Marina Shtager, former Mariinsky Theatre spokeswoman and Olga Iakovlevskaya, Petipa Marathon Artistic Director met with two ballet superstars – Maria Alexandrova and Vladislav Lantratov – a few days before their London performance in Russian Ballet Gala 2020.

Nureyev. Photo by Sasha Gusov

Marina Shtager: Annual Russian Ballet Gala is very much anticipated by London ballet lovers who cannot wait to see you. What can we expect this year?

Maria Alexandrova:  We will perform pa de de from Carmen Suite. We love this annual gala performace as much as London audiences. It is so wonderful, that such amazing traditions exist.

Marina Shtager: I saw you performing both in Carmen Suite and as Kitri in Don Quixote, and I can say that you managed to create your unique image which distinguishes you from other famous dancers. When did you realise that there is Kitri – Alexandrova, rather than Kitri – Natalia Dudinskaya, Maya Plisetskaya or Olga Lepeshinskaya?

Maria Alexandrova: From the very start, I guess. Don Quixote was one of the first major classical ballets I performed. And at that time video was not that easily accessible. All the knowledge had to be passed from hand to hand (or from leg to leg). For a very long time my tutor was Tatiana Nikolaevna Golikova, the person to whom I owe my career. From the very start she ‘moulded’ the image which suited me. She had a unique talent of being able to discover the essence of a dancer, to respect our individuality. And when she saw unique talent, she found ways to make it shine.

Marina Shtager: How did you develop the details of each of the roles? Could you give us some examples?

Maria Alexandrova: The details of each role are created in the training hall after you mastered the technical aspects. Tatiana Nikolaevna could suggest some unique features, such as the turn of the head, gaze or a move of an arm which helped to develop the special image. For example, when we worked on Catherine II in Russian Hamlet, I was only 19. We had to consider even the way I should hold my jaw to look older. The mimics of the face is an important part of the image.

Marina Shtager: Do you ever get nervous before going out on the stage? You always look so confident and powerful.

Maria Alexandrova: Let it better be a secret…

Marina Shtager: What are you favourite roles?

Maria Alexandrova: The favourite ballet is the one which you have not performed for a while. But I’ve always adored Raymonda. The music is magnificent and I enjoy it for the whole three hours. And despite all the technical difficulties Grand Adage is my favourite. But I’ve always been saying, that your favourite ballet is the one you haven’t done for a while.

Marina Shtager: Did Raymonda make you rethink the classical repertoire?

Maria Alexandrova:  I joined theatre as a contemporary dancer. No one expected to see me as a classical ballerina. And then it gradually changed after I performed Pharaoh’s Daughter by Pierre Lacotte: classical roles started to appear in my repertoire. There was an assumption that I am better performing heroic historical roles. But all the labels are there to be taken off. Creative life consists of challenges and difficulties, which make it extremely interesting. As the directors in the theatre were changing fast, and usually the arrival of the new one changed the direction of the preceding one, the repertoire was changing all the time. Russian Hamlet, Romeo and Juliette were taken away, works by Aleksei Ratmansky, Mats Ek, Pharaoh’s Daughter went through many revisions. But these are the peculiarities of ballet life – it is just a second and it cannot be brought back.

Don Quixote. Photo by Damir Yusupov

Marina Shtager: Vladislav, in London we have seen you mostly in heroic roles. Who do you think is the leading composer today? And what contemporary ballets would you like to perform?

Vladislav Lantratov: To be honest, I have quite a long list of contemporary performance in my repertoire. When Alexey Ratmansky was working with the Bolshoy Theatre ballet, he invited me to perform in his productions – “Russian Seasons”, “The Flames of Paris”, and later “Lost Illusions” and “Romeo and Juliette”. I took part in ballet productions choreographed by Wayne McGregor, William Forsythe, Yury Possokhov, Paul Lightfoot and Sol Leon. Some of them are still on at the Bolshoy Theatre.This season we are working on “Master and Margarita” by Edward Klug. An important part in my life was dancing Petruccio in “The Taming of the Shrew” by Jean-Christophe Maillot. I cannot say that there are specific parts I would like to try, what’s more important is the opportunity to work with the choreographer, the maker of the ballet. It is like discovering a new world, always exciting.

Maria Alexandrova: Indeed, in London Vladislav is better known for his heroic roles, while he has amazing lyrical parts: Lucien in Ratmansky’s Lost Illusions, where he becomes romantic character from the 19thcentury, or Armand in John Neumeier’s La Dame aux Camélias. You should see it – a man who stepped into the theatre straight out of the 19thcentury romantic novel.

Marina Shtager: Maybe La Dame aux Camélias will one day travel to Royal Opera House.

Vladislav Lantratov: I have a feeling the Bolshoy Theatre tries to tour our ‘exclusive’ productions that are not shown anywhere else, so come to Moscow to enjoy the other ones.

Marina Shtager: However, Mariinsky Theatre decided to stage MacMilan’s Manon despite the potential criticism due to emotional dryness of our dancers, whose theatricality, unlike that of the British ones, is quite limited.

Maria Alexandrova: This is the specifics of Russian DNA and Russian theatre, which is based on the narrative. We come to the theatre to get a rest from emotions which we witness in everyday life. However, Russian style is very emotional in its investigation of soul, its detailed analyses, rather than exaggeration, of all aspects of human behaviour. At the moment we can observe relative emotional restraint and experiments with the form in Russian ballet.

Marina Shtager: You have a lot of experience watching both classical and contemporary staging. What is the role of Russian ballet today? We have been claiming it to be the best in the world, but to many it might seem unjustly outdated. 

Maria Alexandrova: First of all, I believe humanity finds itself at a certain dead end. Crisis can be seen in all corners of the world as well as in the arts, business, politics or human relations. That is why it is very difficult to talk about any superiority in these spheres. The pace of time and technological developments has become really high, and started to affect current modes of existence. Humanity is going through a very serious crisis and even possibly moral decline. On the one hand, art can explore this crisis, but can also become part of it. The art of ballet all over the world has become very ambiguous. The classics is already lost. I think ballet as well as other art forms no longer speak about simple human feelings. It lost the ability to develop a narrative and tell simple stories, and is leaning towards philosophy, which I believe, is not justified. I don’t think we can say who is better and who is worse, I feel everyone is stuck at the same level.

Olga Yakovlevskaya: This is an incredible answer! You are not only a ballet star and a legendary dancer, but also a person capable to closely follow the life outside of the ballet hall and stage, to think about such wide range of issues. How did you develop it? A brilliant mind and a brilliant work. How can you combine both?

Maria Alexandrova: Thank you! I think, it is because I have Vladislav next to me. I can hide behind his back and witness all those horrible processes unfolding in the society while feeling secure and protected because I am next to the kind, string and talented person. I wish people could learn how to appreciate moments of happiness.

Maria Alexandrova and Vladislav Lantratov in The Firebird. Photo Marc Haegeman

Marina Shtager: Do you think that there is no time for this in contemporary culture?

Maria Alexandrova: We live in the world with double and sometimes even triple standards, and often fail to make sense of it. Art is also part of the system. There is too much politics. However, art that is free from politics, has a completely different impact on our emotions, even at DNA level. And I am waiting for a stronger heartbeat of this DNA. At the moment this DNA is stifled by set standards across the world.

Vladislav Lantratov: What Maria talks about can be vividly seen in the fact that art today often becomes business. People are trying to monetise the hype, selling it as art. It then becomes a vicious circle, where business standards are applied to art. I feel art should have priority over everything.

Marina Shtgaer: Vladislav, is there any performance that you first disliked, but then changed your mind? And why?

Vladislav Lantratov: I was raised on monumental ballets by Grigorovich, and at first I  did not want to dance the role of Nureyev. I simply could not relate to it. Yes, I did understand the historical importance of Nureyev works, but I could not say that he was the role model for me. Names such as Vasiliev, Lavrovsky, Liepa and later generations, such as Mukhammedov, Uvarov, Belogolovtsev, Tsiskaridze and Filin mean much more to me. It was really hard to persuade myself. But once I started and got into working with Kirill Serebrennikov, the director, and Yuri Possokhov, the choreographer, as well as my colleagues, I could not stop. A part of me became embedded in the performance. And when the director and the choreographer believed in me, I became completely invested in the role. This work is very dear to me. By the way, Maria and I performed the duo of Rudolf and Margot Fonteyn here in London at the Russian Ballet Icons Gala two years ago. I think this part is a truly outstanding work created by choreographer and producer, and composer Ilya Demutsky.

Maria Aleksandrova: I saw how Vladislav spent hours and hours watching Rudolf’s interviews and the recordings of his rehearsals. He worked on this role not just by copying or mimicking the gestures, but by choosing a much more complex route of creating a new image by himself.

Olga Yankilevskaya: Has your opinion about Nuriev changed after all this work?

Vladislav Lantratov: My knowledge and understanding has changed. He had a unique character – led a very interesting life. For an actor is it always exciting to try this life on, to live it through over one short evening. Such a part is a gift for an actor. However, I cannot say that I became more interested in him as in artist.

Olga Yakovlevskaya: Do you value Marius Petipa? And what do you think about the restoration of his ballets?

Maria Alexandrova: It is a difficult question as we do not really know what kind of person he was. This remained in the past and we can only enjoy the fragments which remained in Tchaikovsky’s ballets. Maybe it was a good thing that we were so closed during the Soviet era, there was some elitism about it.  I sometimes watch old recording and admire the purity of people involved in this profession. Andregarding the restoration – I quickly understand the person responsible for the process and their grounds. So it relates less to the restoration and more to the personality of those involved in it.

Marina Shtager: What contributes to your personal development?

Vladislav Lantratov: I think, it’s keeping my hand on the pulse, meeting new people, gaining new experiences.

Marina Shtager: The New Year’s festivities have just ended. How did you spend your holidays and what do enjoy doing both in Moscow and London?

Vladislav Lantratov: I spent Christmas getting ready for the Nutcracker at the historical Bolshoy Theatre stage.  My first big performance was on 7 January after the forced break due to the injury (ed. – in April 2019). And the fact that I returned on Christmas, this big and pure day, did help me a lot.

Maria Alexandrova: It was a very pure performance. Pure and magical. Very pleasurable.

Vladislav Lantratov: In London we enjoy long walks along the streets and in the parks, and always go to the National Gallery.

Maria Alexandrova: I always go the sphynx on the River next to the Savoy hotel to say hello or good bye.

Vladislav Lantratov: London is one of the favourite cities in the world and I am very happy we are able to come back often. We have a lot of friends here, both Russian and international. And it adds to its special atmosphere.

For VIP tickets, please contact Natasha Butterwick at natasha@russianartandculture.com.