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Dance Or Die: He Faced Down Death Threats From ISIS And His Father Rather Than Give Up Ballet

Mar 15, 2017

Jean-Pierre Frohlich and Ekaterina Krysanova, a principal dancer for the Bolshoi Ballet.CreditDamir Yusupov for Bolshoi Theatre

In 1951, “The Cage” shocked the world. Prickly and intense, this Jerome Robbins ballet concerns a female-dominated world where acts of violence are everyday occurrences. A Novice is born into an insect tribe, led by a Queen. Instinctively, the Novice knows what to do when a male intruder enters: She crushes his neck between her knees. She falls in love with a second intruder, but in the end, kills him, too. Her backup is a 12-strong corps de ballet whose killer instincts and hair — so teased that it stands on end — give the ballet a spooky, feral pulse.

Some nights, Robbins must have known, you just don’t feel like watching another swan.

Set to Stravinsky’s Concerto in D for String Orchestra, “The Cage” remains a favorite of the dancers at New York City Ballet, for which Robbins created it. On March 19, the Bolshoi Ballet will perform it for the first time, but you don’t have to go to Moscow to see it. That premiere performance, part of the Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema broadcasts, will be screened in movie theaters worldwide. The program, “A Contemporary Evening,” also features another City Ballet creation, Alexei Ratmansky’s glorious “Russian Seasons.”

Jean-Pierre Frohlich and Glenn Keenan, ballet masters from City Ballet, staged the Robbins ballet. This is the first time Mr. Frohlich, who worked closely with Robbins for many years, has mounted a work at the Bolshoi.

Overseeing the Robbins repertory is a huge responsibility, but Mr. Frohlich said that he doesn’t feel pressure. What can be difficult is that there are so many versions around — and so many opinionated dancers who danced them. Speaking by phone from Moscow, Mr. Frohlich said he once asked Robbins, “Jerry, which version do you want me to teach?” Robbins replied: “You know me. You know what I’ve done for other companies. Do what’s best for them.” And so, Mr. Frohlich said, “That’s what I do.”

What follows are edited excerpts from a recent conversation.