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In the snowy foreground of a brand new steel and glass building in Kazakhstan's capital Astana, a dancer in national dress stands frozen in a dramatic flourish, her body arching skyward. The cast-iron abstract sculpture stands at the entrance of the second major ballet theater to have opened in the new capital in the last few years. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union 25 years ago, ballet has enjoyed mixed fortunes in the Muslim-majority Central Asian region's newly independent countries. Three years earlier, the city's largest theater, Astana Opera, also with its own ballet troupe, opened at a cost of $320 million.The money being poured into ballet and other arts, even as Kazakhstan suffers an oil-linked economic downturn, testifies to the enduring appeal of cultural tastes popular in the Soviet era.Russian dancer Galina Ulanova, widely considered one of the greatest ballerinas of all time, has helped drive the development of Kazakh ballet.Turkmenistan's authoritarian first president Saparmurat Niyazov banned ballet along with opera, insisting both were out of sync with the country's "national mentality".
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