The ballet takes place on the French Riviera, but the main characters are American, which I think is a first for you. Why did you decide to create a ballet about American characters and also to set the ballet in the 1920s?
I am attracted to the 1920s – this was a brilliant Jazz Age, era of freedom and unrestrained rhythms. Its hedonistic spirit had an enormous influence on the formation of the emotional atmosphere of our performance. Against the background of such a feast of life the ballet shows the awful consequences of a man’s betrayal of himself. We obtain an interesting counterpoint: the drama of personality unfolding among decorations of the endless carnival. Despite the tragic end, this show is full of joie de vivre. We remind the audience that the earthly way of man is not only in suffering and loss.
You bring a Russian perspective to these American characters. So in a sense, you bring an outsider’s perspective to the story. How can that enrich the storytelling?
For Russian artists, dancing a hero somehow brings a share of national psychology in the created image. On the other hand, the nationality of the ballet heroes is not generally so important to me. The ballet Up & Down tells the universal story of human ascent and degradation. It could happen in any country and in any era. That is why our ballet is remarkable.
George Gershwin’s music is very much associated with the Jazz Age. Are you a long-time fan of his music? And why did you choose the other composers – Schoenberg, Schubert and Berg – how do they fit your vision for the ballet?
The word “fan” is inappropriate when this means the attitude of the choreographer to the composer. Music can either inspire me to compose choreography, or leave me indifferent. The composers mentioned by you correspond to three musical bases, intertwined in our ballet into a single score. Gershwin is the pulse of the Jazz Age, the concentration of emotional energy of that time. Schubert is a lyrical component. Berg is a psychedelia, musically illustrating the process of splitting the consciousness of the characters.
Could you explain your process for choosing music and why you often prefer a variety of composers rather than just one.
When selecting music there is one criterion: if the piece can give me the creative inspiration to plunge into the world of plastic fantasies or not. The composer must be a co-author to the choreographer, and vice versa. Using someone else’s music, I create an original musical score with its very special drama. I do have performances put on the music of just one composer, but at the same time, I really prefer to search and try the combination of musical pieces ofvarious authors, who sometimes belong to different periods and styles. For example, in Onegin, I use Tchaikovsky’s music and Alexander Sitkovetsky’s art rock, and this synthesis is incredibly harmonious. In order to realize my ideas in full, I should have enough freedom for creative experimentation.
Madness plays a prominent role in many of your ballets, and in this ballet the leading woman is schizophrenic. Have you found new ways to explore madness in this ballet and, if so, can you elaborate?
Plunging into the world of the insane heroine, I probably have not just explored the psychic nature of an individual for the first time in my work, but I have materialized conscious and subconscious in plastique. Not only our theatre, but ballet theatre has never done anything like this. So I think the ballet Up & Down is a significant step forward – both for myself and for the contemporary art of dance.
Why are you so drawn to the subject of madness in your choreography?
For me insanity is not synonymous with inferiority. People suffering from mental illnesses are immersed in a particular reality revealing a unique vision of the world. However, in general, man is scared of anything incomprehensible. Therefore insane people become outcasts. I believe they are the conductors to the other mysterious spheres (and our world is multidimensional and infinitely complex). As an artist I am incredibly interested in plunging into this mysterious area.
Could you share your thoughts on the two leading characters?
In the ballet we show the tragedy of a ruined gift. The protagonist of the show is a talented young psychiatrist who falls in love with his patient, the daughter of a millionaire. After his marriage to his patient the doctor enters the world of luxury and leaves the clinic, thus foredooming himself to personal disaster. If at the beginning of the ballet he is the Messiah banishing mental illness from patients like Jesus banishing demons from people, and at the end the doctor loses everything and becomes insane. The circle is completed. The tragedy of the protagonist – a gifted person that resulted in the collapse caused by a series of compromises with reality is an eternal theme. In my life I have personally seen a lot of examples of such dramas. The main heroine on the contrary overcomes her illness and returns to the familiar world of successful and wealthy people. She deserts her husband when he is rapidly deteriorating, because she does not want to share his suffering. This is her conscious choice, and I do not blame my characters.
It’s been said that you are delving into Sigmund Freud’s view of the unconscious mind in Up & Down. Were you very familiar with Freud’s work before you began this ballet, or did you do a lot of research? What kinds of things did you learn about Freud’s positions and ideas that helped inform your approach to the piece?
I want to warn the audience against the perception of my show as a kind of ballet notes on psychoanalysis. Yes, I am familiar with the writings of Freud. His ideas played a significant role in creating the ballet Up & Down, and served as an inspiration to me. But I perceive any material (whether historical character biography or scientific works) as an invitation for reflection, intense intellectual and creative work, and not a ready libretto. As an artist I am not dealing with biographical facts and academic theses, but with the ideas, feelings and visions that arise in their understanding. By the way, many years ago I planned to make Freud a hero of my ballet. That show has not been done for various reasons, but I have not lost interest in the mysteries of the human psyche. Moreover, with the development of technical and creative possibilities of our ballet theatre, I get the more and more serious means to express the inner world of an individual in dance.
Could you explain the title Up & Down?
It reflects very concisely the dramatic model of our ballet, it is two storylines – the downward career of the protagonist and the ascent to success of the heroine. But there is another level of perception to the phrase Up & Down. It summarizes, not without humor, the life of a dancer who makes every jump and then lands on the stage.
Do you incorporate any 1920s dance styles into the choreography?
Of course. Our show contains a lot of jazz pieces, We wanted to recreate not only the visual image of the Jazz Age, but its plastique nature, crazy rhythm and atmosphere of this extravaganza of life which conquered the world and now, almost a hundred years later, continues to excite the imagination of people.
Your choreography is so distinctive: there’s no mistaking it for anyone else’s. How did your style develop? Who are the choreographers who had the greatest influence on you and why?
It is difficult for me to analyze my own aesthetic evolution. There are critics and ballet experts who have to do this. I can only say that throughout my creative life I have developed the traditions of Russian psychological ballet theatre by opening it up to the world, who already knows Russian psychological drama theatre, and conceptually creating new choreographic art. The main theme for me is always the individual and his inner world. You know the ancient and rich language of dance gives a choreographer a unique opportunity to study the mysteries of the human soul. My teachers were such great artists as Leonid Jacobson and Yuri Grigorovich. I point out that they were my teachers, but not idols. I have never copied anybody and I have preferred to create my own style and plastique language.
Your choreography requires dancers who are both superb technicians and gifted dramatically. When you audition dancers, how can you tell if they have that special something that you need – what is it that you look for?
Firstly, I have clear requirements for the appearance of artists. I’m looking for tall and spectacular dancers, as I’m used to working with long and graceful lines. But appearance is not the most important thing. A tall and beautiful artist will not be able to gain a foothold in our troupe if he is not ready to perform radically new choreography. Therefore, the main requirement for the dancers is the presence of a special, movable artistic thinking and the ability to be organic in our plastique system.
Audiences love your work. Is there anything about this ballet that you think might surprise them?
I hope that Up & Down will be a surprise even for the audience who knows our art very well. The synthesis of psychoanalysis and contemporary ballet theatre, the crazy energy of the Jazz Age, Russian mountains of hero’s destiny – all this can conquer the audience