A short Talk with Ketevan Papava: Principal Vienna State Ballet ( February 6th, 2019)
Everyone has heard the phrase „Coincidences do not exist“. More and more I come to realize that this is in fact true.
I left home to make an interview with Ketevan Papava, principal of the Vienna State Ballet and arrived quite on time. I spent some minutes in a shop called „Arcadia“ going through books and checking if there are any new Ballet DVDs. Then I walked to the stage door to wait for her. Strangely enough, after 15 minutes she still had not arrived. I still waited for another 5 and then sent her a text message... She answered immediately. To make a long story short: I was one day too early!
In my „hurry“ I had no read her message correctly. The most admirable aspect of this story is that SHE started to excuse herself for a mistake that I had done. Yes, this admirable side that only belongs to the really polite. We arranged our meeting again for the next day and I went downtown.
By „coincidence“ (again this word that allegedly does not exist), I decided that same evening to show an old musical film to my mother. Just light entertainment for her.
„Down to Earth“ (in the main role Rita Hayworth) tells us the story of a musical about the Muses that is being put on Broadway. It shows all Muses in a „very wrong way“, so when Terpsichore, the Muse of Dance and lyrical Poetry finds out about it, she decides to go „down to Earth“ to show all Mortals what Greek mythology is all about. After auditioning for the play, she is asked about her name. Not knowing exactly what to answer, she sees a cat (that by chance, happens to be lying on the stage of this Broadway Theatre) and answers quickly: „Kitty“ - nearing the pronunciation in which her colleagues address her.
So off to meet Kety Papava on February 6th!
Even though I was quite punctual, she was already waiting for me. It was lunchtime and fearing that all the usual places that I use for my interviews could be full, we headed to the comfortable bar of the „Grand Hotel“. She was delighted because of its spacious commodity. „Great place – room enough for strollers and buggies!“. Life is beautiful when you think about others and their comfort in the first place.
We had been talking during our walk from the Opera to the Grand Hotel but now in a more „official way“ I asked: „When did you arrive in Vienna?“
„Oh, it was 2006. First I auditioned here, then I got the job. I had been at the „Mariinsky“ for 5 years. Also, that year Olga Esina and Vladimir Shishov arrived here. We had been auditioning and negotiating with Gyula Harangozó, who brought many Russians to work here“
„Did you start in Vienna as a soloist?“ „Oh no, first as a half soloist. After „Anna Karenina“ I was promoted to soloist. Then in 2015, I was advanced to the principal stage, on the stage of the Volksopera just after a performance of „Giselle Rouge“, a surprise and half!“, she says.
„I remember that well, I mean the promotion on stage!“, I reply.
„Though the years, I have seen you in many dramatic and quite different roles (which vary from classic to modern) which display your extreme versatility. I like that. A quality that seems to be disappearing nowadays (This was a very important theme in my interview with Céline Janou Weder). Also, that certain luminosity and transparency that you add to your roles through your stage persona. Ever since I have seen some pictures of you and your family, I have been wanting to ask a question... „
She answers quickly: „Which pictures? And what is the question?“
„Don't misunderstand me – while watching the pictures of the baptism of your baby-daughters in Georgia, I became even more aware of this luminous quality that makes me think of Liv Ullmann, Jeanne Moreau and a very young Anne Bancroft (whom you look very alike, by the way), three outstanding actresses with an „inner-life“ that is shown through their faces... Which is your connection to „Religion“ (a word with a very large amplitude, that I prefer not to define)?“
She smiles at me, revealing once more all the luminosity and transparency about which I have written about and in a few, simple but very grave words just said: „My connection with the Church and Religion is one that can only be described as a spiritual relationship“. To quote Karen Blixen/Isak Dinesen I thought „Yes, I see... „
„How do you start your creative process while preparing for a new role, Ketty? Let us think, for example on Cranko's „Onegin“, OK? “
„In this special case I started reading the book“ (and I thought, how I wish I could read in Russian and understand its lyrical poetry – are we getting back to Terpsichore? - to put it into dance – yes, we are definitely under Terpsichore's influence) „when I had the role „in my head and inside me“ and started to think about the steps, without reflecting about the role until a symbiosis happened!“
Just think about the definition of „Symbiosis“: an interaction between two different organisms living in a close physical association, typically to the advantage of both!
And she continues: „At the moment I am preparing myself to Davide Bombana's „Roméo et Juliette“, learning the steps, preparing myself technically but, this time, waiting for the choreographer to talk more about the role!“
„Tell me quite spontaneously three roles that you really enjoyed dancing!“
The answer was so quick that I nearly missed it: „Three very strong women: „Joseph's Legend“, although it took me a while until I have found the role – FOR ME, „Carmen“ (Oh, the Bizet music) and „Anna Karenina“, to which I have to comment that Boris Eifman belongs to that special kind of choreographer that gives a consistency – not only technically – to every single role. From the Soloists to the Corps de Ballet“
„And again quite spontaneously three roles which you would like to dance?“
Also without any hesitation „ Fokine's „Scheherazade“, Neumeier's „Camille“ and „Medea“ - there is no choreography yet – just a work from Patrick de Bana, a seven-minute choreography made for a Shanghai Gala – but I wish I could portray this woman (Just after our interview I remembered a new work by young choreographer Reginaldo Oliveira made for the Salzburger Landestheater which I had not the chance to watch due to illness: Medea – der Fall M. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_gYEl66XPw
„Style and shoes, tell me any thoughts about them,“ I ask, changing the subject. Ketty – as quick as a cat, adapts to new questioning and answers completely at ease „Shoes? My favourite ones (at the moment) are Freed of London! Style? In every class, I am still very Russian, very Vanagora in style. But I have to change and adapt myself if I am either dancing a Forsythe or a Neumeier role... Sometimes I just wish that one could mix more of the Russian technique and style (Upper body) and of the French (Legs and feet). But the point is: there is less and less time nowadays. We also do not have the time anymore between performance and performance. We rehearse different parts while performing constantly. One must take lots of care on how to arrange that“
„And the extraneous, tiring question: overemphasis on technical issues?“
„Nowadays „it must“ look athletic“. Yes, the technique has developed throughout the years and one must move with times. But with lots of control and care. No exaggeration. I just say one short thing: Thank you, Natalia Makarova. There may be many „Swans“ which are more technically perfect those days and start their 32 fouettés on the same spot where they'll finish them. She was technically not perfect – although simply marvellous for those days of the past. But WHAT AN ODILLE! Thank you!“
And she adds „Technique should serve Art – not the other way round!“
„What do you consider you „forte“, Ketty?“
For the first time she ponders for a while and I have the impression that she is not thinking about something carefully, especially before making a decision or reaching a conclusion but that she is choosing the right words to express something that is very important.
„I am not a „Gala dancer“. I am the sort that is more destined to create dramatic roles. And I do believe that there is more dramaturgy in abstract roles then on wants to admit. Think of all the emotion in Balanchine's „Violin Concerto“, for instance. And to be very honest; I am very patient – not only with others but also with me – and how that always helped me in life and still helps me. I „think“ then I „ponder“, I „wait“ and just after that I act.
A dancer who exhales soul delicacy and beauty - even if badly caught on picture by a “photographer” that has no idea of contrasts, luminosity and transparency. I saw these pictures in the internet. They do not show what I consider to be three very special qualities of Miss Papava.
So much has been added to them after the birth of her two daughters (she has lovely twins, and by the way, she slimmed down 27kg before returning to work).
I am glad that we have done this interview, which was long due, just now.
Yes, Contrasts, Luminosity and Transparency. Think about that!