Andris LIEPA:"Tashkent has a unique atmosphere"
Anticipating of miracle, we rushed to the Tashkent premiere of two legendary ballets - "The Firebird" by Igor Stravinsky and "Scheherezad" by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The admirers of the classics were looking forward to the shows created for the famous Diaghilev Ballet Russes in Paris, whose 110th anniversary will be celebrated next year. The Alisher Navoi State Academic Bolshoi Theatre listed them in the repertoire since December. Both were staged by ballet star - People's Artist of Russia Andris Liepa, former lead soloist of the Moscow Bolshoi Theater, the Mariinsky Theater and the American Ballet Theater, performing in La Scala, Milan, the Paris Opera and other prestigious world theaters, and headed the Kremlin Ballet after that.
The premiere was greeted by a full house and applause for the choreographer in the first place, as well as the entire theatre staff. The intricate choreography could not fail to impress, especially in crowd scenes, when several dozen artists performed different pas simultaneously forming a single drawing. The colorful decorations, costumes and accurate playing of the symphony orchestra were beyond expectations. The public appreciated the performance of the honored artist of Uzbekistan Nadira Khamraeva (The Firebird), and Sitora Khismatova (Tsarevna Nenaglyadnaya Krasa) debuted in a star part, Ulugbek Olimov (The Golden Slave), Madina Yusupova (Zobeida) and other soloists.
Andris LIEPA himself spoke about how the work on the ballets proceeded.
- Why were Firebird and Scheherazade chosen as your first productions in Tashkent?
- These two masterpieces, staged by Mikhail Fokin in 1910 in the Paris Grand Opera, launched the triumphal procession of Russian ballet around Europe and the entire planet. Today it is highly valued all over the world. However when Diaghilev first showed both performances, they were perceived as a fantastic phenomenon. The shows had an amazing effect of a bombshell. Parisians have never heard such music, nor have seen such scenery - all in the Russian style - and were delighted.
I really like this combination of Russian and oriental tales, as they have different plastic. It seems that two different choreographers created them. In addition, Stravinsky was a student of Rimsky-Korsakov, so that in the union of their creations there is also a kind of generations’ continuity.
Since childhood, I dreamed of restoring both ballets, as well as Stravinsky's Petrushka. It happened in 1993 in Mariinsky Theatre. I managed to reconstruct the choreography, create my own author’s version thanks to my father’s acquaintance with Fokin’s son, and mine with his granddaughter, who provided the necessary archive materials, including invaluable videos of her grandfather’s rehearsals. His clavier with personal notes has also been preserved. Then I staged these works about twenty times upon the request of many theaters in Russia, France, Italy and other countries.
I was pleased to respond to the invitation of the Alisher Navoi State Academic Bolshoi Theatre, supported by the general sponsor - Lukoil Uzbekistan Operating Company. We began working on the performances here on the eve of the state visit of President Vladimir Putin, which is symbolic - now the relations between our countries are reaching a new level. These great works of art unite cultures.
Both performances have been on stage for more than a hundred years, my version in Mariinsky Theatre has been on stage since 1993. They will continue to live, while we will pass away someday. Any theater in the world can be proud of them, they are in demand. Unfortunately, I can state that when I came to look at the work of the Alisher Navoi Theatre troupe at some repertoire performances, there were many empty seats in the hall. While for both the premiere shows of “The Firebird” and “Scheherazade” in Tashkent, all tickets were sold out. Therefore, they attract the public. Although the artists are the same - we have not brought superstars from abroad, but the viewer wants to watch new shows, especially those with such a history behind them. Such productions are vital to increase interest, inspire people go to the theater.
Noteworthy, Tashkent public saw the same performances that had conquered France more than a century ago - choreography, set design, and costumes are the same. For example, the striking sets of Alexander Golovin made for the Parisian premiere turned out to be too large for Diaghilev to take them to other theaters, and he ordered a new version of Natalia Goncharova. The original is lost. I found a sketch of the author in the storerooms of the Tretyakov Gallery, and the artist Anatoly Nezhny presented an exact reproduction. The same story with the costumes of "Firebird" - all invented by Golovin, except for the costumes of the main characters. They, like the design of "Scheherazade", created by Leon Bakst. The last, but not least - the traveller curtain - was made by sketches of the famous painter Valentin Serov. All these is now in your theater and looks great on stage.
The costumes are complicated in terms of embroidery and form, but almost all of them are made in the Navoi theatre itself. I took the liberty of ordering a Firebird’s tutu skirt from Moscow, because the master, who made the same for the People’s Artist of Russia and Georgia Nina Ananiashvili for Moscow premiere of 1993, is still alive. Kashchei's latex mask was brought from Minsk from is a stunning sculptor. For these originals, tutus and masks will be created here for all subsequent performers.
- How did our troupe cope with the material?
- When I worked for Mikhail Baryshnikov, I heard him saying, "I am at that age and position when I can afford not to do what I don’t want." If I did not want to work here with your artists, I would have found a hundred and fifty excuses. I came here consciously, knowing that my father played in Tashkent, that here Uzbekistan there are people who know our family firsthand. I wanted to continue this story.
It is a pity that, due to my age, I cannot dance myself anymore, although I once performed in major parties in Firebird and Scheherezade. Therefore, I share the experience with the new generation. During the rehearsals I was assisted by ballet master Igor Pivorovich - dean of the choreographic faculty of the Moscow State Institute of Culture, honored artist of Russia, and Farukh Ruzimatov - new artistic director of the Alisher Navoi State Academic Bolshoi Theatre, People's Artist of Russia. We have been friends and worked together for a long time. Coming to the rehearsals, he could not stand still for a second, he also advised and corrected if the soloists did something wrong. I think we were in the right place at the right time. Working in the Alisher Navoi State Academic Bolshoi Theatre was very interesting. There is fertile ground for creativity, the team is eager to learn and you do not see it everywhere. We are both lucky to work with unique people, legends of world ballet, the best artists and directors, so there is something to share. So your youth feels it.
We began by preparing five teams, without choosing the participants of the premiere in advance. This way all artists were given an equal start and we used this competition to choose the best on the eve of the premiere. I really wanted them to feel the pleasure of exchanging energy - they gave it to the spectators from the stage and felt how the hall “turned on”. This is a new choreography and plastic for them, which they have learned in a little more than a month. They worked with great enthusiasm while trying to adopt it, impressed by Fokin’s amazing ballet drawings, the music of Stravinsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. Technically, these are very difficult parts; all the leading soloists of the Russian stage - Tamara Karsavina, Vaclav Nijinsky, Rudolf Nureyev, my father Maris Liepa - have passed through them. Farukh Ruzimatov was once the best performer of the Golden Slave.
From the first days, I noticed how Tashkent artists began to transform and respond to the material. In terms of their repertoire, November was difficult for them. There were many performances; it was not possible to free two or three weeks to work on the premiere only. Every day, the artists rehearsed Firebird and Scheherazade in the morning, and in the evening, they performed in other shows. I was struck, for example, by Nadira Khamraeva’s attitude to the role. Hence the result. Once the “Firebird” was put for Karsavina, but on the day of the premiere I had a feeling that it was written for Nadira to dance it - she looked so wonderful on the stage and played amazing.
Both performances are those to grow into. Such roles will give a good impetus to the troupe and the whole team development. The more you play the classics, the higher your professional potential gets. We thought that it would be very difficult for the orchestra to master the scores of Stravinsky and Rimsky-Korsakov - two complex symphonic works that became a test for musicians. Bobomurad Khudaykulov, young talented director went to all rehearsals, the orchestra did their best, and you see how the play quality has grown! If you do not give artists and musicians the opportunity, then there will be no progress.
By the way, I watched a play about another fairy bird in your theater, but already from Eastern legends - "Humo". After the "Firebird", the artists will dance this part differently, because here you have to work actively with your hands, transfer any breath of wind and feel as if you were a bird.
- Did you feel the lack of convincing acting after the first show?
- You cannot judge after the first show. It is only after the fifth one can we say that performance has taken shape. By that time, the artists will have a vision of the roles, they will fully experience the choreographic text and make it their own, fulfill it with their emotions and work with props. Part of it, by the way, came only in the morning, on the eve of the final rehearsal, so the troupe could not even try out some things beforehand. They performed for the first time in the hall with the public that very day. The show is an experience you cannot replace with any rehearsals. The role begins to live, and the performance is born only when the first spectator comes.
In my solo career, there were also cases when after the first performance I was advised to add some something, after the second - to subtract, and so on. You learn to feel this temperature difference and work in the desired range. Now, as a producer I act as a piano tuner. If it is detuned, then even a virtuoso like Denis Matsuev will not play a single melody correctly. Everything will be false. After tuning, it will start sounding, as it should. It is my responsibility to, so to say, “tune” each artist, to give him or her a certain acting content. I will try to do everything that depends on me. I will be in the theater on December 18, when the second team will perform - it is also very interesting, and I promise to come to the fifth show. So I will follow the creative evolution.
If we will reach a certain level, then we can go on tour with the artists of the Bolshoi Theater. Both performances are quite mobile and were shown on the best stages of the world, including the New York Metropolitan Opera, London's Covent Garden, Tokyo's Bunka Kaikan. They are good at gathering the public - everywhere they meet full halls.
- What impression did Uzbekistan make on you?
- My father Maris Liepa - the People’s Artist of the former Soviet Union - studied together with Bernara Karieva, who later became the prima of your theater and the People’s Artist as well. He danced here more than once and brought home good memories, and even delicious fruits! That is why I am so glad to come here too.
In Moscow, I live in a building built, like the Alisher Navoi State Academic Bolshoi Theatre, designed by the famous architect Alexei Shchusev. I feel at home within these walls. While traveling around Tashkent, I discovered a stunning, very clean city, friendly and hospitable people. It has a unique architecture and atmosphere.
There are projects that could offer the theater for to continue the cooperation. I would love to work on the classic ballet of the XIX century; especially as this year marks the 200th anniversary birth of the great choreographer Marius Petipa, who created such ballets as Swan Lake, Don Quixote, and Sleeping Beauty. All abovementioned are in the repertoire of your Bolshoi Theater, and I would like to come up with something new. I think it would be great and interesting.
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