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19 AUGUST 16
Fresh from the London tour, new Bolshoi Ballet director Makhar Vaziev has given a long interview summing up his feelings about it and his intentions for the future.
Speaking to Kommersant's expert critic Tatiana Kuznetsova, Vaziev picks out Anna Tikhomirova and Vyacheslav Lopatin - much praised by British critics on the tour - and hints at promoting them both. He says in hindsight he might have tweaked the casting, but essentially he was happy. The next London tour is likely to be 2019, once again organised, all being well, by the Hochhausers, the Bolshoi's permanent impresarios.
His repertoire plans apparently could include new "authentic" restorations by both Sergei Vikharev - the producer of the great "authentic" Sleeping Beauty at the Kirov in 1999, when Vaziev was in charge of the St Petersburg company - and Alexei Ratmansky, one of Vaziev's predecessors as Bolshoi chief, whose recreation of a period Le Corsaire in full 19th-century style was a fascinating hit of the London tour. In a previous interview with Kuznetsova last year, Vaziev stressed the importance to him of the new "old" Swan Lake created by Ratmansky for him at his then company La Scala.
Vaziev talks of his intention to increase the work ethic and motivation among the dancers, by giving chances to junior dancers to motivate them, and possibly by introducing an elite étoile rank, as at the Paris Opera Ballet, for a handful of artists permitted considerable control over their performing conditions.
The discussion of the ghastly, demeaning events of the past three years - the jailing of a leading dancer for organising an acid attack on Vaziev's predecessor, Sergei Filin - avoids the obvious questions: how Vaziev will work with Filin in his new capacity developing the Bolshoi's own choreographers, and whether Filin's attacker Pavel Dmitrichenko has any chance of being accepted back in the Bolshoi now that he has been released from jail. Vaziev merely says that if plots arise he will "cut them off".
Incidentally, for those who like to study the "intrigues" Vaziev refers to, Kuznetsova describes Vaziev as the khudruk of the company - ie, she uses the "artistic director" title that the Bolshoi Theatre's boss Vladimir Urin claimed had been abolished in his justification for not renewing Filin's contract. Whether this is a mistake or not, clearly Vaziev is emitting every impression of taking the artistic decisions himself, rather than being a member of an artistic council headed by Urin.
As usual, as Humpty Dumpty said, when Russians use words in public statements, they can mean anything they want them to mean.
Vaziev: "Clannishness is losing its force, I assure you"
After the Bolshoi’s successful performances in London, the ballet company’s artistic director Makhar Vaziev spoke to Tatiana Kuznetsova about his assessment of the tour, what comes next, and how important it is in his profession to be a psychologist.
Are you happy with the London tour?
Of course. The dancers showed how amazing they are, and I am very grateful to them. It was a tricky situation for me - I arrived at the Bolshoi on March 18, and by April 2-3 I had to set the casts for London. The fact is I didn’t know all the dancers very well. To be very honest, today I would make a few adjustments to casts, just little ones. But basically I did them absolutely right.
It was quite a marathon in London. Three weeks of seven shows a week plus up to two orchestral rehearsals, that comes to nine shows a week, and moreover that all came after the end of the season. In these conditions what struck me most of all, and what impressed me, was the company’s amazing ability to mobilise its emotions. We opened the tour with Don Quixote, I was in the auditorium, and I actually physically felt this very powerful energy coming across from the stage. And there was another important thing: if you like, it was in these three weeks, working every day together, and I really came to know the company.
And what did you realise?
I remember that when I worked at the Mariinsky Theatre, we used to hear that the Bolshoi loved dancing, but not rehearsing. Well, I’ll tell you this: on the tour to London we never had an empty rehearsal studio.
Was it the dancers themselves who were so keen to rehearse or did you drown them with work?
Well anyway, no one told me that to my face. But I discovered a very pleasant surprise - the thirst the dancers have to improve themselves. Not just to work, but that they have a huge passion and desire to find themselves. Even the masters who’ve had long recognition, and even in roles they’ve done before, want to open themselves up again. The potential in dancers is enormous.
For instance, Anna Tikhomirova has been absolutely amazing during the whole of the three weeks. I believe that Anna is one of the best ballerinas at the Bolshoi today. She really declared herself, not only in London but even before it, in Moscow. After the final show, she came to me and said, “What do you think about my future?” I say: “I think it’s going to be very interesting, so at the start of the season let’s sit down together and plan it.” Naturally, she’ll have new ballets and new roles.
And Slava Lopatin was simply brilliant throughout the tour. You have to search for artists like him - I am really happy that he’s in the Bolshoi.
Yet in terms of status, Anna and Lopatin are not principals.
It means, they’ll soon have it - he absolutely deserves it. The man shows this by his work, his talent, he convinced everyone. And me first. I take my hat off to him.
Bolshoi more emotional than Mariinsky
You toured to London several time in your capacity as head of the Mariinsky ballet company, now you've gone with Bolshoi. Is there a difference in mentality, in dancer behaviour?
I think the Bolshoi performers are more open and emotional.
You mean, open on stage or in day-to-day communication?
I was thinking of the stage. But the artists are fairly open with me too. In St Petersburg there’s always a certain restraint in terms of behaviour. Here everything is more emotional, and I like it, maybe even more. Maybe they are just behind La Scala - it was incredibly emotional there, just mad.
Have you fixed the next tour to follow this successful London tour?
We spoke with the Hochhausers [Lilian and Victor Hochhauser, the permanent producers of the Bolshoi’s London tours], and they want to ask us back again. It’s more likely to be 2019, because we already have tours planned in the meantime.
In 2019 Lilian Hochhauser will be 92 years old, her husband Victor 96 …
These are people of real fibre. Especially Lilian. You wouldn’t know, talking to her, what her age is. They know what they’re doing and how to do it. They opened the road to the west for so many artists, they’ve tremendous experience with the great musicians and composers. In our last conversation Lilian talked to me about Richter, about Oistrakh. God give them good health, I hope all goes well and normally.
Ratmansky and Vikharev
Now the tour’s over. From this season you are the full chief of the company - what are your own repertoire plans?
We already announced them at the press conference (in May). This season, we will celebrate the 90th anniversary of Yuri Nikolayevich Grigorovich, we’ll revive his Golden Age. Then in the summer we have the world premiere of the ballet Nureyev, and in the spring the Russian premieres of Robbins’ The Cage and Lander’s Etudes. We have planned the 2017-18 season as well, and even the 2018-19. Tthere will be two Ratmansky works.
New creations or acquisitions of ballets he has already created?
We are discussing new works, definitely. But I would not want to disclose plans three seasons ahead.
Well, that’s good. In your view how much of the repertoire ought to be contemporary ballet and how much the classics?
That's a good question. If we’re talking percentage, then for me it is obvious: 70 percent classical ballet, and 30 percent all the rest.
And what do you mean by modern ballet? For example, is A Hero of Our Time a modern ballet?
Hero is a modern ballet, but delivered in classical technique, like Ratmansky’s ballets. So they are included in the 70 percent. The 30 percent is for the search for a contemporary language.
But there is also something to search for in classical. Under you at the Mariinsky there was, you could say, an aesthetic revolution: Sergei Vikharev did a Sleeping Beauty and Bayadère in Petipa’s original form. These were the very first restorations in Russia and they were sensational. But this movement did not survive in the Mariinsky Theatre.
We continued it at La Scala: Vikharev staged Raymonda, and then Alexei Ratmansky put on his Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake.
Will these works be seen in the Bolshoi?
I can tell you one thing: I’ve already talked with Sergei Vikharev. I won’t hide that there are plans afoot. Most likely in the 2017-18 season, since it will be Petipa’s jubilee year.
Will it be a ballet Sergei hasn’t yet done? Not The Awakening of Flora, I hope…
You hope correctly, Tatiana. I understand your interest, but you must understand me: it seems to me we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
All right. Then tell me, whose restorations do you value more - Ratmansky’s or Vikharev’s?
That’s a provocative question. I’ll give you a diplomatic answer: I like both of them. I won’t compare them - they’re different. Alexei Ratmansky is a choreographer, a man who doesn’t simply put on vintage productions, he puts on his own. Today we value him above all for his own ballets. While Sergei Vikharev was the first who opened up this journey to restore the classics of the 19th century. He is one of the most amazing professionals anywhere - a connoisseur of classical ballet, a man who lives it. I really love him, I won’t hide it.
Tasks to address
What will be the most important for you in the coming season?
The teachers and the dancers.
So actually things aren't quite all right with the artists?
The corps de ballet is the chief factor in the company, it defines the level of the dancing. All those famous dancers who come to dance in Bolshoi productions are tremendously scared not only of the public, but also in front of their colleagues, and above all, in front of the corps de ballet. Because they have to correspond with their level.
In London our corps de ballet was very highly praised, it was really fine. But it could still be better. My task is to raise the lowest level of the Bolshoi corps de ballet, and then the whole picture will change. How can this be done? One must give a dancer a small role, the chance to grow - he has to understand that he can do more. When he feels this, believe me, he would dance through a nosebleed to show he can do more than people thought.
You mentioned the teachers. What are the problems there?
We have some highly respected teachers and coaches. Though they’re of admirable age, somewhere in their eighties, Marina Kondratieva and Svetlana Adyrkhaeva work from morning to night, and they do so outstandingly. However we have very few young people who can rehearse contemporary ballets. We need to grow them. That’s what we will be tackling.
Thanks to our media and the BBC film Bolshoi Babylon the image of the Bolshoi imprinted on the public mind is of nests of intrigue, even with criminal intent. Did you sense this atmosphere when you arrived at the theatre?
It would be stupid to pretend that plotting doesn’t exist. They are everywhere — just as we had plots at La Scala! They always said there were clans in the Bolshoi, that the eminent teachers protect their students. But to be pigheaded is something that only comes out of a person’s own capabilities and skills of a person, clannishness is losing its force, I assure you. During the time I’ve been working at the Bolshoi I haven’t noticed any intrigue. I know they’re there, but I cut them off. All I am interested in is the result: you take a dancer at a certain standard today, and in six months or a year they’re at quite another level, they can do far more. This is what excites me, this is what motivates me. It’s the most important thing, it’s what interests me in life.
So you mean dancers don’t come to you asking for roles, complaining?
They’re always coming to me, and I want them to come to me. I talk to performers absolutely frankly, believe me. I explain. So a ballerina comes to me and says, “I want to prepare this or that role.” I always reply, yes, of course. Because it’s important to me that people don’t sit still, but that they work. Later on, if her work isn’t really persuading me, I offer her something else. But I should not deceive artists, in the sense as they’re looking to me for protection. The other thing is that in the office I can be a nice person, but in the theatre not nice, because I am very demanding. All the rest, in general, it’s nothing, Tatiana.
During his time Ratmansky brought in the custom they have at the Paris Opera — of announcing the promotion of a ballerina or premier danseur after a performance in front of the public. How do you feel about that?
I wanted to do something like that at La Scala. It could be, and you’d need to institute the rank of étoile.
Our prima ballerinas are the same as the French étoile.
Not really. Etoile is étoile. It's a different status. An étoile has the right to choose what to dance, who to dance with, when to dance. Naturally, assuming the artist justifies this status with their talent.
Then we already have an étoile - Svetlana Zakharova.
I think we need to think who else deserves it. Whether this status should be made official, what other rights an etoile would have. Why not? It is fantastically exciting!
'It would be stupid to pretend that plots don’t go on. They are everywhere — just as there were intrigues going on at La Scala'