person in ballet shoes

The Future of Russia through the prism of the TV show “Ballet” (2023)

By Anastasia Baraeva
5 min read

If somebody says the word “ballerina”, we are all likely to picture a slim young woman with a long neck and complimentary long arms who is light on her feet. Honestly, I have always been envious of the ballerina’s shape and grace, or maybe more than that, I am envious of the rarefied world she lives in. The world of silent art that begins when you run out of words. Being a professional musician, I am very familiar with this place: the prohibitive cost of training, the stage fright, and the constant feeling of not being good enough. Despite that, I’d never been into ballet until that day, when I watched the first episode of the Russian TV series “Ballet” (2023) this summer. It was a breath of fresh air because it had a wonderful touch of something beautiful yet meaningful, mesmerizing yet momentary.

However, despite the dance theme, the series looks more like an exciting, 8-hour chess battle of wits. The king is the artistic director of the Mariinsky Theater, Andrey Pronin; the queen is a world-famous choreographer, Ruta Meyers, who returns to her homeland after almost 40 years to stage a performance; and her friends and enemies, who have gained power in the Russian ballet industry, are the rest of the figures on the chessboard, and big money, ambitions, and careers are at stake. To me, the story reflects Russia’s journey into spiritual transcendence: from being a pawn that was pushed around by bigger players to the queen that can move in any direction—up, down, left, right, or diagonal—and is not limited to a single square anymore. The queen is not the main figure on the chessboard, but the most powerful one that is used for invisible control and running the whole game. Russia is about to become the queen on the global chessboard and set the direction of future development worldwide.

person in ballet shoes
Photo by Nihal Demirci Erenay on Unsplash

Unfortunately, as with any transformational change, it is usually painful for everyone involved in it. Ruta is the personification of those inner processes in Russia that are brewing under the surface, rather subconsciously than consciously, and like dandelions, trying to break through asphalt and blossom. She is depicted as an open-minded and courageous creator who is searching for new meanings and forms in ballet. But to find them, she is supposed to go through that heart-breaking moment when you suddenly realize that everything you lived for has just died and nothing new has emerged yet. This usually requires you to maintain equilibrium and, moreover, to make a choice: are you in or are you out? Do you still play the game, or do you quit it? In each situation, Ruta is forced to make a choice, and every single time she responds, “No, I am done with this. I am moving on”. Russia has recently withdrawn from one game and started a different one on its own terms on a different board, too. Back in 2013, the Russian authorities claimed a new and practical path towards renovating the economy and moving away from depending on raw exports. According to the individual-centered growth model of the economy, the quality of human capital—a highly trained, self-motivated, ambitious team player constantly improving his skills—determines success.

However, the green shoots of the new are trampled down by the old patterns or the system, which is still heavy, inflexible, predictable, faceless, and monotonous. In “Ballet”, this mindset pervades all the performances shown on the stage of the Mariinsky Theatre. Any attempts to go beyond the stereotypes are frowned upon and punished. The artistic director seems to be powerless and functions more like a pawn that a king. The only thing he does is please the system. Andrey Pronin, to me, is a composite character of the modern Russian businessman whose business is to trade but not produce. He is not an innovator but more of a speculator; he mostly imports goods and trades non-renewable resources, which weakens the Russian economy and makes it less competitive. And, since he views innovation as decline, of course, he is scared because he clings to the old system. Maybe that’s why the recent changes in the policy strategy have been considered by the majority of Russian businessmen as a threat to their business and their future in Russia in general.

All plot twists are rooted in the relationships between Andrey and Ruta and their final destruction. The main reason for the mess is his fear of being vulnerable and powerless—being a pawn. As they say, if you hide from your fears, they will find you anyway. And this happens with Andrey; he loses everything: his status, his money, his family, and his profession. In other words, he loses himself and becomes nobody. In 2022, when more than 1,000 major international companies left Russia, it was a sudden shock for the Russian business world. Many businessmen thought that it was the lowest of the low and, no wonder, immigrated, redirecting their capital to Europe or the USA. However, some people noticed a great opportunity that lay in the midst of the crisis and took advantage of it by launching new business projects, which gives us a little hope for the promising future of Russia, where curiosity outweighs fears and people view uncertainty as an opportunity to take a leap. 

The group of dancers who agreed to take part in Ruta’s dance lab represents the future of Russia. They want to experience something new, but nobody knows what exactly it is—not even Ruta. She encourages everybody, including you, the viewer, to co-create her performance. And this approach changes the usual solid form of the TV show into an interactive one. It feels as if you become one of the dancers and go through all stages of creation together with Ruta and her team: from nothing to something, from intangible to tangible, from finite to infinite. Ruta teaches you to listen to yourself, trust yourself, be honest with yourself, take your time to sort things out and live a creative life. And it brought me to the thought that the key to the promising future of Russia is to take account of the country’s authenticity, its history, and global best practices, think ahead, and only then move.

grayscale photography of ballet dancer standing on board
Photo by Sergei Gavrilov on Unsplash

The story arc logically reaches its apex in the last episode, where the act created by Ruta is ready to be shown. This is that movie about ballet where people don’t talk about it but dance it a lot, and you see the whole performance on the stage as the outcome of all transformation processes. The presence of the new is in everything: in movements, in facial expressions, in music, and in costumes. It might seem that you’ve been sent to the future, where the place you live in, the people who surround you, and even you are completely different. It feels like you’ve finally escaped from the cage of conventions and dogma; you are finally free, your potential is finally unlocked, and you can finally do what you are supposed to.

Since you’ve been involved in the transformation process, you are not an average viewer of the series anymore. Instead, it feels like you were invited to a higher society that is so refined and closed to the outside world. There is something about being the elite, when you are one of “them”. However, in this case, the elite is not about the power of money but about an opportunity to influence people’s minds, convey renewed meanings, lead people, and redirect the future of the whole country or even the whole world. After watching “Ballet”, I didn’t change the world, but I wrote the article that definitely changed me: I began to speak openly about what I think, embrace the uncertainty, use it to my advantage, and found out that art can be my shelter until the storm subsides.