current U.S. tour, which will continue through mid-November. This touring troupe, under the direction of Bolshoi ballet master Shamil Yagudin, is composed of 10 dancers selected from the major dance companies of Moscow: The Moscow Classical Ballet, the Stanislavsky Theatre Ballet and the renowned Bolshoi Ballet. The group, a mix of rising stars and veteran performers, will showcase excerpts -- both solos and pas de deux -- from some of the great ballets of the classical tradition. The show provides a rare opportunity to see internationally acclaimed professional dancers.

"As ballet master at the Bolshoi, Yagudin is familiar with all the dancers in Moscow," says tour director Gary Lindsey. "So those chosen for the tour are among the best and brightest from the Russian capitol. Most dancers are happy to be selected because touring is more lucrative than their regular positions with the financially strapped dance companies, but they must apply for leave in order to join the tour."

The Ballet Stars' repertoire consists of ballet pieces in the classical style, mostly from 19th century romantic favorites like Sleeping Beauty, Giselle and Swan Lake, but including some more recent works as well. The dances on the program represent the "greatest hits" of classical ballet and will give casual fans the chance to sample from the highlights without committing an entire evening to a single story ballet. For dance aficionados, the opportunity to view the precise and disciplined Russian style first-hand must be considered a treat, even though the dances are not in their usual dramatic context. Lindsey says this type of program is not unusual for Russian dance companies.

"It's a Russian highlights program," he says, "which is a staple of the Bolshoi when they tour."

Russian classical ballet emerged out of mingling of French and Russian influences. The term refers generally to works created by French choreographer Marius Petipa during the late 19th century. Petipa was the chief choreographer of the Imperial Russian Ballet, and during his tenure created full-length story ballets such as Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake, both to the music of Tchaikovsky. Soon after the turn of the century, Russian dancer Michel Fokine, a former soloist with the Imperial Ballet, became choreographer of the Ballet Russes in Paris. He collaborated with other artists in Paris on shorter works often based on Russian folklore, including The Firebird with composer Igor Stravinsky. With the political upheavals caused by World War I and the revolution in Russia in 1917, Fokine and other creative forces within the Ballet Russes remained in Western Europe to influence future generations of European and American dancers, including Russian-born American choreographer George Balanchine. In Russia, dancers continued to train in the classical style, preserving the works of Petipa and developing a new generation of choreographers.

While the dancers are in town, ballet master Shamil Yagudin will hold a master class for advanced students, hosted by Ballet Arts Academy. Yagudin spent 22 years as a soloist with the Bolshoi Ballet and is now a principal coach and ballet master for the venerable company. He is a graduate of the Moscow Choreographic Institute (the school of the Bolshoi Ballet) and holds an advanced degree in dance from the Institute of Theatrical Arts in Moscow.

Bringing students and professionals together is all part of the plan at Ballet Arts Academy, according to director Peggy Goodner Tan. "I look for every opportunity for [student] dancers to interact with professionals," she says, explaining that the presence of advanced dancers and professionals helps less experienced students visualize what they are capable of achieving. "I like to bring in guest choreographers and performers as a form of mentoring."

Yagudin offers the master classes throughout the tour, says Lindsey. "It's a wonderful opportunity for local dancers to learn from one of the most respected ballet teachers in the world."

& & & lt;i & The Ballet Stars of Moscow perform Monday, Oct. 9, at 7:30 pm at The Met. Tickets: $25, adults; $15, seniors & amp; students. Call: 325-SEAT. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &

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