Maria Iliushkina’s humble, gracious manner and philosophical intelligence make this promising young ballerina stand out from her peers. After studying rhythmic gymnastics as a child, she shifted to ballet which held greater interest for her. Vaganova Today spoke with her about her career and life philosophy.
Your family isn’t associated with ballet: you initially studied rhythmic gymnastics and then shifted to ballet, why?
“Choreography” is in fact the term used for ballet lessons taken by gymnastics students. Rhythmic, or “artistic” gymnastics as it is called in Russia, is a school of movement that developed as a sport and is closely connected with ballet. It’s not rare for someone to shift from one world to another –sports to art– many ballerinas on stage here now came from gymnastics and started as athletes. Gymnastics is great for the development of “plastique” (physical expression and flexibility), coordination, endurance, and musicality. It turned out that I enjoyed my choreographic lessons (ballet lessons) much more than the gymnastics. The pedagogue at our gymnastics school was a former ballerina who told me I had the right traitsfor ballet, even more so than for gymnastics. So I attended the Academy of Vaganova. There was a sense of purpose associated with it.
Petipa’s creations, in their essence, are unmistakable: lines of corps de ballet in various formations, a love triangle culminating in the victory of love over evil, power or convention, layers of demi-soloist variations punctuating the leading characters’ solo dancing, elaborate set changes and exquisite costumes. Petipa’s large, three- (or originally four-) act masterpieces were intended as half-day entertainment for the nobility, and considering their length, were tall orders to fulfill. As a result, some of them included a large range of –at times arguably superfluous– additions, including storms, live animals, lovely maidens, and types of stage contraptions that ascend, descend or slide across stage. Above all though, they contain fairytales. Such is the case with the reconstruction of “The Pharoah’s Daughter”, a Petipa ballet first created 161 years ago at the Mariinsky’s historical theatre that reappeared this year on March 24 after more than 5 years of research restorative efforts.
Yago Gonzaga received his early ballet training in Brazil, performed with the Perm Ballet Theatre in Russia, and after being spotted by Laurent Hilaire, more recently became a soloist in Munich’s Bayerishe Staatsballett. His incredible lines, elastic flexibility and innate musicality mixed with a deep sense of romanticism make him not just a talented dancer, but one who clearly will become a principal with the troupe before long. VaganovaToday spoke with him about his career path to date.
The majority of ballet films, while showing the rigor, discipline, and endless stamina required for the profession, nevertheless have a tendency to exaggerate certain aspects of the art. The “glass in pointe shoes” theme from the movie “Black Swan”, and the starstruck relentless stage mother in “The Turning Pointe” are two that give ballet a bad name, or at least embellish the negative, establishing connotations that are not constants in every ballet company or for every dancer. Some films include poor acting, bad camera angles, and campy scenes meant only for mass consumption, and few are the films on ballet that truly capture the internal life of ballet dancers.
All photos courtesy of Mariinsky Theatre, by photographer Alexander Neff.
Over the past 300 years, there has not been a single war during which Russian ballet stopped its activity.
Just after the Great Russian Revolution of 1917, Agrippina Vaganova helped save the Imperial Ballet from dying at the hands of the new Soviet regime by creating a new methodology within the Leningrad Choreographic School, and “updating” classical ballets such as Swan Lake and Esmeralda, in order to make them easily digestible by the proletariat. During World War II, ballet students evacuated far from the front lines to the city of Perm, where they continued to study and train, planting the seeds for the preservation of Vaganova’s methodology in the theatre there.
Jacopo Tissi, who hails from Italy, was promoted to principal dancer by Makhar Vasiev after just 5 years with the troupe.
Igor Tsvirko likewise was made principal dancer.
Congratulations to both on their new ranks! And Happy New Year! Vaganova Today is looking forward to what 2022 has in store for all of the ballet companies of the world. Here is to more performances and more promotions!
Perhaps one of the most intellectual choreographers on the ballet landscape today, Maxim Petrov gained his roots in choreography even as a student of the famed pedagogue Gennady Seliutsky, and continued to grow his career creating ballets while simultaneously performing with the Mariinsky. This young man is already the holder of Russia’s prestigious Golden Sofit and Golden Mask awards, and has already expanded his horizons and set ballets in the US. Click to hear more (English subtitles are provided).
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Starting on the 4th of December, Vaganova Academy students performed three Nutcracker performances prior to the end of 2021 in which, per the usual tradition, former graduates danced Clara and the Prince with students dancing all of the other roles.
The Academy has been plagued with the pauses and restrictions that come with the Covid pandemic– instead of graduation performances on stage the Mariinsky, last year the performance was held inside the Academy’s small theatre. More recently, restrictions have lifted slightly, and in addition to performing in their own “Nutcracker”, the students have also participated in the Mariinsky’s “Sleeping Beauty” and “Shurale” within the span of the same month.
At the general rehearsal of this Vainonen “Nutcracker” –performed to a full orchestra with costumes– Maria Koshkaryova, who will graduate in 2022, danced the first adult Clara. Koshkaryova is a slight, petite brunette, with long slender limbs and a youthful appearance. She shows much technical promise. For the first performance however, Anastasia Lukina, already with the Mariinsky since 2015, danced “big” Clara with professional polish and noble presentation. If not emitting the youthful freshness and raw sparkle of a student, her refinement and are evident throughout. Lukina has gained greater control of overly flexible feet and limbs over the last five years in the troupe, giving her great command of the stage, in addition to her natural beauty.
Despite the vast advances in ballet technique and performing prowess, it’s rare these days to really feel energy from artists on stage who, increasingly, may focus on steps at the expense of artistry. But in Saint Petersburg, the double debut of Maria Iliushkina and Victor Caixeta in Bayadere in late November far surpassed anything that has run on the famous Mariinsky stage in recent years. From Iliushkina’s reserved, noble pure-heartedness to Caixeta’s uncontainable passion –and later irrepressible grief– all three hours of the performance drew the audience into a world far from Covid, masks and QR codes, reminding us how precious human feelings can be.
Join Vaganova Today for it’s first-ever video interview with one of the Mariinsky’s youngest stars, Victor Caixeta, who hails from Brazil, trained in Germany, and is now in his 5th year with the company. Victor is a second soloist, but has a huge following both locally and internationally, and above all, is a humble, kind-hearted gentleman. Victor was the last pupil that world-famous pedagogue Gennady Silutsky worked with prior to the latter’s unexpected death in the autumn of 2020. We include here clips of Victor working with Silutsky to give you an idea of the energy and dedication both of these individuals bring to their art form. We hope you enjoy watching the interview as much as we enjoyed creating it with him!
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The Diaghilev PS festival, held every year in Russia for more than a decade and directed by Natalia Metelitsa, focuses on bringing contemporary choreography to the public, echoing the steps that famous impresario Sergey Diaghilev took when revealing ballet to the world at large.
This year the festival’s Petersburg debut, held on November 4th, featured a full evening honouring the famous Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov under the clever moniker “L.A.D” (the composer’s initials). Desyatnikov, hailed for being an “elegant, ironic, Petersburger” and known for his “ability to surprise” in the words of Metelitsa, alludes to numerous classical scores in many of his musical creations, where themes from Tchaikovsky or Saint-Saens suddenly creeping in, only to disappear among a flourish of other unique notes.
For those who may recall, Alexei Miroshnichenko, former artistic director of the Perm Ballet Theatre and prior to that, balletmaster at the Mariinsky, first introduced the balletgoing public to Desyatnikov’s music when he choreographed a pair of ballets to his scores:
It seems that true choreographers are born, and not made. At least that’s the case for Maxim Sevagin, now in his sixth season as a soloist with the Stanislavsky Ballet, but with more than ten years’ experience creating choreographic works for various companies. His name is already known well in Russia, and it’s just a matter of time before the West figures out he is one of the most promising young choreographers. Vaganova Today has been tracking his career since his graduation from the Vaganova Academy in 2015, and sat down with him to discuss his career thus far.
You were not born in Saint Petersburg, but in a small city, Rubtsovsk, in Siberia. What caused you to move to Saint Petersburg?
At age 4, I saw some dancers from a local studio performing on the street for a city holiday. I asked my mom to take me to classes, but I never knew what ballet was. Then, when I was about 10, I told her I wanted to dance professionally and receive dance training education. She started to think about what to do because in the provinces where we were located, far from the capital, you might say people aren’t as cultured and don’t know much about ballet. Through my friends, my mother found out about the Novosibirsk Choreographic College and I joined it and spent 1 year there.
A triptych of jubilee Artistic Evenings was presented in July as well: Viktoria Tereshkina (July 3) and Ekaterina Kondaurova (July 6) each celebrated 20 years on stage, while Kimin Kim (July 18) marked his 10th anniversary with the Mariinsky. A gala concert was also held (July 8) in honour of famed pedagogue Ludmila Kovalyova, who has cultivated many ballet careers in Russia, among them Olga Smirnova and Diana Vishneva.
Mariinsky White Nights Festival
This year’s “White Nights” festival begins on June 2nd with a series of back-to-back performances throughout the month that include Swan Lake by the Jakobson Ballet Theatre, and on June 10, 13 and 14, the Vaganova Academy annual graduation performances. Currently, Alexei Ratmansky is setting The Pharoah’s Daughter on the troupe, with a premiere set for December 2021.
The Bolshoi held a press conference in May, announcing it’s 2021-22 season plans. Alexei Ratmansky will present “The Art of Fugue” in April 2022 set to music by Johann Sebastian Bach. July 2022 will bring three other new ballet premieres, rescheduled from the initial plans for 2020. Vyacheslav Samodurov’s “DanceMania” will appear on a bill along with Anton Pimonov’s “Made in Bolshoi” and principal dancer Artemy Belyakov’s debut work “Russian Seasons”.
On May 12, Mariinsky Ballet soloist David Zaleyev fell off of an electric scooter without a helmet, hit his head on the sidewalk pavement, and was immediately both immobile and unconscious. Two passersby as well as a semi truck stopped to attend to him, and he was taken to the hospital where it was determined he had experienced brain injuries, and was placed in a medicated coma (presumably to stop swelling). On around May 19th or 20th he was transferred to the Polenov Neurosurgery Research Institute in Petersburg, still in a coma. His chances, as the articles claim, are 50/50. We are praying for David, and hope for a miraculous and early recovery, and that he may dance again.
Mariinsky Ballet Prima Ballerina Daria Pavlenko made a difficult decision three years ago. She chose to retire officially from the Mariinsky Ballet troupe although she had the right to remain longer. While other primas have remained on roster for five, ten, or more years after the accepted retirement age of 38, performing rarely or not at all yet still receiving pay, Pavlenko decided to move on to other pursuits. She performed Alexei Ratmansky’s “Anna Karenina” for her final performance in July 2018 and immediately enrolled in the Rimsky Korsakov Conservatory to study pedagogy. With her plate full of various endeavors now, she continues to develop her stage career in a new direction, while tending to her family full time as well.
Untainted by the elitism that plagues many international stars, Daria Pavlenko’s honest approach to her art form emerges just as easily in conversation as it does in all of her onstage roles. VaganovaToday sat down with her to find out about her life as a dancer, teacher, mother and wife.
After a short break for the New Year’s holidays — January 1st to 6th were holidays for the Mariinsky and just Jan. 1st for the Bolshoi — Russian theatres slowly resumed their full performance schedule in early 2021 with the 50% capacity rule in most places.*
With the rollout of the Sputnik V this year, increasing numbers of citizens and visitors have been receiving the vaccine against the coronavirus, which will hopefully slow the spread and ease the country back to normalcy.
January and February passed without any notable premieres at the top 2 theatres except for the repeat of last September’s Bolshoi programme, “Four Characters in Search of a Plot”.
March promises some excitement though, when the Bolshoi will premiere “Orlando”, if all goes as planned, on March 24th. The work by Christian Shpuck, currently the head of Ballet Zurich in Switzerland, is based on Virginia Wolfe’s novel about a creature who travels across 350 years of time, changing from male to female along the way. Created and rehearsed during the pandemic, it will premiere on the Bolshoi’s new stage.
Meanwhile, word has it that the Mariinsky Festival will resume this April, which would be great news indeed, since last year’s was interrupted by the start of the pandemic and a national lockdown. But without the ability to import foreign dancers, which is usually the focus of the festival, it remains to be seen what might be presented.
*At the Bolshoi, the upper balconies and box seats are closed permanently and tickets to those seats are not sold. Instead the orchestra seats are sold in a checkerboard pattern, but people re-seat themselves (next to each other) and masks and social distancing are perfunctory measures to get through the door, at best.
Holding the prestigious position of first soloist with the Mariinsky, Alexander Sergeev is much more than one of the most praised dancers in Russia. He has long been dancing principal roles, and popular opinion suggests he should in fact hold principal status. Sergeev has already created several compelling ballets that have been performed at the Mariinsky’s annual festivals, and he has been pursuing a side business as a concert producer with significant success.
Vaganova Today sat down with him to find out more about his career and aspirations.
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In Russia, the quarantine due to Covid-19 continues through 15 June, and some expect the end of the month. At the Mariinsky Theatre, dancers have returned to morning class already, while the Bolshoi troupe was sent on official annual vacation starting 1 June, which will last 56 days.