A Life for Ballet
Text Alevtina Kashitsina
Andris Liepa comes from a renowned ballet family. His father Marius Liepa was one of the most eminent ballet dancers in the world. Andris was destined for a brilliant career in ballet after graduating from the Academy of Choreography in Moscow. He became a soloist with the Bolshoi under the direction of the legendary Yury Grigorovich, and it was logical to continue his career abroad. At the end of the 1980s he was the first artist of the former USSR to have a sanctioned work contract abroad. In the United States it was tremendous luck for Liepa to work with Mikhail Baryshnikov. Extremely successful performances with La Scala, Opera de Paris and the Swedish Opera followed his auspicious debut in the West. The talents of Liepis are revealed in both his dance projects and in his work as director and producer. He has now revived the tradition of “Les Saisons Russes”, having staged “Firebird”, “Petrouchka”, and “Scheherezade” which were performed exclusively in the West as part of Sergey Diaghilev’s “Seasons” at the beginning of the 20th century. The authentic designs and the atmosphere of the early 20th century art nouveau style combine superbly with Liepa’s sense of style. His productions of both ballet and opera are huge successes all over the world. In the autumn of 2007 at the Galina Vishnevskaya Opera Center, Andris staged a beautifully classical production of Eugene Onegin. As a producer, Liepa is extremely busy as well. With his sister, Ilze, a ballet dancer, Liepa founded the Marius Liepa Charity Fund, in honor of their father, which nowadays is associated with charity projects and classical music.
Andris, tell us about your current projects.
In the autumn of this year, at the Galina Vishnevskaya Center, we staged a new production of Tchaikovsky’s Onegin. This is the second time I have directed an opera. My first was “The Legend of the Invisible City Kitezh”, an opera production at the Mariinsky Theater. I enjoyed the project tremendously, as Rimsky-Korsakov is one of my favorite composers. That is why when Galina Vishnevskaya made this offer to work at her opera center, I accepted at once. She is a great singer, and a unique personality. Tatyana is one of her cherished works in opera. I made the performance together with Anna Nezhina who created minimalist sets in black and white using old engravings, which gives a feeling as if stepping out of illustrations from Pushkin’s poems. The young and talented singers of Vishnevskaya’s school were very enthusiastic about the project, and I am sure that the audience can sense that in the theater. The premiere was our present to Galina Vishnevskaya on her 81st birthday.
You are busy person. Was it difficult to combine the opera production with other projects at the same time?
Certainly it was. At the Foundation we have several projects happening simultaneously. Some of these are charity projects and involve diff erent groups of people. As for Onegin, of course it was difficult, the major diffi culty was being compared to previous productions!
You speak about your charity. What does it mean to you?
For me charity is maintaining memory. In December for example, we produced a charity ball for the veterans of World War II. It was called Ball of the Winners. For me it is extremely important to keep the memory not only of Victory Day but every other day as well. We invited singers and artists and created a party for our veterans at the Museum at Poklonnaya Gora. The veterans were dancing with the actors. That was really a joy to my heart!
In December you must have also worked on your other project, New Year at the Manezh. How do you choose the themes of your Holiday parties? Beijing, Rio, Paris…
Actually those projects are part of the charity program as well. We sell tickets and some part of that money goes to charity. As for the themes, well, it has been so since the very beginning. Once I saw a TVbroadcast about a flood in Venice. There was an impression that there were no squares and all of the buildings were reflected in the water. Imagine walking in the San Marco Square and seeing all those reflections. We tried to apply this idea to our show “Moscow – Venice,” when the views of Venice were reflected in those of Moscow. For example, a Venetian equestrian statue turned into the Yury Dolgorukiy statue in Moscow. This was one of the most magnificent projects we have managed so far. According to Mikhail Kusnirovich’s idea we found one hundred doves, symbols of San Marco Square, and the performers let them loose during the show. Actually, it looked even better than we expected, thanks to the beautiful lighting. Another project was dedicated to the city of Tokyo. I have been in Tokyo several times and feel somehow connected to that city. Rio de Janeiro is the only city that was a theme for our show, and I had never been there. Paris is no doubt one of the most romantic cities in the world. When I took my wife Katya there for the fi rst time, I remember the French fl ag waving at the Arc d’Triumph on Bastille Day. It was so beautiful. We took this idea for our “Moscow – Paris” ball. The next year the theme was Beijing that we based our show on, as I had been to that city several times, and China has always made a strong impression on me.
I remember that your first ball was broadcast on TV?
We had an agreement with Channel 6, that this would be a live broadcast. The actors and artists sent out congratulations from the roof of Gostiny Dvor, with the Kremlin towers in the background. Kirill Nabutov, the TV host, almost became an icicle by 3 a.m., and was enviously watching the guests inside the GD in their gondolas. The ball began at 22:00 and lasted until half past three in the morning. We were live on TV for more that 5 hours. It was a magnifi cent evening that I still cannot forget. When the 300th anniversary of Saint Petersburg was celebrated in 2003, I decided to repeat the New Year ball which took place there in 1903. This was a live broadcast from the two capitals, Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Vladimir Yakovlev (Governor of Saint Petersburg) was congratulating Muscovites, whereas Lyudmila Shevtslova (Moscow government committee for culture) was doing the same for the citizens of Saint Petersburg. In Saint Petersburg there was a carnival show on Vassilievsky Island, which was created in miniature inside Gostiny Dvor in Moscow. This was a charity ball. All the revenue went for the construction of the Zhivonachalnaya Trinity cathedral of the Moscow Patriarchate.
Whom do you usually invite as actors for you performance?
Every time we try our best to make an exclusive performance featuring artists you could never see in other shows. For example we started working with juggler Fan Yang, and since then for seven years we haven’t given up the tradition of showing the performance of soap bubbles. The next time, we invited artists from “Eugene Onegin” to the “Moscow
Saint Petersburg” ball. Near the Summer Garden [in Saint Petersburg] there was a New Year tree and skating rink, where all of our guests were skating. There were carriages all over the place. Street musicians were wearing national costumes. We managed to invite people from the Rio de Janeiro Carnival to the ball dedicated to Rio. Their costumes were so huge that we even had to prepare additional stairs so that the actors could enter the stage. Once I saw a performance by a Chinese Circus in the summer, and we made them an off er to participate in my Chinese ball in the winter.
Magnificent scenery is one of the specialties of your shows…
Yes, we have always paid attention to the stage sets. We were the fi rst to make an artificial ice-skating rink for a show. Nearby in Gostiny Dvor we also put up a huge 17 meter-high New Year tree. We had to employ alpine climbers to decorate it! To decorate the tree, by the way, we used carnival costumes we had brought from Venice – fans, masks, hats. Another feature of the show was a 40 meter-long water channel with gondolas. They were fixed to rollers but there was an impression that they were floating on the water. They “parked” at a beautiful fountain near the stage. The next year at the “Moscow – Saint Petersburg” ball our guests entered the year 1903 in Saint Petersburg where they had to pass the Summer Garden, saw the bridges over the Neva River, fountains and columns and joined the ball which was already in full swing. Cio Cio San opera scenes from Madame Butterfl y were used in our Chinese ball (although we were blending cultures there). And we also added Japanese houses and even tatami and authentic sumo men.
For the “Saisons Russes” you also use authentic designs for the productions of the early 20th century. On the whole, was it diffi cult to revive them?
Now that it is the season of 2007-2008, it is almost impossible to imagine what difficulties we suffered through at the beginning of the 1990s. For example, we could buy nothing for the scenery. At that time I had a tour to Taiwan arranged. Knowing that, I planned to buy almost all the fabrics we would need for “Scheherazade” there. Yet I and our stage artist, Anatoly Nezhny, had huge problems with Scheherazade’s bed curtains. The only thing we could get at that time was parachute silk, which was white. We could not paint it: all the dyes simply went through the fabrics. Then I remembered how we used to refi ll pens with ethyl green. So we bought a large quantity of that medicine and soaked our curtains inside a bucket. It worked! The color was perfect. By the way, the Mariinsky Theater still uses those curtains when on tour with this production.
Andris, what are your creative plans for the future?
Well, December is the time of hard work to us. We have revived the tradition of Diaghilev’s Saisons Russes. In December we present the ballet performances at the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theater. But to truly implement the authentic and original idea into life, we are to take Saisons Russes on tour in Europe. The first destination in 2008 is London.