Confession – Lorca Massine about himself
02 Dec 2013

Confession – Lorca Massine about himself

He is a polyglot. His grandmother on his mother’s side was a Russian princess. In his veins is flowing blue blood, because he is a half-prince. He likes people who are aristocrats in life, even if they don’t have his noble lineage. He is son of the world-known dancer and choreographer Léonide Massine. He has worked with two of the colossi in modern dance – George Balanchine and Maurice Béjart. He studied classical ballet in Paris. He is a graduate in literature at the Sorbonne. And he sets the most winning ballet of the 20-th century – "Zorba the Greek".

About himself he tells the following

I am an exception, because things were easy for me. My father was also my teacher in many aspects, but often he was not home. I myself started my career as choreographer still at the age of 16, and when I was 18, I was already managing my own ballet company. So that, I was totally outside of his shadow’s range.

In fact, the company consisted of me and my 7 room-mates. We had a small studio in the residence and we created our whole repertoire there. We had not a single concluded contract and we were constantly writing to different people, we were looking for contacts. Still my first ballet was very serious, because it is created after Kafka’s "Metamorphosis". I myself was playing the main role. I invited several agents from Germany. They came in our home studio in Paris, saw my work and hired the company for a great tour. My spectacle became an absolute hit, the audience got really crazy about it. We showed it in 30 towns and everywhere the theatres were full. The Germans were curious how Kafka’s texts were looking as a ballet. I was showered with enthusiastic critique, which, I was sure I was going to receive never again in my life. At the premiere in Paris came my father and George Balanchine and they were even sitting in the same box, although during their whole lives they were rather enemies. But both of them were very proud of me.

Balanchine was a workaholic. He adored the world of dance and was very productive. For me he was more than a father. I was invited to set something for the Ballet School in New York. Balanchine came to see it and after the rehearsal he told me: "Lorca, come and set this at New York City Ballet." He showed understanding for the fact, that I was totally different from the neoclassic culture in his company. And, in spite of this, he allowed me to set four of my spectacles at the New York Ballet, although I was only 27. And he was even directing the rehearsals of my ballets. Often the dancers didn’t understand what I was saying to them and he interrupted them in order to explain what I was expecting from them. Although my requirements were absolutely contrary to everything Balanchine was every day requiring from them. For me as a young man this was a great honour, because at that time nobody knew me in New York. The fact that Balanchine supported my career was an enormous present.

In 1990, having showed this ballet for a second time in Verona, suddenly people stopped inviting me to set it. Then I looked for a professional East European company in order to produce my spectacle myself. I chose Poland, because there I received the best financial conditions.

I am just a choreographer, not a millionaire.

I had to do this for my spectacle, because many people in the ballet world were jealous of my success. And this was understandable, because the power in our circles is concentrated in the hands of classic dancers. And "Zorba" is something much more than a classical ballet. This spectacle is everything – classics, neoclassic, typical and folk dance. Unfortunately, ballet world is quite stiff and it couldn’t all at once accept my "ballet-action", as I am calling it. Even to this day many people cannot understand why I had such a success with "Zorba". Already 20 years I am on tours with this spectacle, which until now has gathered an audience of above 4 million. No other ballet enjoyed so many spectators. But the success turned against me, because the audience already didn’t want to buy tickets for other productions. And this fact was very unpleasant for the directors of the companies. And at the same time in Italy the critique wrote after my ballet: "Arena di Verona was again full at last."

"Zorba" beat even the popularity of the most set opera in the world – "Carmen". People are very much influenced and for them it isn’t indifferent, that for "Carmen" there are 14 thousand tickets sold, and for "Zorba" they – 18 thousand. I think that "Zorba" has a more dynamic effect. But, of course, "Swan Lake" will never die, because it is a masterpiece.

I like Zorba very much, and in that way, in which described him Kazantzakis’ daughter – half man, half god. It was natural for me to wish to dance him, and moreover I was asked to do it. And when I appeared in this role for the first time I was aware that I could make a new career with it. I was 46, when I played Zorba, and in practice I had finished with ballet.

I met Theodorakis when I was 11. He was still a young composer and wrote music for a film which he had to shoot together with my father. I remember that I was standing aside and I was playing the guitar. He came to me and told me: "Wait a minute, you must play the guitar this way", and he showed me several chords. I was very impressed by him. With 15 I read Kazantzakis’ novel and since that moment I didn’t stop thinking about Zorba. In my mind and soul remained that chimerical journey of Zorba. My career went on all right, until one day I just felt the necessity to write this libretto. Meanwhile, with Theodorakis we had another joint project. We made a tour in France with the spectacle "Dance feast". We became friends. During the years I wrote about 15 versions of the libretto for "Zorba" and I constantly racked my brains how to make a ballet out of this literature. At the end, I went to Theodorakis with two huge sheets of paper on which I had described everything, scene by scene – what kind of music I want exactly and each choreography item with duration up to the second. He looked at it and told me: "This is a provocation. As you know, I have already written music for "Zorba". But I was asking him to create something which he had never written – a symphonic work for big orchestra and chorus. Until then he was author only of pop music for small orchestras. Theodorakis thought over and replied that it was a second provocation. I told him: "If you take the risk to write it, I am going to fight for our "Zorba". And so it happened, because I had to knock at the doors of all European theatres. And everywhere I heard: "Zorba"? It is a film. Thank you for the meeting. Goodbye". Till in 1986 I set another ballet – "Mario and the Magician" after Thomas Mann at the stage of Arena di Verona. I had a great success with it and the artistic director of the Arena invited me to a conversation for yet another project. I decided that this was the moment I was waiting for. I proposed "Zorba" and at last I heard the words I was dreaming for: "That’s a great idea." For a week they gathered a commission to approve the financing. All members unanimously backed up the project. I brought the contract to Theodorakis in Greece, he signed it and for 6 months the music was ready.

Certainly, this isn’t my best choreography, but, to be sure, it is my strongest dramatic work. But I am not alone in its creation. This ballet belongs also to Kazantzakis, to his inspiration, and to Theodorakis, too. In fact, "Zorba" is something as a connection between three forces, between three minds. I couldn’t create it alone. I think that this is our best work – for me, Theodorakis and Kazantzakis.

From the memoires of Lorca Massine