The following was transcribed from the July 17, 2012 National Press Club Newsmakers event with Oleg Vinogradov, Russian Master Choreographer and Emeritus Kirov / Mariinsky Artistic Director, speaking to the audience with the assistance of a translator. This is the third in a four-part series.
Part 3: Makarova, Nureyev, Baryshnikov, Béjart, and the Future of Ballet
“I was a school mate at the Vaganova Ballet Academy of Rudolf Nureyev. Here I have an evaluation (OV shows the document to the audience) of Nureyev from the 8th grade in regular school, before he went to the Vaganova Ballet Academy. His grades were middle level to average range, he was not interested in school and would prefer to go to the dance school, he skipped classes and was described in this evaluation as “nervous, explosive…cursing and fighting with his comrades.” Since I knew him he was a fanatic of this (Ballet) art form from childhood, he dedicated his life to it.
He is the only dancer I know of to do 300 performances in a year. I was shocked when he emigrated from Russia and wasn’t allowed to meet with or talk to him. I was actually warned that if I saw Nureyev, or Baryshnikov or Makarova, to cross the street and avoid them. But I did it ‘incognito.’ It was like a detective or a suspense story. Nureyev and I mostly met in Paris. He always asked about the ballets and the dancers at the Kirov.
Later when I was able to invite him back, he wasn’t in good shape at the time. I invited him to dance his last performance on Kirov stage (Le Sylphide). It was an exceptional show and one of two best in history of classical ballet (the other is Giselle which was one of his first performances when he was young). An example for him was Erik Bruhn, but Nureyev couldn’t dance the part of James quite as well. But that Kirov performance was very, very useful for the Kirov company because the entire performance demonstrated his unbelievable presence and the art of the execution. We said goodbye to each other at this time and I presented to him a wooden piece of the Kirov Theater floor on which he used to dance, which I had kept a piece when the theater was renovated and a new floor put in. He was very appreciative. The greatest dancer… interesting… very difficult personality.
(Editor’s note: At Rudolf Nureyev’s funeral in 1992, held in the foyer of the Paris Garnier Opera House, many paid tributes to his brilliance as a dancer, including Oleg Vinogradov.)
Mikhail Baryshnikov was very different than Nureyev. He graduated from academy and developed in front of my eyes. His was an evolution. Nureyev danced better than others before him and Baryshnikov danced better than Nureyev. I can watch the evolution in today’s dancers, which is different and not comparable to the previous generation. It is very interesting to watch this evolution.
Natalia Makarova, what can I say, she was a wonderful dancer. She was among the few that had some of the best ballet form. She was one of the ideal symbols and instruments of ballet, if ever possible. She had good schooling and was able to hone her skills by dancing in the west, where she found all styles: classical repertoire, modern, and all others.
Maurice Béjart is a very interesting choreographer. He preached classical dance, started in classical dance, used classical dance, and no one could do it as well as he could. His ballets always had drama, theme, story, and were not abstract. Audiences loved them as a result. It is impossible to describe the reaches of his real theater productions… lights, choreography, costumes, scenery, and story. The first time he presented in Russia, I brought him to a ballet festival. It was eye opening for the audience to see the new possibilities of classical ballet style. The Russians discovered these (modern European) choreographers later than others, but when they did come to the Russian stage, I felt it was very important to introduce these basics to a new generation of young choreographers. Now they are a lucky generation. They have the Internet and can see anything and can get a lot of information easily.
Ballet is dying… today, nobody wants to be in the business of beautiful ballet. I am preaching the ballet as a symbol of beauty, and most of all the female beauty. During the time of romantic ballet, women were honored to be used in development of Pointe shoes. Now the more ugly and frightening a ballet, the more interesting for today’s audiences. Different generations have different perceptions of beauty.
(When asked about the future of Russian ballet) I really cannot tell what is ahead. During the communist era, the Soviet Union had 55 ballet companies with classical repertoire and 14 professional ballet schools. Today there are no more than 10 companies/theaters left and only 5 professional ballet schools. That is a big difference from my generation. What is happening and coming in the future… as long as we’re alive, we will be faithful to the ballet, which we love.”
Stay tuned for Part 4 of this series—Mr. Vinogradov answers questions from National Press Club journalists on current politics, ballet under communism, and his next ballet project.