Verbs of the Bolshoi: Appreciate and Create

Verbs of the Bolshoi: Appreciate and Create

June 2020. The whole world is on tiptoe, freezes at times and forgets how to breathe. Whole countries and continents, if move, do it extremely awkwardly. The virus keeps everyone in suspense, teaches to live and act in spite of the circumstances. Sports and arts are in the most disadvantageous position. The fear of missed opportunities grows stronger every day. At this very time, the Ballet Director of the State Academic Bolshoi Theater, Makhar Vaziev, announces to the dancers that they will soon return to the rehearsal halls and begin getting ready for the new season. It becomes clear then that ballet would remain in motion, despite months of forced paralysis in art.

We talked to the Bolshoi Ballet Artistic Director about what the Bolshoi Ballet dancers learned during the lockdown, whose support was the most valuable to them and which of the things done last year are especially appreciated this year. Our interview took place on the eve of the 10th performance of that very program of one-act ballets Four Characters in Search of a Plot, the work on which can’t be called anything but rapid and daring.

Makhar Khasanovich, in the first wave of the epidemic, when everyone was locked at their homes, physically and psychologically shackled, the Bolshoi Theater suddenly opened its invisible wings. How did you manage to do that?

In the spring it became obvious that everything broke down, all plans collapsed. We had our last rehearsals on March 22, and on March 28 the entire Moscow went into lockdown. And that was the moment when it suddenly dawned on me: everyone is free. (Makhar Vaziev made a list of people he needed: Italian Simon Valastro, Bulgarian Dimo Milev, French Martin Shex and "American Puerto Rican" Bryan Arias - IngoDance.)

It was already at the end of April or in May that I began to communicate with these choreographers, in June they came here and we started working in July. 

Did you have to close your eyes to the potential risks during the pandemic?

We managed to fulfill almost all the requirements of Rospotrebnadzor (Russian Agency for Health and Consumer Rights) and all other authorities, so at the end of the day choreographers were allowed to come and work. They spent the required time in a hotel in quarantine, had tests to avoid any suspicion.

Eventually, this project changed everything! I remember the situation when the troupe got out of self-isolation: everyone was uneasy, their mood - rather panicky. There was anxiety. Later many people confessed to me that they hardly understood what was happening.

Who determined the cast for the premiere?

Choreographers came to the rehearsal room to look at the dancers and find the ones that fit their style. And in a little while everything merged in emotional unity and uplift. It all captivated, carried away the dancers! I hope you will understand me correctly: it was a blessing in disguise! In the rhythm of a normal season, with performances on the call boards, this idea would be quite difficult to implement. It's no secret that, during their active stage life, all dancers dream of meeting a choreographer who would stage a new work with them. This is happiness! That is why, at that time it was kind of a salvation - this project gave us all faith that, despite the complexity of the situation, we lived and we would continue to move on and definitely we would create.

Were you sure from the very beginning that you had chosen the right way?

Our duty and vocation is to create both new performances and a new generation of dancers and teachers. And in this project everything came together. And it remains the most dear to me. Especially considering the situation in which we found ourselves. I saw how anxious people were in those days; I was sitting in my office in the same anxiety too. But how did they work! That was a moment of real joy and happiness: we go on! 

And I want to once again say my many thanks to Oleg Deripaska and Ingosstrakh for supporting this project.

Did you manage to implement your idea one hundred percent? Were you able to surprise and delight the audience?

Of course, many were puzzled, were unable to understand how is that even possible? People were just returning to normal life, very slowly - and the Bolshoi Ballet opened a new season with four absolutely new performances! Well, that's why it is the Bolshoi Theater.

How did your colleagues react to such a start of the season at the Bolshoi?

Do you know how many of my friends, acquaintances around the world, how many people sent me congratulations, how much joy they experienced because at least our life was going on? They followed us, and many are still following us. The situation is such that many of our colleagues in Europe, in America are on the verge of losing their profession. Imagine a ballet dancer who hasn't performed for over a year. This is a terrible situation! The most important thing, naturally, is that everyone is safe and healthy, it’s clear. The most valuable thing is human health. But at the same time, a lot of artists are already on the verge of losing their profession. This is scary.

When you start the season so brightly during these troubled times, it is quite difficult to keep the bar high. Even for the major theater in the country, isn't it?

It was not a one-time thing. We’ve got agreements with Ingosstrakh and a plan, which is, probably, a bit premature at the moment. But, if we succeed, I would also like to end this season with the works of new choreographers, together with Ingosstrakh. So, in that sense, this is a tremendous opportunity to expand our horizons. This is an amazing project!

Does the Bolshoi have enough talents for all these amazing projects?

Do you know how I understand the role of artistic director of any ballet company? What must they do? First of all, they must help. I don’t mean stroking the head. It is important to help artists grow. If now a dancer comes in and asks: "May I prepare and show you a certain part?" The simplest answer is no. It's harder to give them motivation. Not to kill their hope, even if they claim a part that they are unable to dance at all or today. It is worth supporting these colossal desires.

But you yourself say that desires are not always justified. Maybe it's not bad when an artist exists in a real world?

Creative people should have an illusion. Illusion means sparkling eyes, hope and aspiration! When I came to the Bolshoi, we did indoor shows. Of course, I know my dancers, but there is always a possibility that I don’t know everything. Here, every dancer can, absolutely independently, having agreed with a teacher or with a colleague, prepare a variation, any part from any ballet and show it. Any dancer. Yes, this takes time, you need to deal with this, but believe me, it gives tremendous motivation. People get hope! You see, artists of the ensemble or of the corps de ballet - they don’t ask to let them on stage with their performance right away, they just want to show you in the rehearsal hall what they are doing and how. I can't say that many, but individual artists showed themselves very convincingly during such demonstrations. And I gave them the parts that they were preparing to perform on stage.

That is why you don’t announce the cast in advance - not to exclude the appearance of new stars?

Dear ballet lovers, please believe me there is nothing difficult in determining the cast six months in advance and posting it on the website so that the whole world knows. Why don’t we do that? Let me explain: you need to take into account the specifics. You can’t announce all the artists in advance, because injuries happen, something else, so the cast will change all the time. But that's half the trouble. The worst part is that if you announce the cast six months in advance, you take away hope from all those who are not on the list. And casts are not only about the leading parts. Behind the leads, there are so many others: the second, the third, the fourth. And, of course, every dancer must have the belief that if you work hard, you will have a chance to grow.