The Studio Blog
Legendary Choreographer Oleg Vinogradov Shares His Stories
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
Legendary Choreographer Oleg Vinogradov Shares His Stories
Russian Ballet History and the Perfect Ballet Body
"Today, seven to eight of my ballets are performed in the Kirov/Mariinsky Theater. This was my school, where I learned about ballet and the great Marius Petipa, who was Artistic Director of the Mariinsky for 60 years. I was Artistic Director for a little more than 20 years. I learned from Petipa's ballets about the basic structure of classic ballets like Don Quixote, Giselle, and others. I based my ballets on this classical ballet structure. I followed a story, included dramatic conflicts, developed the characters…overall 'life' construction. One of the major important effects of Soviet ballet for the rest of the ballet world was the creation of these monumental full length ballets.
The Kirov/Mariinsky company had at its core a couple of profound principles: to save and further enhance the traditional repertoire and to create new ballets by modern choreographers which are close to the company's aesthetic–these principles are very important.
(Pictured right, L-R: Moscow Ballet Founder/Producer Akiva Talmi, Oleg Vinogradov, and Peter Hickman of the National Press Club.)
They would not bring what would not be correct to their style. It is important to hold high standards, and to demonstrate the classical style and to show the infinity of possibilities of the classical style. If a dancer has classical schooling, they can dance anything. The Kirov/Mariinsky company today still shows that philosophy.
In today's world, not everything called 'ballet' has the right to call itself ballet. There are a lot of genres and styles of dance, but 'ballet' should have the aesthetics that make ballet an art form. A lot of companies are interesting and wonderful, but should be called something different, and 'ballet' should stay 'ballet.' Only ballet aesthetics actually improve the nature of the human body. Ballet excludes any ugly positions of the human body. Classical ballet doesn't have any ugly poses. It is impossible, in classical ballet, for the dancer, as an instrument, to not fit the aesthetic of classical ballet: [which is] a small head, long neck, shoulders down, waist same width as the hips, hips not longer than calf of the leg, a short hand palm, longer arms, and large wrist arch. This great art, because of the selection of its instruments [dancers], has been improving for more than 300 years. Classical exercise has everything to perfect this instrument [the dancer] and then enhance it in classical ballets.
(Pictured left: Fairy Godmother, O. Vinogradov's production of Cinderella.)
The development of Russian ballet came from reforms which in turn came from the original classical ballets which are still performed today. The rich, literature-based stories, the developed action and drama, the development of specific characters, interesting stories with conflicts and obstacles, all provide the basis for the dramatic Russian ballets. The masterpiece of these [types of] ballets is Romeo and Juliet by Lavrovsky–staged in the Kirov Theater, and then performed in the Bolshoi Theater.
When I started to stage my own Romeo and Juliet [at age 26], I was a choreographer from a new generation but I could still feel and live the same emotions of Shakespeare's characters. I lived during a time when the symphonic ballets had already formed and my ballets should be a choreographic symphony like Cinderella and all the other greats.
(Pictured right: A scene from the finale of O. Vinogradov's production of Cinderella.)
When the Soviet political structure started changing in the days of Mikhail Gorbachev, censorship was more lenient and fear of 'saying the wrong things' lightened up. We started to have more freedom and choices….we started getting invitations to stage ballets in other countries. I saw a lot of new work in Europe but still wanted to come to America. I learned from the European masters like Jirí Kylián and others. This was very important for me and I started inviting them to work with the company. The audiences were happy about the expanded art forms and the dancers were happy because they were now able to dance classical as well as any style they wanted.
A lot of things which were impossible before, at this time became a reality. For example, in 1980, after working at the Paris Opera, the general director invited me to be Artistic Director at the Paris Opera. When the Soviet government found out, they said, 'No, forget it, you don't need Paris because you have the Kirov/Mariinsky Theater.' I was grateful for this time with the Kirov/Mariinsky Theater but left anyway.
Different cultures have influenced each other over time. Russian ballet was born because of dancers in Italy and France in the European culture that created the ballet aesthetic. When Russian ballet reached out to their whole nation, then Russian artists like Makarova, Baryshnikov, and Nureyev started to influence the west and the world–all different artists but all exceptional."
Stay tuned for Part 3 of this series—Mr. Vinogradov dishes on his time with the legendary Natalia Makarova, fellow student Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and French/Swiss Choreographer Maurice Béjart.