Lord of the reset dance

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.