From Russia with love

    This Sunday, Swan Lake will be performed at the Assembly Hall by the Russian State Ballet. Here Eileen Leahy talks to the man behind the production, impresario Alexej Ignatow, about the importance of this traditional dance genre in our contemporary culture, and why he loves staging shows in Tunbridge Wells

    Swan Lake

    What can audiences expect when they come along to see your version of Swan Lake?
    A beautiful and classic interpretation of this wonderful ballet by Tchaikovsky. All the operas and ballets we put on as a company are as traditional and faithful to the original works as possible. It’s good to see modern versions, but this gives audiences the opportunity to see a piece how it was intended.

    How many dates have you done so far on this particular tour?
    We have 64 shows in total and so far we’ve done approximately ten. We finish this tour in Eastbourne on December 3.

    We tour regionally, so most of the time people are seeing performances such as Swan Lake for the first time. For us it’s about giving them the chance to enjoy a genuine masterpiece, as colourful and traditional as possible – that’s very close to my heart.

    Do you regularly return to Russia?
    Of course! Although I have been based here and running my company for the past 16 years, my wife and I visit a lot as my family is there and we only work with established Russian operas, ballets and theatres. Most other companies bring different dancers together, rehearse and then go on tour, whereas we work with established organisations such as the Russian State Ballet and Opera.

    We go to Russia, assess their repertoire, rehearse and bring them on tour to the UK.

    How long does the process take from finding a dance company to touring with them?
    It takes about a year. My wife and I do everything from sourcing the ballet company to organising the tour, bringing the artists over, rehearsing with them and then going out on to the road.

    We are one of the few to do everything from start to finish.

    Have you been to Tunbridge Wells before?
    Yes, we came recently with our production of Carmen, and I have to say that the audiences here are very knowledgable about both opera and ballet.

    They are used to seeing good, high quality performances, so if at the end we get huge applause we know we have done a good job as the Tunbridge Wells audience standards are high! We strive to get that kind of appreciation and praise when we perform.

    Swan Lake 2

    How big is your current touring company?
    In total we have about 80 people. That includes approximately 40 dancers, 30 musicians – who all play in our live orchestra, and numerous support staff.

    What other productions have you brought to the UK with the Russian State Ballet?
    We are currently touring Swan Lake alongside The Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty, and will work right up to December, sometimes putting on more than one show a day.

    What does ballet bring to the world of dance and culture in general?
    It’s a true art and it’s so varied, there are so many different types of ballet now, but classical is still very relevant today.

    Russian ballet is famous all over the world because it has had the same teaching system for over 100 years: Children start very young and are disciplined. The music helps, too, and the fact we have a lot of children coming along shows that traditional ballet is still very popular.

    What is your favourite ballet?
    It depends on the occasion. If I bring my young sons it would be something like The Nutcracker as they love the music – and the mice!

    If I’m taking my wife to see something it would be Swan Lake, as the storyline is so beautiful, as is the music.

    Tickets to see the Russian State Ballet’s production of Swan Lake at the Assembly Hall cost £33. The performance starts at 7.30pm on Sunday October 23. Visit www.assemblyhalltheatre.co.uk