Sure, the Bolshoi Ballet is big news – Bolshoi literally translates from the Russian as "big." But the biggest news for Philadelphians these days may be that the company's making a rare foray into the city when it appears at the Mann Music Center for performances of "Spartacus" on Aug. 2 and Aug. 3.
Kirk Douglas in a tutu? Tony Curtis on his toes? Not quite. Want bigger and better news? The company's latest artistic adviser is … Jewish.
"Well," says Alexei Ratmansky, 36, hesitantly, "my father was Jewish, and my mother was Russian. And we didn't observe [Judaism] as I grew up."
Da? Still good enough to do a kazachka over considering the former Soviet Union's long history of anti-Semitism.
Red flag on that topic.
"I wasn't hired as a Jew, as a Russian … I was hired as a choreographer," says Ratmansky.
Step away from the topic, he seems to be saying. Not affected by bias himself, Ratmansky nevertheless did feel the pull of the distant past in staging "The Dybbuk."
Exorcism as exercise of his heritage?
"It was interesting for me to find [that self-identity] in myself," says the Leningrad native who raised the bar for ballet stars while performing for years with the Kiev company before taking his act on the road – literally, touring the world and settling in for a long stint at the Royal Danish Ballet, from which he is currently on leave.
Have a danish? Have the world! And he's having the best success at the Bolshoi, mingling the old world with the new. Innovation is hard, but is being accepted at the legendary company gradually, he says of the step-by-step process.
And while "Spartacus" was originally staged in 1968, few Westerners are familiar with the ballet; the story of revolting slaves crossed-up by the Romans is more associated with the 1960 movie starring Douglas.
But the ballet is a dimple on the chin of the Bolshoi, one of its most handsome and dynamic of works. Indeed, they are "Spartacus"! The piece belongs to the Bolshoi and the Bolshoi alone, performed by no other company.
But times have changed since "Spartacus" was first staged in what was once the the Soviet Union, and the work's meaning has evolved. But it is not about to do a 180-degree pirouette away from its past. "It shows the importance of freedom, of how the slaves fought off the capitalists." Ratmansky then hesitates.
"Well, that's not the case now," he laughs, taking a scythe to the old image that's been in hibernation. "It's about how the slaves fought off the [bosses]."
Temporary misstep? Ratmansky laughs at the liberty to correct himself.
"I can't imagine what it must have been to work with censorship," he says freely, without fear of always having to be on his toes … off-stage.