Monday, 23 July 2018

Steps and the Steppe

Sukhbataar Square, Ulaanbaatar

Surprising-but-not-really-surprising is a piece on the BBC World Service's Business Matters programme, about a ballet class in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia.

Presenter Roger Hearing seems rather surprised that there is such a thing as ballet in Mongolia. However, having visited the country myself nearly 20 years ago, nothing would surprise me about modern Mongolia. (My first meal in what was supposed to be the middle of nowhere was ... pasta and fresh spinach sauce and cappuccino, in a cafe that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Manchester's Northern Quarter!)

My delicious dinner aside, should it really be unexpected to find ballet in a country that was for decades a satellite state of the USSR/Russia? As is pointed out more than once in the piece and subsequent chat, ballet - along with other classical art forms such as opera - is a legacy of that time.

In addition, the country has already produced at least one dancer known beyond Mongolia: Altan Dugaraa, who became a leading dancer with Boston Ballet (more here).

The piece informs us that ballet is one of the fastest-growing ways of spending their leisure time for Mongolians, but there are precious few other revelations, unless hearing a (presumed un-athletic) (male) presenter grunt through a couple of exercises at the barre counts as a revelation. But if you want to hear genuine Mongolian people talking (a little) about why they do ballet, their bit of the programme starts around the 36.30 minute mark:

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