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Arts patronage is Russian tradition
Andris Liepa

This year in France is rich of colorful cultural events. One of them was the triumphal guest performance of the ballet enterprise Russian Seasons of the 21st Century by the Maris Liepa Charity Foundation in the Champ-Elysees Theater from March 7 to 10. The event coincided with the Paris visit by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and was timed to the opening ceremony of the Year of Russia in France. Last year, Moscow and Paris celebrated the centennial of Sergei Diaghilev's Russian Seasons. The mastermind behind the rebirth of the enterprise Andris Liepa, president of the Maris Liepa Foundation, narrates:

– It is difficult to overestimate the importance of outstanding Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev for the Russian and perhaps world culture. He not only opened a new Russia for Europe and America, but also commenced a new era of the Russian ballet enriching it with all the best that he found and produced during his 20-year odyssey. Diaghilev laid the foundation for the incredible explosion of the Russian ballet throughout the 20th century. The mission of our charity foundation is to preserve his rich heritage.

– You have been in the Russian Seasons project for almost 20 years. What has been done in its framework?

– I launched this project in 1992. Over the past 18 years we have reconstructed 10 ballets from Diaghilev’s heritage. It was a unique experience in the international practice: a century after, basing on the scrupulously documented research, we bit by bit restored their choreography, costumes, scenery and music. The utmost authenticity was our top priority. Where the original choreography was lost during the years, it was created anew by talented modern ballet masters who tried to get as close as possible to the then innovative style. In order not to lose Diaghilev’s heritage again, we took care to record the restored performances on various video carriers. The first film directed by me was Return of the Firebird with Nina Aminashvili, Ilza Liepa and Gediminas Taranda. The second album, Russian Seasons of the 21st Century consisted of ballets from the Diaghilev repertoire: The Blue God, Tamar and Bolero with Nikolai Tsiskaridze, Ilza Liepa and Irma Nioradze. Shekherezada and The Firebird are having their centennial jubilee. Diaghilev first presented them in Paris in 1910 and they are still alive. The world lacks other precedents of such ballet longevity!

– How came the idea to reconstruct Diaghilev’s ballets?

– My passionate love for the Silver Age ballets was inherited from my father and our foundation was named after him. He loved that epoch and spared no efforts to reconstruct in 1966 the ballet The Vision of Rose created by Michel Fokine for Diaghilev’s Seasons. My father explored archives and talked with participants in that enterprise – Vitale Fokine, the son of the great ballet master, the famous Tamara Krasavina who was the first to dance the role of Girl in The Vision of Rose and with the star of Diaghilev’s ballet, Serge Lifar. For that time it was a bold enough enterprise on his part. The Soviet authorities looked askew at relationships with “defectors.” Fokine, Diaghilev, Stravinsky, they all were “defectors” for them. Despite this, father managed to revive the ballet and handed it over to me and my sister Ilza. Moreover, when I worked in the United States in the Mikhail Baryshnikov Company, I got to know Fokine’s granddaughter Isabel. So, for Ilza and me love and interest to Russian Seasons was inborn and inherited.

– Andris, you are one of the first private impresarios in the new Russia. How is it to be in such ambitious projects without support from the state?

– It’s difficult but possible if you have friends. I’d like to use this opportunity and express our deep gratitude to all organizations and individuals who support our foundation. Our partners are the SAV Entertainment Co with its chairwoman Nadezhda Solovyova, and the Kremlin Ballet Theater with its artistic director Andrei Petrov. And of course, there are arts sponsors. Our big business is only approaching a clear awareness of its civil responsibility in this matter. During the Russian tour of the Russian Seasons of the 21st Century, railway chief Vladimir Yakunin was of a great help.

Transportation of the 85-strong troupe with two truckloads of scenery was unimaginable for us alone. And without support from Gazprom we did not have enough money to pay for the advertising campaign in the regions. For more than two years we have been friends with Alexei Semenyachenko, president of the Olympic City developer company. In spite of the financial crisis, last year we managed to show ballets from the Russian Seasons of the 21st Century at the Champs Elysees Theater in Paris.

My praise also goes to the former Russian ambassador to France, Alexander Avdeyev, who helped us organize Maya Plisetskaya’s Jubilee Gala five years ago. The current ambassador, Alexander Orlov, also supports all our enterprises with his whole heart. We have a good French partner. Our performances in Paris were attended by members of Royal Houses from Europe and the Arab Emirates, Pierre Cardin and Patrick Hermes among other celebrities. The 88-year-old Pierre Cardin adores the Russian ballet. He is an old admirer and friend of Maya Plisetskaya making astonishing costumes for her ballets. What a meaningful continuity! One hundred years ago the same Houses and Families of Europe supported Diaghilev. We have decided to revive a tradition and open this year in Paris a European Association of Friends of Diaghilev’s Seasons of the 21st Century. This will help us to implement our projects abroad. Our envoy to Europe and France will be Paris-based Russian ballerina Sofia Loze. It is a good orthodox family with perfect reputation and good connections in high society. If a foundation is registered in Europe, it is transparent and trusted since people are sure money won’t be misspent. I believe we ourselves are partly responsible for the situation. The main difference between our and Western sponsors is that the former don’t receive government support and have no privileges.

– What is in your opinion the current situation with the Russian ballet?

– The situation is rather paradoxical. When I danced in the Bolshoi, Grigorovich was in charge, in New York Baryshnikov was in charge, in Paris – Nureyev, in the Bejart Ballet – Bejart himself. I’m ready to work for a strong artistic personality. But when a person without any authority is in charge… how can I work for him? When a mere nobody dictates conditions only another mere nobody may agree. Probably, this situation suits the current administration of the Bolshoi Theater... Maybe, financing is inadequate. For me it is more important and more convenient not to spare time fighting windmills. Even if they invite me, I am not ready to cooperate with the current Bolshoi team.

– What about Tsiskaridze? Reportedly, he was ready to head the ballet company.

– Nikolai is a clever professional and he sincerely wants things to change. But you never know until you try. So far, nobody has offered him the position of a company artistic chief.

– What is the foundation planning for the near future?

– It is very important to reconstruct as many ballets from the Russian Seasons as possible. This is my main mission. For many years I’ve been dreaming of a project devoted to Ida Rubinstein, a famous dancer of the beginning of the 20th century. I’d first stage a ballet, then make a film, Ilza starring. The first performance of the Russian Seasons in Cannes will be presented on July 21. On my father’s birthday, July 27, the Riga Opera House will host a traditional concert of ballet stars in his honor. We are also in preparations for a jubilee gala of Maya Plisetskaya due in Paris in Champs-Elysees Theater on December 6. Recently we signed a contract for a five-day London tour of the Russian Seasons in 2011. As you may see, we have a lot of plans.

By Yelena KARAKOLEVA

 
 
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