Bolshoi Ballet Director Makhar Vaziev Talks Future Plans and Rising Stars
Makhar Vaziev is no stranger to running world-class ballet companies. Yet after 13 years at the Mariinsky Ballet and seven leading La Scala Ballet, Vaziev's return to Russia as head of the Bolshoi in 2016 came as a surprise to many. Not only is the Bolshoi the rival to his former St. Petersburg employer, but his arrival also followed the scandalous acid attack on his predecessor, Sergei Filin. Now comfortably ensconced in his new Moscow post, Vaziev is intent on bringing the Bolshoi up to the standards he expects wherever he reigns. American audiences will have their first look at the company under his leadership this month at Lincoln Center, first in "Diamonds" and "Rubies" as part of the 50th-anniversary celebration of Balanchine's Jewels (July 20–23), then in Jean-Christophe Maillot's The Taming of the Shrew (July 26–30).How did the Bolshoi's participation in the Lincoln Center Jewels project come to pass?
I was informed about this project while I was still at La Scala. The idea was agreed upon before I moved to Moscow, and plans were already under way.
What dancers should we watch for?
Alyona Kovalyova, Margarita Shrainer, Anastasia Denisova, Xenia Zhiganshina, Elvina Ibraimova—these are the next generation of stars. We have a short artistic life and have to act quickly; if you wait one year, a certain dancer's chance may be lost. It's important to promote young dancers while there are great ballerinas in the theater, like Svetlana Zakharova, Ekaterina Krysanova and Olga Smirnova, so the younger generation has an example to look up to.
The Bolshoi's Olga Smirnova and Semyon Chudin in Balanchine's "Diamonds." Photo by Elena Fetisova/Bolshoi Theatre, Courtesy Bolshoi.
What are your plans for the company?
When I accepted this position, Vladimir Urin set a concrete task before me about what he wanted to see from the troupe, and we came to a mutual agreement about that. In terms of classical ballet, I prefer irreproachable, ideal form, and that doesn't change from theater to theater. What I demand of the dancers here today—the highest level of performing, both aesthetically and technically, among other things—is nothing new to them, but it's possible no one paid attention to it before. I was, am and will always be a product of the Leningrad-Petersburg school, but I don't like to compare the Mariinsky and the Bolshoi. The Mariinsky dancers may perform better in some areas, the Bolshoi in others. For me the most important thing is to find the balance between physical form and artistic content, and that dancers promote an intelligent stage culture that is tasteful, academic and stylized when need be.
Makhar Vaziev. Photo courtesy State Academic Bolshoi Theatre of Russia.
How is running the Bolshoi different from your previous positions?
La Scala was different because everything was new for me: new system, culture, values. Working in the Bolshoi or Mariinsky, you know there's a guarantee, the presence of the training behind the dancers, the Vaganova Ballet Academy and the Moscow State Academy of Choreography. After working abroad you start to miss that, though at the same time I'm very grateful for my "Italian period."
The Bolshoi is a huge empire with huge demands. You have to accurately understand what you're moving towards and why. Any decision you make has to be clear: Can you influence the artistry in order to further development? With more experience comes greater doubt. Don't forget that there's a difference in me now, too; nine years have passed since I left the Mariinsky.
We've been saying for years that dance training has benefits that reach far beyond preparation for a professional dance career: The discipline and attention to detail fostered in technique class, the critical thinking skills acquired in composition, and the awareness and rapid reaction times required for improvisation can all carry over into other fields.
But what if a choreographic tool kit could have a more direct application outside the studio? Say, to city planning?
"What if you could learn from the world's best dance teachers in your living room?" This is the question that Dancio poses on their website. Dancio is a new startup that offers full length videos of ballet classes taught by master teachers. As founder Caitlin Trainor puts it, "these superstar teachers can be available to students everywhere for the cost of a cup of coffee."
For Trainor, a choreographer and the artistic director of Trainor Dance, the idea for Dancio came from a sense of frustration relatable to many dancers; feeling like they need to warm up properly before rehearsals, but not always having the time, energy or funds to get to dance class. One day while searching the internet for a quick online class, Trainor was shocked to not be able to find anything that, as she puts it, "hit the mark in terms of relevance and quality. I thought to myself, how does this not exist?" she says. "We have the Daily Burn for Fitness, YogaGlo for yogis, Netflix for entertainment and nothing for dancers! But then I thought, I can make this!" And thus, Dancio (the name is a combination of dance and video), was born.
There's a surprising twist to Regina Willoughby's last season with Columbia City Ballet: It's also her 18-year-old daughter Melina's first season with the company. Regina, 40, will retire from the stage in March, just as her daughter starts her own career as a trainee. But for this one season, they're sharing the stage together.
Last night, the New York City Ballet board of directors approved ballet master in chief Peter Martins' request for a temporary leave of absence amidst an ongoing investigation into sexual harassment.
The investigation came to light on Monday, when the New York Times reported that NYCB and the School of American Ballet had hired a law firm to investigate their leader after receiving an anonymous letter detailing instances of harassment.
You dance like a knockout—but can you take a punch? Intense stage combat is a crucial element in many shows, from the sword fighting in Romeo & Juliet to the left hooks of the Broadway musical Rocky. But performing it well requires careful body awareness, trust and a full commitment to safety. Whether you're dancing a pivotal battle in a story ballet or intense partnering in a contemporary piece, these expert tips can help you make your fight scenes convincing, compelling and safe.
1. Master the Basics
When Luke Ingham was cast as Tybalt in San Francisco Ballet's Romeo & Juliet, he spent a full month practicing the basic body positions, footwork and momentum of fencing. "You need to be really grounded, you need to know where your feet are," Ingham says.
Brooklyn-based burlesque troupe Company XIV isn't afraid to take risks. Nutcracker Rouge, their take on the holiday classic, features a cast of jack-of-all-trades dancers who double as greeters, ushers, singers, actors and aerialists, while baring a good amount of skin but even more confidence. (Disclaimer: The show is for mature audiences only.) What's most impressive about these artists is how captivating they are. Regardless of what style of dance you do, if you want to become a better performer, consider taking a page out of their playbook.
You've got to be "on" the moment the audience walks in the front door.
Former New York City Ballet dancer Wilhelmina Frankfurt first spoke out about sexual misconduct at NYCB in Psychology Tomorrow in 2012. Since October, she's been working with The Washington Post reporter Sarah Kaufman for a story about Peter Martins, and when the School of American Ballet began investigating Martins for an anonymous accusation, she was called in to discuss her experiences. But Frankfurt feels there's more to the larger picture, and shares that here with Dance Magazine, as edited by Maggie Levin.
In 1994, I began to write a book of essays about my life in dance—mostly as an exercise. When the #MeToo movement began this year, I knew it was time to brush the dust off and take another look. Although incomplete, these essays addressed the roots that have long run between sexual abuse, alcoholism and ballet. They involve George Balanchine, Peter Martins and numerous stars of the New York City Ballet. It's painfully clear that my story is the same story that has occurred thousands of times, all over the world.
I'm heartbroken that I might have to drop out of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. My back has been spasming since I did an extra-high kick to the back. My X-ray and MRI are normal, but my doctor thinks I hurt my sacroiliac joint. Physical therapy hasn't helped yet. How can I know for sure that this is the real problem?
—Injured Rockette, New York, NY
Freddie Kimmel's musical theater career was just taking off when he woke up one morning with a pain in his groin. A trip to the doctor assured him it was nothing of concern, even though the sensation returned a few months later. As a dancer, Kimmel was used to pushing through discomfort, so he kept going to dance class to "work it out."
But the pain persisted. During a run of The Full Monty at Westchester Broadway Theatre, Kimmel was diagnosed with advanced metastasized cancer. Ten tumors had infiltrated his body.
Japanese-born, New York–based choreographer Kota Yamazaki returns to his roots as a butoh dancer in Darkness Odyssey Part 2: I or Hallucination. He explores butoh founder Tatsumi Hijikata's idea of the extreme fragility of the body. Yamazaki is joined by contemporary luminaries Julian Barnett, Raja Feather Kelly, Joanna Kotze and Mina Nishimura, each of whom engages in drastically eccentric pathways, making the body appear to disintegrate before your eyes. Music is by Kenta Nagai and visual environment by lighting wizard Thomas Dunn. Dec. 13–15, Baryshnikov Arts Center. bacnyc.org.