Culture: High Spirit, but the Swan Dies; Producer Ellen Kent Has Teamed Up with Russian Classical Ballet Theatre to Bring Lavish Productions of Swan Lake and Coppelia to Sunderland Empire, as She Tells Tamzin Lewis

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Byline: Tamzin Lewis

FOR some reason, sharing experiences of Russia often involves recalling the potency of Russian vodka. Ellen Kent, who spent last year reshaping the Russian Classical Ballet Theatre, naturally has a vodka moment to share from her travels.

Ellen, who has worked extensively in Moldova and Ukraine has become accustomed to wine drinking cultures, but a trip to Russia meant dining with vodka drinkers.

She says: "Russian people drink vodka at meals the way most people drink wine. On one occasion they had all these toasts and found every single excuse to stand up and do a toast and knock back the vodka. I am not a vodka drinker and I had to stop drinking it when I couldn't remember what day it was!" She adds: "However I am now reaping the benefits of making Russian friends."

Not entirely put off by the hard stuff, she bought a bottle of chilli vodka at an airport lounge, thinking it would have a nice kick to it. I can sympathise with this having made the same mistake myself.

Ellen says: "There is a chilli vodka which Odessa specialises in. I loved it and bought a bottle. But even when I had a tiny bit of it, it did strange things to my head, so by the summer I had got rid of it."

By the summer of last year, Ellen was also a long way down the line of forming a new look Russian Classical Ballet Theatre, using top dancers, designers and choreographers. The St Petersburg company was already in existence when Ellen and her general manager, Olga Gusan, decided to take it in hand.

Ellen says: "We wanted to create a top company which had its own base and could tour the world. Last January we flew all over Russia and put this big company together ourselves.

"We went out into - 54 degree conditions during which it is so cold you have to be careful not to end up with a frozen lung.

"We met with ballet schools and promoters and decided to buy into the Russian Classical Ballet Theatre, add to it and commission.

"Using the infrastructure which was there, we could create a very big company. We have been very hands-on in selecting the company and it came into fruition last September when we began the tour."

Ellen, who runs Ballet International and Opera International, has been bringing East European productions on tour since 1994 when she brought the Romanian National Opera to Britain for a week.

She is actively involved with Moldovan national companies, Chisinau Ballet and Chisinau Opera. …