www.dotbg.bg – Between the hammer and the anvil or how to direct a national ballet
This autumn have passed 8 years since the prima ballerina of the Sofia Opera and Ballet Sara-Nora Krysteva was appointed for Artistic Director of the ballet. Little by little, she left her appearances on the stage, in order to immerse herself into the far more unpleasant for each artist world of the administrative, financial, managerial and all kind of other responsibilities for the first ballet company of Bulgaria.
She continues stubbornly not to dye one white lock in her hair. As she says: „to remind me of the way I acquired it”. But as a whole she doesn’t look disappointed from the fact that instead of playing, she has to direct, i.e. to solve dozens of problems. At that to solve them in a such way, so that at the end to achieve a high artistic result. Because the 90th Anniversary of the Bulgarian classical ballet, which we are celebrating this year, obliges.
In the most opera theatres in the world the ballet is regarded as something, if not of less importance, but at least from the standpoint of some kind of condescension. Yes, classical ballet is beautiful, even too beautiful thing on the background of the terrible world, in which we are living, and it attracts the audience. But in these theatres the opera defines the main policy. Sara-Nora, however, looks more astonished by this fact, than in agreement with it. “Yes, I have heard about this. But I cannot say the same about Sofia. Not with a Director of the institution like Acad. Plamen Kartaloff, from whom I have always received what was necessary”, says she.
And she thinks of the reproaches, which she was receiving until recently. As for example that the ballet has only up to two premieres in one season, while the opera ones are at least four, without counting the spectacles for children.
“Actually when I occupied this position, I found out that it is impossible to have more than two ballet premieres per season. Maybe it’s possible, but not under the present system of financing and not with the necessary for a national ballet artistic result”, adds she.
The system of financing is such that the ballet, and also the opera, have to shower an immense production, if they want to ensure their financial existence. And each new premiere requires a lot of preparation work by the artists, as well as by the theatre’s ateliers. This is why when we preparе the new season, we plan very carefully the preparations of different productions not to overlap.
The same is with the current repertoire. In the ballet of the Bolshoi Theatre for example there are more than 250 ballet dancers and for them it is not a problem to play in one evening on two or even more stages. And by us the maximum is to perform “Zorba the Greek” somewhere, and in the same evening on the stage of the Opera to have a spectacle of “Aida”, in which there is also ballet”, says Sara-Nora.
*The repertoire and the recognitions*
The current repertoire of the ballet of the Sofia Opera is one of the greatest prides in the moment, not only for the Director of the ballet, but also for all artists. In practice the ballet maintains fast all big classical ballets like “Swan Lake”, “Giselle”, “The Nutcracker”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “La bayadère”, “Don Quixote”, “La sylphide”, “Paquita”, together with works like “Carmen” by Bizet-Shchedrin, “Zorba the Greek”, “La dame aux camélias”, “Petrushka” and “The Firebird”. Upcoming is the premiere of one also big classical ballet like “Le corsaire”, followed by the most beautiful as music Bulgarian ballet – the work by Marin Goleminov “Priestess of Fire”.
“The success and the full house of “Swan Lake”, “Giselle” and “The Nutcracker” make me happy and suggest to me that this is the right policy. I have received for example reproaches that we are not inviting more often for guest-performances great foreign artists. But my policy still at the very beginning was to show that we have a very good level of our ballet. We wouldn’t have reached it, if we didn’t give possibilities to our artists to appear so often in central roles, and that in marking works”, adds Sara-Nora.
And right away she points out that the stars of the ballet company Marta Petkova and Nikola Hadjitanev some weeks ago opened the prestigious ballet festival in Kremlin with their participation in a spectacle of “The Nutcracker” of the Kremlin Ballet, followed by gala concerts in Donetsk and Rostov-on-Don. “Everywhere people asked them, if they were sure to have studied only in Bulgaria”, says she.
Actually, on the day after our conversation with Sara-Nora in the Moscow press was published an article of a well-known Russian ballet critic, who called Marta Petkova a “discovery” for the Moscow audience, worthily presenting not only the Bulgarian, but also the European ballet. Which sounds quite strong from the feather of a Muscovite.
“The fact that the Bulgarian classical ballet is not known around the world, according to me is due to the circumstance that in Russia for example the entire state is standing behind it with its enormous power. And we, irrespective that we are so small country and so negative people, but we are always waiting for something to happen”, says Sara-Nora Krysteva.
*Two plus two doesn’t make four*
One of the great challenges before the Director of the ballet of the Sofia Opera and Ballet is... mathematics. Sara-Nora says in laughter that she had a poor mark in mathematics at the Ballet School, but years after her graduation, she was forced again to deal with mathematics, this time quite more successfully.
Actually the challenge is in the way of financing the Opera house. During the last years, the system of financing of the theatres in Bulgaria changed several times. “One just gets used to make the calculations and there it is – a new change. Some of the calculations were even made backdated and in the middle of the season it turned out that some activities, which we have performed, actually won’t be financed”, says Krysteva.
In brief, for each Bulgarian lev, which the Sofia Opera and Ballet makes from the sales of tickets, the budget subsidizes the theatre with BGN 4. All other opera houses in Bulgaria receive for the same between BGN 6 and 8. This is quite insulting, obviously the state has estimated that in Sofia we will manage it anyway. There are also limits of the incomes and the expenses, which make the situation still more complex.
“The most irritating thing in this way of financing is that one cannot plan. First, one cannot foresee weather the audience will come, this is an unknown quantity. One wider influenza epidemic in Sofia and the plans are gown in the wind. This is an enormous insecurity, which caused me this white lock. In the same time, you are obliged to make certain incomes, in order to have money for salaries and for the other constant expenses. I would like very much to plan for five years forward, but when I don’t know the budget...”, says Sara-Nora Krysteva.
And the ballet productions are quite expensive. One ballet tutu skirt for example costs over BGN 400, depending on its complexity and decoration. In “La bayadère” the costumes are 200 in number, in the upcoming premiere of “Le corsaire” the quantity is about the same. In “Swan Lake” and “The Nutcracker” the costumes were replaced several times during the years, because they get worn out.
*Stars and dialogues*
The question whether it isn’t dangerous in one national company there to be only two active prima ballerinas evokes sincere laughter in Sara-Nora. “And when foreign choreographers come to stage something and see the level of our company, do you know what they tell me? That the people at my position in the world have only one, and I have even two.”
In this respect Sara-Nora follows a definite policy – to give incessantly chance to the young to dance, in order to prove that they deserve the highest position. She mentions the names of the soloists Boryana Petrova, Kristina Chochanova, Pamela Pandova, Venera Hristova – all of them according to her are gathering actively experience and show many qualities, so that probably very soon they will be promoted in a higher category. When she took the post Artistic Director of the ballet 8 years ago, Sara-Nora received many “advices” from the people around. From the kind of: “What do you think you can do – you are between the hammer and the anvil”.
Yes, but it turned out that it is not quite so. “Maybe because my precursors didn’t have this dialogue with the management and with the ballet company. I am a very direct person. I don’t hide from the people, when we have difficulties. I gather them and tell them what I think we should do. And they understand, they are involved”, adds she.
It is surprising, but the composing of the repertoire and the programme for the upcoming months, together with the assignment of the roles, are far less a headache for the Artistic Director of the ballet. Probably because she comes out of the company itself and until recently she has appeared on the stage. Sara-Nora asserts that she has this plan in her head far before the beginning of the season. “In the moment, in which we plan the next season, I have already a clear concept who will dance the new thing, who will be the next, in order not to overload the first one. Somehow it is ready in my head”, says she. “Yes, there are some quarrels, but also a lot of joy.”
Under her direction are about 70 people. The ballet dancers are 62, there are three répétiteurs of the ballet – Masha Ilieva, Milena Simeonova and Yasen Valchanov, plus four répétiteurs.
The répétiteurs, on which falls the immense responsibility to prepare the artists for the roles, seem to be very few. The situation saves the fact that the premier soloists, who are already not in active age, are also helping as répétiteurs: Dilyana Nikiforova, Darina Bedeva, Trifon Mitev, Rosen Kanev, Ivanka Kasabova.
In Sofia each ballet dancer has the right to choose her or his répétiteur. This is very important, because the artists must be sure on the stage, and this cannot be achieved without the second eye, which sees her or his preparation.
*Character and coping with it*
John Abenanty, Matthew Whittle, Charlotte Berard, Ching Nga Cheung – if one looks in the programme for whichever ballet spectacle in Sofia, one will at once notice that it is full of foreign names.
In the company of the Sofia Opera and Ballet since several years on, it is full of foreigners. They come here, show the necessary abilities, they get appointed and reconcile with the Bulgarian salaries.
“I have asked them why. It turns out that they are very tempted by the vast classical repertoire, which we maintain. At very few places in the world the theatres manage to maintain it, because it is very expensive”, explains Sara-Nora.
Of course, we had cases, when they come here, play for a season or two, gather experience and then go somewhere else, where they are better paid. But there are also cases like with the universal favourite Matthew Whittle, who is so fond of the company that he doesn’t want to go back to Birmingham. At least for now, because Matthew is just 22.
“With us, the ballet dancers, it is so that we live very fast. We mature very quickly. In general, 62 different persons are 62 different characters. But in this respect it isn’t difficult. Because by us still at the Ballet school we are used to the discipline”, explains the Director of the company.
But however young people should be often told on what to pay attention. “I always remind them that when the premier soloists are playing and when are playing such artists like Trifon Mitev, like Dilyana, like Darina, like Rosen Kanev – although they are not so active anymore, they must watch them carefully, in order to see the difference. That the business is not only in making your pirouettes, but to act a definite character. This is more difficult in the ballet even than the most complex figures in technical respect”, says the Artistic Director of the ballet of the Sofia Opera.
Of course, there were infarct situations, connected mostly with the spectacles. Even traumas occurred during the performances. It happened even during the intervals to rehearse anew, in order to rearrange the things and the spectacle to be possible to continue.
“We won’t forget the marathon with “The Nutcracker” the year before the last year. In general, this ballet is performed every evening in the days around Christmas and New Year. Well, every day was happening something, a total of 20 persons went out-of-order – one of them fell down, another fell ill, the third one broke his arm. My phone was ringing incessantly and we had to rehearse ceaselessly to replace the absent dancers. But we didn’t let the audience know about this problem”, remembers Sara-Nora.
The whole season this year will pass under the sign of the 90th Anniversary of the Bulgarian ballet. At first place is the prepared by the Russian ballet dancer and choreographer Eldar Aliev his own version of “Le corsaire”. The original version is quite long for the modern spectator, while Aliev has made a version in two acts, without losing anything of the plot. The production and the choreographer are selected personally by Sara-Nora, who has been searching for long which version of “Le corsair” to be staged.
Later there will be a new production of Marin Goleminov’s ballet “Priestess of Fire”, which wasn’t staged since the 1990-s, when at the Sofia Opera it was performed after Margarita Arnaudova’s choreography. The new version is by Prof. Petar Lukanov. This year we mark the 110th Anniversary of the great Bulgarian composer, and the other occasion for the production is the upcoming in May 2018 guest-performance at the Bolshoi Theatre, when to the Muscovites will be shown also Wagner’s entire tetralogy “Der Ring des Nibelungen”.
In the end of February and the beginning of March, the ballet will have a tour in Italy with “Swan Lake” and “Don Quixote”. And in the final of the season in the park of the Military Academy there will be a third for the season premiere – an innovative spectacle with a band on the stage and with actors.
Rehearsal of “Giselle” with the participation of the Russian star Svetlana Zakharova. The prima ballerina Marta Petkova as Myrtha and Rosen Kanev as Albert
In the Lady’s sewing workshop already started the preparation of the costumes for “Le corsaire”. The price of one ballet tutu skirt starts from BGN 400, and in one spectacle sometimes there are 200 pieces.
Last clarification before the spectacle of “Giselle”. From the left to the right – Masha Ilieva, Prof. Petar Lukanov and Sara-Nora Krysteva
The prima ballerina Katerina Petrova
Rehearsal. In the middle – the soloist Venera Hristova