No. 1, 2007

Vladimir Alexeyev


Support from LUKOIL is providing a new impetus to the wonderful creativeness of the world-renowned Russian Beryozka dance ensemble

In May 1948, in Moscow, on the stage of the Hermitage Theater, audiences in the capital first enjoyed a Russian round dance performed by sixteen girls from the ancient Russian city of Tver. Wearing long red sarafans that emphasized their height,to the tune of the folk song "A birch tree stood in the meadow," the girls, with handkerchiefs in their hands, rather than walking, seemed to float along using special, unfamiliar steps. The Muscovites loved this dance number and gave the ensemble the name "Beryozka," which is the Russian word for the white-trunked birch tree, a symbol of the Russian landscape.

First ovations

Sixty years ago, this first round dance in the ensemble's repertoire launched the dance group's specific creative style. The dance was choreographed by Nadezhda Nadezhdina (1908-1979), the founder and constant director of the ensemble right up until 1979. From 1925 to 1934, she was a solo ballerina with the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow. After beginning work as a teacher and choreographer in the mid-1930s, Nadezhda Nadezhdina in time came to stage original dance compositions on Russian folklore and folk art themes.

Initially, the Beryozka ensemble's repertoire was limited to just a few dances ("Girl's Dance", "Northern Round Dance", "The Swan", "The Chain", and "Snowstorm"), but each of them was carefully thought out, tried, tested and impressive. With its dances, the ensemble heralded the birth of a new style of performance in Russian theatrical choreography. That was when the famous round-dance-pictures appeared and when the amazing "floating" step, which to this day astounds audiences throughout the world, was perfected.

In 1949, at the World Youth and Student Festival in Budapest, the ensemble took first prize and the winner's laurels in the folk dance competition. In 1950, the Beryozka dance ensemble was awarded the State Prize of the USSR.

In a multitude of interviews, speaking about the ensemble's work, Nadezhda Nadezhdina stressed each time that "any of our works, whether it is a lyrical round dance or a jolly one, focuses on the poetical image of the young Russian girl... We want to reflect, as brightly as possible, the purity and grandeur of Russian folk art. This is a source of inspiration for our ensemble." Subsequent stagings merely confirmed the artistic director's words: the ensemble performed all its dance numbers with grace and lyricism.

On the threshold of a new era

A milestone in the ensemble's history was reached in 1980, when Mira Koltsova, a favorite pupil of Nadezhda Nadezhdina, the ensemble's founder, took over as artistic director of Beryozka. She launched a new creative stage in the famous ensemble's creative development. In 1982, under her leadership, a dance performance was created in memory of Nadezhda Nadezhdina. Mira Koltsova strove to retain the distinctive character of almost all the dance numbers staged by the eminent choreographer ("Girl's Dance", "The Chain", "The Swan", "Northern Round Dance", "Snowstorm", "Beryozka", and others). "Our mentor Nadezhdina left behind a great legacy. Among the many compositions, she staged dances devoted to the seasons of the year. And I combined them in a single performance. And for me, she will always remain the master, the maitre, who created everything: from creative conceptions and disciplinary ones, from the image of the artiste to the artiste's civil position," Mira Koltsova recalled subsequently.

The renewed Beryozka repertoire was based on a broad generalization of the best in Russian dance culture, on rituals invented by folk fantasy, which harmoniously combined with the classical school of dance. The musical accompaniment to the outstanding dancers was provided by the ensemble's own orchestra, conducted by Leonid Smirnov.

The combination of Russian traditions, Russian color and the Russian soul in the dance was retained in subsequent performances by the Beryozka dance ensemble. After 1987, the ensemble presented a new program. The round dances "Rainbow" and "The Lacemakers," the dance "Expanses," the folk scene "Petrouchka" and the dance game "Moscow Yard" became, at the new stage, another revival of true Nadezhdina style.

In step with the times

At the beginning of the 1990s, during the difficult period of sociopolitical transformation of Russian society on the way to a market economy, the dance group, unfortunately, proved not to be at all in demand in its Homeland. It was welcome in Britain, Germany, Argentina, China, Korea and other countries that had the pleasure of watching the creative dance of Beryozka, while the ensemble performed in Russia only on odd occasions.

During these difficult times for the ensemble, help came from the oil giant LUKOIL. At that time, the Company was already cooperating with the Big Symphony Orchestra under Vladimir Fedoseyev, the Tretyakov Gallery and the Russian Museum, and had considerable experience in the charitable and sponsorship activities.

From the mid-1990s onwards, LUKOIL became the perennial general sponsor of Beryozka, which allowed the artistes not to worry about the future and to engage in creative endeavors. The Company's support helped Beryozka not only survive the difficult times but also start creating interesting new choreographic programs.

"LUKOIL's sponsorship activities are part of the Company's marketing policy, one of the main instruments for enhancing the Company's reputation. In selecting sponsorship projects, priority is given, above all, to institutions and groups of nationwide significance," says the General Director of the LUKOIL Charitable Foundation Igor Beketov, noting that the Beryozka ensemble today constitutes a cultural and historical pride of Russia.

Over the 60 years since it initiation, the performances of the Beryozka State Academic Dance Ensemble have been watched by scores of millions of people in 80 countries on five continents. Beryozka is always received as an honored guest, as an old friend, even by those who are meeting it for the first time. The authors of the countless reviews and articles about the ensemble add a multitude of enthusiastic epithets to the name Beryozka. Audiences watch the performances with bated breath, with their eyes glued to the round dances floating across the stage, frolicsome quadrilles and folk dances and spell-binding solo dances of exceptional beauty.

During the cultural program of the G8 Summit held from July 15-18, 2006, in St. Petersburg, the performance by the Beryozka ensemble was the key event. The high-level guests were offered the best dance works and the first dance number was, of course, the Beryozka round dance. The artistes delighted the audience with dance scenes clearly showing their acting ability and demonstrating once again the beauty, richness and spirituality of Russian folk art. Everyone was moved, as the Beryozka ensemble is probably the best at opening up so precisely and lyrically the true depth of the Russian heart, its breadth, kindness and richness and at touching the inmost strings of the human heart.

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Oil of Russia, No. 1, 2007
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