The Studio Blog
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.
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 first in a four-part series.
Youth, Ballet, and a Big Promise
"Everyone has a designated purpose in life. My purpose has been to have an influence on ballet. I adore it…ballet; I am a disciple and a lover of ballet. Sometimes people don’t understand true ballet, which is Classical Ballet. I grew up in St. Petersburg, Russia, known as the capital of European ballet, and I am a graduate of the Vaganova Ballet Academy (formerly St. Petersburg / Leningrad Ballet School), one of the best ballet schools in the world.
I grew up in a very contradictory time (1950-60s). There was political unrest, political views clashed, and political influences were changing. Doors were opening, walls were coming down.
I saw the evolution of the development of the Mariinsky and Kirov ballet styles. I have been lucky to see in my lifetime the changes and evolution of ballet, unlike my predecessors, who weren’t able to have such an expanded view because for a long time, Russian/Soviet ballet existed only behind the iron curtain.
Generations of people didn’t know what was happening in the west so, in particular for me, I felt like I had to raise this curtain. I had to open the doors for the art (ballet) which we were not able to know before.
(Pictured left: Mr. Vinogradov with renowned French Choreographer Roland Petit, right)
As times began to change, I was able to meet many artists and musicians outside of Russia—a first for my generation—[artists] including Herbert Von Karajan, an Austrian orchestra and opera conductor, known best for his work with the Berlin Philharmonic. My mission in the historic period of Vladimir Mayevsky (one of the leaders of an anti-Communist movement during the Russian Civil War in the mid-20th Century) was to bring western choreography (of Bejart, Petit, and others) to the people of Russia.
I never thought I’d come to America. At night, I would try to get American music to come in on my radio, but I had to be careful. I was always afraid that someone would hear it. (He cites the Soviet government’s restrictions on citizens.) Now I live primarily in St. Petersburg, but have been coming to the US regularly for 22 years!
[Also during this time I met and worked with dancers who would become world leaders in ballet] I graduated in the same class as Rudolf Nuryev at the Vaganova Academy; I created choreography for Natalia Makarova, who is one year younger than I am; and Mikhail Baryshnikov was among the first to dance my ballets right after he graduated from school.
(Pictured, left: Legendary Ballet Dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov in Mr. Vinogradov's Goryanka)
During that time (1950-60s) Soviet ballet started to change with the rise of Yuri Grigorovich and other new thinkers. Symphonic ballet choreography was started by George Balanchine, who was brought up on Marius Petipa’s style, but who eventually developed his own style that is still used today. The last visit of Balanchine’s Ballet Company to St. Petersburg was in 1961 or so. I hadn’t staged any of my big ballets yet, but had started to choreograph for the Novosibersk Ballet Theater. I came to St. Petersburg to see Balanchine’s ballets which were so new at that time. I met Balanchine, who was young then and he asked me which of his ballets I liked best. I hadn’t seen any of them yet, which I couldn’t tell him, so I said, 'I actually like all of your ballets.' I also told him that if I ever got the chance in my life to bring his ballets to the stage, I would do anything to make that happen. I was still a 'nobody' at the time but 40 years later, I fulfilled my promise, and was the first to bring Balanchine’s ballets to the Kirov stage."
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series, in which Mr. Vinogradov discusses Russian ballet history, and his definition of the perfect ballet body.