This paper examines the content of and some difficulties which arose in Bolshoi ballet cultural exchange programmes offered by the Soviet government. These programs were offered to a number of countries; I have focused on the countries of Japan, France, the United Kingdom and the USA in the first part of my paper. These four countries were where the most ambitious productions of the Bolshoi company were held in the latter half of the 1950’s. In the second half of my paper I focus specifically and in more detail on the cultural exchanges between Japan and the USSR. The Bolshoi ballet played a significant role in exchanges between the former Soviet union and the rest of the world, as it was symbolic of the USSR’s diplomatic relations. I limited the timespan for the investigation from 1953 to 1964, when Nikita Khrushchev strategically increased dispatches of cultural organizations to the world trying to expand Soviet influence during the Cold War period.
In the mid to late 1950’s, the Soviet ballet tours to France (1954), the United Kingdom (1956) and the USA (1959) were lead by the respective governments on the basis of mutual exchanges. However the Japanese government wanted to avoid such exchanges because they were afraid of the ideological impact of communism on the people and more were interested in economic growth than in cultural diplomacy. Despite this, private organizations in Japan hungered for such cultural exchanges in the arts and sciences, and had an active say in who came from the USSR. The 1957 Bolshoi ballet tour to Japan was also organized by a private impresario and it was received with wild enthusiasm by the Japanese people. The Japanese government granted visas to some applicants but not others; it depended on the political sway of the organizations involved. Sadly sending Japanese advocates to the USSR would involve high costs so the numbers sent there were much less than those who came to Japan. In other countries the exchanges were much more balanced but political relationships with the USSR did cause interruption to the programmes. This would suggest that the success of cultural exchanges depends more on politics than content.
In the 1960’s the Japanese-Soviet political relationship deteriorated because of the new Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan (1960), the restart of nuclear tests by the USSR, the Northern Territories dispute, the break up of the relationships between the Japanese and Soviet communist parties concerned with the Partial Test Ban Treaty and so on. However Soviet Russia kept sending high caliber representatives to Japan in similar numbers to before. Some of the Japanese organizations involved dropped out of the exchanges, while others joined. This happened due to changing public feeling towards the USSR, shifts in political relations, and changing relations between the organizations and respective governments. It was in this atmosphere that the Soviet government counted on ballet to maintain diplomatic ties with Japan. The Kirov Ballet’s Japan tour (1961), and the joint concerts of the Tchaikovsky Memorial Tokyo Ballet School with Soviet famous dancers (1961 and 1963) helped to set the notion that Russia led the world in ballet. The Soviet government was convinced of the effectiveness of the ballet in demonstrating the strength of Soviet culture without fear of rivalry from other countries, and expanded the exchanges within this field.