The head of one of the capital’s most captivating and innovative dance companies shared with mos.ru her dreams, discussed experiments in Russian ballet and offered a vision of its future.
Transcription of Colour, an abstract ballet staged at the Ballet Moscow theatre, premiered just as the theatre season was drawing to a close. The performance consists of 14 dancers wearing bright costumes and impersonating a painting by László Moholy-Nagy, a painter, photographer art theorist and professor at the German legendary Bauhaus school, dancing to the music of American minimalist composer John Adams. Juanjo Arques, who produced Eros. Minos at the Ballet Moscow three years ago, was selected as the project’s choreographer.
In her interview, Yelena Tupyseva discusses how Ballet Moscow changed in the six years of her leadership and what drives one of the capital’s most promising dance companies.
Question: Yelena, choreographer Juanjo Arques used László Moholy-Nagy’s Construction AII painting as a source of inspiration for creating Transcription of Colour ballet. How can you transform a painting into a ballet?
Yelena Tupyseva: It was Juanjo’s idea. He is inspired by constructivism, and has long been searching for a painting that could serve as a starting point for creating a ballet. Juanjo worked with dramaturge Fabienne Vegt. Together, they scrutinised the painting, its forms, colours, geometry as well as its composition. Without seeking to reproduce the exact image on stage, they used its main components: the costumes echo the painting’s colour palette, while the linoleum covering the floor replicates the canvas, etc.
Overall, the audience does not necessarily have to know that the ballet is inspired by a painting. After all, this is an abstract ballet, so everyone can find something special and remarkable.
Question: The painting by László Moholy-Nagy is a piece of abstract art, so there is no plot or story line. But what about the ballet? What happens in it? What is it all about, and what is its mood?
Yelena Tupyseva: On the one hand, the ballet lacks a storyline, although something is taking place. I think that what matters the most in this ballet is Juanjo’s choreography. The ballet has three main… – how should I call them, since they are not protagonists,– dancers representing three colours: yellow, red and white. Every colour has its own mood and significance. White is for elegance, air, lightness openness to cooperation and dialogue. Yellow has a propensity to dominate, although to a lesser extent compared to the red.
Question: How long did all the rehearsals take?
Yelena Tupyseva: Seven weeks – six in the rehearsal room, and one week on stage. This is an average period for preparing a one-act and one-hour ballet. There was nothing unusual about this.
Question: The music for this ballet is composed by John Adams. Was this the choreographer’s choice?
Yelena Tupyseva: Let me add that this is Harmonielehre, Adams’ three-part orchestral composition written in 1985. Juanjo spent a lot of time searching for the right music, because he wanted to make this ballet as a single piece in which every part has its own mood. Having one composition suited him better compared to compiling different pieces. This was an ideal choice for a ballet that lacks a specific topic. It not only sets the tone but the the mood as well.
Question: In what way is this ballet different from what your theatre has been doing so far?
Yelena Tupyseva: I can hardly say that we haven’t done anything like this before or that it was a new experience for us. This wouldn’t be true, especially since we have already worked with Juanjo before. Three years ago he created the ballet Minos for our theatre based on the Ancient Greek myth about the Minotaur. I think that the Transcription of Colour was a success and a challenge for the dancers in terms of technique and choreography. There are 14 dancers on stage performing complex positions. Classic ballet dancers without experience in modern choreography would have found it hard to perform in this ballet and to rehearse it within such a brief period of time.
Question: Two years ago you won the Golden Mask award with Café Idiot which represents a modern take on Dostoyevsky’s novel. Does the same apply to the Transcription of Colour?
Yelena Tupyseva: To an extent yes, there is also an attempt to rethink the past in this ballet. That being said, Café Idiot is a ballet of an entirely different kind. It was created by Alexander Pepelyaev, who often works with literary works. He wanted to convey the mood of the novel instead of just telling its story. Several dancers can perform as a single character. For example, three dancers can represent a single character. What Alexander wanted was to work with Dostoyevsky’s atmosphere, while Juanjo wanted to engage in a dialogue with the painting created a century ago. This was his source of inspiration.
Incredible charisma required
Question: Ballet Moscow performs on two stages: at the Meyerhold Centre and at the ZIL Cultural Centre. Which of the two do you like the best?
Yelena Tupyseva: To answer your question I have to highlight what sets these stages apart in technical terms. We prefer performing in the chamber setting of the Meyerhold Centre, but some ballets have to be performed at the ZIL Cultural Centre because it is properly equipped. For example, in the Transcription of Colour Juanjo uses flying bars to lift and lower stage props.
Question: Is there a Ballet Moscow performance that you prefer?
Yelena Tupyseva: Chris Hering’s Frozen Laughter. This ballet premiered four years ago. Chris always works with Andreas Berger who is always present and has a powerful impact. Without speaking any Russian he has been able to record the voices of dancers as music. During the ballet, dancers perform to the tune of their own conversations. Sometimes they talk all at once, sometimes in pairs or groups of three. Improvisation was another thing that sets this ballet apart: dancers learned how the ballet will be performed with only one week to go before the premier. It is my dream to invite Chris back to work at our theatre once again.
Question: Are there any other choreographers you would like to see in your theatre?
Yelena Tupyseva: Ann Van den Broek from Belgium is my favourite modern dance choreographer. We worked together even before I joined the Ballet Moscow theatre. Last year she came to Moscow to meet with the company, but so far did not have time to work with us. Here creations are very challenging for the dancers, very exhausting, and she is a very demanding choreographer who wants extreme precision in the performance of her ballets. But I like her approach. She remains on our shortlist.
There is also choreographer Pontus Lidberg who is the Artistic Director of the Danish Dance Theatre. His works are at the intersection of modern dance and ballet. Another dream, probably unattainable, is to work with Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite who now works in Europe. She has very interesting, theatrical works.
Question: When you came to Ballet Moscow, you said that the female cast was fine, while the company needed more men. Back then you said that all theatres faced this problem. Why is this happening?
Yelena Tupyseva: We are not facing any shortage of male dancers, although finding interesting men is not easy. On the one hand, they must be technically and emotionally equipped to do what we do here, since what we do is modern, not classic ballet dancing. And they have to be highly motivated. On the other hand, they have to have incredible charisma, while also being disciplined.
However, the current male cast of the Ballet Moscow is excellent and very strong, just as the female cast. By the way, we have a number of foreign dancers in our company: there are male dancers from Holland, Sweden, Japan and Australia, and female dancers from Israel and Japan.
Question: If we compare Moscow to other capitals of the world, what are the advantages and shortcomings of Moscow’s ballet?
Yelena Tupyseva: The main advantage is that we have two wonderful theatres in Moscow: the Bolshoi Theatre and the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre. They have wonderful dance companies and their repertoire is first class. They preserve the 19th century ballet traditions in their creations, which has become a rarity in Europe.
As for the shortcomings I believe that young choreographers are unable to do as much as their colleagues in Europe. In Europe, young choreographers are not afraid to take risks, even knowing that they can fail. It is true that the Bolshoi has a choreography workshop, while the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre has the Intersection project, but this is not enough. I think that Russian theatres can do more for the future of ballet. We pay too much attention to the past and traditions. This is also important, but new creations are also essential.
I prefer projects were text is relegated to the background
Question: You said once that what you wanted was to introduce dancers to new creators. Are they open to experiments and innovation?
Yelena Tupyseva: Not always. In a modern dance company people are more receptive to new trends than in classic ballet groups. It used to be commonly accepted by dancers that dancing 19th century classics was a must in order to stay in shape, since there are no jumps or rotations of this kind in modern choreography. However dancers are now better prepared to accept new things.
Question: How does your audience respond to contemporary dance?
Yelena Tupyseva: They are tuned in and are positive about new trends. They are ready to take risks in order to penetrate the unknown. Overall, we have a wonderful audience. We have found it. By the way, our audiences are quite young aged between 25 to 35. They are very active and often share their reviews online.
Question: Yelena, what Moscow theatres do you like to visit, and what plays do you go and see?
Yelena Tupyseva: I like Robert Wilson’s Pushkin's Fairy Tales at the Theatre of Nations, as well as creations by Yevgeny Kulagin and Ivan Yevstigneev at the Gogol Centre. I tend to prefer projects where the performance is not driven by text. I love what our colleagues from the Meyerhold Centre are doing. Unfortunately, I have very little free time.
Question: Does the Ballet Moscow work with any other theatres?
Yelena Tupyseva: We have recently visited Voronezh where there is a Chamber Theatre headed by Mikhail Bychkov. They wanted to create a modern dance company within their theatre. We recruited dancers for this company and have already produced a couple of performances. Two years ago our resident choreographers Anastasia Kadruleva and Artyon Ignatiev worked at the Bolshoi Theatre as choreographers on Hector Berlioz’s opera The Damnation of Faust, produced by Peter Stein.