Conserving the classics

The Russian State Ballet Theatre will perform nationwide.

Russian Ballet Dancer  (photo credit: M.LOGVINOV)
Russian Ballet Dancer
(photo credit: M.LOGVINOV)
When we talk about preserving the classics, it suggests an act that is static and unmoving. As if the classics were a set object that must be kept in a glass case and occasionally dusted. However, when it comes to preserving classic ballets, the opposite is true. Here, mobility is key. In fact, maintaining the great creations of the last century is arguably more challenging and labor-intensive than fostering new works. The complexities of this feat are part and parcel to the everyday work of Vlacheslav Gordeev, artistic director of the Russian State Ballet Theatre.
“We always try to preserve classics, enriched by great masters who contributed their personal touch to these timeless masterpieces,” he explains.
This month, the Russian State Ballet Theatre is coming to Israel to present Giselle and Swan Lake.
The company consists of more than 100 artists, including dancers, actors and an orchestra.
While in the country, the massive ensemble will perform in Tel Aviv, Beersheba, Haifa, Rehovot, Modi’in, Netanya, Karmiel, Petah Tikva, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Jerusalem and Rishon Lezion. The tour is one of the most extensive and involved engagements any dance company has made in Israel, responding to the demand for classical ballet throughout the country.
Gordeev has spent most his life studying, performing and directing the classics. Born and raised in Russia, he trained at the Moscow Ballet Academy and went on to join the Bolshoi Ballet, where he performed as a soloist for many seasons. In 1981, he began his path as a choreographer, bringing together his love of fine lines and traditional ballet movement with the desire for something new. It is this blend that has defined his company and his life’s work.
Since establishing the Russian State Ballet Theatre, Gordeev has traveled the world, presenting pure ballet productions that honor the greats of the field. As part of his work, Gordeev oversees the hiring and training of dozens of dancers every year. These artists, who have most often emerged from ballet school, must become versed in the art of performing ballets such as The Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet and Coppelia.
When asked what he looks for in a dancer, Gordeev’s answer is decisive and honest. “First of all, the God-given traits and lines: elongated arms, legs, neck. The lines are perfection incarnate; therefore, linearity is the first thing we look for in our dancers. I look for dramatic traits of the soul and the body; sensuality and empathy are another must for a ballet actor.
Finally, I look for the ability to perceive music. Music pours effortlessly into the soul of both the spectator and the performer and is easily expressed through his or her body language.”
Having firmly established himself as a leader in preservation of the classics, Gordeev finds it difficult to convince his audience to try new things.
“From the very beginning, we’ve been building on classics, and I believe this was the right decision.
It was strategically important for the ensemble’s development.
Although we don’t avoid experiments, the gems of the classical repertoire are our major achievement. I enjoy the creative process immensely, while resisting new material is the challenging part of my job. You have to overcome this resistance, both preserving the classical heritage and contributing something new to it,” he says.
On this tour, Gordeev looks forward to hearing one of his favorite pieces of music, the adagio section of Swan Lake, where the White Swan dances with the prince.
“That section is breathtaking – the celestial music composed by Tchaikovsky. The adagio is full of human emotion; it is the most intimate testimony of an extremely sensitive person who was going through a painful experience,” he notes.