Interview: Valery Mikhailovsky
Ahead of May 16th's Congress Center show, the St. Petersburg State Male Ballet's founder explains why he first wanted to dance women's parts
How did the idea of men performing female roles come up?
Like any other ballet dancer I started in classical ballet. For many years I was a classical ballet dancer, dancing solo parts.
When you are a professional and the result that you achieve on stage depends not only on you, but also on your dancing partner, you need to understand one another. Even more so than in a marriage, I think. Two people work hard on stage together. Ballet is not just beauty. So, sooner or later a professional male dancer needs to understand the physical side of female dancing parts and it's essential that he does.
Even at school we tried to dance on points. Trust me; all male dancers wonder what it is like to dance female parts. But yes, not many male dancers are brave enough to try that, because female and male classic dance is different even in a physical way -- for instance men and women have different centers of gravity, not to mention height and weight. To dance female parts means to go against nature. That was my choice, either to be just a dancer or not.
I think it was an example of professional consciousness and I wanted to prove to myself that I can do it. Also, you might think I'm not modest, but dance became my whole life and I wanted to feel dance fully and be more than just a dancer. I want to create dance, which is living art -- it develops, it changes.
Answering your question: the idea didn't come up at a particular moment; it was developing for years along with my experience and my own artistic growth.
Some people consider your ballet controversial, some consider it humorous. What was your intention?
In the 1980s and 1990s there was a widespread dispute in the ballet world about the validity of male ballet's existence.
At the same time it was taboo. Ballet has many faces or might have many faces, right? It's beautiful art and I treat dance very seriously. But let's have some fun as well. Why not?
For ages ballet has been available to a limited circle of art connoisseurs. Not everybody has to love ballet or understand it, and not everybody needs to admire classical music. I think we make ballet more comprehensible to people by what we're presenting on stage and also help them understand this art. Let's keep all the beauty from classical dance and perform it with a bit of humor.
We also present some serious issues, but in our own way. In my opinion art cannot exist without a relation to real life, therefore life is our inspiration.
There are many possibilities for men in ballet. Are your dancers thrilled to dance female roles in costumes and make up?
They are thrilled to dance. Female roles just give us a chance to dance even more and to feel dance fully. It might also be more of a challenge for a male dancer to create a female role. If we speak about costumes and makeup then we are all just actors on stage. Ballet is the first theatre of all -- costumes, makeup, and decoration are a part of everyday life for actors. In this case we don't differ from any other actors.
If you were to do a ballet piece with many male roles, would you decide to do it the other way around, I mean, to let only women play these parts?
We're talking about controversy and now you're asking me a very controversial question! This is a question for discussion in the next decade of ballet art. I would be a little skeptical about a women-only ballet.
Again, there's a problem with technique and physical abilities. What would happen with pas de deux from Siegfried and Odette or any other pas de deux, which are ballet's essence? Just simple things -- a male dancer must be strong to lift a ballerina.
I don't see any barriers except for this one. I have always been amazed how much ballerinas work. If they are able to practice and dance on points for eight hours a day, then they are capable of doing anything!
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