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Bits o' Bolshoi

'Ballet Stars of Moscow' Isn't the Famous Troupe, but It Does Have a Few Things in Common With It


If you missed the Bolshoi Ballet's just concluded Los Angeles tour, don't fret. The Russians are coming to Mission Viejo.

Not the Bolshoi Russians, of course. They've packed up. But the Ballet Stars of Moscow, which will appear at Saddleback College tonight and Saturday.

It does get confusing, especially when you remember that the Bolshoi is based in Moscow and when you learn that two former Bolshoi dancers are among Ballet Stars' ranks and that its artistic director, Shamil Yagudin, also is a Bolshoi teacher and coach.

But this troupe, unlike some other touring companies from the former Soviet Union, doesn't bill itself as bona fide Bolshoi.

No secret is made of the fact that eight of the group's 10 members are on leave from two other Moscow companies, the lesser-known Moscow Classical Ballet and Stanislavsky Theatre Ballet.

Nonetheless, what audiences will see is what they love best about the Bolshoi, according to Yagudin, who has been with the Bolshoi since 1963, first as a dancer known for character roles, then behind the scenes.

The Saddleback mixed bills are heavy on pyrotechnical pas de deux from such classics as "Swan Lake," "Don Quixote" and "Le Corsaire." There's even the quintessentially Bolshoi (Russian for "big") "Walpurgis Night" duet, which typically elicits gasps as She runs and leaps into His arms.

"I know what is good for American audiences," Yagudin said by phone during a tour stop in Victoria, British Columbia. "I was there 36 times, and every performance has been a big success. The house is always full, and the audiences like these [ballet excerpts] very much."

Ballet Stars of Moscow, on its fourth American tour since 1990, also will dance a pas de deux from "The Flames of Paris," the "Dying Swan" solo, and a pas de dix (dance for 10) from "Raymonda" led by former Bolshoi dancers Alla Khaniashvili and Vitali Artyushkin of L.A. The husband and wife team has appeared repeatedly over the past few years with the Los Angeles Classical Ballet.

Yagudin witnessed the golden years at the Bolshoi before the fall of communism brought unprecedented economic woes to Soviet arts.

He also was around when the company's artistic director of 30 years, Yuri Grigorovich, was forced to resign last year to be replaced by Vachtoslav Gordeev. Eighteen dancers went on strike in support of Grigorovich and were suspended as a result.


Would Yagudin care to comment on the controversy?


"I am very far from politics," he said, also refusing to say whether things are better or worse under Gordeev.

"I can't tell you yet," he said. "Grigorovich is very good, [but] change is happening slowly, very slowly."

He will say, however, that the 222-year-old Bolshoi is as grand as ever, despite disastrous ticket sales in Las Vegas last month and not much better receipts at L.A.'s Shrine Auditorium earlier this week.

"The Bolshoi is not down," he insisted. "Now is a very difficult situation in Russia--economics, culture, everything--I think because this time it is like a reconstruction. But [things] will be better. And Bolshoi is Bolshoi. The best on the Earth."

* Ballet Stars of Moscow will dance today and Saturday at McKinney Theatre, Saddleback College, 28000 Marguerite Parkway, Mission Viejo. 8 p.m. $20-$22. (714) 582-4656.

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