The Prix de Lausanne announced the appointment of Nikolai Tsiskaridze, Principal of the Vaganova Ballet Academy, to the Prix de Lausanne jury for the 2016 Prix de Lausanne competition. Mr. Tsiskaridze has graciously agreed to take on this role after Ms. Shelly Power retired from the jury upon her appointment as full-time Artistic Director and CEO of the Prix, effective in late 2016.
In his interview to the Prix Mr. Tsiskaridze gives an advice for the candidates: ‘Competition – this is wonderful, this is your chance. But the implication of our profession is ballet performance. Not all dancers who can and who become ballet artists, those who are in the lead ballet roles, participate in competitions. I wish the Prix de Lausanne participants to believe in themselves’.
In 2016 the Vaganova Academy student Alena Kovaleva will represent Russia on the Prix. Laura Fernandez, the international trainee of the VBA, will represent Switzerland.
The 28th of October 2015 marked the end of Nikolay Tsiskaridze’s first two years as head of the VaganovaAcademy and the staff celebrated the occasion with a small get together.
His appointment was controversial at the time, and many high ranking dancers and administrators spoke out against the Bolshoi dancer being given the top job at the Mariinsky school, a school that he hadn’t come through himself. However, after two years the consensus seems to be that he is doing a good job and is popular both inside and outside the revered Academy’s walls.
On paper his achievements look good, though of course it is the calibre of the dancers who graduate which counts in the end, but as the Vaganova is not only a ballet school but also an academic institution, paper does play its part. For example, Tsiskaridze re-launched the Vaganova’s publishing house which has published both new Russian works as well as translating books into Russian. He has also raised the profile of The Bulletin of the VaganovaBalletAcademy which from 1991 was published every two years, yet now has a 200 to 300-page edition coming out every two months. The rather austere publication contains original articles and as well as dissertations by degree and doctorate students, and is also freely available to consult online. Recent articles have included The concept of choreography, dramaturgy and motifs in Balanchine’s ‘Symphony in C’; John Cranko: revisiting the creation of a full-evening narrative ballet; various essays on Tchaikovsky’s music; and a piece by Tsiskaridze himself called, We had to find our own accents which discusses Roland Petit’s Carmen. He also restored the chair of Ballet History and Theory at the Academy.
Tsiskaridze’s exotic mane, plucked eyebrows and flamboyant nature probably did not help him to be taken seriously when he was appointed head of the VaganovaAcademy, yet there was a very practical reason for why he was selected for the job, as he explained in a recent press conference.
'When Russia entered the Bologna Process, Grigory Ivliev [former head of State Duma Culture Committee and current Deputy minister of Culture of the Russian Federation] asked me to act as representative of the ballet world. I ended up regularly attending the State Duma meetings, although I don’t belong to any party.'
The Bologna Process aims to ensure comparability in the standards of higher education qualifications among European countries.
'In order to be able to properly communicate with the ministers and the government officials, I had to familiarise myself with the laws. I read everything I could get my hands on, and my hair stood on end as I did. There are so many things that are completely incompatible with ballet! I did my best to make sure that some changes were made to the proposed laws. To illustrate my point, I had to literally perform fouettés in front of the Duma members.'
The Vaganova was facing similar bureaucratic situations:
'Laws, norms and standards are continually updated by the government, to a point where they begin to contradict the ballet and classical music education system. We can no longer teach music or ballet in the same way as we always have, because we will be breaking the laws of human and children’s rights. Unfortunately, due to the fact that my predecessors didn’t react to or resist any of these changes, my staff and I are now being forced to clean up the mess.
For example, a ballet class runs for one and a half hours but, according to the new laws, we are required to take a break. We cannot do this. A class has to run interrupted. It’s difficult to explain this to government officials, bureaucrats or the public from a moral point of view.'
Tsiskaridze got the job but, as with any changeover, noses were put out of joint and there were resignations.
Some of the management left of their own free will, but all of the teaching staff stayed put. There haven’t been any conflicts [he knocks on wood], only emotions. When it comes to creative individuals, bursts of emotion can sometimes be confused with conflict. When the parties are no longer speaking to each other – that’s conflict!
One of the changes that Tsiskaridze has brought about is to change employee contracts from one-year to five-years to give them more job security
When I came to the Academy, the staff were very nervous. They thought that I would rent the buildings out and fire everyone. I promised them a number of things, and I can honestly say that I’ve kept my promises.
During his first meeting with the Vaganova staff, he told them,
'It doesn’t matter what school I belonged to. I’ve given my whole life to ballet and serving this art form is the only thing that matters to me. Coming to this holy place only to leave a bad mark is unthinkable to me. How you choose to see this situation is entirely up to you, I only care about one thing: I don’t want to betray the trust and sully the memory of the great people who taught me.'
He quickly demonstrated that he was on their side and wished to respect and uphold the Vaganova method and traditions.
'I realised within weeks of joining Vaganova, that not a single meeting ensuring a consistency of the teaching method had been held at the Academy since the death of Konstantin Sergeyev 23 years before. I watched classes and saw the same movement taught differently by different teachers.
There are still some ballet teachers around who were taught by Vaganova herself so I brought them in for a meeting. They told me, ‘Kolya, no one’s asked us for advice, and we’re not even invited to the exams.’ They were very grateful when I called a meeting to discuss teaching methods.'
Tsiskaridze doesn’t have his head in the clouds with theoretical notions. As a dancer with an important international career, he is practical about the requirements of ballet companies and their repertoires.
'At first, I listened to everyone’s opinions, but now I simply say, ‘This is how we’re going to do it.’ This is because we have Vaganova’s textbook to rely on, and there is also a wonderful film, which was recorded in the 1940s, in which Vaganova and Tarasov spend an hour and a half explaining how each little thing must be done.
Also, I’ve performed everything there is to perform on the world’s stages and I know which things will be useful to our students when they graduate and which won’t be. That’s why, when someone tells me that we must teach something in a particular way, I respond by saying that although I understand that’s it’s part of Vaganova’s method, I know that when these dancers enter the Mariinsky theatre, they’ll be told that that no one does it this way anymore.'
Of course, as well as new ways of dancing, new styles of dance have been developed since Agrippina Vaganova died sixty-odd years ago.
'Modern dance isn’t currently part of the Vaganova’s compulsory curriculum; our priority is classical ballet. I don’t feel that we are teaching classical dance at a high enough level yet, there is still work to be done. I’ve managed to achieve some things but progress takes time.'
Pushing to modernise some of the repertory danced by the students, Tsiskaridze managed to negotiate with the sometimes tricky George Balanchine Trust to secure the rights for his students to perform Balanchine’s Raymonda Variations. He also contacted Russian choreographer Boris Eifman:
'I love and respect Boris Eifman. I told him that if he was interested in getting involved with the Academy, the doors are open.
Tsiskaridze is trying to broaden the school’s horizons in other ways too. The students now have the opportunity to perform entire acts of a ballet – from Sleeping Beauty and Laurencia – and not just divertissements as was the custom. Also, for more than 10 years the students have not performed outside St Petersburg, but last June, 170 of them danced at the Moscow’s Kremlin Palace, and soon they will tour to Japan.'
Encouragingly, the VaganovaAcademy is seeing a surge in applications,
'The teachers holding the auditions were completely overwhelmed and struggled to cope. They haven’t seen anything like this in years.'
Sadly, Russian health is poor – life expectancy in Russia is twelve years less than that in Britain, for example – and this is reflected in the children who present themselves to the Academy.
'The majority of the candidates didn’t meet the physical criteria. What’s even worse is that a lot of the children were turned down because of their weak health. It’s a huge problem. The second stage of the application process – this has been the case since the Imperial times – is a physical examination. Only a healthy child can pursue ballet.'
So what are the differences between the school that trained him and the school he now governs?
'I don’t think that there is a difference between the two schools. There is, however, a different dancing style, which is dictated by the respective sizes of the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky theatres. Albert E. Kahn talks about this in his book about Galina Ulanova: Ulanova moved to Moscow at 35, so she was a mature dancer with an impressive repertoire, yet she was forced to adjust all of her roles to the new environment.
You have to work very hard to be noticed on the Bolshoi stage. Making a movement with your arm isn’t enough – you have to take three steps and then move your arm. Only then will the audience be able to see you. You have to wear much heavier make-up too, because the space between you and the audience is so enormous. The pas de deux in Act III of Sleeping Beauty is a good example: while dancing this pas de deux at the Bolshoi, I would move two metres in either direction, but on the Mariinsky stage I essentially danced on one spot.'
In a comment about theatre in general and how he (encouragingly) goes to see many plays and not just dance, Tsiskaridze said,
'Sometimes I don’t understand how a show could have possibly been allowed to run. I lament the lack of a tougher approval process: I am against censorship but I am all for common decency. I don’t think there’s a need to show inappropriate things. I don’t feel that it is necessary for an actor to unzip his fly between proclaiming “To be,” and “or not to be”.'
He is certainly no revolutionary and so maintaining tradition is something that is in his nature, but not something that he will do simply by standing still:
'The tragedy of the Titanic took place because it was impossible to make a ship going at full speed come to a halt. Momentum carried it forward, and it’s the same here. One can only achieve change gradually.'
Earlier this year he trod on many international toes when he proclaimed the supremacy of the Russian schools, and he echoed that again at the press conference:
'As far as classical ballet education is concerned, the rest of the world struggles to compete with Russia. Our knowledge has been passed on ‘from feet to feet’ for centuries. Now that I’ve been a director for two years, I can tell you for a fact that a great deal depends of whoever is in charge of the school. It’s an enormous responsibility.'
In September his early champion, Valery Gergiev, said,
'Nikolay has already proven that he does a better job at Vaganova than his predecessors.'
There will be people who disagree with this, but his determination to do a good job can’t be denied.
'I’ve always been a straight-A student. I always try to do my best. I can’t say that I’m a genius who’s done everything perfectly, but I’ve certainly aimed for perfection.'
There are currently rumours in the corridors of the Bolshoi that as his contract with the Vaganova finishes in 2018, which is also when the Bolshoi’s General Director Vladimir Urin’s contract expires, then maybe Tsiskaridze will take over in Moscow.
'I will always be a Bolshoi Principal Dancer but one day I will become a former director of the Vaganova Academy. There is no such thing as a former principal dancer but there can be a former artistic director. Managers have an expiration date.'
Graham Gramilano Spicer
10 November 2015, resource: Gramilano: ballet, opera, photography…
October 28 marked two years since the People’s Artist of Russia and the Bolshoi Ballet principal dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze took charge of the Vaganova Ballet Academy, first as an acting principal and later on as an elected senior official.
At a press conference held at the regional TASS office in St. Petersburg Mr. Tsiskaridze gave an account of his work over the last 24 months.
He recollected how much he was astonished having discovered the portraits of the famous ballet dancers and choreographers, including those of Konstantin Sergeyev and Natalia Dudinskaya, were absent from the Academy walls: «Those people have devoted their lives to the Academy, and I would like the children to know them, to have the history of the school presented on its walls as soon as the pictures also mould the students’ consciousness». By now, almost all the corridors of the Vaganova BalletAcademy have been converted into a photo gallery of the St. Petersburg Ballet.
Over the two years, the VBA principal managed to solve a number of acute household problems: «The school building is a pretty old one. Its staircases are made of stone. It felt cold, while the children were running around being scantily dressed. No single carpet was there. Rostec Corporation has financially supported the initiative that allowed us to cover all the corridors and staircases with carpets. I was surprised to see how Boris Eifman Dance Academy in St. Petersburg was equipped. And we haven’t even had a tape-recorder. Now, the equipment of all the dancing halls is up-to-date».
However, the Vaganova Ballet Academy is still unable to get all the paperwork done to legalize the expansion of the Academy premises by 5000 square meters. «Here in St. Petersburg every stone is being treated as a monument. To ensure all the documents are in order, one needs about 2-3 months or even years. Renovation conducted at the Vaganova Ballet Academy actually meant reconstruction», Mr. Tsiskaridze said.
He also touched upon the peculiarities of ballet training: «Profession of a ballet dancer is a far cry from the rights of the child the way they are being interpreted today. The ballet lesson has to last for 1.5 hours without a break. Having a break is not possible, while officials insist we have to meet the standards according to which the children should have a break». All the changes are being introduced little by little: «Nothing can be done in a twinkling of an eye. Just the same way as Titanic could not stop at full speed». Tsiskaridze confessed he had to do fouetté sand to demonstrate the shape of his feet to the State Duma deputies and other high-ranking officials in order to explain the peculiarities of ballet training and the dancer’s profession on the whole. «I managed to make a point then. Nobody wishes to destroy the educational system we have, however the ministries also have to catch up with international legislation», Mr. Tsiskaridze said.
He stressed, the number of those representing various regions of Russia and CIS countries who sought admission to VBA this year was unprecedented. However, many children were rejected for medical reasons. Mr. Tsiskaridze finds it to be a serious problem as only a healthy child may undergo ballet training.
After the press conference was over, the staff members of the Vaganova Ballet Academy congratulated Nikolai Tsiskaridze upon the second anniversary of his principalship.
In 1990, the Vaganova Ballet Academy started cooperation with Ars Tokyo Company that has subsequently become its sponsor and principal partner in Japan.
Since 1991, VBA teachers annually hold masterclasses in different prefectures of Japan. Last time, the masterclasses were held by Maria Gribanova and Elena Poryvkina from July 10 to August 12, 2015.
Since 1995, an annual competition to win the chance to study at the Vaganova Ballet Academy is being held in the city of Utsunomiya within the framework of the government program, in coordination with the Tochigi Prefecture management.
VBA teachers are always on the jury panel. Over the 20-year history of the competition, about 120 students have undergone training at the Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg and were consequently engaged by various ballet companies in Japan, European countries and Russia. So, Ishii Kumiko has become the first Japanese trainee to have been admitted to Mariinsky Ballet where she has been dancing for the third year already.
This year, 23 ballet students took part in the competition. Six of them were invited to join the Vaganova International Trainee Program. Nakashima Minori (15), Ikeda Kento (18), Matsuno Mari (17), 16. Otsubo Yuka (17) and Karita Kanon (19) arrived in St. Petersburg in September and have already started their studies.
Besides annual masterclasses, Ars Tokyo regularly organizes VBA tours to Japan. From January 13 to February 2, 2016, VBA students will give 11 performances of Vasily Vainonen’s version of The Nutcracker in six prefectures of the country.
On October 1, a traditional party «First time on stage» was held at the Hermitage Theatre. Sixty first-year students of the Vaganova Ballet Academy received their student identity cards.
This year the party was specially enjoyable. Along with the first-year Vaganova Academy students the identity cards were presented to eighty pupils recently admitted to the International Academy of Music named after Elena Obraztsova, co-founded by Nikolai Tsiskaridze. The Vaganova Ballet Academy principal along with Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the State Hermitage Museum, greeted the new students, their parents, teachers and special guests including Ralph Fiennes. The British actor and filmmaker has made another visit to St. Petersburg and Vaganova Ballet Academy to seek new impressions that me be useful for his work on the film about Rudolf Nureyev.
Nikolai Tsiskaridze and Mikhail Piotrovsky.
First-year students of the Vaganova Ballet Academy are receiving their student identity cards.
Pupils of the International Academy of Music named after Elena Obraztsova.
Ralph Fiennes among the spectators.
The official part was followed by a concert for the first-year students who watched their schoolfellows performing on stage.
Daria Neupokoyeva, Varia Zakharova and Gennady Oorzhak in Pas de Trois from 'The Nutcraker'.
Giorgian dance, soloist - Marat Dzhabiev.
Aliona Kovaliova, variation from' Le Corsaire'.
Figueiredo de Santana Salome (Belgium).
Eleonora Sevenard and Pavel Ostapenko.
Photo by Viktor Vasiliev.
This year fourty three foreign students will be following the Vaganova International Trainee Program.
Twenty four trainees representing Japan, USA, Spain, Finland, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland and Hungary will be taking their first-year course, while another fifteen will be studying at the Academy already for the second year. Three more students decided to extend their contract to complete a three-year course, while Lawrence Lambert from Australia comes for training for the fourth year running.
To get an opportunity to join the Vaganova International Trainee Program some students have to undergo competitive selection process in their home countries. So, Marko Juusela representing Finland has been awarded the title of the best student of the masterclasses annually coducted in Mikkeli with participation of VBA teachers. In Japan, the competition to win the chance to study at the Vaganova Ballet Academy brought the victory to six young dancers at a time.
One of the VBA 6/I grade students this year is Nicholas MacKay representing USA. He has completed a five-year training course at the Moscow Ballet Academy, having begun his schooling at the age of 9. However, afterwards Nicholas preferred to continue his studies at the Vaganova Ballet Academy.
From July 17 to August 11 the Vaganova Ballet Academy teachers Maria Gribanova and Galina Bezuglaya will conduct a series of workshops in Japan for children of different ages.
For more information: http://www.arstokyo.co.jp/general/2015/workshop/
A series of masterclasses in classical, character and historical dance led by the Vaganova Ballet Academy teachers has been held in Mikkeli, Finland on July 2-12.
For two weeks the Vaganova Ballet Academy teachers Vadim Sirotin, Veronika Ivanova, Ilya Novoseltsev, Nina Ivanovich and Nikita Scheglov had been coaching ballet students from Finland, Sweden, Greece, USA, Belgium, India, Switzerland and South Africa. Besides the training sessions the masterclasses curriculum also included a number of lectures on the history of ballet.
Summer masterclasses in Mikkeli are being held already for the fourth time and traditionally finish with a Gala Concert featuring the Vaganova Ballet Academy students.
The best student of the masterclasses could continue training at the Vaganova Academy in St.Petersburg. This year fortune smiled upon Marko Juusela from Finland.
Marko Juusela could continue his traning at the Vaganova Ballet Academy in St.Petersburg.
Ballet class with Ilya Novoseltsev.
Nina Ivanovich teaching historical dances.
Nina Ivanovich teaching historical dances.
Students listen to the lecture on the history of ballet given by Nina Ivanovich.
Ballet class with Nikita Scheglov.
Vaganova Academy masterclass in Mikkeli with Veronika Ivanova.
Vadim Sirotin character dance masterclass.
On July 4-6, teachers and students of the Vaganova Ballet Academy visited the Lithuanian cities of Vilnius and Kaunas within the framework of the International Student Exchange Program and Masterclasses.
Five masterclasses in different types of dance and stage repertoire as well as a roundtable discussion and two Meet the Artist sessions were held at the National M.K.Čiurlionis School of Art in Vilnius.
On July 5, a Gala concert dedicated to the 90th anniversary of the Lithuanian Ballet took place at the open-air stage near the Kaunas Castle. The Gala was held within the framework of the XIV International Festival Operete Kauno Pilyje 2015 to unite 37 students and graduates of the Vaganova Ballet Academy and the students of the Ballet Department of the National M.K.Čiurlionis School of Art.
That day began with a joint masterclass for the students of both schools that was followed by an open rehearsal of the Gala concert. The pieces performed included the first act of the Sleeping Beauty by P.I. Tchaikovsky, the White Adagio from the Swan Lake and Pas de Quatre The Rose Garden from Le Réveil de Flore by R. Drigo. The performance was accompanied by mixed orchestra consisted of Russian, Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian musicians under the guidance of conductor A.N. Vasiliev. The gala was attended by almost 5000 spectators and also broadcasted by the National Lithuanian Television.
The Lithuanian Ballet will be officially celebrating its 90th anniversary on December 4. On that day in 1925, the first ballet independently staged in Lithuania – Coppelia by L. Delibes choreographed by Pavel Petrov – was presented in Kaunas.
On June 26, the Vaganova Ballet Academy students presented their graduation performance at the State Kremlin Palace in Moscow to celebrate Agrippina Vaganova's birthday. The programme previously shown at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg was now repeated in Moscow.
The programme consisted of three parts. The first act of the Sleeping Beauty (revised version by Konstantin Sergeev) was performed to celebrate the 90th graduation anniversary of Agrippina Vaganova's first class and specially honour her famous pupil Maria Semionova who performed the part of Princess Aurora not only on the Mariinsky and the Bolshoi stages but also in Opera de Paris. This time the principal part was performed by graceful Anastasia Lukina. She was partnered by Adrian Mitchell (USA), Nikita Vronskikh, Artem Kellerman and Roman Malyshev. The role of Carabosse was brilliantly played by Nikita Ksenofontov.
In the second act the Vaganova Ballet Academy students presented George Balanchine's Raymonda Variations. This 30-minute beautiful ballet has never been shown in Russia since the time of the NYCB tour of the country in 1962. Neither has it been staged by any European company. The ballet featured Nika Tkhvitaria and Yevgeny Kouznetsov as well as a few more talented young dancers who skilfully performed Balanchine's tricky variations.
The Laurencia Suite (choreographed by Vakhtang Chabukiani) shown in the third act of the Gala was staged by the famous Irina Gensler – a character dancer who had been shining on the stage of the Kirov Theatre for almost three decades. The music programme of the suite was drafted by the Vaganova Ballet Academy Principal Nikolai Tsiskaridze who used to work on the second act of Laurencia with Vakhtang Chabukiani as he was a student of the TbilisiBalletSchool. The Vaganova Ballet Academy students struck the audience with their grace and expressiveness and the Gala was a tremendous success. Renata Shakirova, German Borsai, Elena Solomyanko and Anna Skvortsova deserved big round of applause. The audience also warmly welcomed the Vaganova Ballet Academy foreign students – Adrian Mitchell (USA) and Nathalie Valev de Barès (Sweden).
The Vaganova Ballet Academy would like to thank the Mariinsky Theatre, the Mikhailovsky Theatre, the Maris Liepa Foundation, Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Olga Golodets and the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation for the overall support that made this unique performance possible. The event was attended by a great number of celebrities and the representatives of the diplomatic corps.
Photo by Svetlana Avvakoum and Elena Pushkina