Waiting for Onegin

'Theatre is interaction where you look each other in the eye; it brings out emotions and feelings that no screen, no technology, no gadget can translate or replicate. During the performance, the audience is brought together by a special connection; there are moments when the entire auditorium freezes with baited breath. And this is something that no digital device will ever be able to capture...'
 
Many theatres are currently making tentative steps back to normal. The Yacobson Ballet Theatre, too, has resumed rehearsals. Its art director, Andrian FADEEV, talks to Zinaida ARSENYEVA of Sankt-Peterburgskiye Vedomosti about the setback in the Onegin project, about the theatre's losses and new plans. And about why online streams will never replace live performances.
Z: Andrian, you had a premiere planned for July. It's probably been called off, right?
A: We now have a chance to gradually get back to rehearsing. At the moment, the rehearsals are done on a strictly individual basis: the only people present are one or two soloists, the tutor, and the orchestra leader. All in full compliance with the Rospotrebnadzor [Russian consumer rights and public health agency] regulations. This small-scale format is obviously no replacement for our usual intense  rehearsal process, but it is quite beneficial when it comes to working out the nuances of a specific part, a specific role.
Unfortunately, we were forced to abandon our work on John Cranko's Onegin production late this March. As international air travel was about to shut down, Agneta and Victor Valcu, the ballet masters who oversee the protection of John Cranko's heritage, were forced to drop everything post haste and leave Russia. Working together with them had been very fruitful, and a great learning opportunity for our young dancers, since Agneta and Victor are professionals with an incredible level of experience. They have had a chance to cooperate with many talented choreographers, and the Cranko Foundation entrusted them with staging Onegin at La Scala in Milan and the Bolshoi Theatre in Russia. Joining forces with them was both an honour and a challenge for our troupe.
But so long as the borders remain closed, we will be unable to return to the production. We are currently honing the segments that we did manage to work on, using our video footage as reference. We first tapped into the Onegin ballet in the summer of 2019; for two weeks, our dancers worked under Reid Anderson, ballet teacher and the art director of the Cranko Foundation. At the end of his visit, we became the fist theatre in St. Petersburg to receive official authorisation to stage this legendary ballet.
The cast for the performance has not been finalised yet. That's one of the conditions set by the Foundation. It's not until the premiere is much closer that we will learn who exactly will be performing during the first show. This does have its upsides: the secrecy adds a spirit of healthy competition to the rehearsal process. So far, a number of our theatre's soloists are trying out for the main parts: Alla Bocharova, Honoured Artist of Russia; Elena Chernova, Sofia Matyushenskaya, Olga Mikhailova, Anna Skvortsova; Anastasia Milyachenko, Andrey Sorokin, and others.
Setting an exact date for the premiere is rather difficult at the moment. But as soon as the borders open again, as soon as the ballet masters are able to return to Russia and pick up where they left off, we will start negotiating with the stage venues for a premiere date. Our theatre does not have a stage of its own, which makes things a bit more complicated. We hope that the show premières in 2021, but unfortunately, we cannot currently give a more precise date than that.
Z: For three months, your dancers were cut off from proper training in the rehearsal hall. How does such a long break affect a person's physical shape?
A: Our performers never stopped training at home; they kept themselves in shape as well as they could. Dancers know perfectly well that if you jump back into action after a long break, you always end up injured. And no-one wants to go to hospital with their injuries; they want to work, to dance. I think that a month of hard work out to be enough to get back in good shape.
Z: During the lockdown, many theatres streamed the productions from their current playbill or from their archives. The Mariinsky Theatre being the obvious champion. Did you theatre make any appearance on the net?
A: We streamed two shows. The Don Quixote ballet, staged by Johan Kobborg, was available for three months at an online streaming service, as part of the Golden Mask project. Douglas Lee's Firebird, for
its own part, was included in the #BezAntrakta [No Intermission] online festival, and got about 100 thousand views. That was an excellent experience. We don't have the resources to make footage of all our productions at the moment, as high-quality videos of ballet performances are made with multiple cameras and take several days to complete, which may be possible if you have your own stage venue, but is nearly unfeasible in our case, as we have no stage. But even though online streams and video performances do increase the audience size tenfold, sometimes even hundredfold, I am still convinced that they will never replace actually going to the theatre in person.
Z: How has the pandemic impacted your theatre's finances? Do you require aid from the city, from the Ministry of Culture?
A: Like all theatres, we have lost our income from ticket sales. So any help will be greatly appreciated. Another vital part of our lives — since we don't have a home venue in St. Petersburg — is going on tours. This year, we have had to cancel all of our spring and summer tours: to Italy, Belarus, Israel, and other countries. Just the other day, we learned that we won't be going on our usual Japanese tour in December 2020 either. That's because you have to get ready for a tour well in advance: you have to pick the venue for your performance, ship off the set and costumes, start selling tickets, and so on. The directors of the top theatres in Europe and America have already announced that they won't be able to resume normal performances until early 2021, and large theatres are not very keen on the socially distanced seating layout.
Of course, we particularly regret the cancellation of our shows at the Bolshoi Theatre, which were planned for late July. Over the course of a week, we would have put on three different productions from our troupe's playbill. This would have been our first performance in this format at the country's main theatre. Being on the stage of Bolshoi is a tremendous honour for any performer. It's still unclear whether the tour will still take place in the nearest future; and if it does, we have no way of knowing when.
Z: Could you share something about your immediate plans, and maybe your work on restoring Leonid Yacobson's miniatures?
A: Our priority right now is returning to our regular, intensive training schedule at our rehearsal halls. As soon as that happens, our dancers and tutors will get back to restoring Leonid Yacobson's Classicism-Romanticism and Rodin cycles. Obviously, we will only be able to accomplish that under the guidance of former soloists from the Choreographic Miniatures troupe, who performed when Yacobson himself was ballet master. They help us carefully preserve the ballet traditions, and pass these masterpieces on to the next generation. Many theatres are currently making tentative steps back to normal. The Yacobson Ballet Theatre, too, has resumed rehearsals. Its art director, Andrian FADEEV, talks to Zinaida ARSENYEVA of Sankt-Peterburgskiye Vedomosti about the setback in the Onegin project, about the theatre's losses and new plans. And about why online streams will never replace live performances.
Z: Andrian, you had a premiere planned for July. It's probably been called off, right?
A: We now have a chance to gradually get back to rehearsing. At the moment, the rehearsals are done on a strictly individual basis: the only people present are one or two soloists, the tutor, and the orchestra leader. All in full compliance with the Rospotrebnadzor [Russian consumer rights and public health agency] regulations. This small-scale format is obviously no replacement for our usual intense rehearsal process, but it is quite beneficial when it comes to working out the nuances of a specific part, a specific role.
Unfortunately, we were forced to abandon our work on John Cranko's Onegin production late this March. As international air travel was about to shut down, Agneta and Victor Valcu, the ballet masters who oversee the protection of John Cranko's heritage, were forced to drop everything post haste and leave Russia. Working together with them had been very fruitful, and a great learning opportunity for our young dancers, since Agneta and Victor are professionals with an incredible level of experience. They have had a chance to cooperate with many talented choreographers, and the Cranko Foundation entrusted them with staging Onegin at La Scala in Milan and the Bolshoi Theatre in Russia. Joining forces with them was both an honour and a challenge for our troupe. But so long as the borders remain closed, we will be unable to return to the production. We are currently honing the segments that we did manage to work on, using our video footage as reference. We first tapped into the Onegin ballet in the summer of 2019; for two weeks, our dancers worked under Reid Anderson, ballet teacher and the art director of the Cranko Foundation. At the end of his visit, we became
the fist theatre in St. Petersburg to receive official authorisation to stage this legendary ballet. The cast for the performance has not been finalised yet. That's one of the conditions set by the
Foundation. It's not until the premiere is much closer that we will learn who exactly will be performing during the first show. This does have its upsides: the secrecy adds a spirit of healthy competition to the rehearsal process. So far, a number of our theatre's soloists are trying out for the main parts: Alla Bocharova, Honoured Artist of Russia; Elena Chernova, Sofia Matyushenskaya, Olga Mikhailova, Anna Skvortsova; Anastasia Milyachenko, Andrey Sorokin, and others. Setting an exact date for the premiere is rather difficult at the moment. But as soon as the borders open again, as soon as the ballet masters are able to return to Russia and pick up where they left off, we will start negotiating with the stage venues for a premiere date. Our theatre does not have a stage of its own, which makes things a bit more complicated. We hope that the show premières in 2021, but unfortunately, we cannot currently give a more precise date than that.
Z: For three months, your dancers were cut off from proper training in the rehearsal hall. How does such a long break affect a person's physical shape?
A: Our performers never stopped training at home; they kept themselves in shape as well as they could. Dancers know perfectly well that if you jump back into action after a long break, you always end up injured. And no-one wants to go to hospital with their injuries; they want to work, to dance. I think that a month of hard work out to be enough to get back in good shape.
Z: During the lockdown, many theatres streamed the productions from their current playbill or from their archives. The Mariinsky Theatre being the obvious champion. Did you theatre make any appearance
on the net?
 
Sankt-Peterburgskiye Vedomosti, 13 July, 2020