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Lord of the reset dance

US State Department wages soft power campaign to win the hearts and minds of Russians.
Russia reset danceEnlarge

When people think about the “reset” in US-Russia relations launched shortly after Obama came to power, it’s usually on the level of high politics – bilateral visits, WTO negotiations, the search for a renewed sense of partnership over things like missile defense and the Afghan war effort.

But then there’s the soft power side, an almost Cold War era-esque attempt to get Russians to “get” America more. The US has recently launched the latest round (and it’s awesome). The future of US-Russia relations will be decided through … dance. I kid, but it really is awesome.

Last night the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performed the second in a six night run at the Stanislavsky Theatre in Moscow. The crowd, nearly all Russians (plus a few guests of the US embassy, thank you very much), loved it. Russia is a land of tradition when it comes to the arts, and at first the crowd seemed somewhat confused when the dancers – dancing to haunting contemporary music, in lean single-colored costumes – appeared on the bare set. An older woman sitting next to my friend said, “I don’t understand a thing about what’s going on.” But as the show went on, the crowd grew quieter and quieter – the coughs lessened in number, the incessant chatting and phone ringing typical to Russian theaters dropped to zero. By the end, when the company showed a short film explaining Ailey’s seminal “Revelations” piece, explaining the role of civil rights and black culture in the choreographer’s work, the crowd was sold. The show ended with a standing ovation and an encore.

It’s part of a reset project called “American Seasons,” partly funded by the State Department and Russian culture ministry, that’ll also include exhibits (Annie Leibovitz!) and concerts. A couple weeks ago, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company was here. And next up is MOMIX.

It’s a cool project, and a nice way to project the fact that American culture isn’t all about money-grubbing Hollywood.