Dancing for Russia

Sky Arts
Producer: Unique

When Deborah Bull joined The Royal Ballet School in 1974, Russian ballet was still hidden away behind an iron curtain. The famous 'defectors' to the West - Rudolf Nureyev and Natalia Makarova - added to the mystery, with their superlative technique and powerful stage presence. It would be another fifteen years before Gorbachov and glasnost made it possible for the great Russian companies and individual artists to perform regularly outside Russia.

For an 11 year old starting out on a career in ballet, the Russian ballet stars were the stuff of legend, their very names evoking centuries of tradition. Very soon after she joined The Royal Ballet in 1981, a trickle of Russian ballet teachers made their way to the West in the kind of exodus that had not happened since Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes in the first decade of the 20th century. One of these teachers, Sulamith Messerer, was part of a great Bolshoi ballet dynasty and her classes at The Royal Ballet began to introduce elements of Russian technique into the daily regime. Deborah began to experience for herself the different physical style of the Bolshoi technique: broader, more expansive, deep back bends and extended ports de bras contrasting with the gentler, more decorative style of the English tradition.

In this specially commissioned documentary, Deborah Bull travels to Moscow to find out what lies behind these differences. What are the different training methods, culture and traditions that combine to create this distinctive style? She visits the company's school and goes behind the scenes at the historic Moscow theatre to ask 'What makes a Bolshoi dancer?'