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.
Last night, American Ballet Theatre held its annual Fall Gala at the David H. Koch Theater in New York City. To celebrate ABT's artistic director Kevin McKenzie's 25 years of leadership, dancers from ABT's company, apprentices, studio company members and students from the Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis School took to the stage in Jessica Lang's The Gift, Alexei Ratmansky's Songs of Bukovina and Christopher Wheeldon's Thirteen Diversions.
But we also love a good behind-the-scenes glimpse—especially when designer gowns are involved. And the dancers gave us plenty of glam looks to obsess over once the curtains closed. Ahead, see our favorite moments from gala straight from the dancers.
Devon Teuscher in the floral print suit of our dreams (by designer Patricia Bonaldi) practices her dance moves with Christine Shevchenko. Both girls accessorized with sparkling jewels from gala sponsor de Grisogono.
The dancers file into an audition room. They are given a number and asked to wait for registration to finish before the audition starts. At the end of the room, behind a table and a computer (and probably a number of mobile devices), there I sit, doing audio tests and updating the audition schedule as the room fills up with candidates. The dancers, more nervous than they need to be, see me, typing, perhaps teasing my colleagues, almost certainly with a coffee cup at my side.
Last week Ballet West breezed into New York City's Joyce Theater from Salt Lake City. The dancers are excellent—especially the women (what else is new). The company brought five pieces including works by Gerald Arpino, Val Caniparoli and resident choreographer Nicolo Fonte.
Arpino's last work, made in 2004, is a duet called RUTH, Ricordi per Due ("remembrance for two"). It's about a man haunted by the memory of the woman he loved. Christopher Ruud is strong and sensitive as the man, and Arolyn Williams is riveting as the ghost of his beloved.
Val Caniparoli energizes his dancers with juicy movement, and always sticks to his theme. (He doesn't ramble, and let's face it, long rambling choreography is a problem these days.) In his premiere for Ballet West, Dances for Lou, he takes on the music of Lou Harrison, a composer known for his Eastern sounds and rhythms.
Photo by Filip VanRoe, courtesy Marquee
Your Saturday nights are about to go from "Netflix and chill" to "Marquee and chill." (Okay, maybe we'll need to coin a new phrase).
But seriously, the new streaming app Marquee Arts TV lets you curl up with Bolshoi Ballet's Swan Lake, Sylvie Guillem dancing Mats Ek's solo Bye, a dance film by Cullberg Ballet called 40 M Under, or a documentary about Alonzo King and LINES Ballet. Marquee unlocks a world of digital arts: dance, theater, opera, music, documentaries and film shorts that you can stream directly to your TV or mobile device.
When Simone Forti moved from California to New York City in 1960, she brought with her the improvisational approach of Anna Halprin. As one of the first five students in Robert Dunn's John Cage–inspired composition course (that led to Judson Dance Theater), she was a magnet for two others in that class: Yvonne Rainer and Steve Paxton. This month the three reunite for Tea for Three, an evening of moving and talking at Danspace Project, Oct. 26–28. It's a chance to see how dance mavericks grow and change and mellow. Forti will also give "Body Mind World" workshops Oct. 19–20. danspaceproject.org.
When you're dancing for what feels like eight days a week, it takes more than just stretching to put your body back in order. You need a good rub down. Unfortunately, most of us don't exactly have the money to afford an on-call personal masseuse.
The solution: Self-massage, with foam rollers, lacrosse balls, elbows and anything else that can help loosen up your muscles. We dug into Dance Magazine's archives to find the best pieces of advice we've published on the topic. Follow these rules to get what you, ahem, knead out of self-massage.
This week American Ballet Theatre launches its fall season at Lincoln Center with an exciting lineup of performances. One last-minute addition to the program is a new work from Benjamin Millepied, which will be performed by ABT Studio Company and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School dancers in the theater's promenade during select intermissions. Although the specifics of the performance are hush hush, we stepped into the studio with Millepied for an inside look.
What has it been like to choreograph on younger dancers and how, if at all, did you change your approach?
To be honest, they're really good. Rhythmically, it's not easy at all and they've done incredibly well. The piece could be longer. It's really one movement but, for the first time, to use that space it felt right. Nothing says I couldn't add two more movements next season to make it longer.
What are your thoughts on bringing classical ballet outside the proscenium setting?
For me, it's great to think of spaces theatrically. We build sets with lighting and props, but there are also all these environments that are beautiful and theatrical, and with a little bit of work you can create something within them and that becomes site-specific. That's really fun because you create something really specific for the environment.
What would you like to see more of from young ballet dancers?
What I would want to see more of in ballet is just more interesting collaborations. These ballet dancers are great and they're ready and what they need is more interesting work. I feel people are playing it safe a lot. If anything, I think it's the choreographers and the directors who need to make an effort for these dancers who have made this art form their passion, and to really be as daring or at least as relevant as some of our peers were when they were commissioning pieces a long time ago.
For many victims of recent natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Maria, the new "normal" involves power outages, food shortages and massive property damage. The dance community has stepped up to help by doing what they do best: This Sunday, October 22, members from major American companies will perform in two separate concerts in New York City, benefitting those affected by the hurricanes in Texas and Puerto Rico.