When you look at the headlines, it can be disheartening to see rising global tensions and deteriorating international relations. It’s times like these when I believe our responsibilities as global citizens and cultural ambassadors are arguably the most important functions that the arts play in our society.
When I opened Rocky Mountain Ballet Theatre more than 20 years ago, I had dreamt of giving young pre- professional athletes the opportunity to see the world through dance. I also dreamt of bringing the world to Montana to foster cultural exchange.
Our students just returned from tours in China and Russia. As the only American dance organization represented at a dance festival in Kazan, we felt a great responsibility to put our nation and state’s best foot forward through our participation. The festival’s slogan was, “Music is the language of the people of the world.”
When I said I was going to Kazan, most people said they’d never heard of it. With well over a million people, it is the sixth largest city in Russia with a greaterpopulation than the entire state of Montana. Kazan is the capital of Tatarstan, a semi-autonomous region with two national languages: Russian and Tatar. It is situated where the Kazanka River meets the Volga and is about nine hours east of Moscow by car.
We were there for the First International Festival-Contest named after Alfia Avzalova, a famous Tatar singer who died in 2017. Even though we didn’t arrive until past midnight, Alfia Avzalova’s daughter, Sofia, and her husband, Ravil Nigmedzyanov, two of the chief festival organizers, came to the airport to meet us. Our attendance at the festival was ten years in the making. Ravil and I met ten years ago in Washington, D. C.
At the festival gala, highlights included RMBT’s unique brand of cowboy-ballet, championship Salish Kootenai fancy dancing from Louis Plant and hip-hop sensation, Kasper. All of our performances took place before a backdrop of filmed Big Sky Country images. It seemed that the crowd had never experienced anything quite like it and offered rousing support.
As the festival drew to a conclusion, we marveled at the connections and shared experiences of people from Russia, India, Uzbekistan, Kazakstan and Montana. As our musical director, Karen Carreno, perfectly put it, “This is why we do this.”
We anticipate bringing the same spirit of enlightenment and cooperation to Ballet Beyond Borders 2019 which will take place January 9 – 12, in Missoula. RMBT travels the world. In January, the world is coming to Montana.
We look forward to welcoming the international dancers with the same overwhelming hospitality and warmth they’ve shown us. When bodies move, minds soar. When cultural connections deepen, dance becomes a form of diplomacy that helps foster the kind of understanding so desperately needed in our global community.
Charlene Campbell-Carey is the Rocky Mountain Ballet Theatre’s artistic director.