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Marc Haegeman

Rebellion at the Maryinsky

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In the April Issue of the ‘Dancing Times’ a short article by regular Igor Stupnikov was devoted to the problems occurring at the Maryinsky Theatre last Winter. Stupnikov is mainly summarising an essay which was published in the Moscow ‘Commercial Daily’, wherein it was stated that in December leading soloists of the Kirov Ballet “rebelled” against their director Makhar Vaziev. The initiators are said to be artists of the older generation, foremost Zelensky, Makhalina, and Ruzimatov.

Bascially, complaints were voiced against the authoritarian style of the management; the endless tours causing fatigue; the choice of repertoire (too much Balanchine); the favoritism for the youngsters.

Valery Gergiev is said to have named three candidates for the succession: Dmitri Bryantsev, chief-choreographer of among others the Stanislavsky Theatre in Moscow; Nikita Dolgushin, former Kirov star and now professor; and Igor Zelensky.

Anyway, the conflict has been settled, everything remained the same, and according to Stupnikov the whole affair was unsuccessful because of the lack of a proper leader. Stupnikov comments rather contemptuously: “If anyone would have joined with the opposition, it would be old-timers: the theatre had renounced the Soviet version of “The Sleeping Beauty” on which an entire generation of dancer grew up (...). In doing so, the theatre fell out with nearly the entire population over the age of fifty.”

Yet, he has to admit that this whole unhealthy affair, quieted down for now, shook everybody up. And stars are still fleeing or are rumoured to leave the company: Samodurov went to Amsterdam, Ivanchenko and Batalov are said to be looking for a position in a Scandinavian company, and rumours also have it that Diana Vishneva (who according to the article, actively supported the rebels) is going to sign a contract with ABT.

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Yes, I read this article too. Well, I am glad that the conflict has now been resolved, and that Vaziev will lead the company in both the London seasons. Now that he has seen off this unsuccessful challenge to his leadership, I suppose that he must have strengthened his authority in the company.

[This message has been edited by Kevin Ng (edited May 13, 2000).]

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But isn't it depressing that they are rebelling against 'too much Balanchine'? Is that because it is difficult to dance? It's surprising that they do not appear to have grasped the fact that the west is permanently hungry for Balanchine and will not be satisfied with a diet of the old Soviet-influenced choreography.

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Ann, unless I'm mistaken, I feel that so far the West has always been quite pleased to see the Russian companies bring these "old-Soviet influenced" choregraphies. People are still flocking to see the Kirov's "Swan Lake" or "Bayadère", wherever they bring it. As a matter of fact we haven't been seeing much else since they first appeared in the West in the fifties and sixties. And it's not because that now all of the sudden some so-called authentic choreography is dug up that all the rest they produced in the last 80 years or so has become worthless or redundant.

Besides, since when is the West so "hungry" to see Balanchine performed by a company which is about as attuned to Balanchine as New York City Ballet is to Yakobson or Zakharov? I haven't seen much proof of that, unless of course you consider the at best condescending tone of many Western critics commenting the Russian way with Balanchine a sign of hunger for more wink.gif.

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Marc, is there any validity to the Vishneva rumor? It would be interesting to get to see her so often at ABT (but maybe not so good for her growth as a dancer).

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Dale, I'm afraid it's really just a rumor ... but, who knows?

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Originally posted by Ann:

But isn't it depressing that they are rebelling against 'too much Balanchine'? Is that because it is difficult to dance? ]

Yes, it is depressing if it's really true that they are 'rebelling against too much Balanchine'. The Kirov dancers should grasp that Balanchine's choreography is in many ways a logical extension of their own Petipa repertory, and that dancing Balanchine is beneficial to their company style.

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You would think that the Kirov dancers would love to do new works as they must be sick and tired of the wall to wall Giselles, Swan Lakes, La Bayadere.

But I think that there antipathy towards Balanchine is as much due to Russian Nationalism then artistic reasons. Balanchine represents America. It seems now that the old enemy having beaten the Russians in the Cold war is now challenging the Russians in that most Russian (supposedly) of past times- ballet! It is just another humiliation to the Russian old guard.

I take this view because it is so obvious to anyone that the Kirov repertoire is dated and stale - a museum piece. No one in the Kirov can object to the introduction of Balanchine on artistic reasion given the current Kirov repertoire.

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Of course, the old wisdom about palace coups is that if you're going to attack the king at all you absolutely have kill him.

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You made a point there, Eugene. I never thought of it that way. Do you suppose the Russians also bear a grudge against the French? After all, Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812.

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Oh, Eugene, I don't think it's at all obvious to "everyone" that the Kirov is "dated and stale - a museum piece." Not in the least. I know that dancers and directors love to say, "We're not a museum!!!!" but, as one who is rather fond of museums, that argument has never resonated with me at all. The Louvre doesn't throw out old Masters' paintings to make room for new ones. But some exhibits in a basement perhaps (which you can't do with ballets, but which does work with paintings) but you don't burn them.

Michael, I agree (about killing the King). When coups don't work, it usually means that the King has even more power.

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There is, of course, the concept of a museum, or a ballet company, which is sufficently flexible to include in its collection/repertoire both old masters and new works....

Mel Johnson

Speaking up for both museums AND ballet companies...

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When the Kirov came to London last time, one of the teachers who was a great ballerina once (I cannot remember her name for sure) actually said in a newspaper that the objective of the Kirov is to be a "musuem". This statement absolutely astounded me. Fortunetly there are enough people in the Kirov who do not share this view. (I think I can remember who said that remark but given the astonishing nature of it I do not want to attribute to anyone unless I am very sure I know who it was).

I think Debbie Bull ( a principal with the RB) best summarize the purpose of a ballet company as to be a "musuem and a laboratory" as quoted in a debate at the Oxford Union. The trouble with traditional ballet is that the repertoire is too small for a ballet company to rely to much on. There cannot be mroe then 10 full length works of the classical period that can be staged (historical curiosity like the Daughter of the Pharoah and the Kirov Corsaire are excluded). Ballet companies far more then opera companies need new works.

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Olga Moiseyeva, who coaches among others Asylmuratova, Zakharova, Amosova, and Zhelonkina, is on the record for saying: "We behave like a museum. We try to keep it old-fashioned so that the spirit of the ballet won't be lost. If you don't like the idea of a museum, don't come to us."

I particularly like that last sentence.

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Nice quote, Marc. Yes, it would be better if people tried to understand what ballet is, and what a ballet company's history is, before either trying to change them or making pronouncements.

Mel, good point about museums. I'm sure you're remembering Richard Pleasant's idea for ABT and its many "wings." I think Joffrey also well understood the concept of exhibits. There has to be room for both.

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Marc

I'm sorry if my reference to 'Soviet-influenced' choreography was a little off the mark. I love the Kirov's 'Bayadere' and 'Corsair' as much as anyone, but the fact remains that they simply cannot afford to ignore Balanchine and it is worrying that their dancers seem to have a problem with his work. It is quite beside the point that they are 'as attuned to Balanchine as NYCB is to Yakobson or Zakharov', since NYCB hardly needs the latters'work while the Kirov, in the absence of any choreographer of anything like the significance of Balanchine, or indeed Ashton, Tudor or McMillan, are desperately in need of Balanchine.

If the Kirov wants to keep its status as one of the greatest ballet companies in the world, it needs new works, and they are incredibly lucky that Balanchine is 'new' to them. They shold stop whining and get on with it.

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Ann -

Substitute the words "Royal Danish Ballet" for "Kirov".

Substitute the word "Bournonville" for "Petipa".

It just happened there. They're bringing in lots more Balanchine. And not doing any Bournonville for 3 years.

I think I can say I love Balanchine as much as any other board member here. But did we really need another company to do respectable Balanchine at the expense of being the repository of another genius?

If the Kirov finds its identity in its native works, that's fine by me. They don't need to trade them for ours.

------------------

Leigh Witchel -dae@panix.com

Personal Page and Dance Writing

Dance as Ever

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This is interesting. I remember reading (not too long ago) interviews with Vaziev and Ruzimatov where both said they had been closest friends since their first year at the Academy (early 70s). It's very sad that ballet politics is so destructive.

Marc, is either of these two articles (in "Dancing Times" and "Moscow Commercial Daily") online?

By the way, my hunch is that "too much Balanchine" was very low on the list of complaints: I would think that the main one was "favoritism for the youngsters".

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If the Petipa repertory is dated and stale, so is the Balanchine. Petipa looks like the 19th century, and I can tell which Balanchine ballets were created during what decade just by looking at them. For that matter, what if dancers at NYCB rebelled against "too much Petipa?" They'd be supported because they look awful doing Petipa, and they should conserve the great Balanchine works. Same thing with the Kirov, but the other way round. Since when is Balanchine unquestionably the greatest choreographer ever, to be worshipped by all ballet companies?

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~Intuviel~

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I don't think either that the complaint about the choice of repertoire was the main problem in this whole affair. Although (as has been already discussed here once on this board), it seems to be true that some dancers are less then happy with the increase of works by Mr. B. (no matter what they state in public). And once again, it is not necessarily because it is Balanchine (some of them like Petit or Béjart as much, for that matter wink.gif), it is because they feel their own repertoire (Petipa and many of the usually despised Soviet choreographers) is neglected. Some of these young dancers still need and want to develop in their own repertoire, which is really in their blood (to use Kirill Melnikov's wonderful line), before they want to pay attention to other choreographies.

Ann, I'm sorry, but are you suggesting now that a ballet company needs new works or does not need works? The Kirov needs Balanchine to develop, you say; but you also imply that NYCB has enough with Balanchine only and doesn't need to develop by acquiring other choreographies!? Or maybe you consider Balanchine the universal miracle-choreographer of all times smile.gif. As shocking as it may sound to you, but it does occur that dancers consider a ballet like "Apollo" an unbearable, dated bore.

Ilya, I don't know about Moscow "Commercial Daily" being online. "Dancing Times" has a site although I fear it hasn't been updated in ages and it never contained all the printed articles anyway.

Ilya, Farukh Ruzimatov and Makhar Vaziev were buddies and do you remember that in 1995 they were BOTH named co-director (deputy, or whatever the exact title was) by Oleg Vinogradov? So, what's left of that? Right!

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I agree with you Marc that the Kirov should not chuck all of its heritage to turn into NYCB-East but I don't agree about Apollo. Do the Kirov dancers get tired of dancing Giselle until they drop? Or Swan Lake? No, they always say the more they perform a part, the greater their understanding becomes etc... Well, Zelensky has said that dancing Apollo is one of his greatest joys, and never fails to renew his love of ballet. I'm sure other artists feel the same way.

Of course, with your knowledge of the troupe I will usually defer to you, but after watching the Kirov dancers' reaction to I. Fokine, I have come to the conclusion that they are extremely set in their ways and loath to try anything new that might push them to extend themselves.

And while it is true, NYCB does not perform Jacobson or Zakhovov, they do put on at least two new ballets a season (around four a year), and without debating the merits of said choreography, they do try. ABT has tried Duato and Graham.

I'm definitely not for a homogenizing of ballet companies and the jack-of-all-trades-master-none style rep, I do think companies can expand their base of ballets without betraying their style. I mean, the Kirov is being asked to perform Jewels, not Variations pour une Porte et un Soupir! smile.gif

Marc wrote:

"As shocking as it may sound to you, but it does occur that dancers consider a ballet like "Apollo" an unbearable, dated bore."

Maybe what they don't like is being told that they can't change steps to suit themselves and perform at whatever tempo they like (usually a dirge) no matter what the composers' markings are.

[This message has been edited by Dale (edited May 14, 2000).]

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Yes, Dale, Zelensky likes “Apollo”.

He also once declared in a 1997 Daily Telegraph-interview by Ismene Brown, that dancing Albrecht in “Giselle” doesn’t “inspire” him. When asked for his opinion about performing classical ballets, Zelensky answered: “You just don’t look human in those classic stories. When my grandmother sees me do a prince she says, ‘What on earth’s going on there on stage, why are you doing this with your legs, why don’t you have a name?’ And it’s true. You look like another world. Classic ballet is like space, full of aliens. I prefer to do more real stories, Manon or Romeo and Juliet.”

All this sounds pretty ominous to me… (or never trust your grandma wink.gif )

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Isabelle Fokine “working” with the Kirov corps de ballet was a rather funny, but in the end unfortunate piece of film, because it made both parties look like fools and it made people believe that this is the usual way of working in the Kirov – heaven forbid.

Let’s put it this way. If you have been dancing a certain piece for ages and all of the sudden somebody appears in front of you, declaring: “Sorry girls, you were wrong all the time, starting today I’m gonna tell you how it should be done, because I am the granddaughter of the great Fokine and I’m the only person who knows how” (even if I don’t speak his language), I don’t think you would buy that so easily either. Besides, it wasn’t even anything “new”, it was just another reading/interpretation - you know, I say tomato, you say tomahto - and it wouldn’t have “extended” them in any way.

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I would just like to add that if the Kirov is going to do new works I think it is better that they did say Apollo or Glass Pieces then "Daughters of the Phaoroah". Even the name puts me off!!

Now I remember it was Olga Moiseyva who said Kirov should be a museum. It is apparent that given her last comment that "if you do not like do not come" she has not shed Soviet attitudes to customer services!

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I've also read interviews with coaches from the Balanchine Trust talk about the difficulties in mounting productions at the Kirov. Not just the ever-changing casts and politics but the dancers' stubbornness to do something a different way. In an interview in Ballet Review a few years ago, one the Kirov's own ballet coaches spoke about how difficult it was in trying to get the dancers to observe the proper tempos in Symphony in C, saying "Our ballerinas are ladies of leasure."

And yes, I would at least try what Isabel Fokine was asking for. Just because you've done something for 100 years one way doesn't mean it is the right way. If I suddenly had a new Editor in Chief, who wanted copy to have a different style than the one we were using I'd have to go with the new style. I would have to respect his/her authority no matter if I was the second coming of Red Smith. If the Kirov's brass thought Fokine was worthy enough to come in and teach a different interpretation of a ballet, than as a dancer I might complain a little privately with my fellow dancers but I'd act professionally and listen to what she had to say.

[This message has been edited by Dale (edited May 14, 2000).]

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