Right now, the Kirov Ballet of St. Petersburg, Russia, is once again arguably the greatest ballet company in the world. Not only have its new leaders developed a roster of brilliant star ballerinas, but they've examined and reinterpreted the company's solid-gold 19th century heritage with unparalleled daring. Thus the return of the full company to Southern California for the first time since 1992 marks a special occasion for local balletomanes.
Far from taking for granted their legacy of homegrown Marius Petipa classics, the Kirov directors have reinvented Petipa by dumping all the changes and additions that later, lesser choreographers imposed on his ballets and have gotten back to what he actually created. At the same time, new choreographers have brought radical updates of other classics to the Kirov stage.
The effect of all this casting and repertory innovation has even begun to alter the look of the Kirov's old rival, the Bolshoi Ballet of Moscow. So even if what's included on the Kirov tour is strangely backdated and a trifle misleading -- a Michel Fokine program produced under the previous regime, a staging of "La Bayadere" that is emphatically not what made news recently in New York and London -- the company's visit to Hollywood (the Kodak Theatre, Oct. 15-19) and Costa Mesa (the Orange County Performing Arts Center, Oct. 21-26) dominates the fall season.
Among other highlights, former Kirov superstar Mikhail Baryshnikov brings a program of contemporary solos to UCLA's Freud Playhouse, Oct. 8-12, and the Suzanne Farrell Ballet renews George Balanchine masterworks at UCLA's Royce Hall, Nov. 7-8. Balanchine also turns up in the Kirov rep and in a mixed bill by San Francisco Ballet at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Oct. 9-10. The latter launches the Music Center's first self-produced dance season.
To compete with all the glittering imports, locally based artists are readying a number of impressive projects, including the premiere of Diavolo Dance Theater's full-evening "Dreamcatcher" at the Carpenter Center in Long Beach, Oct. 17-18. Finally, all those exciting cross-cultural summer collaborations at UCLA under the initials APPEX (Asia Pacific Performance Exchange) morph into the experimental, multidisciplinary "Art of Rice Traveling Theater," at the Aratani Japan American Theatre, Sept. 27-28.