Eurasia Unit for Border Research (Japan)

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At the tour of the Bolshoi theatre

On 27 April 2017, after discussion with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin told journalists that the two leaders had agreed to hold the "cross" year of Russia and Japan in 2018. It means that exchanges between Japan and Russia will increase in politics, economics and culture.

Ahead of 2018, Russian Seasons Japan 2017 started on 4 June. Russian Seasons is the title of Russian governmental projects that will introduce Russian culture all over the world. In Japan, chosen as the first country for these projects, more than 200 events will be held in more than 40 places.

Russian Seasons Japan 2017 opened with a performance of the Bolshoi Ballet. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also watched the first day performance of "Giselle". Then, prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Ballet, Svetlana Zakharova, visited the official residence of the prime minister.

In addition, this year is special for the history of Russian-Japanese ballet exchange because 60 years have passed since the first Bolshoi Ballet visit to Japan. Russian Seasons Japan 2017 started in a very festive atmosphere.

Luckily, I was able to watch the Bolshoi Ballet performance " Swan Lake" on 7 June 2017. It was a precious time for me because I love Russian ballet. I had waited and waited for the day when Olga Smirnova would dance the title role in Japan, because I had followed her from her Vaganova Ballet Academy school days. How I felt during her performance I can't express with only a few words.

After watching this splendid performance of the Bolshoi Ballet, I was also greatly impressed by the significance of the Bolshoi brand. The title name of the projects - Russian Seasons - is supposed to remind us of the theatre performance troupe "Saison Russe (Russian season)" that was under the direction of Sergei Diaghilev. The works of this troupe had, and continue to have, a considerable influence on art scenes all over the world. Perhaps, however, the contemporary Russian Seasons are more similar to the situation in the 1950s and 60s than Diaghilev's troupe. Diaghilev's troupe was under his personal organization. But Russian Seasons is sponsored by the government and is an example of Russia's 'soft power'. Even though the political relationships between Japan and Soviet-Russia in the 1950s and 60s weren't always calm, Japanese audiences always welcomed Soviet-Russian cultural organizations with enthusiasm.

Speaking at an event to mark a hundred years of Russian-Japanese ballet exchange, Valery Gergiev, the general director of the Mariinsky Theatre, reflected, "Artists can accomplish what politicians and diplomats can't". These are the words of someone who well knows the power of Art to influence society.

In the 1950s and 60s many cultural organizations came from Soviet-Russia to Japan, but few Japanese groups went the other way. This time, I expect that more cultural organizations from Japan will introduce Japanese culture to Russia over the next year. I believe that the effective introduction of Japanese culture can increase Japan's presence in the world.

Keiko Saito