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30 NOV  16

Can a Frenchman overcome the language barrier and can Russians overcome a culture barrier, asks Kommersant's distinguished ballet critic Tatiana Kuznetsova in a doubtful commentary on the new appointment of Paris star Laurent Hilaire to Moscow's Stanislavsky ballet. Giving her pluses and minuses on the appointment, she sketches an acid assessment of predecessor Igor Zelensky's five years at the helm, accusing him of abandoning modern classics by 'living' choreographers for those of 'dead' ones (mainly the great Britons MacMillan and Ashton), and of instigating a damaging outflow of important dancers.

It is only fair to add that Kuznetsova has in the past mourned the inability of Russians to look authentic in MacMillan, by comparison with the Royal Ballet, so the comment appears less a matter of dislike of the ballets than about the cultural adaptability of the dancers. She also wonders if Russians will willingly 'take lessons from a Frenchman'.

But she slots in the interesting information that Pavel Gershenzon, a key figure in the Mariinsky's 'reconstructions' of Petipa ballets, may be discreetly acting as a consultant.

Here's my translation.

From France with love

Kommersant, 20 Nov 2016, by Tatiana Kuznetsova

The changes at the top of the Stanislavsky Theatre ballet should not be read as either the determination of a new chief to bring in his own men nor some sort of administrative wilfulness. The ballet’s place within the theatre has been a worry for several seasons, essentially since the jetsetting Igor Zelensky came in at the head of a company on the rise.

Zelensky was still dancing, with a past as the former star of three world companies. Over the five years of his leadership (which he combined with a similar position at the Novosibirsk ballet) more than 40 dancers left the Stanislavsky company, the overwhelming majority of them leading soloists who were not prepared to go along with either Zelensky’s management style or his repertoire policy.

During these years the repertoire changed radically. Ballets by living classical masters Jiri Kylian, Nacho Duato and John Neumeier, thanks to which the municipal Stanislavsky company had managed  successfully to compete with the federally funded Bolshoi, were supplanted by ballets by dead classical masters. Since the Moscow company did not shine in the grand three-act melodramas of Kenneth MacMillan and the old-fashioned one-acters of the Englishman Frederick Ashton and the American Jerome Robbins, Zelensky’s outmoded tastes won the company no kudos - the public hullabaloo was mainly over Sergei Polunin, former principal of the London Royal Ballet, lured to Moscow by Zelensky.

From the start of this season Mr Zelensky also had  another position - as artistic director of the Bavarian opera ballet, which led to further personnel losses: he took with him to Munich Sergei Polunin, prima ballerina Ksenia Ryzhkova and several other soloists. His new responsibilities diverted Zelensky from Moscow, so much so that he missed the Stanislavsky’s September season opening.

In these circumstances general director Getman acted decisively, and to the point: in October he offered Mr Zelensky - who, it is said (though without any proof), commands serious support at high levels - a newly established position as 'ballet consultant', similar to the job Zelensky has now at Novosibirsk. Meanwhile Getman asked the company manager Andrei Uvarov to take over as ‘acting’ artistic director.

One should say that the prefix ‘acting’ does not in any way signify a lack of confidence in the professionalism of Uvarov, the Bolshoi’s finest classical prince, outstanding in his perfect manners and excellent academic training. It was in large measure due to his work that the Stanislavsky Theatre Ballet, despite being depleted by repeated losses of soloists, retained its high standards. It may be that the job of artistic director demands a capacity for strategy and a strong leader-type, and Getman may doubt Mr Uvarov’s abilities to implement a new direction for the repertoire.

Pluses and minuses

During the interregnum, rumours abounded in ballet circles about possible candidates for the Stasik’s ballet director. The name of Laurent Hilaire only came up in the last month after he was noticed taking rehearsals in the theatre. Yesterday Getman officially announced to the company the French star's appointment as a Moscow artistic director after a performance of La Bayadère.

Kommersant hears that Hilaire's contract is for five years. It is a radical decision in which at first sight the pluses outweigh the minuses. Hilaire’s first-class professionalism is the primary thing in his favour - his peerless authority as a dancer and coach. Without doubt, Hilaire’s innate love of precise classical form, his refined stage manners, and his attention to the dramatic side of ballet roles can only enhance the Moscow dancers (if, that is, they manage to - and want to - take lessons from a Frenchman).

Hilaire also has actual experience of artistic leadership; as deputy to Brigitte Lefèvre, then artistic director of the Paris Opera Ballet, he not only headed the production and rehearsal processes but also had the chance to influence decisions about the company’s artistic policy. It’s known that Mme Lefèvre wanted to see him succeed her in the job when she retired. However the Paris Opera intendant, Stéphane Lissner, had another candidate in mind - the reforming Benjamin Millepied, with whom Hilaire, guardian of Paris tradition, could not work.

The main minus has to be the language barrier. Even a permanent, highly qualified interpreter would not be in a position to liaise for the new artistic director with dancers, administrator and the coaching staff at the close level necessary for the job’s intensive and very varied responsibilities. The experience of Russia’s first foreign artistic director, Nacho Duato at the Mikhailovsky in St Petersburg, only confirms this danger.

Furthermore, in Russia not much is known about Laurent Hilaire’s artistic predilections and preferences, except evidently for his love of the recognized masters of the 20th century, Forsythe, Kylian, whose ballets he himself so successfully danced. The new Moscow chief’s repertoire plans are secret for now: not one ballet has been announced in the 2017-18 season. Very likely the list of productions will come out in January when Hilaire has moved to Moscow to take up his responsibilities.

However, there is a possibility that the strategical burden will be shared between the Frenchman and one of Russia’s best-known ballet curators, Pavel Gershenzon, whose name is linked with both the Mariinsky Ballet’s fin-de-siècle flights into 19th-century ballet reconstructions, which resounded around the world and all of Russia, and also its Forsythe performances.

In recent times the Stasik’s dancers have often spotted the Petersburg man in class and rehearsal, and he has been seen accompanying Getman to productions in other theatres in other countries. It’s possible that Gershenzon rather than Mr Zelensky, currently busy staging Grigorovich’s Spartacus in Munich, will be the actual ballet consultant at the Stanislavsky. That of course will only stir up more interest in the immediate future of one of Moscow’s most intriguing companies.

Paris star Hilaire to head Stanislavsky

Brigitte Lefevre comments on Millepied exit

The first interview with Lucas Debargue


' Zelensky’s outmoded tastes won the company no kudos - the  hullabaloo was mainly over Sergei Polunin'

Will Russians take lessons from a Frenchman?

Laurent Hilaire, pic Sergei Kiselev/Kommersant