French dance star Laurent Hilaire, the new artistic director of Moscow's renowned Stanislavsky Music Theater ballet troupe, has vowed to expand its repertoire while preserving its rich traditions.
"This is an opera and ballet house with a certain history, culture and tradition," says Hilaire, who took on the position in January.
"The goal is not to make revolution, to change everything. The goal is to open up the company's repertoire."
The 54-year-old Frenchman's appointment represents a rare case of a foreigner picked to head a Russian ballet troupe.
Spanish dance legend Nacho Duato's tenure as the director of the Mikhailovsky Theater ballet in St. Petersburg from 2011 to 2014 left many Russian ballet critics and amateurs with lukewarm impressions.
Hilaire, a former principal dancer of the Paris Opera Ballet, is now trying to avoid that fate, walking a tightrope between tradition and reform in a country that prides itself on its legendary ballet troupes.
He says his diversification plan for the repertoire of the Stanislavsky Theater, Moscow's second most prominent ballet and opera house after the Bolshoi, will not reject the ballets choreographed by Vladimir Burmeister in the 1960s.
Hilaire's ties to Russian ballet predate his appointment to the Stanislavsky.
In 1985, the 22-year-old Hilaire was named principal dancer－or etoile－by legendary Soviet ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev after a performance of Swan Lake choreographed by Burmeister.
The former ballet master of the Paris Opera is now set to stage Serge Lifar's Suite en Blanc, William Forsythe's The Second Detail and Jiri Kylian's Petite mort in July, his first program at the Stanislavsky.
Hilaire, who has a five-year contract with the troupe of 120 dancers, says he is pleased to work with artists who "wish to grow" and dance in a very "physical, committed and unselfish" way.
Hilaire is the first Frenchman to lead a Russian ballet theater since famed choreographer Marius Petipa, who was invited by the imperial ballet to work in St. Petersburg in the 19th century.
Despite arriving in Moscow in the dead of winter, Hilaire says he enjoys living in the Russian capital.
At the time of his appointment, observers say Hilaire's work could be hindered by a language barrier, an issue the French star is trying to avoid.
He speaks to dancers through an interpreter but hopes to be able to speak to them in Russian in the near future.
"I spent many years at the Paris Opera Ballet. I come from there, but I have also worked a lot abroad, in the United Kingdom, the United States and Russia," he says.
"Of course I want to pass on the experience I have gained."