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Igor Zelensky


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Marina Shabanova, Vedomosti, May 23 2008

Igor Zelensky interview: "Novosibirsk will be a capital city of dance"

Ballet lovers expect large-scale events. The 1st Siberian international festival of ballet opens on May 26, and concludes with a gala concert on May 31. The fact that to the Siberian Grand Theatre travelled top dancers of today is largely to the credit of the artistic director of Novosibirsk Ballet, People's Artist of Russia Igor Zelensky. His international contacts are the consequence of his extended work abroad and a glittering artistic life. Today, by his own admission, he is experiencing a new phase of his life, mastering the job of artistic directorship while continuing to dance.

Q: Igor, what are you expecting from the 1st Siberian Festival?

A: Similar festival take place in all great cities and capitals of the world. May is the month of the Mariinsky's White Nights, premieres are happening on stages in Paris and London, ballet artists are gathered at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. And we have all the right conditions to mount our own ballet festival. An excellent building, a theatre stage of world standard (our floor is actually better, more up-to-date, than at the Bolshoi, the equal, apparently, of New York or Paris). The artists who are coming to our festival, despite its youth, today occupy the top places in world ballet. And thank the Lord, they've agreed to participate in our festival despite their busy schedules. We won't deceive anyone that to these people my name carries weight, many of them are coming here for the first time without knowing our theatre, but trusting my word. I hope our festival will please them. The main point is that everything will be done for our public, this town's inhabitants. And even today you won't find a single spare ticket, even though they were more expensive than usual.

Q: Will our artists meet the standard set by the festival?

A: We have outstanding ballerinas: Anna Zharova, Natalya Ershova, Elenva Lytkina, Anna Odintsova, the young generation Olga Telyupa, Maria Kuzmina, and our leading soloists Roman Polkovnikov, Vitaliy Polovnikov, Andrey Matvienko. They could work on any world stage, but luckily they trust in their theatre. Ballet festivals like this are not unimportant to our artists.

Q: The festival programme has all the best productions of the theatre.

A: Yes, nothing is too much for us. We will show what we are capable of. Of course, we don't have a corps de ballet of 300, as it seems they have at the Mariinsky, where they have such choice (one troupe on tour, another appears at the home theatre, the third prepares new productions). The way above all to support the standard of the corps de ballet is to support the level of finances. Today I can't invite people here, this brings too many difficulties.

It's necessary to achieve a level where people don't just not leave, but actually come to us to work. Each artist who quits the theatre is a great loss. Unfortunately, Semyon Chudin left, and now dances in the west. Roman Polkovnikov also had a contract in London, but thank God, he stayed. This year eight people are being discharged, and not one of them intends to leave. This is a very good trend. So the state devotes a lot of money for the training of the dancer of the future for eight years, and then he leaves... Why? Because it's essential to provide him conditions to work. Nowadays we are struggling with the question of why they take our young people into the army. Ballet is a young person's business; for a 15-year career it's necessary to accomplish a huge task, to collect one's interior physical and emotional being, form oneself into an artist. What army work equals that?

Q: I know that you nurture ambitious plans to make Novosibirsk a capital of ballet. Seriously?

A: Otherwise, the theatre is hardly of major importance to the city, is it? If everything is organised right, there is no reason why in Novosibirsk should not become Siberia's centre for ballet. Here this festival can gather together the students of many ballet schools, arrange professional congresses, educate our personnel. In order to convert Novosibirsk into the capital of Siberian ballet, the priority honestly is to organise financing. I rate sport very highly, it's correctly financed, but really they could expend equal kopeeks on our theatre too. It has different funding, patrons, in the end. This is what people come to me and say: How good your new ballet "Whispers in the dark" is! Fine, it will mean a lot to us, above all, if our state responds and helps us. For our first festival we will bring leading artists, and later we plan to invite whole companies. By way of example, to show the Novosibirsk's public the Maiinsky Company in William Forsythe, and two years later to bring here the Grand Opera! There ought to be the financing.

Q: The Mariinsky Theatre's chief director Valery Gergiev somehow put your name first among those who the Marrinsky needs to transmit their professional experience to young dancers...

A: As they say, better the bird in the hand than two in the bush. Of course it's pleasant for me to hear that. I"ve known Mr Gergiev for 20 years, we met in New York. As concerns passing on artistic experience, I was occupied with this periodically for many years at the Mariinsky. At present, for me it is a theatre where I'd be interested in taking on the artistic directorship. A ballet artist doesn't really have a profession -- the time advances when it's necessary to assimilate a new speciality. I am not Gergiev, who's already directed for 30 years. Nevertheless, I am full of strength, energy and enthusiasm. I can still dance, two weeks ago, for example, I returned from London. But today I want to spend my strength on artistic direction. The director shapes taste. Apart from that, I very much like teaching, and next year I plan to occupy myself closely with our school.

Q: How do you feel in the role of the Novosibirsk artistic director, which you've had for two years now?

A: To be frank, I continually think that I'm doing right or wrong. But, please God, it's also necessary to make me allowances, I'm only learning this business. I don't want to make mistakes. I have a lot to learn. Artists comes to me and say, Igor Anatolievich, help me, my mother (or wife, or daughter)... This too is the what the artistic director has to do. Sometimes they ask me why we don't put on this or that production. I try to approach the repertoire accurately. It would be a pleasure to put on such masterpieces as Grigorovich's Spartacus and Legend of Love, but unfortunately I can't choose to, I don't have enough people. Now we're planning to work on a revival of Swan Lake. After the festival I have two shows at the Bolshoi Theatre, and as soon I come back we'll begin work. We'll be having a costume designer of world fame, Luisa Spinatelli from Milan. AT the end of October, Novobisirsk will see the new Swan Lake, in new designs. We are changing everything, from the flowers to the headgear, from the feathers to the leathers. Then I'll bring here seven ballerinas, we'll show Swan Lake en bloc; seven shows side by side with different interpreters in the leading role, and let the audience see and compare. It will educate taste.

We'll do the production at a level like Bayadere, which today enjoys unprecedented demand: whenever we show this ballet, the hall is always full.

Q— You have danced Bayadere on theatres in Buenos Aires, London and New York, in all the existing editions of the ballet. In Novosibirsk you put on the version by Vakhtang Chabukiani, who was your mentor at the Tbilisi school.

A— When you're 15, you don't wholly understand what a superlative individual you have in front of you. The realisation that my teacher was of the same status as Nureyev or Baryshnkov came to me much later. But as regards Bayadere, at the Maryinsky theatre they returned to the old edition. But in my view it wasn't accidental that such titans as Chabukiani produced new versions, they kept up with the times. I for my part brought to his production other characteristics. The ballet's power is such that I myself sometimes sit in the hall and I don't get tired of watching it.

Q— Specialist commentators remark on your partnering technique, but all the same it was in a duet that you received a spine injury that kept you from dancing for two years...

A— It's true, girls in the ballet come up very different. I often talk about this with my artists. 90 per cent of ballets are about love, and the audience wants to see on the stage a man and a woman. The male artist is obliged to carry the ballerina. It's a very delicate business.

Q— And in your own life what about love? Who are your family?

A— My family will arrive in a few days. My daughter is a year and a half old, my wife is a former ballerina. One of our artists twisted her ankle the day before the Golden Masks, and Yana rehearsed another girl in three rehearsals.

That's how she can help us in the festival.

Q— You give the impression of a person for whom everything in life has turned out well. Is that so?

A— You can hardly say that you are completely happy, can you? An artist cannot be self-satisfied in everything, he must do better every time, and raise the bar every time. I have had the good luck to master the chroeography of Balanchine in the place where he himself worked, and I lived for 12 years in New York. I could have remained there, but I wanted to dance MacMillan's ballets and I went to London. In our profession it's necessary to advance oneself. Of course, probably I had a talent from God, certain physical gifts, but the rest I did myself. Our profession is terribly hard, seriously physical toil 6-7 hours a day for 20 years. When you are young, many roads open in front of you, but this one is over very quickly. I say frankly, the euphoria I feel on stage I could have had nowhere else. But I understand that this period of my life is ending. And being a determined person, I am continuing to find myself, to develop, to create, which I also wish for you and all your readers too.


Product of Tbilisi choreographic academy, probationer at Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet, after graduation was taken into the Mariinsky Company (St Petersburg). At 21 received the Grand Prix in the Paris international ballet competition. Guest soloist at Deutsche Opera Berlin, for six years was a principal with New York City Ballet, and from 1997 soloist at Covent Garden, London. Danced leading roles in the most famous ballet stages of the world: in the Royal Ballet, The Bolshoi Ballet. Appeared on stages in Boston, San Francisco, Rio de Janeiro and tokyo.

Programme of the 1st Siberian Ballet Festival:

May 26: Giselle (Johan Kobborg from Royal Ballet)

May 27: Bayaderda (Igor Zelensky, Elena Vostrotina from Berlin)

May 28: Don Quixote (Ivan Vasiliev, Natalya Osipova from Bolshoi Ballet)

May 29: Bayaderka (Leonid Sarafanov, Olesya Novikova from Mariinsky)

May 30: Sleeping Beauty (Semyon Chudin from Bolshoi Ballet)

May 31: Gala Concert: guest artists and soloists of Novosibirsk State Ballet

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