Peter Bohlin: Yuri Fateyev, leader of The Mariinsky Ballet
– one of the world's foremost ensembles
HELSINKI: There are moments when you think nothing could be better. One such moment was when the Mariinsky Ballet guested in Helsinki earlier this year and performed Balanchine's Jewels. The last act, Diamonds, with Russian dancers, Russian music and Russian orchestra, was for me a rare treat bordering on an hour of worship.
As correspondent for Dansportalen I was was granted an interview with the artistic director of the company, Yuri Fateyev. The Artistic Director of The Mariinsky Theatre, conductor Valery Gergiev, is head of both the opera and the ballet departments of the theatre. Mr Fateyev's title is Deputy Director and he is responsible for the ballet company directly under Mr Gergiev.
Victoria Tereshkina and Vladimir Shklyarov in Theme and Variations. Photo Mariinsky Ballet
Here follows the interview:
Mr Fateyev, may we ask you to give us an outline of your career?
Yuri Fateyev. Photographer O Zotov
I was born in Leningrad in the former Soviet Union and started to learn ballet at the Vaganova Academy in 1974. I graduated in 1982 and got the opportunity to be a member in the corps de ballet of the Kirov Ballet company. I also danced many solo parts like the Jester in Swan Lake, Golden Idol in La Bayadère, Peasant pas de deux in Giselle and Pas de trois in Paquita.
In 1995 I started to work as a ballet teacher – teaching classes, rehearsing a little bit. In that time we staged a ballet by José Antonio, the Spanish choreographer and famous dancer. The ballet was called Goya, and I was assisting him as ballet master. That was my first experience of this kind.
The following year, we started work on the Roland Petit ballets Le jeune homme et la mort and Carmen. I became ballet master also for those and was assisting the persons who came to stage the ballets.
In 1997 people came to stage ballets like Serenade, Symphony in C and Tchaikovsky pas de deux, and I was so lucky to get the opportunity to assist thhttp://www.dansbutiken.com/em. The Kirov company had got the first experience of Balanchine ballets in 1986. Then Francia Russell from the Balanchine trust was staging Theme and Variations and Suzanne Farrell was staging Scottish Symphony. I danced in these ballets and enjoyed that very much.
When Francia Russell came back to stage Serenade, Apollo and Tchaikovsky pas de deux, I assisted her, and she liked me. I liked both the work and the Balanchine choreography very much.
The next time when we had the huge project of Jewels, included in our Helsinki program, the Balanchine trust made a special condition in the contract for me to oversee all Balanchine ballets at the Mariinsky Theatre. I am so happy because I love to work with such nice people as Suki Schorer and Karin von Aroldingen, who came to the Mariinsky Theatre to stage that beautiful programme.
Rubies – in the center Diana Vishneva. Photo Mariinsky Ballet
Our next project is The Prodigal Son, La Valse and Ballet Imperial. We have a great many Balanchine ballets in the Mariinsky Ballet repertory. Right now we are reviving Theme and Variations, which we gave last season. From next season we will also revive Scottish Symphony. We are once more inviting special teachers from the Balanchine trust in order to get a nice, high quality. The generation of danc-ers is changing, and the new dancers must have the completely pure Balanchine style.
I suppose the dancers also love the Balanchine style.
Pure, classic. academic – yes.
Yuri Fateyev rehersing Emeralds with Daria Vasnetsova och Alexander Sergeyev. In the backgroundSvetlana Ivanova, Maksim Zyuzin and Yana Selina. Photographer Cristian Hillbom
Since when are you responsible for the whole company?
Two years ago, in the first days of April 2008 (an anniversary!), I was elected acting director for the ballet company's tour to New York, which was the start of my career as deputy director of the company.
I supervised so many ballets in the company before I was given the position as ballet director, and I know the company very well because I work with all the dancers in the company, all principals and soloists.
I work as ballet master for principal dancers like Igor Zelensky, Andrian Fadeyev, Diana Vishneva and Svetlana Zaharova. Right now I'm working with Vladimir Shklyarov, the young, very tall dancer who made his first performance of Diamonds in Helsinki. I am so happy to work with him.
I also work with John Neumeier. He is staging three ballets – Spring and Fall, Now and Then and Sounds of Empty Pages – for the Mariinsky theatre and I assist him also. This is a great experience for me too.
Ekaterina Kondaurova and Anton Pimonov. Photographer Cristian Hillbom
The Mariinsky Ballet has an enormous repertory. Are you the supervisor of all ballets, or are you concentrating on the Balanchine repertory?I supervise all the ballets. I need to do that, because I want to keep the high quality of all the repertory at the Mariinsky Ballet. This is my dream. I think the company is one of the most beautiful ones in the whole world.
What do you know about ballet and dance in Sweden?
You know, I have worked in Stockholm. That was in autumn 2000, when Petter Jacobsson was artistic director of the Royal Swedish Ballet. Natalia Makarova was staging Giselle and I was teaching classes and rehearsing with the company. A nice experience, and a privilege for me was that Mats Ek and Ana Laguna came to take my classes.
Did you see any of Mats Ek's works?
Of course. Our ballet festival in April this year included Mats Ek's Giselle performed by the Ballet de l'Opéra de Lyon. It was the tenth time the festival was held, so it's an anniversary. 2010 is also a "Year of Russia and France", and the Lyon Ballet's tour to our festival is supported by the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation, so that performance is an extra important one
Is your festival always held in April?
No, not every year. Last year we held it in March. Next year it will also be in April.
Yuri Fateyev and Daria Vasnetsova. Photographer Cristian Hillbom
Dancers of today have to know such a lot – not only ballet but also many contemporary techniquesThat's right. My opinion is that dancers with very good ballet technique can dance everything, but not the other way around. Now, in our modern world, young dancers like to perform modern works. It is very important for them. At the same time, everyone likes to dance classical ballet because, I think, classical ballet will never die. Masterpieces like Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and La Bayadère will stay alive forever.
An important, serious work is to discover new talented choreographers who will make ballet live in the future. Today, there are not so many famous choreographers, as in the middle of the 19th century. Petipa was an amazing experience for the Russian ballet. Now, new choreogaphers are growing up.
Our April festival included a special evening, called "A new generation". There, I gave the chance for three young persons from around the world. One is Yuri Smekalov, a Russian boy who is a soloist in the Mariinsky ballet. He won a gold medal for choreography last year at the XI International Ballet Dancers' and Choreographers' Competition in Moscow. He staged Ravel's Bolero under the title Bolero Factory, with eight dancers.
Jerome Robbins In the Night med Viktoria Terjosjkina and Yuri Smekalov. Photo Mariinsky Ballet
Emil Faskin, who graduated from the Vaganova Academy, is now working in Stuttgart. He started doing choreography in 2007, and he is very talented. His new ballet is called Simple Things, also for eight dancers, to music by Arvo Pärt.
Edward Liang is the third young choreographer. He is Chinese-American, already famous, as he already created pieces for the New York City Ballet and more than ten other companies. He has already had experience working with Russian dancers, as he worked with Yuri Zelensky in the Novosibirsk Ballet. Now he worked with our dancers, mounting a ballet called Flight of Angels, for nine dancers.
Another idea with commissioning ballets from young choreographers is, of course, to give them chances to create new stars. In the company, we have so many beautiful dancers, and each one of the choreographers is working with a young star. So, Yuri Smekalov worked with Victoria Tereshkina, leading soloist in Jewels. She is an amazing ballerina. I think she is unique. She can do everything, and she is making it look so easy. And if things look easy for the audience – then it is high quality, and her quality is amazing. She makes difficult things look like playing a game, a funny game.
Emil Faskin created a piece for a very talented ballerina, Yekaterina Kondaurova. She was dancing a horse in The Little Hump-Backed Horse yesterday. Tonight she will be one of the soloists in Rubies.
Leonid Sarafanov in The Prodigal Son. Photo Mariinsky Ballet
Flight of Angels was staged specially for a great star in the company: Leonid Sarafanov. I want to try to explore other aspects of his talent by asking other choreographers to create ballets especially for him. He is a beautiful, technical dancer, but I think there is more of his talent to be revealed.
Now when we are trying, we don't know the result. But if we don't try, we shall never know. Maybe there will be mistakes, but again: one must not be so afraid of making mistakes that one ends up mak-ing nothing. We might make mistakes, but we may also find success. It is so important to try.
I could not agree more. How long in advance do you have to plan seasons?
In certain cases, we plan two or three years ahead. We are planning the next season now, but it is too soon to reveal any details.
In The Little Hump-backed Horse – the opening performance in Helsinki – there seemed to be about seventy dancers on stage.
Thirty-three female and forty male dancers, yes. The company has a little less than two hundred dancers, more exactly one hundred and eighty-eight. It might seem to be too big a company, but we need all the dancers, as we are performing in the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg at the same time as we are guest performing, like here in Helsinki. And the Mariinsky ballet is touring a lot.
Just a few days ago, we came back from a tour to Hong Kong, where we gave six performances of Don Quixote. And during that time half the company was performing in St Petersburg. As you know, the ballet world is a dangerous one. Dancers sometimes get injured, or pregnant. Right now, nine girls in the company are pregnant. Also, many dancers are needed in operas like Ruslan and Lyudmila, Ivan Susanin, Yevgenij Onegin and Queen of Spades – and every year, dancers leave the company. We need a good inflow of talent.
The Vaganova Academy is giving us possibilities to find new dancers for the company. This is an important and nice tradition from the times when the Imperial Theatre School had the same direction as the Imperial Theatre. Then pupils from the school were invited to join the theatre. That tradition is continuing, and every year we get new dancers from the Vaganova Academy.
An average year, how many dancers do you take into the company from the Vaganova Academy? And are you able to take a pupil on "probation" for a year or two?
Two years ago, sixteen young dancers from the Vaganova Academy joined the company, nine girls and seven boys. All of them are still working in the company. The selecting board then made a very good job. If we are not sure about a young dancer, we don't take him or her into the company.
I start looking for future dancers two years before they graduate, because I need to see the pupils growing up. I am also in the jury of the final examination, and then I have seen the development dur-ing the last few years. In October last year I observed the final classes in order to start making an opinion of which dancers I would like to join the company.
In April these classes had their final examinations. Then I could go to the school to make the decisions about next year's new dances.
Elena Vorontsova, Yuri Fateyev, Jekaterina Kondaurova and Ilya Petrov. Photographer Cristian Hillbom
Has the education of dancers changed a lot during the last few year?I think all generations change – for better and for worse. Some years we have very talented people, some years less so. Last year, we got no male dancers. This year, the boys are very good. I'm hoping to hire seven – and we need boys in the company.
Do you get all your new dancers from the Vaganonva Academy?
Almost. But there is a tradition from Soviet time to also hire dancers from Perm, which has the third big ballet school in Russia. During the Second World War, the Mariinsky theatre and school was, for a time, located to Perm. A ballet company was founded there, with a school of its own, which has close connections to St Petersburg and the Vaganova Academy. So in the Mariinsky Ballet we now have about ten dancers who graduated in Perm. This year we have also engaged a young man from the Royal Ballet in London.
Are all dancers the same height?
No. The younger generation is very tall, especially the girls. It's not a problem, but we do try to find tall boys to partner the tall girls. Kondaurova is tall, Lopatkina is tall, and Teryoshkina is, well, she is not short. And we do want these top dancers to have top partners.
Ulyana Lopatkina in Giselle. Photo Mariinsky Ballet
Have you got any foreign dancers in the company?I år har vi anställt en ung man från Royal Ballet i London.
Have you had many contacts with the international ballet world?
I have worked as a guest ballet teacher in many places, including the Bolshoi Theatre. I have worked with the Royal Ballet in London, the Royal Swedish Ballet, the stars of American Ballet Theatre and in a special project with Ethan Stiefel and Stars for five years. I also worked with the Pacific North-west Ballet in Seattle, where Francia Russell was artistic director from 1977 to 2005, and I have been ballet-master and teacher for Kings of the Dance, the international project started by the impresario Sergey Danilian in America in 2006, for four or six top male dancers in the world.
The ballet world is very small, and I have a feeling that I know everyone in the ballet world. When I worked with the dancers in the Royal Ballet in London, there were so many beautiful dancers there. One young man, Alexander Parish, told me it was his dream to learn the Russian style, so I invited him to join the Mariinsky company. I think that surprised him. He thought about it for a little while, but then he accepted.
He started in January, and since then he has performed a lot: Balanchine's Serenade, the poet in Chopiniana twice, one of Raymonda's friends in Raymonda, and on the 29th of March the very difficult pas de trois for the friends of the Prince in Swan Lake.
I think it's a good experience for us as well as for him. We got one more beautiful dancer, and his dre-am came true. I engaged a professional language teacher for him, so he is trying to learn Russian now. But many of our dancers speak English, so he is already comfortable and has friends in the company.
The perfect Mariinsky lines can be admired in Swan Lake. Photo Mariinsky Ballet
aWhat has been the biggest change for the company as compared to the situation, say, twenty years ago?
The dancers make their decisions themselves. They decide to stay in Russia or to go somewhere else in the world and dance. This is, of course, different. Therefore, it's extra important for us in the administration to make good conditions for the dancers. Then I'm not talking about salaries, but condi-tions on the artistic side: to find interesting choreographers, to select beautiful ballets, to acquire a good repertoire of works by international choreographers. If the dancers feel comfortable at home, at the Mariinsky Theatre, if they have good support – then the talented dancers tend to stay. And we see the result: so many fine young dancers decide to stay in the company, because they find the conditions so good.
If they wish to be guest stars in an international company, we give them permission. Some have been, for example, guests with the ABT. And Leonid Sarafanov has been guest star many times in Tokyo and Milan.
I thank Yuri Fateyev for the long and interesting talk. He is very busy and on his way to a rehearsal, which we generously were allowed to attend. (se Cristian Hillbom's photos) For me it was a moment to treasure.
Yuri Fateyev has travelled a long way with the Mariinsky Ballet, through experience and knowledge, to the position as Artistic Director. During our coversation he came through as a relaxed, calm, openhearted and very pleasant person. His English is excellent and he showed great interest in communicating. His views are sound and well thought through and he seems to be very concerned with the well being of his dancers. In other words – excellent conditions for the future of the company.
Our hopes for a guest appearance in Sweden of the Mariinsky Ballet ought to be more than a fruitless dream. Only twelve years ago the Bolshoi Ballet visited Stockholm. Certainly a tour with the Mariinsky Ballet requires long preparations, but could we please have the possibility to see some of the many great dancers in the meantime.?
29 Nov 2010