Yuri Fateyev, the Mariinsky Ballet's acting director, describes his two upcoming shows as "absolutely opposite productions in the same region."
The Russian dance company and orchestra formerly known as the Kirov — arguably the premiere troupe to tour Southern California this season — this week will perform the 19th century classic "Raymonda" for the first time on the West Coast at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa.
The company will follow up that run two weeks later with the Southern California premiere of noted choreographer Alexei Ratmansky's contemporary take on "Cinderella" at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles.
" 'Raymonda' is very classical, and 'Cinderella' is modern, but also in the base of the classical," Fateyev said.
Regarded as one of the last grand ballets of the 19th century, "Raymonda" traces its lineage to Marius Petipa, whose first Mariinsky production of the work was in 1898. The current production includes revisions from Konstantin Sergeyev and fragments from Fyodor Lopukhov.
For American audiences, "Raymonda" is a lesser-known cousin to other Petipa classics such as "Sleeping Beauty" and "Swan Lake." This makes it "essential," said Judy Morr, Segerstrom's executive vice president, who likens seeing ballets to collecting works of art. The Mariinsky's "Raymonda," she said, is a "masterpiece" for any ballet aficionado's collection.
"We've all seen 'Swan Lake.' We've all seen 'Sleeping Beauties.' We've all seen even 'Le Corsaire,' but we haven't seen 'Raymonda,'" Morr said.
For Michael Solomon, associate vice president of programming at the Music Center in Los Angeles, presenting the Mariinsky in Ratmansky's "Cinderella" is also an act of curation.
Ratmansky's work will bookend the performing arts center's dance season with "Cinderella" now and "Firebird" (to be performed by American Ballet Theatre) in July. The former is an opportunity for Los Angeles audiences to get to know the choreographer's earlier work, Solomon said.
Commissioned in 2002, "Cinderella" launched Ratmansky's choreographic career onto the world stage. Set in the 1930s, the ballet's bittersweet stylization of Charles Perrault's fairy tale has yielded praise and criticism. But for international ballet star Diana Vishneva, the Mariinsky principal dancer who originated the title role and will perform on opening night at the Music Center, that hard-edged approach is exactly the ballet's point.
"It's not really a fairy tale; I can see this in the music," Vishneva said, adding that working with Ratmansky taught her to appreciate the nuances of Prokofiev's score.
Also interesting to Vishneva is the work's constant evolution.
"Sometimes I'm looking at the young generations of dancers, dancing 'Cinderella,' and I can see it looks different," she said.
Keeping the company's historic tradition alive is frequently on Fateyev's mind because he considers himself not just an administrator but also a teacher at heart.
Long before dancing with the Mariinsky professionally for 20 years and becoming its acting director in 2008, Fateyev was drawn to teaching. He taught his first ballet class when he was 11. The teacher was out sick, and it fell to him to instruct his classmates. From then on he knew that after his dancing career ended, he would continue playing an important role in ballet education.
"For dancers it [is] very hard to stop dancing," he said during an interview at Segerstrom. "But for me, it was absolutely the opposite. It's so easy for me to stop dancing."
But not to stop tradition.
Maintaining classical repertoire alongside modern work is an integral part of Fateyev's vision to keep the centuries-old ballet company at the forefront of the dance world.
"We have mixed a very good balance between classical rep and the modern rep because we are not a museum," Fateyev said, adding, "We are not the Hermitage; we are Mariinsky Theatre. I try to keep that traditional way."
"Raymonda": 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. From $29. (714) 556-2787, www.scfta.org.
"Cinderella": 7:30 p.m. Oct. 8 and 9, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Oct. 10, 2 p.m. Oct. 11. Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. From $28. (213) 972-7211, www.musiccenter.org.