An Interview with David Avdysh, Artistic Director of the Perm State Ballet

by Catherine Pawlick

April 9, 2003 -- Few Americans have heard of Russia's Perm State Ballet Theatre, but this 75-year old cornerstone of regional Russian culture, now on its first North American tour, is a ballet troupe as steeped in classical tradition as either the Kirov or the Bolshoi.

It was a regional performance of "Giselle" in 1926 that first brought ballet to the city of Perm, which is located in the Urals not far from Yekaterinburg. But it wasn't until World War II when the Kirov Ballet left St. Petersburg and evacuated to the Perm that ballet arrived there to stay. Some of the dancers and teachers from the Maryinsky troupe stayed on to found the Perm State Ballet School and Theatre, which thrives as a cultural center even today.

The Perm State P.Tchaikovsky Opera and Ballet Theatre has a long classical history, with its own opera company, ballet company and orchestra all under the same roof, in the tradition of most large European houses. The Perm Theatre has performed all of Tchaikovsky's works, and the city itself was home to the young Sergei Diaghilev, proving that innovative artistic talent is part of the lifeblood of the Urals.

Today the Perm Ballet company maintains its close ties with the Maryinsky Theatre by frequently inviting teachers and dancers from St. Petersburg to visit Perm. For their North American tour, the People's Artist Gabriela Komleva helped to restore the classical full-length ballet, Tchaikovsky's "The Sleeping Beauty." During her rehearsal period Komleva pointed out the high standards of the Perm Ballet, saying she could visually trace the relationship between the company's dancing and that done by the Maryinsky Theatre.

This is thanks to the training offered at the Perm Ballet school, which, according to Artistic Director David Avdysh, is "more similar the Vaganova method than it is to the Bolshoi style." Avdysh is quick to add, however, that there are "some things that are not the same." Those include differences in the upper body carriage ("not as dry") and the fact that the Perm dancers' movements are not as "wide" as those of the Maryinsky Theatre, due mainly to the differing widths of their respective stages.

It is against this backdrop of rich cultural history that Avdysh has set his artistic vision for the company. No stranger to the theatre, Avdysh graduated from the Kiev Ballet School and also pursued the Leningrad Conservatory's ballet master program. During the past 20 years he has staged operas and ballets as well as directed musical theatre and variety shows. His choreographic direction includes ballets for the Leningrad Conservatory Opera Studio and the Omsk Music Theatre. He has also choreographed programs for Olympics figure skating champions. Avdysh joined the Perm in January of last year as its new director, bringing his considerable creative and professional experience.

After touring the current revival of "The Sleeping Beauty," this Ukraine native will resume his work on two new full-length works that will premiere with the Perm State Ballet. The first, "Master Margaret," is based on Mikhail Bugakov's story and set to music by Dmitri Shostakovich. The other will be based on Leo Tolstoy's "The Uprising," and set to the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff.

When asked about his thoughts about the arts in Russia today, Avdysh commented that despite the shift to the market economy, it is still fairly uncommon for private companies to fund theatre arts.

"As a result, most major ballet companies [like the Perm Theatre] are still state-supported," he says.

Avdysh corrected a common misconception that Russia does not foster many modern dance companies, stating that there are many contemporary and modern ballet companies in Russia.

"The Western public may assume that there is no modern dance in Russia, and that just isn't true. It exists -- it isn't large, or done on a big scale, but it does exist," he says.

Despite the growing trend towards modern dance companies, he and other members of the Perm Ballet firmly believe that classical ballet will continue to thrive on a global scale.

"Each [Russian ballet] company has its own audiences, and there are those who love just ballet in general," he says, which will promote the continuation of the genre.

"The classics will definitely thrive well into the 21st century," Vitaliy Poleshchuk, principal dancer with the troupe, agrees. "The generation that was raised on classical ballet will raise the next generation. Classical ballet is a major part of our culture. The classics will always be in demand."

I asked Avdysh what his thoughts were on touring during wartime.

"Like any other artists we do not support war," he says. "We're definitely against any war action. In Russia, they say that when cannons fire, the muses get silent. But we are lucky this is not true. We are lucky to be here and looking forward to performing tonight."

"It is an honor to be dancing here [in America], and very important to us that the American public sees a professional company with high standards -- that they realize not only the Kirov and Bolshoi exist in Russia, but that companies from the provinces are also worth seeing."

Appreciation goes to Olga Kamenskikh for providing translation services during this interview.

Read Catherine Pawlick's interview with Perm State Ballet Principals Vitaliy Poleshchuk and Natalia Moiseeva-Poleshchuk.

Edited by Mary Ellen Hunt.

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