There was a time when artists with Moscow's celebrated Bolshoi Theatre would flee Russia to pursue their careers in the West.
But these days the ballet is recruiting classical dancers from all around the world. Serena Giannini from Ticino is about to pack her shoes and head to Moscow.
Dancing on the boards of the most prestigious theatre in the world was something Giannini didn't even dare dream of a year ago. But by the end of this month the young dancer – she is about to turn 18 – will be doing just that.
She hopes the move to Russia from her native Switzerland will be the start of a glittering career.
"I can't wait to dedicate myself fully to dance," said the young woman. But there is still much to do before she can finally leave for Moscow at the end of October.
Giannini, who comes from Gravesano, was talent spotted by the Bolshoi dance school during a competition organised in New York.
Thanks to her talent and exceptional artistic expression she was invited to take part in a five-week course organised by the Moscow institute in Connecticut. Shortly after her return to Switzerland Giannini received good news: she could join the next group of ballet pupils at the Bolshoi.
The training in Moscow will last three years, and the dancers will work six days a week.
"I don't know how long I will stay there," said Giannini, who hopes to continue her international training in London.
In Moscow Giannini and her fellow students will be put through their paces. The rules are strict and contained in a 16-page contract in Russian, which she had to have translated. They make it clear that any weight gain or failure to improve her performance will result in immediate expulsion.
But she is not afraid of this almost military severity. "Her dance teacher, Mi Jung, has instilled humility in her as well as a sense of discipline," stressed Giannini's mother, Patrizia.
"Dance is a particularly hard life, but I'm ready for the difficulties that I'll face," added the young dancer, who from a tender age has devoted all her spare time to the art form.
Her departure for Moscow meant a break from her high school studies in Lugano – not an easy decision. "But she would never get another opportunity like this," said her father Tiziano.
"We want to encourage and support our daughter as we are sure she knows what she is doing."
"From my first year at high school, I knew I wanted a career in dance," said Giannini. "This invitation from the Bolshoi means I can follow my passion at a place that's set up to teach me everything I need to know."
"I will be surrounded by people doing the same thing as me and subjected to the same discipline."
She says the Russian dancers she met in the United States warned her that Moscow was a very dangerous place to live. "But I'm not afraid as I won't have much free time – just Sundays."
She says she will be using those to relax. And to learn Russian.
swissinfo, based on an article in French by Nicole della Pietra
The Bolshoi (bolshoi means big in Russian) is the most prestigious theatre in the world in which to perform.
The building, inaugurated in 1825, is situated close to the Kremlin.
Today the Bolshoi comprises five buildings, including a clinic where artistes are treated free of charge.
The theatre, designed by the architect Joseph Beauvais, is currently being restored. The work should be completed by autumn 2009 and is expected to cost €360 million (SFr580 million).
Many premieres have been held in the Bolshoi, including Tchaikovsky's ballet Swan Lake and several compositions by Rachmaninov.