Fateyev Discusses Mariinsky’s Direction in Ballet
Published: May 12, 2009 (Issue # 1473)
For The St. Petersburg Times
Yuri Fateyev, acting artistic director of the Mariinsky Theater’s ballet troupe.
Yuri Fateyev, in his mid-forties, was appointed by Valery Gergiev, head of the Mariinsky, as the acting artistic director of the theater’s ballet nearly a year ago in, June 2008. A former dancer of this greatest of classical ballet companies, he was a good character dancer and one of his memorable roles was the jester in “Swan Lake.” Fateev was also the main repetiteur for the Mariinsky’s large repertory of ballets by Balanchine, and is a valued teacher to many male dancers including the Mariinsky star Igor Zelensky. He has also taught at overseas companies including the Royal Ballet in London.
I interviewed Fateyev last month in his spacious office in the Mariinsky Theater, not far from the office of his predecessor Makhar Vaziev, who has since become the director of La Scala Ballet in Milan.
Fateyev began by praising the achievements of his predecessor, “I think that everything that has been done by Mr. Vaziev was not bad. I was actually working in Mr. Vaziev’s team. And according to his orders, I was working on the projects that he gave me to do, teaching the new ballets. We were working on the new premieres by Balanchine, Roland Petit and John Neumeier. I was assisting him. The major issue for me now is to keep the company in a good shape, and to achieve the highest standard of performance that has been the norm here for centuries. The other major issue is to bring up new young dancers, which has also been done before by Mr. Vaziev. It’s also most important to me.”
“There are three major policies that have been established for the artistic development of the company. The first is to keep up the classical repertoire as we have it, and to maintain it to the highest standards. The second is to find new choreographers, to introduce new choreographies for the company. The third is to look into the past artistic history of the Mariinsky Theater, and to consider which ballets deserve to be restored or restaged.”
But what new choreographers does he have in mind, besides the in-house choreographer Alexei Miroshnichenko who has created a number of ballets for the Mariinsky? “It’s very difficult to say for choreographers working for only half a year. It takes a very long time to bring up a choreographer. And it’s very difficult to find a good choreographer. I’ve got some names in mind, but I’d rather not say anything till I’ve seen some real results of their work.”
Last autumn, Fateyev promoted Alina Somova to a principal. It was a controversial decision, as there has been a lot of criticism of Somova distorting the classical line in her dancing. Fateyev explained, “I thought that by that time Somova had really grown and deserved the status of a principal.” Fateyev also brought into the Mariinsky earlier this year the star couple from the Mikhailovsky Theater – Denis Matviyenko and his wife Anastasia Matviyenko.
Lately there have been rumors circulating that the Mariinsky Theater has fired some dancers due to the current economic crisis. Fateyev denied this, however. “No, nobody has been fired at present. We’ll never fire a good dancer. The main task during a crisis for any official of any level, starting from President Medvedev down to the lowest level, is to keep and preserve all the good staff under his control, as well as their working environment, and to protect them from external conditions. It may be remnants of the Soviet system, when we have people in the company who are covered by certain law and we cannot fire them. It’s happening not just in our Theater but also in other companies overseas as well. This is not fair on a company, because they are taking away financial resources from the company. This crisis has made us think more about every detail of the administrative and artistic management.”
The production of “The Sleeping Beauty” that is being danced this season is the 1952 version by Konstantin Sergeyev. In Russia, this Soviet version is more popular than Sergei Vikharev’s reconstruction of the original 1890 Imperial Ballet version which has been acclaimed in the West. Many are worried Vikharev’s reconstructions of Petipa’s 19th century classics have been dropped.
“We have ‘Le Reveil de Flore’ in our repertory in May. This year we are taking Sergeyev’s production of “The Sleeping Beauty” for our overseas tours to Taipei, London, Baden Baden, and Washington next year. So in order to keep it to the highest standard, we have to keep it in our repertory.”
But shouldn’t performances of the reconstructed original version of “The Sleeping Beauty” be kept up in the Mariinsky Theater, which is after all where Petipa created his masterpiece in 1890? As a matter of fact, Vikharev has just reconstructed “Coppelia” for the Bolshoi Theater which has recently taken an interest in the reconstructions of the classics.
Fateyev, in what may come as a relief, mentioned the good news that Vikharev’s reconstructed original version of “The Sleeping Beauty” will continue to be performed. “As you know, we did present Vikharev’s version of “The Sleeping Beauty” at the beginning of the season. We’ve already scheduled this ballet into our repertoire for next season as well. However, I have to say that I’ve not seen the original version, because it was such a long time ago. But, frankly speaking, there is nobody here now who can confirm whether the reconstructed version is really the original version.”
In fact, Stepanov’s choreographic notations of the ballet can be seen in a manuscript kept at Harvard University. But Fateyev commented, “I think one can read the notations in different ways and it’s impossible to reconstruct the original ballet with the notations.”
Moving on to the subject of dancers, does he agree that there is a lack of stars in the Mariinsky nowadays compared to the recent past? Diana Vishneva, for instance, gives more performances overseas nowadays than in St. Petersburg. “Vishneva has actually danced eight performances this season. During this season Uliana Lopatkina is giving two or three performances here every month. Igor Zelensky has done four performances with us here and on tour. Svetlana Zakharova has danced three performances here.” The Bolshoi star Zakharova has indeed guested more frequently with the company since Fateyev took office.
“Besides these world-famous stars, we also have other great stars: Andrian Fadeyev, Leonid Sarafanov, Viktoria Tereshkina, Alina Somova, Vladimir Shklyarov, and Ekaterina Osmolkina.” All these stars should certainly be a big treat for the audiences attending the ballet programs in the upcoming Stars of the White Nights Festival.
The Stars of the White Nights Festival will open on Thursday 21 May with Ratmansky’s ballet “The Little Humpbacked Horse”, premiered in the Mariinsky Festival in March, and will continue till 19 July.