Ballet: Toward Victory Without Hesitation

Ballet: Toward Victory Without Hesitation

Record a video of a classical dance lasting from 5 to 15 minutes, send it to the e-mail of the competition committee: balletonstage@bolshoi.ru, and believe in your own success. Perhaps, there has never been such a short way to the Bolshoi ballet. The major theater of the country, together with the Ingosstrakh company, is completing the intermediate correspondence stage of auditions for the youth regional ballet program. The Artistic Director of the Bolshoi Ballet, Makhar Vaziev, told us about who the judges were, why the audience couldn’t vote for their favorite artists, and about the competition among young artists. But he has kept the names of his favorites a secret so far.

- The Bolshoi Theater youth program for ballet dancers - what is the peculiarity and ultimate goal of this project?

- First of all, this is a regional project. “Regional” is not just a figure of speech. It is clear that today the opportunities that the Bolshoi Theater and the Bolshoi Ballet have, hardly any other schools in the country have. They teach, and there are very good teachers there, but their graduates remain there, in the localities. The next steps for dancers are very difficult. We give an opportunity to undertake an internship - provided that the candidates have the capabilities and basic schooling required to complete our program. After completing all the stages, most of the participants will return home. But they will get a huge chance to be accepted into the troupe of the Bolshoi Theater later.

- Is the program designed for a flow of students or are its conditions individual for each artist?

- We are not talking about specific terms: it may be five months, six or seven. After all, everything is individual: those who are more capable, more susceptible - they are quick on the uptake. And I am sure that this is not a one-time thing, the program will become a permanent source of dancers for our ballet company.

- Makhar Khasanovich, is there really such a shortage of staff that Bolshoi went to the regions and decided to create some sort of a Russian national team?

 - Of course, we are not talking about any shortage of staff today. Of course not! We have completely different tasks. Far from the idea of assembling a ballet national team. You see, we don’t need a youth ballet program for a national team. I have complete information about all the troupes in Russia, I can just call a certain person and say, “I invite you, please come.” The goal of the youth program is different - to inspire.

- Is it already clear at the first stage of the Bolshoi youth program which of the Russian regions is more confident in its own capabilities? Where did the most applications come from?

- I will surprise you! I could’ve told you about the regions that bring out their capabilities more vividly, that have classical dance school. But it is more interesting where the applications came from. For example, a performance by a girl from the North Caucasus - I was amazed! And the first question that arises is who is the teacher of this girl? For certain reasons, good, knowledgeable teachers do not always end up in the best schools or theaters, they stay in their places. And there, not having all the infrastructure required to create a classical dancer, they still manage to teach! These, although individual, examples command tremendous respect, so I wouldn’t like to single out any regions, especially now.

- How many applications have you received and reviewed at the correspondence stage? Is it already clear how many serious contenders to win you have?

 - There are heaps of applications, I didn't even count them. In the first season of the program we will take, I suppose, seven or eight, ten people tops. Then, we’ll see.

- How did you determine the limit? Will it be difficult to give what they need to a larger number of people?

 - Let's start with the fact that the artists we invite will be on us. They won’t work at this time. Our deepest gratitude is to Ingosstrakh for supporting the project: the participants will be paid travel expenses and a stipend. The Bolshoi Theater will be in charge of providing accommodation. That is why, seven to ten people is an optimal number. Although... If suddenly we have 15 or 20 extraordinarily talented applicants - well, we'll decide then. But for now, we proceed according to our plan.

- Who, besides you, is on the competition committee?

- At the first stage, I watch the applicants’ performances myself. But when the artists are already here and demonstrate their capabilities live, everyone who wants can come to the audition - both teachers and leading soloists. This is interesting!

- Makhar Khasanovich, in our online era, didn’t you want to attract the Internet audience? To make an interactive show out of your audition with voting in social media, with an audience award?

- You know, since we are doing ballet professionally, it is the professional point of view that is important here. We remember that participants of the program have a chance to join the Bolshoi Theater troupe. You know, I'm not a big fan of making decisions when there are people on the committee who do not bear any responsibility. Of course, it is interesting to know opinion of amateurs, but much more important is my own vision and the vision of my colleagues! So, your call for...

- Excuse me, but it was not a call but rather a question why you didn’t follow the fashion trend.

- Right, you said that it is so fashionable today. This sounds like a call to me. Let's reason. Okay, we create a world panel but who is responsible for all that? Pardon me, but if I am, then, probably, I should have the right to make decisions. As there is the sport of records, the Bolshoi Theater means art of the highest world level. And here, in order to comply, to make decisions, to participate in decision-making, super-professionals are required. I don’t want to offend anyone and take away from anyone's merits, but this selection is the lot of professionals. As for the online community, we will talk on other topics there.

- Those who took part in the correspondence stage are worried, because the intramural audition stage was initially planned for February. Has something changed?

-  I won’t hide it from you, I’ve already made my choice among those who sent applications. But applications are still coming. That is why we are going to have the audition in the 20s of February.

- The audition stage is always associated with excitement, because this is no regular performance conducted in conditions usual for a dancer. Will the committee be able to make the right choice?

- Fear, anxiety, excitement are always there when an actor takes part in an audition, not to mention going on stage. But no matter how worried they are, you can always see the capabilities and the skills they have, how strong and professional their school is. Excitement plays a role here, of course, but, believe me, it is insignificant. I remember the first auditions when I started working with La Scala - they have very tough conditions in this regard. A dancer comes in, says his number, variation, from which ballet. He starts well, but the second part of the variation goes all wrong because of excitement. I stop him and invite to take a breath and do it again. Others said to me: "No, you can't do that, maestro!" I objected: "Why not? This is an audition. Otherwise, we might miss bright talents."

- In other words, young artists can be one hundred percent sure that the assessment will be fair but encouraging?

 - Please understand, it is not just about their coming, showing a lesson and variations. If something goes wrong during the audition, well, of course, I will stop the artist and say: "Do it again!"

- Who will work with young artists from the regions? Maybe this is an opportunity for you to look at some new teachers in practice?

- They will work with different teachers - both young and distinguished teachers, of course. You need to understand that the Bolshoi Theater and the Bolshoi Ballet are a huge empire. And while we must raise a new generation of artists, we must also train a new generation of teachers. Today we are actively working in this field. Among the young and capable teachers who have joined our ranks, I can name Maria Allash and Anna Leonova. There is Pyotr Kazmiruk - a wonderful teacher who works with the male corps de ballet. This is great Elena Panina. And Ruslan Skvortsov, whom I gave this opportunity to work in order to see how his pedagogical skills will develop. There are Sonya Lyubimova, Sasha Volchkov, Misha Lobukhin and many others. This is a necessity, I must raise the next generation, although our senior, authoritative, respected teachers are working successfully.

- The artists will come to Moscow, they will gain experience, communicate with the teachers of the Bolshoi. What about the teachers who taught them in the regions? Won’t their authority be devalued?

- You see, the thing is that those whom we will eventually invite to participate in our project were taught by certain teachers. This automatically implies their level and reputation. In fact, we also want to support the teachers who taught artists what they can do today. The teacher is always in the shadow, even in case of famous artists. This is the specificity of this work.

- So, the youth program is only part of a large-scale project?

- Before the pandemic, we, together with Ingosstrakh, developed a plan to support regional schools. We met with many leaders. I believe we must help, support schools in the regions. They’ve got great teachers there. They don’t always have the best conditions, but they work selflessly, devote all their energy to work. When we met with leaders of different schools, many of their difficulties became clearer to us. We're all in this together. And in this sense, we, I mean primarily the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky Theaters, of course, should help regions where there are problems.

- Do you already know what you will do about it and when?

- Unfortunately, this work has been interrupted for obvious reasons. But we will definitely come back to it as soon as the situation improves. For example, we will organize joint performances on stage of the Bolshoi Theater. Exchange teachers, dancers. Ingosstrakh is also ready to support regional schools. Many things were discussed, so I am sure that we will continue with this plan in the future, and implement some concrete solutions.

- An internship at the Bolshoi is a unique opportunity for artists not only from Russian theaters. Didn’t you want to erase borders?

- You can't even imagine how many artists from abroad send their videos. But this is an absolutely Russian project. We didn't even call it international. I don't know what happened to the world. Some very young artists sent their videos. They are, of course, trained in different ways, but in terms of material, they are amazing, just amazing. Well developed and capable, with good, beautiful proportions, legs. From the Czech Republic, Finland, France... Since so many people from different countries are eager to participate, perhaps, in the future, we will expand our geography - and we may, in the future, do a similar international youth project.

- If you look at the youth program a bit from the outside, it seems that for the ballet world it’s another opportunity to increase competition. Is this justified?

- There must be competition. During the existence of classical ballet and theater, opera and ballet in general, certain traditions and a certain form of work have developed in Russia. On the one hand, we have a very flexible system, as well as the youngest ballet - we have always taken into account the criterion of 20 years of experience, and due to this, a rapid generation change took place. There are exceptions when it comes to outstanding people. But in principle, our system differs in that there is a possibility of huge competition inside the company. In the West, they have a clear classification, and until the place of a soloist becomes vacant, there will be no changes. When will this happen? In four years, for instance. And if you are perfect for this job, you have to make a decision whether to wait another four years or to go to another theater? This is a tough system, and it is easy to miss the most important thing - a person's talent. That is why we focus on something else and build our entire system for the talent.

- The Bolshoi youth program seems to become part of this system. Do you already know when the next selection session will start?

- Let us begin in 2021, and in the future... Maybe, as I said, we will make the program international. We’ll see.

- What would you recommend to the participants - to those who haven’t yet decided whether to send their applications or not, maybe not for this stage?

- I’d like to tell those who want to participate in this project but think that they won’t be able to get into the Bolshoi Theater: believe me, we have absolute transparency!  I've already heard that, well, you need to have some kind of connections, acquaintances here ... There should be only one connection - with talent and capability!  If you have them, it's worth taking part. We want to give professional artists the widest opportunities to improve, to give them a chance to reveal their talent more. And this is our ultimate goal.

- Makhar Khasanovich, is it possible that you, as a carrier of classical dance culture, initiate or support a show  called Ballet, something like the projects Dancing on Ice or The Voice?

- You know, everything is developing so rapidly... Let’s say it this way, you called it correctly - it’s a “show”. What is a show? A show is a demonstration. We don’t do shows here. But I wouldn’t say it conservatively: "No, no, no!" If it is interesting, artistic, bright, if it provokes movement - I can’t exclude anything.