"Your guide will be the mystical monk Rasputin," intones the narrator of "Fantasm," the New Moscow Dance Theatre production that promoters are billing as "the first Russian musical."
Forget "My Fair Lady" and "Oklahoma," says producer Robert Schedel. The troupe believes that it has created a type of production that was a first in Russia and will be new to American audiences as well.
The spiritual turmoil and mystical wanderings of Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin, the notorious 19th-Century Russian monk who wielded great power in the court of Czar Nicholas II, provides a bridge for 24 numbers that combine classical, modern and folk dance, gymnastics, music and poetry, said show creator Ilya Reznik.
"This is not a drama," he said. "It is an emotional trip."
The New Moscow Dance Theatre arrived in the United States on May 3, and the Torrance performances today, this weekend and next weekend are the American debut of what the group hopes will be a yearlong nationwide tour.
Despite 150 successful performances before Russian audiences as large as 6,000, the experimental nature of the show has the troupe a bit nervous.
"We are very afraid," Reznik said through an interpreter. "We are very scared because we don't know how the American public will react. . . . I hope we will do it."
The show reveals a little-known "personal side of Rasputin," Schedel said.
"(Rasputin) was well-known as a person who was influencing the court of the czar and had these internal powers and was hypnotizing people," Schedel explained. "But on the other side, he was a human being who liked the wine, as they say, and also the women."
Reznik also stars as Rasputin and performs with an all-female troupe of 22 dancers. Most of the cast members are former artistic gymnastics champions who competed for the former Soviet Union.
Choreographer Olga Morozowa, a former coach for the Soviet artistic gymnastics team, said it was difficult to create continuity while using dance forms that ranged from ballet to folk. Her two favorite numbers remain "The Russian Women" and "The Bed of Love," dances that show off the athletic skills of the gymnasts, she said.
Dance is the most important part of the multilayered show, Schedel said, and translates easily into any language. Songs will be performed in Russian, with narration in English. Schedel is concerned that some nuances may be lost in the translation.
"In Russia, we have good translators but nobody knows proper American English," he explained.
But Reznik is optimistic that American audiences will discover something familiar despite the language barrier.
"Everybody's inside has something of Rasputin," Reznik explained.
The New Moscow Dance Theatre was founded 2 1/2 years ago and Schedel says the company was "born out of freedom."
"Before (the fall of communism), everything was regulated by the Ministry of Culture," he said. "You (could not) open a theater company there if you wanted. You needed to be under their name and control.
"Now, it's like here. You want to have a theater company, so you do it."
Dealing with the individual republics instead of one central power does have its drawbacks. To arrange travel for his dancers, Schedel had to communicate with ministries in Latvia, Estonia, Russia, Armenia and Belarus, among others.
The red tape is worth it, Schedel said.
"It's more complicated now, but (we're) free."
What: "Fantasm," a Russian musical.
Where: James R. Armstrong Theatre, Torrance Cultural Art Center, 3350 Civic Center Drive, Torrance.
When: 7:30 p.m. today and Sunday; May 14 through 17.
Admission: Tickets are $27.50, $25 and $22.
Information: (310) 781-7171.