Donetsk – Vadym PYSARIEV, famous dancer and artistic director of the Donetsk-based Solovianenko Theater of Opera and Ballet tells The Day about the new choreography school that has been launched in Ivano-Frankivsk, why the Serge Lifar International Ballet Competition has moved to Donetsk, and his attitude toward TV dance shows.
When the author came to the premises of the Donetsk-based Solovianenko National Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet, they smellt of fresh paint, and the dressing rooms were being repaired. The deadline for this work was March 27, The Day when the Seventh Serge Lifar International Ballet Competition began. The competition will be attended by close to 170 participants from 18 countries. “Nothing of this kind has ever happened in all the years of the competition’s existence,” Pysariev exults. “We will do our best to make the entire city of Donetsk live with ballet for 10 days.” But the competition was not the sole topic of The Day’s interview with the people’s artist: we discussed the new generation of dancers and whether the traditions of classic dance are easy to preserve nowadays.
Why did the Serge Lifar Competition move to Donetsk from Kyiv?
“If we did not revive the Lifar Competition, it would have ceased its existence. The competition was held for the last time in 2006. This international competition was Ukraine’s image and calling card. The whole world knew about it, ballet stars would come to Kyiv. And suddenly the Lifar Competition ceased to be held. I have dedicated my whole life to ballet and it hurt me when the outstanding choreographer Yurii Hryhorovych, who had headed the jury board of Serge Lifar Competition every year, asked, ‘Why is there no Lifar Competition anymore?’ Other colleagues of mine asked me about it, as if I was the one responsible for this action. Gradually I came up with the decision to revive this creative event. This year the Serge Lifar Competition will take place under the aegis of Ukraine’s First Lady Liudmyla Yanukovych. We have been assisted by the leadership of the oblast and city, like the head of the oblast state administration Anatolii Blyzniuk, head of the oblast council Andrii Shyshatsky, and city mayor Oleksandr Lukianchenko. We have to show Kyiv what should be done. This will be a huge international forum and Donetsk is going to live with ballet for 10 days. And the entire world will join us in this.”
How did the organizers attract so many participants? Was it the high prize fund?
“The prize fund, 100,000 dollars, will indeed become the highest not only in the history of this competition, but other ballet competitions, too. We promised the grand-prix will be 20,000 dollars. However, it is not the money that attracts young dancers, but the opportunities awaiting them. Representatives of the world’s leading dance schools will come to Donetsk. Ukraine will be represented by schools from Kyiv, Donetsk, Odesa, Kharkiv, Lviv and Dnipropetrovsk, as well as performers of the leading theaters of opera and ballet. Russian competitors will come from Moscow, St. Petersburg, Krasnoyarsk, Perm, Kazan, and Voronezh. Participants from Japan, Korea, Belarus, Bulgaria, Kyrghyzstan, Norway, Italy and other countries will also show their skills on the stage of our theater. The jury board will be headed by the outstanding choreographer Yurii Hryhorovych. Such famous dancers and choreographers as Olivier Patey and Volodymyr Karakulev will hold master classes during the festival. Frankly, we did not expect that the number of participants would be so high. But people are immensely interested in it. I can feel that this is a turning point in the development of classical ballet, a new promising generation has appeared.”
What are your personal creative tasks in this competition?
“My objectives are so huge that I’m terrified. Choreographers are going to compete simultaneously with ballet dancers. Since Donetsk region is the homeland of composer Sergei Prokofiev and this year marks his 120th birth anniversary, the theme of the competition is defined. Every participant will have to present a piece to Prokofiev’s music. We should be proud of our fellow countryman and arrange some events of international scope. I will tell you more, we want to preserve the right to hold a choreographic competition to Prokofiev’s music. This will be a separate competition, stemming from the Lifar Competition. We haven’t decided yet whether we will hold a competition of choreographers every year, or once every two or three years. But it is our duty to arrange it here in the world renowned composer’s homeland. It will be interesting to merge the numbers with orchestra music, so that it would be a really live performance. This is a really interesting prospect.”
Many young performers will come to the Lifar Competition. Can you see the difference between the new generation of dancers and the time when you performed on stage?
“There is a new trend: skills for the sake of skills. Our generation was taught the culture of performing, the style and peculiarities of every variation. And now many dancers perform Le Corsaire, Flames of Paris and Don Quixote in the same manner and the same movements. There is another trend – a free treatment of productions. I assert that we should dance Le Corsaire in Vakhtang Chabukiani’s version, because we love this variation: jete, jete, double saut de basque with the legs tucked up in passe. Nowadays hardly anyone does this. Don Quixote’s coda would always begin with cabriole. Now you will rarely see this: they perform some sautes de basque, some ensembles. But the canonic production has a cabriole. The same thing regards female variations. They change everything. The style vanishes. And when the dancing is more or less similar to the first edition of a production, as jurors we rejoice. The participant trying to adopt the classical dance, its purity and skillfulness, will win the gold. Skill by itself is good too, but mastery is not enough for victory.”
In your opinion, how important is life experience for becoming a successful ballet dancer. Young performers must at times bring to the audience feelings they never experienced.
“You need experience, stubbornness, and everyday work. A ballet dancer has a short life. He may not understand something, but he should do this already, because it will be too late by the time he understands. Human bodies get old. An opera singer begins to flourish after working for 20 years, whereas a dancer retires. Unfortunately, it is so. That is why a young performer who has common sense and a desire to achieve something won’t waste his time on computers, telephones, games or chatting via odnoklassniki.ru [a Russian-language Facebook analog – Ed.]. He spends his whole time in the dance hall. But there are few people of this kind nowadays. Recently we are seeing a new wave: it turns out that you may not work in a ballet hall but promote yourself on TV instead. USSR People’s Artist Kateryna Maksymova never visited TV shows, training like crazy instead. For her it was important how she would appear on stage and show her mastery before the audience. Now our culture has been carried away. We have a whole range of shows, like Dancing with the Stars, X-Factor... When a performer who has an average or even below-average level goes on stage, the whole country follows him. This is the worst thing. When we forget about Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Prokofiev, high levels in art, and get lost in common things, we lose what is most important.”
This year you started classes in your choreography school in Ivano-Frankivsk. How did you come up with the idea?
“Last year when I was on a trip to Transcarpathia, I saw many talented children there. They love dancing from a young age and they are gifted. They simple need to be given classical ballet education. That was how I came up with the idea, which was eagerly supported by the head of the Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast State Administration Mykhailo Vyshyvaniuk. They gave us premises, revamped them and took up all the expenses. Children can study free of charge in this school. My student Maria Tsapova is a teacher in this school, she has worked in the theater, and she recently graduated from the University of Culture and Arts. We have enrolled 40 students and divided them in four groups. We have great hopes for the primary school. On March 27 the Donetsk Opera House will feature the first number of our ballet school. It will open the evening. The program is going to last for eight years. In the offing we may create a company of ballet dancers at the local drama theater. The grain has been sown, and I’m sure it will give good yields.”
Last month the Donetsk ballet gave a brilliant performance of Lesia Ukrainka’s Forest Song in the western oblasts. What was the tour like?
“We performed in Lutsk on Lesia Ukrainka’s 140th anniversary, on February 25. The nation’s elite was among the audience, including poets, artists, as well as the granddaughter of the composer Skorulsky, who authored the music to Forest Song. The performance was a huge success. We were pleased to bring such a gift to Lutsk from the eastern region, on the poetess’ anniversary. In Ivano-Frankivsk, we performed to the accompaniment of the oblast philharmonic society. Of course, a good improvisation is a result of long rehearsals, and our conductor Viktor Oliinyk worked very well with the local musicians. Everything was well thought out, professional, and filled with talent. The same tandem, eastern ballet with western orchestra, performed in Chernivtsi. You cannot imagine what a warm reception it received. I regretted that I did not dance. The audience gave us a standing ovation, they could not let the performers go, and Volyn’s governor was crying on stage. We heard many warm and sincere words. And believe me, it was gratifying for me to hear that the Donbas is reviving the Ukrainian culture. We did it. And this artistic event was not funded from the budget, the funding came from the Tvorchy Olimp Charity Foundation, whose monitoring committee is headed by Vladyslav Dreher. This year the foundation plans to give a soiree of ballet productions to Edvard Grieg’s music. We’ve called the program ‘Griegiana.’ It will include numbers staged by young choreographers and masters of ballet: Volodymyr Vasyliev, Radu Poklitaru, Dmytro Simkin. And we will bring this feast of ballet to Norway, to show it in Oslo, Trondheim, and Bergen. We are moving ahead thanks to these actions.
“Wonderful people are living and working in the Donbas. They are optimists by their nature and never get dispirited. Unlike some people think, money does not come easily to us. Everything is achieved by persistence and common efforts. But when we help each other, we are successful.”