An Interview with Ilya Kuznetsov of the
Mariinsky/Kirov Ballet

by Joanne Brack

London, 5 May 2003 -- As Daria Pavlenko was now not joining the tour all my preparation for an interview with her went out the window and I sat in the lobby of the hotel frantically preparing some questions for Ilya Kuznetsov who had kindly agreed to be Daria’s replacement. As it turned out Ilya is probably one of the most interesting dancers of the tour to interview at present. Dancing in the UK premiere of Madame Lioneli this week with Irma Nioradze and also presenting excerpts from the controversial Manon and the St. Petersberg stalwart, Raymonda, Ilya certainly has an interesting and exciting week to look forward to.

Ilya came across as a thinker and as someone with great focus. As he sat in reception calmly relaxing you could see the many thoughts running through his head perhaps about the week ahead. He came across as proud of his traditional roots but also someone who appreciates and would like to see the development of the modern style.

I started by asking Ilya about some of the pieces he is performing this week.

Can you tell me a little bit about the new piece, Madame Lioneli that you are performing?

The performance is really about the woman, a business woman who is so busy during the day that she forgets she is a woman, but in the evening she becomes a real woman.

As a new piece what challenges have you encountered in bringing it to the stage?

There were no major challenges with the performance and we are not anticipating that there will be. The only challenges really are the theatre and how people will relate to the piece. To begin with the main challenge was with the management as they were not happy to let us go and do this piece at one point. On the one hand I am all for order, but while there are no proper contracts or there are essential items missing from contracts then we can hardly expect real order and misunderstandings are bound to happen. That was the main challenge. We also had to rehearse the ballet in Moscow because we were using a Moscow corps de ballet and as we had quite a few performances around the world it was quite a challenge to be able to get back to Moscow enough to rehearse, but we managed it.

So it was co-ordinating the project that was the real challenge?

Indeed, but despite all these inconveniences we (Irma and himself) really love the project because we think it is our project and we really appreciate the subject matter. I think it is a really relevant topic.

When you performed Manon in the UK you received mixed reviews. What were your feelings on this?

It was inevitable as after all we were showing it in the UK and I understand that people may be jealous of our production. We tried to present a version of our own, after all it is your culture, but our culture is different. We have clichés and habits of our own. I’m actually going to see Manon tonight at the Royal Opera House. I like the way Manon is danced in the West but we have a school of our own and we are expected to contribute something of our own to it. We love to dance Manon, put our souls in it and how can you criticize souls? We did it with love and affection and we love the piece.

As far as criticism and reviews are concerned do you take much notice of reviews or do you listen more to other dancers or the audience perhaps?

It really depends on the competence of either and also the purpose either has in saying this or that. My Mum has always taught me to listen to the enemies as a friend can just hush it over!

Which piece are you looking forward to performing the most this week?

First of all we are here to show our premiere (Madame Lioneli). We are excited about it and we are certainly going to invest the most in it. This is not to say that when it comes to Manon and Raymonda that we will not do it properly.

Obviously with something new you will want to make the biggest impact?

Well, we are focusing more on this particular piece now which means more effort and more excitement, because after all Manon and Raymonda have been shown so many times. Raymonda is part of the St. Petersberg School. I’m definitely feeling nervous and excited and I understand so is Irma.

Within your career so far you have played many of the traditional roles. Do you have a preference for the more traditional or more modern ballets?

Well the way my creative career has developed I have had to dance Siegfried in the morning and Sleeping Beauty’s Prince in the evening, but I do love modern ballet. I danced Manon in Stockholm and whilst there watched them stage some modern productions. I guess only 20% of that will be worthwhile but even that is fine. Let the 80% be not so interesting, the 20% is what matters. History will show this and that is the gist of the arts, people trying some things may succeed, others not.

Well I suppose any art form must constantly evolve?

It is too bad this is not happening in Russia today, well at least it is only happening on a minor scale. This is a time for business or for those who want do business by exploiting artists, because artists don’t want to see that sort of life. There are so many people whose careers are now over and everybody seems to ignore them, they don’t even bother to recall how they were. It is sad.

In the future would you like more opportunities to tour or do you prefer being based at one theatre for a longer period of time?

Well I am already used to new developments and new projects, that is how life has taught me. I accept everything even things that maybe I shouldn’t have accepted. But then when I started working I had to say no to certain things because I realized that I wasn’t always dealing with professionals. I have also had to invest my inner world to prove things. My life is very impulsive and incoherent sometimes as I have to cope with so many things.

With time pressing on and the press briefing drawing nearer we unfortunately had to leave the interview there. Ilya seems to work within and give his best within the constraints of company life but there seems to be a passion from him to continue to do so much more with his creativity. I feel he would be a very interesting prospect as a guest artist with a western company should the opportunity arise.

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