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.
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.
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.