Two days with Albert Mirzoyan - Oct 2nd, 2015
October 2nd, 2015: Behind the Scenes: Albert Mirzoyan, Ballet Master of the Vienna State Opera - an Interview by Ricardo Leitner
Since a long time this "talk" with Albert Mirzoyan - Balletmaster of the Vienna State Opera since 2008 - was planned but due to various reasons it was postponed and postponed many times. Now the precise right time for it has arrived...
Saturday, September 19th 2015. It is 10:15 am and I am late…
As I open the stage door at the Opera House Albert Mirzoyan is already there. He and his inimitable smile. Ever since we first met I wonder about that smile. It exposes and “denounces” so much more than a simple greeting: it cannot be helped. Albert is unable to withhold his awareness of everything that is going around him. In this particular case the small room in front of the porter’s box by the stage door, the door, the weather and I!
“Sorry, I am a bit late” – “No problem, Ricardo”, he kindly answered, looking into my eyes. I like people who do that.
Taking the elevator and talking trivialities, I once more witnessed Albert Mirzoyan’s total alertness and interest to everything around him. A fact that was going to be reconfirmed many times during the next 1 1/2 hours. Albert left me in the studio for about 10 minutes. Many familiar faces. Many that came to greet me. Some that pretended that I was not there und even turned away – neither understanding WHY I was there nor WHAT I was supposed to be doing in this classroom. In a way, quite an understandable reaction for me – even if not very polite.
A Studio is, first of all, a very special, private place. A room to work. To work with your instrument. A "visitor" can sometimes be seen as a sort of intruder - and unfortunately I had no time to "explain" that I was there to watch Mr. Mirzoyan’s class. Not the dancers doing their warm-up, bars and Allegros. His class would help me understand more of his way of thinking. We planned it that way. And help it, it did. Marvelously.
All of a sudden I was brought back to a world that I hadn’t seen, experienced, FELT for a long, long time. The world in which musicality and inventiveness are melted together and brought to the daily (sometimes very boring) routine of a dancer's life. A beautiful, very inventive bar. No "square" combinations of tendus and frappés. But joyful combinations that lead the dancers to be constantly changing their axis of equilibrium and be in awe of every single movement. Surely the best way to prepare dancers for the "center exercises" that culminate, reach its highest point during the allegros and grand allegros - as Albert would later reconfirm to me (telling me also that he'd never give a class like this after a "Swan Lake" performance: "Because the corps-de-Ballet is just too tired the day after such a show!").
Manuel Legris, who was informed about my "visit" that day, came in shortly, greeted me kindly and asked Albert to join him in the rehearsal that was supposed to take place after class. Albert and I would not be able to have our Interview. Unfortunately I first thought. Now rethinking about it, I must say: Luckily.
You may ask why...
I will just reveal to you a single word and you will know what I mean: TIME!
Yes, time gave me the opportunity to "digest" what I had witnessed during class and gave me more clearness about that experience. A better understanding of this man's thoughts that are extremely respectful towards Ballet. Of this man that prepares continuously dancers and their instruments; teaching them the beautiful philosophy of loving, respecting their instrument - never injuring it. Yes, PHILOSOPHY. I took the trouble to look up "philosophy's definition" in the dictionary and it could not be more "fitting" when thinking of Albert.
Philosophy: The study of the nature, causes, or principles of reality, knowledge, or values, based on logical reasoning.
One week later we met once again at the Canteen of the Opera for our long awaited interview. Once more as punctual as an English clock (or like Dicken's "Mr. Pickwick") Albert was awaiting me at the stage door. This was on September 25th at precisely 6:30 pm. We went to the Canteen and had our long awaited talk. Quite impulsively I "opened" our official talk with quite an informal and spontaneous-like question (that had been in my mind for quite a long time): I thought of it every time I saw Albert, this perfect Gentleman, during the last years.
"Do you come from a Family of Artists?" He smiled openly and said frankly "Oh No... not at all".
I was quite surprised and taken aback, having nearly sworn that this would never be the answer, that his relation to dance would be one of generations...
"You see, in 1964 in Erevan, there was the school of ballet, with lovely space and many beautiful studios... but not really many students. Ballet war very respected in Armenia. But not so popular. I was chosen along with many other students to join it. It was a Vaganova-oriented schooling, but looking back I think of it more in the style of (that time's) Moscow"
"And how was this different experience for you? I mean Ballet chose you and not you it", I smiled. "During the first three years I had "a good time" and was not particularly concentrated on what I was doing. This all changed when I became 14"
"I joined the "Kirov" - nowadays Mariinsky - in "Leningrad" (St. Petersburg) in 1975. My home for the next 26 years" he added "There I became a dancer and found my partner not only onstage but also off-stage, my wife, Tamara Pavlova", he reminisced "Even though we had already met at the Vaganova School (Russian Ballet Academy) in 1973". Once more those eyes clearly revealed emotion and so many rich thoughts about life, love, love to the arts and experience.
"And how did you decide to become a Ballet Master? This is requires vocation... I'd say even more than that. It is a true "calling" I questioned, quite intrigued.
"Once more the ballet chose me - not I it" he laughed "You see, our Ballet Master at the Kirov, Tachir Baltacheyev, liked me, always took me to his side during rehearsals and shared bit by bit his profound knowledge with me. One day, after 1 or 1 1/2 years of assisting him, he called the theatre - I think it was a Don Q. rehearsal, if I'm not mistaken - and just said: "I'm not coming to rehearsal. You do it". Just like that. Can you imagine how I felt? “Just” stepping up in front of the whole Company and conduct a rehearsal at my young age? Well, I survived it and here I am now!"
"You work a lot in Korea, am I right?" "Yes, since about 20 years I am guest Ballet Master at the Universal Ballet Company" he added. "To work in Korea is fascinating. Ballet requires so much discipline, you know it, and they have lots of it. Nearly like an army", he laughs. "As a Balletmaster, a teacher, you are in a very fortunate position in Korea. You see, they not only respect and admire elder generations but they cherish their knowledge. In fact it is quite common in Korea to hear that - in this precise order - the resources of knowledge are first God, on the second place the Teacher and on third the Family."
"Quite different from our western "Civilization", don't you think?" I laughed. "You see, you can also have too much of a good thing. Ballet is hard work. If you are not prepared to live this, "pay the price" to this, sometimes very harsh, life, you must forget all about it... Unfortunately all this "political correctness" turns the ballet "upbringing" into a very difficult thing. Today, if you are a bit "harder" to any child, you can surely count on with complaints from parents about you. In Korea they let teachers be more demanding - and that IS part of the ballet life". This time I had to reminisce about my teacher, Tatiana Leskova, and how she seemed to enjoy (well, that was our impression) to reduce us to tears either before or during or after class... Yes, times have changed! (But she could have surely used some bit of political correctness!)
"Albert, one question that is of uppermost importance for me: Gone are the days in which all dancers from a certain company had the same upbringing, the same school, the same "breeding"... Nowadays you have in the same class, on the same stage dancers from France, America, England, Italy, Russia and Japan (even from Austria!). All of them from different "schools"... the "fine, noble" English low arms, the high Russian ones, beautiful French arabesques and even (for me unusual) Italian attitudes... Isn't it terribly difficult to "mix all this together"?" "Yes Ricardo, it is. And I am glad that you have asked that! You see, it is already very difficult to put dancers in the right style, into the choreographer's style, even if they come from the same school. Adding crucial differences of style to this matter make things even more difficult. Then it is hard work... "he stopped as if to think more intensely about this question.
"I remember watching once a beautiful pas de trois in "Manon" and being very pleased by their homogeneous dance, even if the boys were English, French and Moldavian, I mean, what could be more different than that, if one thinks about style?" I said. "There are very intelligent dancers that can not only adapt themselves perfectly to different styles but also - and that is as important as style - to each other. Yes, if I am right about the dancers you are talking about, they are very different but the effect and, as you say, homogeneous performance was a very good one!"
"Talking about clean basic work: of course we know that many dancers "cheat" on stage ("remember Marcia Haydée?" I laughed) but on class? The bodies are so different from the bodies from "our" times. They turn more pirouettes, jump higher, make quicker batteries, they have more extension... even so I don't feel, see the same way to take a class earnestly, learn precisely... Did things (in the sense of the body) get easier and because of that they are not anymore a challenge?"
"I believe, as you said they turn more pirouettes, jump higher, have more extension, you name it... And that is everywhere in the world. So one cannot really differentiate "this from the other" dancer... There are but exceptions to this "rule". You see, Ricardo, life is faster, everything became quicker. Nowadays when dancers are neither on class nor on rehearsals nor onstage, they are on facebook, Internet, Twitter. There is no more "room" left for reading, just to give an example. What did we do when we arrived home as children? Perhaps a bit TV on the two or three available channels that we had... but we read, we had more interests, we discussed, analyzed, questioned, talked, articulated ourselves... Some time ago in Russia I was amazed about a dancer that simply did not know anything about the history period, in which the ballet she was dancing in, took place" he sighed "Not knowing about it she did not know about the politics of the time, fashion, customs, beauty ideals, anything... not to mention the motives of her character!"
"But you said that there are "exceptions"?" I remembered. "Yes, definitely. And these are the real Stars today. The ones that understand what they are doing, not only from the technical point of view but also from the emotional one - and that includes knowing about history, politics and other forms of art. This is only thing that "differ" than from other: knowledge and emotion."
"I always say to my dancers", he continued, "Read! Go to Concerts! Go to museums! Everything single perfect sculpture is in itself pure Dance!"
Thank you Albert Mirzoyan for the privilege on interviewing you, a man that takes everything he does so seriously, and also for having been able to share a bit of your beautiful, profound world of Ballet AND YOUR VISIONS of it!
(And many thanks to Ashley Taylor not only for helping me with actual material but also for letting me use it!)