It's been almost 40 years since President Ford gave the coat off his back to Leonid Brezhnev during the 1974 SALT II negotiations in Vladivostok, Russia. The two probably didn't discuss much ballet during their meetings even though only a few months earlier more frost had formed between the two countries when the U.S. welcomed with open arms a high-profile Kirov Ballet defector via Canada. Ford and Brezhnev danced on nimbly to a negotiated agreement that failed to win applause in the political theater back home, but their personal friendship bridged the way to a safer world.
When Ford and Henry Kissinger toured Vladivostok during the summit, they both remarked that the city reminded them of San Francisco. Today, like San Francisco, Vladivostok has its own famous bridges. The Zolotoy Bridge spans the Golden Horn Bay in the center of the city while the Russky Bridge, now the longest cable-stayed bridge in the world, connects the mainland with Russky Island. Both bridges were built in 2012 as part of infrastructure upgrades and preparations for the Asia Pacific Economic Conference a.k.a. the APEC forum.
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Russky Bridge at night with red, white and blue cables.
This week Vladivostok will unveil still more new infrastructure designed to make the city an important cultural bridge between Europe and Asia. It is but a hop, skip, and a jump from Japan, China, and Korea. On Friday, the city's newest jewel, The State Primorsky Opera and Ballet Theater, will open its brand new state-of-the-art culture complex, pictured below, with a performance of Tchaikovsky's opera, Eugene Onegin. The opera company, orchestra, and ballet company are all newly assembled with artists coming from within Russia and around the world. In the proverbial blink of an eye, Vladivostok will become a cultural force in the region.
The Vladivostok press reported that Friday will be a personal holiday for everyone in the Primorsky Krai region. Those unable to attend the performance will be able to view its video broadcast. The theater's young artistic director, Anton Lubchenko, said last June that he was working to arrange a direct television broadcast of the performance to Russia, China, and Japan.
Among the Founding Principal Dancers of the new State Primorsky Opera and Ballet Theater is American Joseph Phillips, formerly of American Ballet Theatre. Phillips did not trample over top any company dancers in order to get the job. He did not employ a sleazy Ardani-like agent to worm his way into an opportunity more deserved by others. Nope, he got his job the old fashioned way: audition. He also flashed a resume gleaming with accomplishments and prizes – real prizes that required head-to-head competition in performance.
These days, prizes for dancers like the Benois, Clive Barnes, and Princess Grace are little more than an artistic director's opportunity to sponsor, package, and present a dancer like a rich parent presents a child at a debutante ball. There is elitist selection, but there is no bonafide competition like there is at the Prix de Lausanne, Genée International Competition, USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, YAGP, and the International Ballet Competition – Varna.
Phillips has earned every scrap of opportunity that he has received. He can forever proudly lay claim to being a Founding Member of what is poised surely to become a major opera and ballet company that will draw audiences from all over Asia and Europe.
The Primorsky's director, Anton Lubchenko, and the ballet director, Aidar Akhmetov - formerly of the Bolshoi, have big plans. Akhmetov said that he presently has 35 dancers but needs 60. In November, the ballet troupe will present an evening of excerpts from Swan Lake, Don Quixote, and other classics. He has plans to invite Western choreographers to bring contemporary works, and also wants to stage galas. Some of the facility's construction is still unfinished, such as the dressing rooms, and the studio doesn't have enough heat yet, but Akhmetov is pretty happy with what he has.
In conjunction with Friday's inaugural performance at the theater and coinciding with the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Primorsky Territory, the city of Vladivostok will transform the beautiful bridge over the Golden Horn Bay into a pedestrian bridge for the whole weekend. On Sunday evening, a fireworks display will be launched from its deck. If Joseph Phillips has the time and opportunity this weekend, he might consider walking that bridge and maybe even offering his coat or scarf to a new friend.