Time for a lot of Russian about at City Hall

THE credit crunch may be old hat but there's plenty more economic gloom to come.

So what better way to forget the real world for a couple of hours than by escaping into a world of grace and tradition created when arts funding was less of an issue.

Plenty of people do and that keeps Sergei Bobrov busy. He is Artistic Director of the Russian State Ballet, supplier of glorious distractions in our troubled era.

"People require something to love, an example of beauty and purity and clarity because there are so many things not pleasant to look at around us," he concurs during a tour stop in Liverpool.

"In the theatres modern choreographers show ugly things sometimes so people always need something high in emotion and soul. Old classical ballets, especially those of Tchaikovsky, are very pure in the heart and soul."

Of course, people go to ballet for their own reasons - to witness near perfect movement, to be removed to a magical place where dance is the language, or to observe a preserved tradition in uncertain times.

As a former principal dancer and choreographer of the world famous Bolshoi Ballet, it is all those elements Sergei seeks to convey when he brings his company and the Orchestra Of Siberia to the UK.

Born in Moscow in 1963, Sergei graduated from the Moscow State Choreographic Academy and joined the Bolshoi as soloist in 1981. Today he is regarded as one of Russia's most talented young choreographers.

On February 6 Sheffield City Hall will see the Lilac Fairy battle with the evil Carbosse, set against Tchaikovsky's sublime score in Sleeping Beauty. A week later it is off to renaissance Verona for a new production of Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet. Audiences will be treated to a lavish production with sumptuous costumes and large sets in keeping with what generations of Russians have enjoyed.

"For years ballets were not touched and were classical. Now everyone tries to change something to make it modern and put something new in.

"But time shows the classical production should stay in tact. If you put something new in it spoils it. I try to change only some dramatic scenes so I can make the performance look symmetrical. "Audiences now require beautiful music and dance, the warmth of the classical ballets. That's what I notice."

So what you see in Hull or High Wycombe will carry the same Bolshoi principles that seeped into Sergei's blood during his time dancing and instructing there.

"I keep in my mind what is good and not good for theatre and I try to fulfil this here, to make my dancers look almost the same way as the Bolshoi Theatre, the same discipline. Many things I remember I try to execute here, the same kind of standard. It's really hard because it requires the effort of many people, not only dancers, also musicians and artists who make sets for our productions."

For tickets, priced 13.50 to 30, ring 0114 2789 789. Both shows begin at 3pm.A full schedule as lithe dancers stay in trim

ON this tour RSB will also deliver Don Quixote, Swan Lake, recently performed for a week at The Lyceum by Moscow City Ballet under the auspices of fellow former Bolshoi star Victor Smirnov-Golovanov, and The Nutcracker to audiences around the country.

With such a broad offering you would think switching between the productions could be a tall order. It seems not.

"We are used to this," Sergei says dismissively. "Normally in our theatre we do more than two or three ballets. We try to each year make a new production and in total there are more than 12 ballets we are doing at home. So here when we change between two or three it is not a big problem."

And it seems there is little chance of the routines going astray. Long before audiences are sitting comfortably members of the company are hard at work drilling their feet to perfection. A typical day begins at 10am, says Sergei.

"We have a class, special training. After this we have rehearsals, which can sometimes last for three hours.

"After this we have rehearsals for principal dancers, one by one, their own dances. All the time until the show is busy, every minute, someone is rehearsing on stage. It is busy but we like it.

"It's pretty tough but the bodies of dancers have trained very well and they rest very well in the evening. Part of the relaxation is sleeping.

"Dancing and training is part of our life, which we are used to so we do not complain. Principal dancers can't imagine their lives without training, without doing something on stage or maybe exercising. Even if they go on vacations they exercise."

Of course, the other side to fitness comes from the inside. While being on the road doesn't always create the ideal environment for a healthy diet Sergei says he has to rely on the common sense of his team to dodge the stodge.

"Every person in the company decides for themselves what they need to eat and how to be fit. If I see a girl is getting fatter and cannot be in line with other girls I can tell to her to stop eating something or to pay more attention to her diet or training. Normally most dancers know what to do to be fit."

For the most part Sergei is concerned with maintaining the overall quality of his productions, not least in the face of other Russian companies sending ballet to the UK.

"The only thing I am worried about is the quality of other companies coming from Russia being not as good as we are," he says mischievously.

"I wouldn't be rivals with other companies, I would rather be colleagues and friends and doing one thing together like creating an image of Russia."