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BWW Interviews: Andris Liepa

Andris Liepa was born in 1962 into a famous artistic family; his father Maris Liepa was one of the Bolshoi's legendary dancers. Andris trained at Moscow Ballet School and then joined the Bolshoi Ballet Company, dancing the leads in The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, Swan Lake and many more. In 1988 Andris became the first Russian dancer who was officially allowed to work in a foreign company; he subsequently appeared as a guest artist with New York City Ballet and then American Ballet Theatre for whom he interpreted Siegfried in Baryshnikov's version of Swan Lake. He has also appeared with Maurice Bejart's Ballet of the 20th Century and was a permanent guest soloist with the Kirov Ballet. Andris has won prizes at many international competitions; he is the author of the film project The Return of the Firebird for which he revived three legendary masterpieces by Fokine: Petrushka, Firebird, and Scheherazade. In addition to dancing the lead roles in all three ballets, he was also producer and director. Together with his sister Ilze, Andris founded the Maris Liepa Charitable Foundation. He is the inspiration and director, manager and producer of The Russian Seasons of the 21st Century.

Broadwayworld Dance recently interviewed Mr. Liiepa. To say he was interesting is an understatement.

Q. You were born into a famous ballet family. Did this influence you in any way?

A. I'm sure it did!I grew up in the ballet orbit. When I was born, my father, Maris Liepa, was already very well known, and I loved everything about his world, the dancing, music, costumes and choreography.I was fascinated by the history of dance and learned so much from my father about legendary performers, choreographers, musicians, designers of the past - particularly Diaghilev, Fokine, Bakst, and Stravinsky, anyone from that fascinating period when ballet was setting a new path, making a great impact on the twentieth century.

Q. You studied at the Moscow Choreographic School under Aleksandr Prokofiev. Can you share any memories of his teaching skills?

A. He actually made us think that ballet is not just steps, but a really great system, one that had been cultivated over many years of insight, thought and performances. He was the first in my dance career to give us class for a week, and, for each week, we would rehearse every step we were trying to learn. For example, the first week we would rehearse the double cabriole, and that's all the class had to do it.The next week, we would work on a totally different step, but, again, everyone had to learn and rehearse it.When I was dancing in Giselle, for example, I knew how to prepare for the double cabriole because of Prokofiev's way of teaching.

Q. After graduation, you worked your way up in the Bolshoi from corps to soloist to principal. What was it like dancing in the Bolshoi then?What were some of your favourite roles?

A. I danced in the corps for about four years, which was great preparation for the future. It was a wonderful way of learning an entire ballet. I performed two roles in Ivan the Terrible, then the leading role. I knew the whole performance from the inside out, so it was a great help. I think one of my first principal roles was the Prince in Nutcracker, and I loved to do Albrecht in Giselle, which is my favorite role, one of the reasons being that my father taught it to me. I partnered Galina Stepanenko, a really great dancer, one of the best of her generation.

Q. You are known especially for your partnering skills. How would you describe a good partner?

A. I learned how to be a good partner from my father. He taught me pas de deux for three years, so I knew from the beginning how important it was to be a good partner.I was lucky because Nina Ananiashvili and I had a great partnership. We danced a lot, won competitions, and worked together for almost 15 years.Today, ballet pedagogy is different, so young dancers don't have the same regard for partnering techniques.I spoke to Xander Parish (who's performing with us at the Coliseum in London in July) and rehearsed with him at the Kirov. I told him that if you become a good partner, all the ballerinas will want to dance with you!Marcelo Gomes from ABT is a fantastic partner, so all the ballerinas want to dance with him. And why not. He makes them look terrific. You couldn't ask more from a partner!

Q. In 1988, Nina Ananiashvili and you became the first Soviet dancers to be given official permission to perform as guests with an American company. You were invited by Peter Martins to dance with the New York City Ballet. Was it easy to absorb the Balanchine style?

A. It was absolutely amazing. He taught us to do everything more quickly, which is the basic difference between the Russian classical style and NYCB's style.In Russia, we do the same steps a little slower and more precisely. At NYCB, you have to do it much faster.Nureyev was doing guest performances with the company at the time, and he gave us a great deal of support.He spoke to Peter Martins and suggested we perform a pas de deux for the Stravinsky Festival. Thanks to Rudolf's suggestion and Peter's support, we performed the pas de deux from Apollo, and it was a great experience.

Q. What was your time like at ABT under Baryshnikov, and what roles did you dance?

A. My dream was to go to the US, and I knew that the company had a great production of Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet, my favorite ballet of this wonderful choreographer. He was the Associate Director at ABT at that time and was always around, so it was an enriching experience.That was the year Baryshnikov staged his own version of Swan Lake, and I was the first Prince, another fantastic experience.When I was with ABT, I lived between Columbus and Amsterdam in a wonderful little brownstone house with a little courtyard that had a Christmas tree in it!

Q. After this you were allowed to return home to Russia whenever you pleased, unlike Nureyev, Makarova and Baryshnikov. Was there any jealousy on their parts, or was this a common acceptance at this point?

A. Everyone was so busy at Perestroika time, so they didn't really care. They were just trying to do their business in Russia, and I was just trying to do my own thing. I don't think Misha wanted to return to Russia anyway. I didn't want problems with the Soviet government, and I promised Misha that I wouldn't defect! They called me Perestroika Kid.

Q. When you returned to Moscow in December 1989, you found that you were no longer wanted at the Bolshoi. That must have been a surprise.

A. I left because I had an invitation to join the Kirov. Oleg Vinogradov, the director of Mariinsky, had seen me perform at the Nijinsky Gala at the Metropolitan Opera House, and he knew that I had learned my father's version of Spectre de la Rose. I came to St Petersburg and did two Giselles and one Spectre, and he said, "Andris, I really want you to work at the Kirov." I came straight back to St Petersburg from New York, he staged Petrushka for me, and in two months I was performing in Paris with the Kirov, the start of my eight year relationship with the company.

Q. You also danced with Bejart. That was a 360 degree turn. Why prompted you to join Bejart?

A. It was during the tour with the Mariinsky in Paris. I asked my friend to introduce me to Maurice Bejart, who invited me to join the company.Maurice made a 20 minute ballet, The Song of a Wayfarer, to the music of Mahler, which was a great success in Lausanne. Then he was going to stage a new ballet for me, but I was injured and I just couldn't continue.It was a great experience.One of the highlights of my time with the Bejart Ballet was meeting Patrick de Bana there; everything in this life happens for an interesting reason!

Q. In 1993, you restored the three legendary Fokine ballets, Petrushka, Scheherazade, and The Firebird. Why did you pick these three ballets? How did your interpretations differ from others?

A. They're legendary ballets, and, musically, they work beautifully together.Stravinsky, who wrote the music for Firebird and Petrushka, was a student of Rimsky Korsakov, who wrote the music for Scheherazade. For me, it was like this generation going further than previous generations dared to go.I also found some incredible costume designs by Leon Bakst and combined every single thing I had to restore these wonderful ballets.

Q. Why did you create the Liepa Foundation? Is it to help choreographers, scholars, writers?

A. My father, Maris Liepa, died in 1989 at the age of only 52, before he could open his own company to realize the many plans and ideas he'd been developing.In 1996, the year of my father would have celebrated his 60th birthday, I founded the Maris Liepa Charitable Foundation. This foundation promotes the development of ballet and continues my father's work and the many creative projects that were always in his mind.My father's dream was to do something dedicated to the reconstruction of Fokine's work. It was the Soviet era (before 'glasnost'), and it was a very difficult time to do such things. Fokine was almost forgotten by the Russian people. He was considered a defector who moved to New York and died there in 1942.My sister, Ilze Liepa, and I wanted to continue our father's work, so it became a main aim of the foundation to revive lost or forgotten ballet masterpieces such as those by Fokine, and to offer scholarships to promising young dancers.

Q. You once were quoted as saying, "maybe I am talented, but I am not genius."Who do you see as a genius in the dance world?

A. Vladimir Vasiliev, Rudolf Nureyev, Margot Fonteyn, Mara Galeazzi, Sylvie Guillem are geniuses. My dancers are stars, but they're not superstars yet!

Q. The list of your achievements during the past 10 years has been staggering. What are you most proud of?

A. I'm very proud that my project, Russians Seasons of the 21st Century, is being seen. 20 years ago it was difficult to persuade people to see the old productions - they thought they were old fashioned and uninteresting. Now it's easier to get people involved in the project, including business people and sponsors, audiences, venues and international producers.It's not just my own love for that period that's driving this; people have realised that this is a business, that they can sell tickets, and that people will go and watch it.Long may it live!

Q. After this you were allowed to return home to Russia whenever you pleased, unlike Nureyev, Makarova and Baryshnikov. Was there any jealousy on their parts, or was this a common acceptance at this point?

A. Everyone was so busy at Perestroika time, so they didn't really care. They were just trying to do their business in Russia, and I was just trying to do my own thing. I don't think Misha wanted to return to Russia anyway. I didn't want problems with the Soviet government, and I promised Misha that I wouldn't defect!They called me Perestroika Kid.

Q. When you returned to Moscow in December 1989, you found that you were no longer wanted at the Bolshoi. That must have been strange, considering your reputation.

A. I left because I had an invitation to join the Kirov. Oleg Vinogradov, the director of Mariinsky, had seen me perform at the Nijinsky Gala at the Metropolitan Opera House, and he knew that I had learned my father's version of Spectre de la Rose. I came to St Petersburg and did two Giselles and one Spectre, and he said, "Andris, I really want you to work at the Kirov." I came straight back to St Petersburg from New York, he staged Petrushka for me, and in two months I was performing in Paris with the Kirov, the start of my eight year relationship with the company.

Q. You also danced with Bejart. That was a 360 degree turn. Why prompted you to join Bejart?

A. It was during the tour with the Mariinsky in Paris. I asked my friend to introduce me to Maurice Bejart, who invited me to join the company.Maurice made a 20 minute ballet, The Song of a Wayfarer, to the music of Mahler, which was a great success in Lausanne. Then he was going to stage a new ballet for me, but I was injured and I just couldn't continue.It was a great experience.One of the highlights of my time with the Bejart Ballet was meeting Patrick de Bana there; everything in this life happens for an interesting reason!

Q. In 1993, you restored the three legendary Fokine ballets, Petrushka, Scheherazade, and The Firebird. Why did you pick these three ballets? How did your interpretations differ from others?

A. They're legendary ballets, and, musically, they work beautifully together.Stravinsky, who wrote the music for Firebird and Petrushka, was a student of Rimsky Korsakov, who wrote the music for Scheherazade. For me, it was like this generation going further than previous generations dared to go.I also found some incredible costume designs by Leon Bakst and combined every single thing I had to restore these wonderful ballets.

Q. Why did you create the Liepa Foundation? Is it to help choreographers, scholars, writers?

A. My father, Maris Liepa, died in 1989 at the age of only 52, before he could open his own company to realize the many plans and ideas he'd been developing.In 1996, the year of my father would have celebrated his 60th birthday, I founded the Maris Liepa Charitable Foundation. This foundation promotes the development of ballet and continues my father's work and the many creative projects that were always in his mind.My father's dream was to do something dedicated to the reconstruction of Fokine's work. It was the Soviet era (before 'glasnost'), and it was a very difficult time to do such things. Fokine was almost forgotten by the Russian people. He was considered a defector who moved to New York and died there in 1942.My sister, Ilze Liepa, and I wanted to continue our father's work, so it became a main aim of the foundation to revive lost or forgotten ballet masterpieces such as those by Fokine, and to offer scholarships to promising young dancers.

Q. You once were quoted as saying, "maybe I am talented, but I am not genius."Who do you see as a genius in the dance world?

A. Vladimir Vasiliev, Rudolf Nureyev, Margot Fonteyn, Mara Galeazzi, Sylvie Guillem are geniuses. My dancers are stars, but they're not superstars yet!

Q. The list of your achievements during the past 10 years has been staggering. What are you most proud of?

A. I'm very proud that my project, Russians Seasons of the 21st Century, is being seen. 20 years ago it was difficult to persuade people to see the old productions - they thought they were old fashioned and uninteresting. Now it's easier to get people involved in the project, including business people and sponsors, audiences, venues and international producers.It's not just my own love for that period that's driving this; people have realised that this is a business, that they can sell tickets, and that people will go and watch it.Long may it live!


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