Preview: The Big Ballet, Various Venues, Nationwide

A lot more bounce to the ounce
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The Independent Culture

Russia's alternative ballet company The Big Ballet is made up of 16 female dancers each weighing a minimum of 17 stone and wearing custom-made tutus. The company was formed in 1994 by the Russian choreographer Eugene Panfilov, who set out to prove that size does not matter in dance, while also aiming to create a dance company out of dancers with no previous experience.

The first half of the current show is a parody of classical ballets such as Swan Lake and The Nutcracker; the second part is a contemporary dance extravaganza to songs such as Tom Jones' "Sex Bomb" and the Pet Shop Boys' "Go West". The female dancers are joined on stage by six skinny professional male dancers and one larger male dancer.

The girls train rigorously for a few hours a day in their quest to show the world that they are as good at professional dance as their slighter contemporaries. "They do the splits and dance on points - all with a sense of humour," says Alexej Ignatow, the man responsible for bringing the dance troupe to the UK for the first time. "It is comedy ballet. It is popular because it is so strange. People are tired of normality."

Principal dancer Katya Yurkowa says: "We eat normal amounts of food and the same kind of food as everyone else; our size is in our genes. From childhood, all of us were large and often taunted as children. We would like to see more sport activity and facilities for larger children, so it's the perceptions about larger peoples' abilities that need to change."

Yurkowa's colleague Tatyana Gladkaya says: "Everybody has a right to express themselves how they like. It's surprisingly easy to do the splits when you have 120 kilos of down-force."

Yurkowa adds: "It's very hard living your whole life being teased to then go on and find the confidence to perform on stage in front of many people, but now we are all happy and cheerful about this."

27 February to 28 March ( www.thebigballet.co.uk)

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