Andris Liepa is hoping his revival of Sergei Diaghilev’s ballets get a better reception than when they first hit the stage. Over 100 years ago, Diaghilev caused outrage and sensation when he turned the tutus on their heads with his modern take on ballet. The company he founded, Ballet Russes, was booed off stage and even caused near riots with their art-deco inspired take on dance.
Hopefully they’ll fair a little better in Doha this month.
‘Last year we brought our programme in Abu Dhabi and people there liked it very much. So this year when we received an invitation from Qatar we were very glad to continue the Middle East trip,’ says Andris Liepa, who’s created a show including of some of the greatest pieces by the Ballet Russes, staring dancers from the Mariynsky Theatre and the Kremlin Ballet Theatre. ‘Russian ballet school is about 270 years old. And now it is a classical sample, it’s like an English lawn – the more you cut, the better it is. We cut or better say facet our ballet style for some centuries. And of course Russian ballet is inspired by Russian soul, Russian music and literature.’
Diaghilev can be credited with re-creating the Russian ballet tradition and opening it up to the masses: performances typically included lower priced tickets so everyone, no matter their income or status, could enjoy the show. Ballet Russes also influenced much of what would become modern ballet. He worked with choreographers like George Balanchine, who would later be instrumental in American ballet, and composers like Prokofiev, Ravel, Stravinsky and Satie, as well as having sets and costumes influenced and designed by Picasso and Coco Chanel. Liepa has faithfully recreated some of his original productions, using photographs, archival notes, and sets and costumes that have been tucked away in Russian collections and museums for over a century.
‘I can say many periods that could be called “the highlight of my career”: my work in the Bolshoi theatre, I had the chance to dance leading roles with many great ballerinas there, then unforgettable work in ABT (USA) with Mikhail Baryshnikov, the creations with Moris Bejart, and back to Russia when I worked in the Mariynsky Theatre,’ says Liepa. ‘But today when I am a ballet director, I would say that this is a real highlight of my career, when I am able to restore masterpieces of Russian classical ballets. We work with the best choreographers, dancers, orchestras and artists.’
The show has toured the world, and this month will bring dancers Mariana Ryzhkina, Andrey Batalov, Natalia Krapivina, Georgi Smilevski, Danila Korsuntsev, Natalia Balakhnicheva, Mikhail Martynyuk, and Alexandra Timofeeva to the Qatar Convention Center for a sample-platter performance of the best of Russian ballet. Russian ballet emerged as a combination of the classical French style, with its emphasis on light, airy movements, and the athletic , vigorous style of Italian ballet—even today, Russian ballet is often cited by critics as being both artistically expressive and massively athletic.
‘Male ballet dancers not athletes like football players. They are like athletes as ancient sculptures. We exercise each muscle of our body from head to feet every day: the aim of these exercise is to create real beauty of movements, to create the pieces of art,’ says Liepa. ‘To build our body we involve not only muscles but our heart and soul.’
He would know: a former dancer himself, his father Maris was one of the greats of Russian Ballet, the ‘Bolshoi theatre star’ as Leipa puts it.
‘I watched my father dancing, and he inspired me so much that I had no doubt about my profession,’ he says.
His sister, Ilze, will be one of the dancers onstage in Qatar. On the bill for the Doha performance are excerpts from some of the best known ballets, including Swan Lake, Don Quixote and Pas de Deux (partner dances) from Giselle, The Nutcracker, Sheherezade and more.
These are some of Liepa’s favourite ballets. ‘I like Giselle, The Nutckracker and Ivan the Terrible. I like the music and choreography in these ballets. They were my favorite when I danced the leading parts,’ he says. ‘It is really a unique event when people will see the best Russian ballet soloist with the best world ballet pieces at the same time on the same stage.’
Which is a good thing: as intros to an art form goes, seeing some of the stars of one of the most renowned ballet traditions isn’t a bad place to start. Despite often being stereotyped as prancing about in fluffy tutus, ballet has formed the basis of many modern dance styles, the technical core they sprang from. More importantly, it’s an art that transcends borders and has held on for centuries for a reason.
‘100 years ago ballet was the most new, and very interesting performance, now it is classical and unanswerable the best piece of art. Classical art is accumulation of the best human experiences. It is basic for any development, it is just very beautiful,’ says Liepa. ‘Ballet is a sort of art that doesn’t need any translation, people of all nationalities are able to understand. The best way to describe ballet is to go to watch it!’
Russian Seasons of the 21st Century comes to the Qatar Convention Center on Oct 26. Doors open at 7pm, show starts at 8pm. Tickets are QR750 for VIP, QR500 for Platinum, QR350 for Gold and QR200 for silver, available at www.timeoutdoha.com. For more information, check out www.liepa.ru.