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Ballet Master

Former Russian ballet dancer, choreographer now instructor in Juneau

Posted: Thursday, October 11, 2001

Some people talk with their hands. Alexei Badrak uses his whole body.

A lifetime as a professional dancer, choreographer and dance teacher has integrated his movement and communication. Badrak, the new artistic director and ballet master for Juneau Dance Unlimited, grew up in Russia and worked with the Bolshoi Theater.

Badrak speaks with a strong Russian accent, but gesture and motion also permeate his speech. At the JDU studio Tuesday afternoon he answered a question about ethnic dance styles, casually demonstrating the traditional Greek, Hungarian, Polish and Russian steps and movements as he spoke.

At 7 p.m. Saturday JDU will host a welcoming reception for Badrak. The event will include a preview of the winter performance piece, "Albert's Play," and will offer dance demonstrations of hip hop, ballet, tap and other styles. New members also will be elected to the board of Juneau Dance Unlimited.

Badrak, 51, did not become an expert in ethnic and traditional dance as a ballet student and performer. After a 12-year career as a dancer, he attended the Theater Institute of Moscow to study choreography.

"Later I decided I needed more education," he said. He spent five years in the St. Petersburg (then the Leningrad) Conservatory and earned a Ph.D. in anthropology of dance.

He served as the chief choreographer at a large theater outside of Moscow in Neshny Novgorad, then worked as the assistant director of the Bolshoi. He ran his own Moscowbased company, the Russian Chamber Ballet, which brought dancers to Japan, Mexico, Europe and the Middle East for performances.

"We had lots of touring with this company for Russian superstar dancers," he said. "In the Bolshoi the top dancers dance one or two times a month. The rest of their time is free so we made this special company."

Everything changed in the early 1990s when the Soviet Union and communism collapsed.

"Yeltsin came in and said, 'You worked with communists, so get out,' " Badrak said.

Badrak and many of his peers came to the United States to work as the traditional Soviet state support of the arts evaporated in Russia.

"Check schools all over the country," he said. "You'll see Russian teachers and dancers."

Badrak spent the past nine years teaching in the San Francisco Bay area. He returns to Russia every year and is amazed at the changes he's seen as the country has gone from communism to capitalism. He said the new leader, Vladimir Putin, has restored a good deal of support to the Bolshoi, and the former artistic director with whom he worked recently returned to the theater as choreographer.

Badrak credited the traditional Soviet support of the arts and academics with producing some of the world's finest dancers. Promising dancers and athletes were recruited at age 8 or 9 and trained. Their muscle and bone development was monitored by doctors. Out of 2,000 prospective dancers, the best 30 would be selected for careers in ballet, Badrak said.

After eight or nine years of training they would launch a career in dance that might last 20 years. All education and housing was supplied by the state. After retiring at about 40, they would receive an apartment, a pension and the opportunity to pursue a second career if they wished.

The support for dance in Juneau is strong, Badrak said, and he hopes to build a good group of ballet dancers at JDU. About 200 students now study dance at JDU; about a third are in ballet.

Badrak is planning a musical dance and theater performance for mid-December, "Albert's Play," which will include singing and acting as well as dancing. He invites any interested singers and musicians to contact him at Juneau Dance Unlimited.

The reception and demonstration Saturday is free and open to the public. JDU is on the second floor of the Scottish Rite Temple at Fourth and Seward streets.

Riley Woodford can be reached at rileyw@juneauempire.com.



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