The Eternal Allure of the Bolshoi Ballet

Natalya Rotenberg’s charity, NR Foundation, has just supported the production of the book “The Bolshoi,” a collection of photographs, which was launched at a gala event called “Bolshoi Night” in Moscow. The Moscow Times’ Andrei Muchnik caught up with her to find out about the book, foreigners’ perceptions of Russia’s arts, and philanthropy in Russia today.

What’s the idea behind “The Bolshoi”?

Last April Russian photographer Alexander Gusov approached me with a collection of photographs of Bolshoi dancers who had been on tour in London over the last 20 years. Gusov spent a lot of time with them and recorded many historical moments. He wanted to create a book and show the world our art, but he needed a patron to realize his idea. I agreed at once, because it resonated in my heart. When I was a child I did a ballet for many years, and as a little girl I had a dream of being on the big stage, but it never happened. So through this book, “The Bolshoi,” and NR Foundation to support young ballerinas, my dream comes true.

Where did you study ballet?

I was born in Kurgan, in the Urals region, where I lived until I was 20. I have three younger sisters. My mother enrolled me in ballet classes at the music school when I was five. And then I went on to study choreography at college. I got a diploma and started teaching dance at the local school. But the salary wasn’t even enough to buy a pair of new tights so I quit and went to Moscow to start a new life. By the way, I’m working on a movie script based on my life, so you might soon see my story on the big screen.

Where can we get the Bolshoi book?

It’s a limited edition of just 2,000 copies. We gave some to friends and are selling them at museum bookstores around the world. The text of this book was written by Andrei Konchalovsky. It’s been a huge hit with foreigners. We conducted a number of events abroad and it made an unforgettable impression.

Why is Russian ballet still such a draw? How is it different from ballet companies in other countries?

Russia has always been famous for ballet and music. I feel that our dancers have a stronger spirit and higher work capacity. I can also tell our dancers right away but how they look on stage. You can immediately recognize the Russian school.

You’ve lived abroad for a long time: what is the appeal of Russian art in general from the point of view of a foreigner?

I’m familiar with many foreign families, and they use our teachers in music, vocals and ballet. They all speak with admiration about our composers and musicians. I’ve never heard criticism of our great talents. So as long as we support culture and art, we will be on top.