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The Mind Behind The Kirov Ballet


VANCOUVER, Canada — Oleg Vinogradov looks a bit weary.

He has just herded the mighty Kirov Ballet-- his Kirov--from Leningrad to Vancouver, where the company will appear in the Expo 86 World Festival prior to its first U.S. tour in 21 years.

He is trying to get settled in a strange theater in a strange land, to solve all the artistic problems that result from drastic geographical dislocation and to cope with a few sociopolitical and/or bureaucratic issues at the same time.

What he didn't need, right now, was the intrusion of an American interviewer on a tight deadline. He certainly didn't need the complications that attended this particular intrusion. But he acquiesced.

At the appointed hour, the director of what may be the world's finest classical ballet company awaited his incipient interrogator at his current home away from home: a Sandman Inn in beautiful downtown Vancouver.

As a perverse fate would have it, the interrogator was waiting for Vinogradov at the right time but in the wrong Sandman Inn, a dozen blocks away.

Precious time had flown, and patient temperaments had been tested before the twain finally met. When the interview finally took place, it turned out to be something akin to group therapy.

Vinogradov brought along his boss, Maksim Krastin, general director of all activity--opera and ballet--at the Kirov Theater. Expo 86 officialdom sent along two lofty representatives and, although Vinogradov seems to grasp English very nicely, a split-second translator was on active duty, too.

The result did not turn out to be what one would describe as an intimate encounter. Nevertheless, it was friendly, stimulating, enlightening.

Gaunt and intense as only a former Russian danseur can be gaunt and intense, Vinogradov brushed aside the obligatory apologies. He wanted to get along with the business at hand. Vancouver being cold, wet and gray, he also wanted to know what the weather would be like in Los Angeles.

The good news produced the first of many smiles. Obviously, a thaw was imminent.

When the Kirov first danced in Los Angeles at Shrine Auditorium back in 1961, the roster of the corps de ballet included the name of one Oleg Vinogradov. We assumed this was the fledgling choreographer/impresario.

We assumed wrong.

"No," he insists. "That was another Oleg Vinogradov. I was still dancing in Siberia in 1961. I was only 22 then."

A classmate and friend of Rudolf Nureyev's, the more important Vinogradov worked his way up through the ranks and, in 1977, assumed leadership of a fabled ensemble that had reportedly suffered artistic stagnation, a decline in morale and the embarrassment of defections.

Nureyev had fled to the wicked West, followed by Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Documents and publicity materials from the Kirov no longer mention these names.

Vinogradov, however, does. Gingerly.

"We were all more or less of the same generation," he says. "We all had the same training, the same aesthetic orientation, the same ideals. In a way, Nureyev, Makarova and Baryshnikov have served as ambassadors for us. No matter what they do, no matter where they dance, they still reflect the Kirov background."

Why, then, are the defectors deleted from all Soviet literature?

Vinogradov responds to the minor provocation with a wry shrug.

"No comment."

"These things are not just by chance," volunteers Krastin, seemingly sympathetic, eminently enigmatic.

Both visitors saw Baryshnikov on film, in his anti-Soviet diatribe "White Nights," during a preparatory trip to Canada. What did they think of the inherent political implications?

"No comment," they reply, virtually in unison.

And what did they think of Baryshnikov's dancing in the film?

Now there is comment. The enthusiasm is undisguised.

"It was absolutely excellent, fantastic," says Vinogradov. "Baryshnikov still feels what he does and projects that feeling like no one else. Of course, there have been changes, but he certainly has not become worse."

Krastin nods agreement.

Most critics who saw the Kirov in Paris three years ago lamented a decline in the quality of the male dancers since the departure of Nureyev and Baryshnikov and the mysterious suicide of Yuri Soloviev.

"When you see our company," says Vinogradov, "you can tell me if there is such a decline. "Soloviev's death was a horrible tragedy. No one can explain it. No one can give a reason.

"I think we have a young dancer today who is remarkably like him. He has the same leap, the same ballon . He is only 21 and still a member of the corps, but we already give him principal roles. Watch for him in the 'Swan Lake' pas de trois. His name is Aleksander Lunev."

Vinogradov winces, just a bit, when asked if the Kirov has changed since the last U.S. tour.

"Everything has changed," he says. "The world has changed. Hasn't America changed?

"We have a new generation of dancers, new perspectives.

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