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Ashton’s Fille goes down a storm in St Petersburg

Tsiskaridze to be Widow Simone in Ashton’s Fille

Bolshoi woos Ratmansky and Osipova

"If someone finds that staying at their home base feels bad for them, like it did for me, they should listen to what they're feeling"

27 OCT 14    

Ivan Vasiliev has given a long interview in Moscow rejecting the idea that his leaving the Bolshoi was anything to get upset about, and suggesting that in future the freelance life will become increasingly standard for dancers of top talent. He says he has no wish to join the roll of any of the world’s leading ballet companies (unlike his starry partner and former fiancée Natalia Osipova, who has just joined the Royal Ballet), preferring the opportunities falling into his lap as a guest star around the world - including the chance of his first Swan Lake with English National Ballet in January and Ivan the Terrible at the Bolshoi.

He’s also admitted to having a steady new girlfriend, Bolshoi dancer Maria Vinogradova.

The interview with Izvestia’s regular dance correspondent indicates that Vasiliev, currently appearing in the Mikhailovsky Ballet’s autumn run of Frederick Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée, had a falling-out with Mikhailovsky balletmaster Mikhail Messerer about his scheme to return Fille to the condition shown in a 1960 TV recording of the ballet, directed by Ashton himself. Vasiliev failed to perform in the premiere run of that production last spring, and says he has come back to the Mikhailovsky Fille only because it is now being staged by Michael O’Hare (of Birmingham Royal Ballet).

The virtuoso confirms that he has invented several fancy new jumps, but won’t be inserting them into Ashton’s ballet. He talks of his good relations with the Bolshoi, where he has become a permanent guest artist, and his new honour, the title at a very young age of Honoured Artist of Russia (the equivalent of an OBE).

The former Bolshoi boy wonder is still only 25, but is asked whether he’s considered retiring yet.

Here’s a translation.

October 26, 2014, 16:29 by Yaroslav Timofeev

‘There’s nothing to worry about when an artist leaves a theatre’

On October 26 [IB: Sunday], Ivan Vasiliev, newly made an Honoured Artist of Russia, will take the stage at the Mikhailovsky Theatre starring in Frederick Ashton’s ballet La Fille mal gardée. The principal dancer spoke to Izvestia about future roles and a new love.

IZVESTIA: Congratulations on your well-deserved award. As I understand it, the award is a complicated procedure - did you take part in it?

VASILIEV: No, it was a surprise for me, especially as I’m very young to be granted such an award. Everything happened without my involvement, and I’m very grateful to the theatre for it. I’ve only had to dance. And you know, the title of Honoured Artist doesn’t give you the right to work half-cock - on the contrary, now one must dance even better.

In the spring you did not appear in the Mikhailovsky’s production of La Fille mal gardée because of disagreements with Mikhail Messerer - this is what the theatre’s general director Vladimir Kekhman told Izvestia. But six months later you’re going on stage in this very same production. So what has happened?

It’s because now I can work harmoniously with the stager Michael O'Hare, who represents the Frederick Ashton Foundation. We have had enough time to discuss all the details, and he knows the version I danced at the Bolshoi in 2006.

So does this version differ from the choreographer’s in 1960?

Some of the nuances vary: in one theatre they do it like this, in another they do something else, but it’s impossible to say one version is correct and the other isn’t. The main thing is finding a common language. We’ve now found it, and we’re working away.

Are you going for the Mikhailovsky version or your version?

Half and half.

In Fille you have to be on stage with Nikolai Tsiskaridze. Did you ever perform together at the Bolshoi?

It did happen, yes. When I was very young I danced alongside him in Le Corsaire and La Bayadère.

After your departure from the Bolshoi with Natalia Osipova Tsiskaridze predicted to Izvestia that it would only be the start, and subsequently he himself left the theatre. What do you make of that period in the life of the Bolshoi?

It seems to me that this isn’t so much a period of Bolshoi life but a period in the lives of particular artists. At the Bolshoi everything is fine, the theatre is there, and it will go on. It’s simply that for an artist there comes a moment when he just has to make a change. Tsiskaridze himself changed his life: now he is opening himself up in the eminent position of rector of the Vaganova Academy.

And you are opening yourself up in the role of Colas in Fille?

It’s fun, and quite simple in terms of dramatic content. Colas is a peasant boy, so he’s a pleasure to dance. And it’s interesting to “think young”, even if that sounds funny from a 25-year-old - actually I haven’t danced Colas for four years.

You’ve told reporters that you’ve thought up several new jumps. Will you put them into Fille?

It would be impossible to put them in here - with such choreographers as Ashton and MacMillan, one must observe the text. In Petipa, you can graft something on: artists at that time and right till now have invented things - Vladimir Vasiliev, Lavrovsky, Vladimirov. They introduced their own elements, and now we all execute them.

Freedom and creativity

Your employment base is still in the Mikhailovsky?

Yes, and as long as there’s a creative atmosphere and stability I imagine this will continue.

And are other companies still inviting you to join their roll, or are they now giving up?

The offers still come in but I’ve stopped responding to them, since I’m performing in many world theatres including La Scala, American Ballet Theatre, the English National Ballet, Bolshoi, Mariinsky and Stanislavsky Theatre. Going staff somewhere makes no sense: I dance everywhere, but on certain conditions. I think that’s how the future will be. For artists who reach a certain level and outgrow conditions at their theatre, for those who need more freedom and creativity, I think this is the best possible option.

In the opera world that sort of model isn’t the future, it’s the present.

I hope that in ballet I lead by example. There’s nothing to get worried about when a dancer leaves his home theatre. I left the Bolshoi, but I’m continuing a long-term and steady cooperation with it.

Natalia [Osipova] said in an interview: ‘Ivan is younger than me, so he likes going and dancing everywhere.’ Is it really only an age thing?

Life will show. As long as a dancer has his strength and energy he mustn’t let chances slip to work everywhere. If someone finds that remaining at their home is feeling bad to them, like it did for me, they should listen to their own mind. But if someone doesn’t have that inner drive, he’ll be able to stay and work in the one place. It’s not better or worse.

Mikhailovsky and Bolshoi

What are your future plans in the Mikhailovsky?

There’s an important tour coming: the Mikhailovsky will appear for the first time in New York. I’ve got a lot of shows, and it’s down to me to make sure that when the public hears the name Mikhailovsky, they rush to the box office.

Do you have any premieres?

None yet at the Mikhailovsky. But in the New Year I’ll have a lot of work: for example in London I’ll dance Siegfried in Swan Lake for the first time.

Tell me, how did you mend your relationship with the Bolshoi Theatre?

Talks began under Anatoly Iksanov, when I was invited to dance in Spartacus and Flames of Paris. And I’ve formed a good relationship with Vladimir Urin. It’s great working with him because everything we discuss actually happens as was planned.

Has he offered you a position of permanent guest artist?


And you’ll dance the long-awaited Ivan the Terrible at the Bolshoi?

I’m gradually starting rehearsals. If everything goes right, I’ll dance it this season.

Next with Osipova

Was Solo for Two the first project made specially for you and Natalia?

Yes. Next summer we’ll show it in Russia once again so that everyone who didn’t manage to last time can see it.

You had been together for several years, yet this first duet project came up so late.

The idea was born between us and producer Sergei Danilyan a while back. But we’d been thinking for a long time about the concept, the choreographers, the shape of the production. We got it together only three years later.

Do you have any plans to do something together in future?

To begin with we’ll just do the Solo programme, then we’ll take a look at things. With a man like Sergei Danilyan, I reckon things need planning far ahead.

Don’t you plan to work at all with Boris Eifman?

There are plans and the desire too. I’d like in the not too distant future to dance his Russian Hamlet.


Do you ever think about your retirement, which in ballet comes pretty quickly to dancers?

I’m not looking that far ahead.

What age do you think is best for a dancer?

People can peak at any age. At 25 I dance like this, but at 17 I was dancing entirely differently. Retirement is for when the dancer’s strength and passion has run out. It could even happen at 23.

Do you feel you haven’t yet hit your peak?

Yes, as long as I can still find the language that I want to speak to the public.

Your Moscow fans have been writing that you’re going out with a ballerina from the Bolshoi, Maria Vinogradova. Is it a secret?

Absolutely not. We’ve been together a year already and we are very happy. I am so grateful to her - she inspires me to artistry and to everything that’s good.

Are you planning to dance together?

We’re already going to at the Bolshoi in Spartacus. I hope it’s just the start.

Ivan Vasiliev on Ashton, freelancing, and a new love

Ivan Vasiliev (photo Izvestia)