The American Folk Ballet, based in Cedar City with Burch Mann as artistic director, will represent the United States on a tour of the Soviet Union this summer.
The company will open its tour on June 21, appearing in Leningrad's prestigious October Concert Hall as part of the White Nights Festival, along with artists from many other countries."The Russians' aim is to bring people together so they can know each other as friends, not enemies, thus taking a step toward world peace," said Mann. "It has been my lifelong dream to take my company to Russia."
However, because of health problems, Mann will not be able to accompany the group, which will be led by her associate director and daughter, San Christopher.
During its two-week tour of the Soviet Union, the Folk Ballet will also dance in Riga and Moscow. All invited artists are guests, with all expenses paid, even dancers' salaries. The American Folk Ballet has only had to come up with money for airfare.
"We got this opportunity partly on reputation and partly on the recommendation of Hollywood producers," Mann said. "But what really clinched it was the help of Mark Littman, who used to direct the Salt Lake Planetarium and is now in Baltimore.
"Littman arranged for the director of the October Concert Hall, Emma Lavrinovich, to visit me here in Cedar City for a week, along with her producer. She just loved this little town - she walked all over; they went horseback riding.
"She saw a video of the Folk Ballet's programs and went mad over it; she thought we were tremendously representative of America and selected us to perform. We will have three performances in Leningrad, including the last night of the festival, Friendship Night. At Lavrinovich's suggestion, we will dance half of the program, a Russian group will do the other half, and then we join in a dance which I have choreographed.
"We will perform `The Prairie Years,' for it shows America as we like to think of ourselves. It tells of a time when we were a less complex society, when a man's word was his bond. It takes place during the great westward migration, when people were carrying a dream of a new nation with liberty and justice for all. It is about adventurous, honest, fun-loving, good-hearted people - it shows that which is best in us."
Mann, 81, who is now a distinguished artist in residence at Southern Utah State College, has a unique Russian affiliation that stems from her early ballet studies in New York City. "Many of the dancers there and all of the ballet masters at that time were Russian - Mordkin, Fokine, Tarasoff, Alberteri (trained in Russia).
"When I studied with some of them, I found them to be more like us than any other people in the world - very emotional, dramatic and romantic. Their troubles have grieved me deeply, particularly during the Stalin era, and I've always wanted to do something to help promote world peace."
Mann acknowledged firm support from Cedar City, "a special town," she said. "It is a truly dedicated community that gives unselfishly of time, energy and money. I am proud to live in Cedar City and be part of the outstanding faculty at SUSC."
After many years of running the American Folk Ballet from Los Angeles, she feels that its present headquarters in a rural rather than metropolitan area has increased rather than detracted from the company's effectiveness.
"Each year America loses more and more of its folk heritage," she said. "Contact with this heritage, well represented by the pioneer heritage of southern Utah, is needed so that our young people can feel the stability and continuity of a rooted past."