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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Men at Work, in Tutus, Tulle and Point Shoes

ST. PETERSBURG -- Any man can put on a dress and jump around. But when Valery Mikhailovsky founded his all-male ballet company, he had something higher in mind.

"I had long wanted to create a purely male ballet company" Mikhailovsky said.

"All the other new ballet companies look alike, they all perform the classics, and most of them dance poorly. My troupe would be interesting, different from all others."

The nine-man troupe -- all soloists lured away from other companies, most of them in their 20s -- usually dances a two-part program.

In the first half, the men dance male roles: "Men dance like men, in a serious, philosophical ballet," Mikhailov-sky said.

In the second, they put on ballerina garb and dance female roles. The titillating contrast of a strapping Russian youth in a tutu and lipstick is intended to amuse, but it is not a crutch: the Mikhailovsky troupe remains deadly serious.

According to Mikhailovsky, that's where they differ from other all-male ballet troupes that perform women's roles: other troupes are satisfied with the easy laugh, without worrying about artistic considerations.

"Men's troupes aren't new. Men dancing female roles is not new. What's new is our attention to serious dance," he said.

The troupe practices 30 hours each week, perfecting male roles and struggling to perfect female roles.

"One problem that we struggle with is the softness of women. Men don't have that softness, especially in the movement of the hands, the turning of the head, in certain looks. It's very subtle, and very difficult to achieve," Mikhailovsky said.

"There's a joke here too, of course. Men can't put on makeup and dresses and not be kidding on some level. What's most important is that it doesn't become vulgar and rude. The level of art must remain high."

Mikhailovsky, 40, created his company 16 months ago, after leaving St. Petersburg's Boris Afman Theater, where he had been first soloist. To his surprise and pleasure, the St. Petersburg mayor's office willingly agreed to underwrite his scheme.

"It's very difficult to live on your own these days," Mikhailovsky said. "Renting the halls, ballet slippers, salaries -- it all costs money."

The company's membership has been fluid, but stars who have stayed from the outset include Alexander Semenchukov, 30, formerly a soloist at the Belarus Opera Ballet and the Afman Ballet; Lev Radchenko, 25, a former soloist at the Mariinsky Theater Ballet; and Oleg Novozhilov, 27, a former soloist at the Afman Ballet.

The program for the troupe's visit to Moscow this week is typical. It begins with a composition they created themselves, "Form and Likeness," a modern-day version of the story of Jesus Christ. The troupe dances male roles to Peter Gabriel's "Passion," which was the soundtrack for the movie "The Last Temptation of Christ."

The program ends with the troupe dressed in tutus and dancing excerpts from "Swan Lake" and Tchaikovsky's "Russian Dance."

Last year the Mikhailovsky troupe toured Finland and Israel, and this spring they plan to tour the United States.

They have been well received across Russia. Local newspapers from Murmansk to Petrozavodsk have called them "a ballet revolution" -- a claim Mikhailovsky considers overblown.

"I know what your next question is," Mikhailovsky adds. "All the Russian journalists want to know about our sexual orientation."

The answer, of course, is that it's none of our business.

"Let the audience see what they want to see. No matter what I say, people will make up their own minds anyway."

The Mikhailovsky troupe will perform at Moscow's Vakhtangova Theater on the Arbat Feb. 22, 23 and 24. Tickets are 5,000 rubles.