‘Contemporary choreography traditions are poorly developed in Kazan, everything is based on classic here’
Oleg Ivenko about #StagePlatforma festival, tattooed Rudolf Nuriyev and Billy Milligan in ballet
The 5th #StagePlatforma contemporary ballet was held in the Jalil Tatar Academy Opera and Ballet Theatre from 5 to 7 November. Before the event, we talked with Art Director, principal dancer of the theatre Oleg Ivenko who is not only a start of contemporary Russian ballet but also now a worldwide known actor who performed Rudolf Nuriyev in The White Crow by English director Ralph Fiennes.
We still have a bad idea of how people dance in London or Holland
The first question is about the festival: what meaning does it have for Kazan and what will it be like this year?
We began to think about #StagePlatforma festival more than five years ago. You know, there wasn’t any contemporary choreography in Kazan until recently. Our theatre is based on classic choreography, the Kazan audience got used to it too and isn’t familiar with contemporary ballet dance. But the theatre (Editor’s note: the Jalil Opera and Ballet Theatre now and further) started with inviting Boris Eifman’s theatre on a tour to Kazan to get acquainted our audience with new types of ballet, but Eifman’s ballet is anyway not completely contemporary ballet.
We still have a bad idea of how people dance in London or Holland, it is necessary to learn. The #StagePlatforma festival helps with it. Now we have reached such a level that we have invited the biggest theatres of Berlin, Milan, there has been an agreement with the Holland theatre Nederlands Dans Theater from the Hague. And nobody has refused because they already consider us a prestigious festival like those in big cities such as Dance Open and Context. Diana Vishneva. Everybody knows about us.
We really hope that we will certainly make the idea come true in 2023. Artists and theatres want to perform here
So are all these guests going to come?
These agreements were reached several years ago. The coronavirus pandemic impeded us to make them a reality. This year, well-known political circumstances did, but we really hope that we will certainly make the idea come true in 2023. Artists and theatres want to perform here. Yes, this time we had to change the concept of the festival during the preparation: mainly Russian artists will come here, but we haven’t lost the performance quality, it is real world ballet stars. Bolshoi Theatre soloists Anna Tikhomirova, Kristina Kretova, Artyom Ovchaernko, Igor Tsvirko, leading soloist of Boris Eifman’s Ballet Theatre Oleg Gabyshev will participate in the gala concert on 7 November. Oleg Gabyshev is the director and main choreographer of our ballet The Minds of Milligan, the main event of the festival. Oleg is a laureate of the Golden Mask award.
Also, soloists of the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Theatre, theatres from Perm and such ballet stars as Alexander Mogilyov (Moscow), Vladimir Varnava (Saint Petersburg), Serik Nasykpekov (the Astana Opera Kazakh Opera and Ballet Theatre) and many others will take part in the gala concert. Of course, our Kazan artists are participating, they are top masters too, laureates of prestigious Russian and international awards. We always try to keep the high bar of our festival up.
Here everything is based on classic, we also had to prove even the local management that we were worthy of something
Meanwhile, the festival wasn’t held in the Opera and Ballet Theatre in the beginning?
No, a breakthrough was made during the first festival, I think. Earlier, we used to hold our events in the Actor’s House, there used to be open performances of #StagePlatforma outdoors in the Kazan Kremlin.
As I already said, contemporary choreography traditions are poorly developed in Kazan, here everything is based on classic, we also had to prove even the local management that we were worthy of something. The Musa Jalil Theatre is the most prestigious ballet site in the city and our festival had to deserve it, so from the third festival we were allowed to host it here. And I perfectly remember how the theatre director gave me a pep talk after providing his approval: “Come on, don’t bring us to shame!” And I am very grateful to my theatre, the Culture Ministry, the Tatarstan President’s Fund for Cultural Initiatives, everyone who helps us. The breakthrough was made after we were noticed and recognised as a worthy festival in the world where these links were established.
And now it is important for us to create an audience, familiarise it with the accomplishments of world choreography. Even our programme on 6 November when The Minds of Milligan ballet will be shown consists of two parts. Performances will be shown in the first part so that the spectators get acquainted with contemporary choreography better, gets used to it and only then the ballet is shown.
Classic ballet you easily performed at 20 years will be hard for you at 35. While contemporary dance is so diverse and individual, opens new opportunities
He is like my neighbour who started to live in my house
Do you prefer contemporary ballet to classic?
No, I love the classic repertoire and dance it, it is our foundation, our basis. The case is that contemporary ballet and contemporary choreography are what we didn’t have, what our audience wasn’t familiar with. And then, it opens new opportunities for artists. Ballet is for the young. Our body gets old, unfortunately, and this is no secret. Classic ballet you easily performed at 20 years will be hard for you at 35. While contemporary dance is so diverse and individual, opens new opportunities. It helps same Diana Vishneva to prolong her career as a ballet dancer, how genius Natalia Osipova is in ballets staged deliberately for her, she is absolutely genius!
When shooting in the film The White Crow, you worked on the character of Rudolf Nuriyev, studied his biography a lot. Do you think about him less now? Because quite much time has passed since the release of the film.
I think about him every day! He is now like my neighbour who started to live in my house. If he created this festival, I think he would create it more abruptly, impatiently, even ill-mannered towards his colleague if they don’t understand his idea. I am anyway a softer person. But in general strategically, I think he would do the same thing I do, but he would not stay in one place, he would travel. But in general I think he wouldn’t work in the system, either here or in the West, people were patient with him only because of his genius...
Perhaps, this means he would not create such a festival, right?
I don’t know, he wouldn’t maybe... I think he would be tattooing all his body now, he would cover it completely! This is what I think... He would have tattoos and open a pub, a den of iniquity. I have tattoos too but they are small: one is with the names of films I shot in and the second one is a little elephant from Vietnam. But of course, I would never dare to cover the whole body with them, but Rudolf Nuriyev would, I think.
I think he would be tattooing all his body now, he would cover it completely! This is what I think... He would have tattoos and open a pub, a den of iniquity
I have studied Mr Nuriyev’s personality, collected information, Mikhail Baryshnikov, his close friend, told me so much about him. But in general I think Nuriyev and Baryshnikov are like two brothers, an older and a younger. Baryshnikov does as much for ballet as Nuriyev but with less panache. During the work on the film, we often met, unfortunately, I cannot publicly say everything he told me about Rudolf Nuriyev.
I somehow lack precisely virility in contemporary male dance in the West, you know. I want it to be a truly male dance, we have it but there it is somehow shaded, though they dance amazingly!
Do you want to say that Nuriyev danced a male dance?
Yes, I think he had a male dance (Editor’s note: after his role in the film where Oleg Ivenko featured Nuriyev, he had to comment on the personality of this ballet genius in interviews a lot, we will provide one of his phrases: “It is a personality that changed art, upended the system. This person dedicated himself to art. He danced on the stage for 310 days a year for several years. This is something incredible.”)
You have been invited by European theatres, I think, the Vienna Theatre and some others. Don’t you regret having rejected them?
I am still being invited, I have three invitations from European theatres, I received a call from Italy just yesterday. But they won’t let me do what I want and then I love our Kazan audience very much.
Then Oleg Gabyshev suddently pronounces: “Milligan!” And it is an amazing, breathtaking story, I already knew it and said: “Absolutely! That’s it! Milligan!”
To stage a ballet in two parts so that every part has its own choreographer
Your phrase that Rudolf Nuriyev now lives inside you seems to create the direct and unmediated association with the ballet The Minds of Milligan that will become the main event of the #StagePlatforma festival. Could tell us more about how it was created?
The idea was born during the pandemic when we all were in quarantine locked in our flats. I thought I needed to do something, use this time somehow and I decided we should invent a play. Then I started to call my friends and everybody sent their variants, many were very interesting. Then Oleg Gabyshev suddently pronounces: “Milligan!” And it is an amazing, breathtaking story, I already knew it and said: “Absolutely! That’s it! Milligan!” And the next day he sent me a ready libretto. I opened my mouth: “Dear Oleg, how come? How do you do it?”
And we started to work. We took a part of Billy Milligan’s life from the real story, the part dedicated to his childhood where Billy lives with his stepfather who threatened with digging him in the barn, bullied and violated the boy... In fact, the second part is being prepared too, and it is so mind-blowing, choreography has already been make, music has been written, but we decided the first story is quite a self-sufficient story and this is why we would release it this year. We are in constant search.
For instance, I had an idea I haven’t yet shared with any journalist, so you will be the first, I have just remembered it: to stage a ballet in two parts but every part has its own choreographer. It is interesting: the spectator would see how an artist’s dance changes within a story because different choreographers staged it.
I was given a CD with Nizamov’s music to listen and it seemed to be I felt something I needed. “So where does this composer live? In Moscow?” I asked those who recommended him, and all of a sudden he happened to live in Kazan
And it is so similar with the minds of Milligan!
Yes, but my familiar choreographers didn’t accept it, they started to persuade me that each of them was a special artist, with their own dance language and it was hard to come to an agreement with somebody else in one play. I say: “This is the idea! But at last I understood that I wouldn’t persuade them and rejected the idea. What can I do, the choreographers’ feelings turned out to be above their adequacy.
Back to the play, I should separately talk about the composer. After long searches, Elmir Nizamov who is well known for Kazan citizens became the composer. I had already been working with the famous agency Berin Iglesias Art, they helped me to look for musicians. They called Hans Zimmer first but he was busy with other projects, Max Richter and his Russian namesake Kirill Richter were among other candidates, there was too, these all are amazing worldwide known names. And they agreed, many sent me samples of their music for this project, it was absolutely gorgeous!
And how did our Elmir Nizamov manage to outperform such an honourable company? Why did you prefer him?
He was recommended among many others. But Elmir is good at music with national colour, he never wrote music for ballet or films, while I needed such music. I warned him from the beginning that I needed film music, a thriller that wouldn’t work itself, I mean not the music that one would like to listen to again and again but that would work for the character created onstage. I was given a CD with Nizamov’s music to listen and it seemed to be I felt something I needed. “So where does this composer live? In Moscow?” I asked those who recommended him, and all of a sudden he happened to live in Kazan. This became the main advantage! It is a composer I would work together and say what I needed from him. He wrote amazing music, I think.
If earlier dancers thought that the technical part was the most important once, they had a thrill to perform some element, now many understand that the most important thing is to create a living character in the dance
How do you assess Kazan as the centre of contemporary dance? We anyway have many stars — same Nurbek Batulla, the winner of the Gold Mask, Marsel Nuriyev, a repeated nominee, and many others. There are other festivals besides yours, the most prestigious contemporary dance festival — Bodyvision, Freedom Square... But is Kazan such a noticeable centre for contemporary choreography in Russia now?
I think there is nothing special to boast about, we don’t yet have our own contemporary either theatre or school to be able to talk about fully-fledged development, but we are anyway moving in the right direction. I am glad our festival #StagePlatforma has an educational programme and masterclasses, same Nurbek Batulla, Marsel Nuriyev you have named will be among announced masters. Also, I am happy that there will be a showcase of young talents, it is very important. In general the festival grows, it gets smarter, the dance gets smarter: if earlier dancers thought that the technical part was the most important once, they had a thrill to perform some element, now many understand that the most important thing is to create a living character in the dance so that the dance becomes alive.
Are you going to dance till you get old, for instance, at 70?
I wouldn’t like, I have already said that ballet is for the youth, I would like to watch the ocean and do yoga, at the same time know that my children are fine and they became decent people, I have made many ideas a reality and now can simply enjoy life... But I wouldn’t like to dance for too long. But I would like to be in the films. Film for me is almost ballet but I am just learning, you cannot enter here at full speed, it is necessary to learn.