"First of all, we work for the audience and not for those who judge ballet professionally."

 

 

 

An Interview with Nikolai Tsiskaridze,
Principal Dancer
, Bolshoi Ballet
October 13, 2002

By Marina Radina

 

The name of this dancer is a difficult one to pronounce. But for those who are about to see him dance for the first time, try to remember his name – Nikolai Tsiskaridze. A native of Georgia he now lives in Moscow and is a Principal Dancer with the Bolshoi Ballet. However, at the beginning of 2002/03 season, Tsiskaridze gave only one performance in his own theater. He spent the rest of the time on tour: in Japan, where he danced Prince Desire and Bluebird in The Sleeping Beauty; and then in Italy, he danced the Golden Slave in Scheherazade in the Teatro del'Opera di Roma. Now he will be touring with the Bolshoi Ballet in the USA where he appears in Swan Lake as Siegfried, La Bayadère (Solor), and as the Prince in The Nutcracker.

Tsiskaridze prefers classic productions to modern ones. He genuinely believes that ”Russian ballet is famous for classics, because the Russian classic school is one of the best. Having said that, I dream of modern productions which could suit my personality. I would like to dance Béjart's Bolero, Petit's Le Jeune Homme et la Mort, Des Grieux in MacMillan's Manon; something by Forsythe, Neumeier, and certainly Balanchine. The great Galina Ulanova who was my teacher taught me to be selective in my choice of a repertoire. An actor should have his own line of business or 'emploi.' He can experiment, but very cautiously.”

There are no small parts for Tsiskaridze where his profession is concerned. Preparation for any role is very important for him. The dancer says, ”It is desirable to know everything about the ballet, about the character, the composer, the choreographer – everything.” There is a huge collection of videos and books about ballet in his house and some ballet critics envy his knowledge of this art. He doesn't get tired of studying and researching something new in the subjects that have already been well explored by him.

After Tsiskaridze's appearance in Scheherazade in Rome and meeting Prima Ballerina Carla Fracci he said, ”There was a wonderful program in Rome called 'Serata Fokine-Nijinsky' with three ballets. I danced in Scheherazade, and then they showed Jeux and The Rite of Spring. These ballets are performed in the Opera de Paris, in Covent Garden, and in Rome but the Bolshoi has never showed them. It was very interesting for me because I have never seen Jeux. Carla Fracci and Nikolai Hübbe danced in this performance. A similar program was shown in Rome last year with Till Eulenspigel by Nijinsky instead of Scheherazade. This time they decided to diversify it and invited Andris Liepa to stage Scheherazade as he did it for the Mariinsky Theater earlier.”

He continues, “There are ongoing discussions about its [Scheherazade] authenticity. I didn't know that Carla Fracci danced a duet from it with [Paolo] Bortoluzzi in the past. She told me that it was shown to her by dancers from the Diaghilev troupe. Although she danced it many years ago, a videotape of her performance still exists. In fact, there was no such duet in Fokine’s first version in 1910. He returned to this ballet more than once and produced it worldwide, so this duet which many consider a fabrication existed, in fact, in several versions. Apparently, there is a silent film about the last years of Fokine's life, with a recording of this performance. This tape is preserved by Isabelle Fokine.”

One of Tsiskaridze's favorite classic ballets is Giselle. He saw it for the first time at the age of three. Later, when he was ten, he made a little doll ‘Giselle’ which he still keeps at his home. With a warm feeling he recalls his first appearance in Giselle on the Bolshoi stage in 1997 in the role of Albrecht for which he was rewarded with a Golden Mask prize. Nobody dances this role at the Bolshoi as Tsiskaridze does – not only because of his virtuosity, which is intrinsic to his dancing, but also for the emotion he brings to his acting.

He explains, “Generally speaking, the canonical Giselle is very simple in itself. My body allows me to push it a little bit further and I do it. When I started doing ballet I set up a certain goal for myself and always aimed at it. Dancers seldom do the last part of the variation in Act II with double renversé – few dancers can do it. Vakhtang Chabukiani and Nikolai Fadeyechev danced this variation, then it was danced by Vladimir Vasiliev and now by me. In order to do it one must have a particular physique. I learnt this role from Nikolai Fadeyechev (he is my coach) for Yuri Grigorovich's version of Giselle. I like this version and will dance it while I can.“

Marina Radina: Are there any steps or movements that you cannot do?
Nikolai Tsiskaridze:
“Yes, certainly. I wouldn't say that I cannot do them, I just don’t want to – it’s not my cup of tea. I know from my experience that if one doesn’t execute some steps easily, it is better not to risk it. It’s possible to try everything when you are young but when you have already reached a certain position, even small mistakes are hardly forgiven. However, it’s very boring not to make headway and, therefore, I always try to do something new for myself. Although other dancers simply don’t do this variation or they skip whole chunks of it, their errors are not noticed by anyone.”

Is it necessary to make a choice between skipping a difficult step that one cannot do, or to push oneself towards learning it?
“The problem is that ballet schools in the West require one to do everything equally well. Russian tradition is different. Marius Petipa, who was a great choreographer and a Russian courtier, also wrote about it. He knew very well that there was an influential man behind each ballerina's name who could damage his career. He had a phrase: ”You don't like it? Then we shall change everything.” I consider it a very precise method: a man should do such things on stage that he does perfectly. First of all, we work for the audience and not for those who judge ballet professionally. People come to the theater to enjoy themselves. On the other hand, there is a certain style and a definite set of movements, which must be mastered by those who are hailed as world stars. I suppose no dancer at the Bolshoi Theater would fail to do two double cabrioles in Giselle. They are always done on the Bolshoi stage. It shouldn’t even be argued, it has to be done, and done perfectly because it is a certain high level.”

Choreographers, ballet critics and ballet-goers note Tsiskaridze's extraordinary physique: the beautiful proportions of his supple body like a ready-made mold for a modern Apollo; unusual plasticity and stretching that allows his legs to open wide in a full écarté when he does a grand jeté. And his astonishing ability to soar up and hover in the air, as well as the speed of his pirouettes and jetés en tournant.

Roland Petit, who choreographed Dame Pique for Tsiskaridze in the Bolshoi last year, arrived in Moscow several months later after the production had already been firmly established in the theater's repertoire. He noted that with the passing of time Tsiskaridze continues to perfect the role of Hermann; he lives his role and dances with inner freedom. Petit is sure that Tsiskaridze ”can do everything in any style on any stage of the world and the world will be his oyster because he is a great talent.” Next January, Petit will return to Moscow to work with Tsiskaridze again. This time he will produce Le Notre Dame de Paris at the Bolshoi, and the handsome dancer will play the ugly Quasimodo.

He says, “I have already danced so many handsome nobles and princes. The handsome Phoebus, as described by Hugo and portrayed by Petit, does not stimulate any nice feelings; he is just a machine for carnal love. I have also been a villain on stage many times. But I’ve never danced someone so ugly. It’s interesting for me. It’s always nice to dance to beautiful music, and the most beautiful melody in this score is Quasimodo's theme.“

Does any ballet exist which you have heard about but have never seen?
“There are many ballets that I haven’t seen live but only on videotapes. The perception of
live performances differ from the one that you get seeing them on tape. Let's take Le Parc by Preljocaj. I liked it very much even on tape. When in Paris I deliberately went to see this ballet. Usually I applaud with ardour and shout "Bravo!" – I know what it means to be a performer. But then, after Le Parc, I sat with my mouth opened and couldn’t even clap. I was so 'crushed' by their art. It was so ingenious, so perfect; the dancing was so fantastic! I think it was an energy influence. Maybe if I go to see it again, I will not get such an impression.”

Would you like to dance in this ballet?
“Yes, I’d like to but it seems to me that there is no need to do it after that cast of Le Parc. I cannot do it better. I cannot do the same and I wouldn’t like to compete with these dancers.”

Is ballet a competition for you?
“No, but there are some things you would like to work for. And there are some things at a level you aspire to achieve but you cannot do it; not that you would do something worse, just that you would do it another way. For example, a production that was made for some particular dancers; like Dame Pique, which was made on Ilze Liepa and me. I understand there can be many other dancers who may be better technically, but nevertheless they will be compared to us. Nobody has seen Carlotta Grisi; therefore, any ballerina can go on stage in Giselle. But if we have seen…”

Why do you try to record practically all your performances on video? Does it help?
“It does help me because I can track what shape I have at present and what is necessary for me to correct.”

Previously, dancers wanted to be coached by some particular teachers. Is there such a specialist or teacher anywhere by whom you would like to be taught?
“I think there are such teachers but it is a different time now. It's not only necessary to work in the class but also to be 'stewed' in the right atmosphere. For me, for example, it was a very cognitive time that I spent in the Opera de Paris. I was there for a month and during that time, I felt like an employee of the Opera because they treated me like another l'étoile of this theater. Such an experience can give any dancer a lot of knowledge and be very beneficial. And I’d be happy to repeat it. There is no better place than the Opera de Paris – it is a Mecca for ballet.“

After coming back from the USA, Tsiskaridze is going to dance in the New Year's Nutcracker. December 31st is a double holiday for him – it is his birthday. He loves to be on stage on that day: he believes that the whole year will be as good as his first day of the New Year.

 

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Edited by Malcolm Tay


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