It can be presented at length and in detail, listing titles and achievements, or say briefly: Sergey Polunin. One of the most interesting and at the same time rebellious dancers in the world. On March 22, he presents in Moscow a four-hour performance based on one of the most mystical works of Russian literature, in which he himself will perform the role of the Master, and the role of Margarita will be played by his wife, the Olympic champion in ice dancing Elena Ilyinykh.
Looking at how you carefully warmed up your muscles before rehearsal, I would like to ask: are injuries in ballet an inevitability or a consequence of poor body preparation?
- Probably more of an inevitability. The body is just a tool you work with. Sometimes you have to rehearse for 12-13 hours. For 20, or even more years of dance, you, of course, injure yourself somewhere. Although in most cases, injuries occur due to some kind of error. Either you didn't rest enough, or you didn't prepare enough. For example, I tore my Achilles because I had a performance, and a couple of minutes later I had a second one. I mean, I just didn't have time to recover. My muscles stopped running out of oxygen before I went on stage.
— I know that now, preparing for the premiere of The Master and Margarita, you are working in an extremely tough mode. As your wife Elena Ilinykh said, over the past month, the whole troupe has been trying to do what normal life requires... By the way, how long does it really take to prepare such a performance?
— When I was just thinking about working on The Master and Margarita, I talked to Emir Kusturica. Unfortunately, he will not be in the play, although I really wanted him to be. So, he said, "Do you have a show in seven months?" That's very little! We basically put together the whole story in two and a half months. The whole volume of the dance was done in a month and a half.
- What was the motivation for the desire to fit everything in such a short time?
- I do things in a similar way in life. If you invest 100% and do not waste time on something superfluous, the timing of any work is accelerated. The same Elon Musk rested for four years only one day. That is, in those days when other people allowed themselves not to work, he managed to do a lot. I could do everything even faster if I had my own troupe, my own place for rehearsals, my own theater. But I spend extra time, because all the artists are invited, each has their own work, it turns out that I have to work out the same scene with each person separately, to explain everything to each individually.
I don't understand, by the way, how people make films for three, four, five, six years. To me, this is complete nonsense. If you really work, you can make any picture in six months. And five years is enjoying life, enjoying yourself, being able to do whatever you want, but definitely not concentrated work.
- In my sport, there is an unwritten rule: go up to the tower to make a new jump - do it as quickly as possible. Then you do not have time to succumb to doubts and be afraid.
- Well, yes. The main thing in this phrase is to do. Go and don't stop. Doubt is the main enemy of man. Your own brain, your own limitations – they just may not allow you to do what you can and want. You can't be afraid here. At one time, that's how I jumped into movies, into movies. I'm not an actor, I didn't go to drama school, I didn't speak. Just jumped into the frame. And then there's Willem Dafoe, Penelope Cruz... And you have no choice but to quickly reconfigure your DNA code to their level.
Now, in the same way, I jumped into the work on the play. I do not consider myself a professional director, director, choreographer. But with what's going on in the world right now, I have no choice. Some of those with whom I expected to do this project simply do not want to visit Russia, someone does not want to work with me. Although I honestly admit: I am always happy when there are people who take on the production work. Because it takes the longest time to come up with an idea.
- Why "The Master and Margarita"?
- I came up somehow, I can't explain why. I had different ideas related to China, to India, to Mexico. But when we applied for a presidential grant, we understood that our application should include Russian history, a Russian author and something related to Russia. Nothing else came to mind. The grant was not approved at first, but then suddenly we received it. And we decided to take on the project, although it was not easy to decide on it.
- Because everything piled up at once: SVO, my injury, the cancellation of performances around the world, the return of money everywhere and to everyone. And the need to find the same amount of money for the presidential grant. We, in principle, did not find them.
I had to get out. Look for an opportunity to show the highest possible level for half of the funds. That is, the initial tasks were like an entry into space, and then you slowly descend – in terms of your capabilities, in terms of resources. But I want it to be world class anyway.
— In the process of working on the play, did you feel the mysticism of Bulgakov's work?
You know, when I took on the production, the idea was to show the light through the darkness. But when I started reading the book, I suddenly felt some dark sides begin to open up in me. You're really starting to sink into darkness. For me, "The Master and Margarita" is not about the positive, not about the light, but about this. Almost all sinners are here, almost everything is connected with sin. And I, like Bulgakov's Master, am very well aware of this. It's not sad or joyful, you're just in this world. In Woland's world.
What about Margarita's love for the Master?
- So it is dark and sinful. Marguerite has a husband, has another life. Yes, she seems to be with the Master, but at the same time she feels some strange affection for his book. She's always with this book, with these manuscripts. Manipulates the Master, leads him somewhere through Woland's manipulations. I mean, I wouldn't say it's such a straightforwardly pure love of one person for another. There is always some selfish purpose.
— Did Lena in the role of Margarita open up to you from any new sides of her character?
— For me, Lena is a very talented dramatic actress. It expresses a thought very clearly through dance, through emotions. I can't say that she opened up to me in this regard, because I always knew that this talent was in her. When I look at her, I understand the plot, I understand the transformation of her eyes into the eyes of a witch.
- So in a home environment, this reincarnation also happens?
- No, I'm talking exclusively about the play. Lena has quite a difficult task. She's never done a play before. In "Rasputin" it came out sporadically. And here she has such a role that she should be on stage for a couple of hours and keep the audience interested. Through dance, through movement, through your own charisma. I see all this in her, and this makes me happy.
In sports, the difference between success and failure is quite obvious: either you are the first, or you lose. What is the expression of failure on stage?
— One of my tasks as a director is to convey to both the artists and the athletes who participate in the production that we are not a competition. I myself did not immediately come to the understanding that ballet is not a rivalry at the machine or who will do more pirouettes, but an art where the artist is yourself. Therefore, there should not be such excitement as in sports, where you have four minutes, to which you go for four years, to perfectly perform something and be better than the opponent. To my artists, on the contrary, I say: if you want , fall, if you want , make a mistake, most importantly, live your character. Live! That's when the excitement disappears, it makes sense to be on stage. When none of the audience knows what should happen next and how it should be, there is a certain charm in this. That's freedom.
- Absolute improvisation?
- A lot of information is embedded in the people themselves. The same Lena with her knowledge of sports brings support from figure skating, which in ballet does not exist in principle. He interacts in these supports with Azazello - Alexei Lyubimov from the Stanislavsky Theater. He once admitted that he did not even suspect that he could embody such a thing on stage, some twists through the neck and so on.
We generally have a lot of different disciplines. There is a circus dance-flight of Borov and Natasha. There is Gella, the Olympic vice-champion Yana Kudryavtseva, who is able to do with her own body what no professional ballet dancer will do. With elongated arms, with strange movements. That is, for me, the character through these movements becomes clear immediately. There is a cat performed by the famous dancer Vakhtang Khurtsilava. His Hippopotamus is an endless break-dance with broken elbows, a broken back. For me, it is generally incomprehensible how the human body can move like this. All these characters exist as if on different levels and at the same time make up the overall picture.
— Was the idea to introduce people from the sports world into the performance born thanks to your joint work with the Ilyins?
- Probably, yes, the first such experiment was with Lena. When I saw her, it immediately seemed to me that you can do something completely different with her on stage than with people from the world of ballet, who are used to dancing in a certain form. There is a completely different freedom of expression.
- Speaking of freedom. Your sentence: "Ballet people don't explain anything about life. Their paradigm is a machine and a spectacle." At what point did you want to break out of that cage?
- At the age of 20 somewhere, right after school. I went to school in Covent Garden for four years, came to the theater, danced to the highest level, became a premiere, and I wanted to know what was outside the studio. What is behind the hall, behind this point on the stage, where you spend virtually your entire life working 14-15 hours a day. When you plough like this for four years, sooner or later the thought comes to mind: what else is there in life, except for this? So I wanted to see the world, to travel, to see what else I could do while dancing. I was interested in everything: movies, advertising. That being said, I wasn't looking to make money. He sought to feel and understand the structure of the existence of different professions, different approaches to art.
- Many years ago, I was talking with the Olympic champion in freestyle wrestling Buvaysar Saitiev, who was then 21 years old, and this very young guy suddenly said: "All my life I thought that the Olympic victory is a great joy. And now I feel like I've been cheated. Because other than the fact that I've run out of life and don't have a dream, I don't feel anything else." When you reach the top in ballet, do you experience similar sensations?
- There is an absolute parallel here. I once aspired to become an Olympic champion in gymnastics. Then I went into ballet and constantly thought about how I could replace this goal. Replaced: I wanted to become the best dancer of the best theater in the world. You've been climbing this peak for many years, but when you become the first, of course, disappointment sets in. And the misunderstanding: what's next?
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- Was there a feeling at the moment of triumph that a couple of decades of life this moment is not worth it?
- Nope. What sport is good for, it gives you this aspiration, this goal. And the desire to come to it at all costs, no matter how many years and obstacles you have in front of you. You're not rushing from side to side, you're aiming for one thing. It's just that I didn't immediately realize that you can set a thousand such goals – and you don't have to be an athlete at the same time. You can be an actor, a dancer, star in commercials or put on performances. A person sets himself a task and determines the facet of his own capabilities. The higher the goal, the more strength you are given.
- Figure skating is called art, although it is quite rare. Much more often it is incomprehensible as sliced music, a program tailored to jumps, to some specific drawings. As for the images, one of the famous coaches remarkably expressed himself on this score, noting that if an athlete goes in the image on a triple jump, then he will come out of it, lying on his back.
- It all depends on the talent. From the talent of the director, from the talent of the performer himself. And I disagree about the image. I had the best pirouette in my life when an absolutely outstanding teacher Valery Vladimirovich Parsegov, with whom I studied for a short time in Kiev, said to me: "Imagine an open window through which spring air with the aroma of flowers enters the room. And do a pirouette." It was really the best pirouette of my life. Some athletes, I know, reason like this: why should I put my hands up if I make a steep jump and get more points? Why spend money on rehearsals, on working at the machine? But this is the choice of the athlete himself. At the same time, there are people like Evgeny Plushenko. Which you look at and realize that the ability to ride like this is a gift.
I didn't expect to hear that you're a Plushenko fan.
I wouldn't say I'm a fan, but I really love him. When I was studying at a choreographic school in Britain, my best friend, an Italian, showed Eugene's video. We watched him skate and it was inspiring. Because there was always an image inside Eugene. The image of a man who lives on the ice, even without realizing it. A dramatic supply there to the sky. In the hands of a brilliant director, Plushenko could become a brilliant performer.
— В своё время меня, помню, потрясло, насколько по-разному можно было бы подойти к теме Вацлава Нижинского. Плющенко и его тренер Алексей Мишин в большей степени пошли от внешнего образа. Ходили в музеи, рассматривали дагеротипы, отрабатывали перед зеркалами какие-то позы, характерные для этого танцовщика. А потом, когда программа была поставлена и исполнена на публике, я услышала от другого очень известного специалиста, что она бы пошла совсем иным путём — постаралась бы показать, как человек сходит с ума от собственной гениальности. И что как раз это Плющенко мог бы исполнить как никто другой.
— Я тоже танцевал Нижинского, эту постановку мы делали с Юкой Ойши. Вообще не задумывался до выхода на сцену, про что она ставит, зачем. И вдруг, танцуя в Швейцарии, неподалёку от места, где жил Нижинский во время Второй мировой войны, я делаю жест, который придумала Юка, и понимаю, что повторяю жест человека, который жил за много лет до меня. Что я как бы проживаю его жизнь, начинаю чувствовать его мысли. Слышу взрывы за горами в Италии и потихонечку схожу с ума. Это было какое-то безумное ощущение жизни, ощущение круговорота жизни, повторения жизни. Нижинский пришёл в наш мир, возможно, как раз затем, чтобы дать возможность классическому мужскому танцу выйти на сцену, эволюционировать в то состояние, каким мы его видим. Прыжки, полёт, эмоции. Уже потом были Михаил Барышников, у которого я сам учился технике танца, Рудольф Нуреев…
Есть такие люди, которые рождаются и эволюционируют целую индустрию. Вот как раз Нижинский и Нуреев были такими людьми. Нижинский — своими какими-то образами, постановками танцев. Нуреев — тем, что он объездил весь мир, привёз русский балет в Австралию, в Индию. Расширял границы своим искусством, своей персоной.
— Есть какие-то характеры или партии, которые вы хотели бы воплотить на сцене?
- Rather, there are ideas. After all, you can make a performance based on any industry. Take rhythmic gymnastics, figure skating, folk dances, combine all this. The art of moving the human body is everywhere. In the same India, there are so many different gods, different stories. There is no developed classical ballet, but there is Bollywood, its own styles of dance. "La Bayadere" just appeared in India.
When I read your stage biography, one line threw me into a kind of internal dissonance. This is the role of the Lumberjack in Little Red Riding Hood. What was it, Christmas trees?
- Nope. Initially, the task was to make a play for children. I turned to Ross Freddie Ray, he agreed - however, he made this performance completely unforgiving. But it turned out to be interesting in the sense that there was lively and very interestingly written music. The musicians sat right on the stage.
- But why the Lumberjack, with your plastics?
- Because the Lumberjack is the protagonist there. Which saves everyone. When you take on some adventurous project, you never know what will happen. You gather artists, you give them certain opportunities. It's interesting to give opportunities to people.
I'm under the impression that you don't really like ballet in its classical form. The main message comes from your own phrase: "I do not advise anyone to go to the ballet, as long as it exists in its current form. It is conservative, undeveloped, unfree, low-budget. And most importantly, it is fleeting. The ratio of the duration of training and the period of full-fledged performances is catastrophically unfair."
— Since I graduated from school, I have been to the ballet as a spectator once or twice.
- Not interesting?
- Not interesting. There's nothing there that surprises me or at least lures me. Ballet is really very conservative and undeveloped. It's like in the XVIII century: a boy comes out, gives a hand, a girl comes up, takes her hand - and they stand trembling in support, in one pose. Maybe in the days when kings and queens lived, they had nothing else to do except in their free time to come to the ballet and watch for four hours at some rather monotonous form. But it seems to me that our time with incredible technologies, artificial intelligence, holograms requires something completely different.
But you yourself have appeared on stage hundreds of times in the role of a boy who holds his partner over his head with trembling hands.
- It was, yes. I remember very well how in London I danced the prince in Sleeping Beauty and realized that I could think at that moment about anything but art. And the viewer can think about anything. It is clear that ballet allows you to turn off consciousness to some extent. Listen to music, enjoy the lines, learn. This is probably the last thing that still keeps the viewer going.
Everything you do on stage is built around you in one way or another. Are you afraid of the moment when your brilliant head will no longer keep up with the body? So what then?
- With age, other abilities appear, some other development.
I never set myself the task of taking a jump and a pirouette. I have all this, I have a good command of the body, but it is not an end in itself. An end in itself is a role. Whether it will be implemented through hands, through support, through a jump is the second question.
And in what, pompously speaking, do you see your own mission in art? And you see?
— One of the missions is the evolution of the ballet industry itself. In terms of business, in terms of productions, in terms of attracting attention. Ballet sells very well, by the way. In the same China, it sells better than opera and orchestra. If you start looking at it as a business, other money will immediately go into the industry, other opportunities will open up. And people's thinking will begin to work differently. In any musical, for example, now they invest 12-13 times more money than in the performances of the Bolshoi Theater. And the strategy there has been developed for 12 years ahead.
- Many artists dream of creating their own theater. As I understand it, you are no exception.
"It's really a dream. I used to travel the world and subconsciously look for my point. In Moscow, we rent a studio, but there is no permanent point, as well as financing. Everything rests on ticket sales. As for me, they are expensive, but due to this we live. In this regard, the presidential grant gave us invaluable assistance in creating a performance. I understand that if I had my own site, I could do a lot of things faster, more qualitatively. This could even be used to restore relations between countries. To make joint products with Mexico, India, Brazil...
- Going back to The Master and Margarita. Did what you did coincide with how you envisioned it?
I implemented almost everything that intuitively occurred to me. Including very bold decisions, even slightly shocking at first. With pepper, it turned out to be a performance that was unusual for the audience. Four hours, 32 chapters, more than 130 different images. This is an absolutely unusual synthesis of theater, dance, circus, sports, technology. And serious musicians. We have music by Eduard Artemyev, and it seems to have brought me back to life. Thanks to her, I understood what art is, why it was created at all.
It's a mystery, really. Now I can say that Artemyev became my Pontius Pilate , a character about whom, in fact, the whole performance. When I started working with music, I suddenly realized that all the characters, the whole shell, everything that I needed, was already kind of embedded in this music. Eduard Nikolaevich even said that he would finish some piece specifically for my ballet. We met in early December, I came to a concert in the Kremlin, shook his hand. We were supposed to meet again a little later, but, unfortunately, on December 29, Artemyev died.
Bulgakov's novel also has a mentoring theme: when the Master comes to Ivan and gives him mentorship to finish his work. I know that one of Artemyev's last wishes was for us to make this ballet. This is a serious responsibility.
You also have students. How important is it for you to carry your understanding of art through them? Or is it still a side zone of the main profession?
- Returning to your story about the wrestler who won the Olympics and lost his life guidelines to some extent, I can say that this is the task of the mentors - to suggest: what next? Then this is the very stage of life where the mentor can help, prompt, direct. That's very important to me. Students and pupils are certainly not the main direction in life. But for the soul one of the most pleasant. My foundation sponsors the Academy of Choreography of Sevastopol. There is a similar foundation in Serbia that helps Serbian students of European schools. Previously, I myself sponsored such projects, but I realized that through the fund, even if I continue to act as a sponsor myself, this can be done on a much larger scale.
- Such patronage is also a mission in a certain sense.
Rather, I'm just paying off debts. At one time, the Nureyev Foundation paid for my education in Britain. For a talented child, a student, it is very important to get the opportunity to learn on time. I came to St. Petersburg, they did not take me, because I had to pay for training. I ended up going to London because of that. Having a fund where talented students can count on funding — whether that money goes to pay for housing, parent support, or tuition — seems to me important for the future of the industry as a whole.
— What do you expect from the premiere of your play?
I just want to do it.
I want the viewer through the dance to get the maximum pleasure, the maximum sense of Bulgakov's intention. That's why I wasn't inclined to distort anything in the plot, to change something.
— Are you ready internally for the fact that the performance may not be understood, not appreciated? Still, "The Master and Margarita" is not the easiest story.
- It's so different, so many things are mixed... I don't know how that will work. We, on the one hand, do our work for people, but you can't think about people during the creation of the play, because in this case you will invariably begin to make some compromises. So, you need to focus on how you see the idea yourself, and hope that it will be appreciated.
Any frank and open person in communication is open, including to someone else's negativity. But you don't shut down, so for some reason you need this openness. What for?
- It seems to me that you should always tell the truth, say what you feel. It's both easier and more correct, and people will understand you faster in the end. I think this should be the case in all directions. And in politics, and on television, and with artists, and with the audience. When people try to invent something, to hide some things, it's not even that trust is lost, it's just that life itself becomes much more complicated.