Sergey Chumakov and Elena Petrichenko in Arabian Variation

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The Studio Blog

The Legend Speaks, Part Four

Question and Answer Session, with Oleg Vinogradov
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 final installment of the series features Mr. Vinogradov answering select questions from National Press Club attendees on current politics, ballet under communism, and his next ballet.

Question 1, from The Weekly Standard
For some years, since around the time of the height of the Mariinsky/Kirov Theatre, life was dangerous—you were afraid for your personal safety. How has the political world changed in Russia now that there is a president from St. Petersburg? How have things changed in relation to the arts, because in the past, things were unsafe & turbulent for the arts; theatres couldn’t do certain things, the government decreed certain restrictions, etc.

Oleg Vinogradov responds: I love being in Russia now and lots of things have changed. I am very involved in the art of ballet and know all about the new operas & modern musical theater productions. Personally I cannot attend Pytor Tchaikovsky’s opera Iolanta because it’s a story that is now set in a concentration camp and the King of France wears and performs in a Nazi uniform. This is part of the western school that was brought to Russia recently but it’s a democracy so these types of shows can be presented.

Pictured here: Oleg Vinogradov's beautiful staging of the classic Romeo and Juliet


I said once that Czars and Communists are better for ballet than democracy because the peak of the development of and the life of classical ballet was during the time of the Czars and Communists. They didn’t understand anything about the ballet, but appreciated its beauty. So when I was Artistic Director at the Kirov, I never had to think about money. We were always funded to do whatever we wanted to do. Today, in democracy, Artistic Directors have to search for funding and sponsors. This is in part why there are only 10 ballet companies still in Russia... C'est la vie.


Question 2, from Rob Sachs of Voice of Russia–Americaalt What are your thoughts on America showing ballet in high definition 3D (something like the operas are now doing worldwide)?

Oleg Vinogradov responds: It depends on which type of ballet…if it is a good show, a good story and high quality 3D then I would would support any technologies that would develop public interest in ballet and classical art. The book I wrote four years ago about my life, career, and work process, has more detail about my views on the next steps for ballet and the classical arts. It is only available now in Russia—it sold out in America.


Pictured left: Sketch by Oleg Vinogradov for Knight in Tiger Skin



Question 3, from Ballet Reviewer George Jackson
I spoke with you about creating a new Sleeping Beauty a few years ago, with music by Tchaikovsky’s great-nephew. Are you still thinking about that?

Oleg Vinogradov responds: Thirty years ago, when I was in Berlin, a competition was announced to create a new story ballet for Sleeping Beauty. I wrote one based on the classic fairy tale, but it was still different and I sent it to the competition. Surprisingly they liked it and it won. I wanted to tell the same tale but about a modern kingdom and its characters. I was invited to stage it to Tchaikovsky’s music but I declined because I didn’t think it would be good. After 25 years, I came back to the idea and at the time was involved in work with modern composer Alexander Tchaikovsky.

Pictured here: A scene from Battleship Potemkin


Alexander is a wonderful composer who has won prizes in American competitions, and when I heard his music I wanted to work with him to create Battleship Potemkin on the Mariinsky/Kirov stage in 1986. Later he composed music for a ballet based on a story of the 19th century writer Nikolai Gogol. He also arranged music for a ballet set to Grieg’s music for In the Hall of the Mountain King. Alexander also agreed to create the music for new Sleeping Beauty and right now, the ballet has been accepted for the staging in Stanislavsky Theater in Moscow.



In 2011 and 2012, Moscow Ballet has sponsored a fine art contest focusing on ballet-inspired contemporary work with Oleg Vinogradov and the St. Petersburg (Russia) State Conservatory.

Pictured, left to right: Moscow Ballet Associate Producer Dan Talmi, Nataliya Yablakova of the St. Petersburg State Conservatory, and Oleg Vinogradov at the Conservatory in 2010.


Vinogradov is one of the three judges and six artists (three each year) who have won awards of cash prizes. Moscow Ballet highlights their art to North Americans through the annual Great Russian Nutcracker tours to 70 cities.



The Legend Speaks, Part Three

Legendary Choreographer Oleg Vinogradov Shares His Stories
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.

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.

(Pictured right: Oleg Vinogradov with Rudolf Nureyev) 

He (Nureyev) 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; 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 tribute 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.

Pictured below: Oleg Vinogradov with Natalia Makarova


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 other.

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.

Pictured here below: Oleg Vinogradov with Maurice Béjart (left) and others.


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 and 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



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