DANCER, CHOREOGRAPHER, AND ARTISTIC DIRECTOR ELDAR ALIYEV IS INTERNATIONALLY KNOWN. HE DANCED AND LATER STAGED PERFORMANCES AT THE MOST PRESTIGIOUS THEATRES IN EUROPE, ASIA, AND AMERICA. RUSSIA, THE UNITED STATES, CHINA, HUNGARY, AND CANADA – THESE ARE JUST SOME OF A LONG LIST OF THE COUNTRIES WHERE HE RECEIVED SPECIAL RECOGNITION IN THE SPHERE OF BALLET. CURRENTLY, ELDAR ALIYEV SERVES AS A HEAD BALLET MASTER AT THE PRIMORSKY STAGE IN VLADIVOSTOK, WHICH IS A NEW BRANCH OF THE LEGENDARY RUSSIAN MARIINSKY THEATRE WITH MORE THAN 200 YEARS OF HISTORY. HOWEVER, THE START OF HIS LONG AND SUCCESSFUL CAREER IN BALLET WAS IN HIS NATIVE CITY OF BAKU.
BY ELENA KOSOLAPOVA
AZERI OBSERVER STAFF WRITER
Question: You have worked with the leading ballet companies in Russia, other countries of Europe, America, and Asia. What is the difference between ballet schools in different countries, and which school do you prefer?
Answer: The United States does not have any uniform ballet education system, and ballet education is not distinguished there. In Europe, a ballet education system exists, but there are different levels in different countries. Of note in Asia are the ballet educations in Korea and China, and to a lesser extent in Japan. However, the most established ballet training system, with the best results, is the Russian Vaganova method. Historically, Russian ballet would absorb the best of the European ballet and develop it. In the 1930s, Russian dancer and pedagogue Agrippina Vaganova transformed it into an education system. All of the leading ballet companies have star dancers who have studied the Vaganova method. Take the American Ballet Theatre, the Royal Ballet in London, the Bolshoi and Mariinsky Theatres, or any other famous ballet theatre. The majority of their lead dancers have backgrounds in the Vaganova method. This confirms that our ballet system is the best, the most systematic, and achieves the best results.
Q.: Should ballet change with modern trends, or is the value of this art in its traditions?
A.: Ballet is constantly changing. Just look at the appearance of the dancers. In the first half of the 20th century, ballerinas were 1.60–1.62 meters tall, and no one could imagine that one day the height of ballerinas would be 1.74 meters. Look at the ballerinas of the second half of the 20th century, such as Galina Mezentseva, Sylvie Guillem, Olga Chenchikova, and Lyubov Kunakova. They are much taller and had much better technique than ballet dancers of the first half of the century. Now, look at the ballerinas we admire today – Svetlana Zakharova and Ulyana Lopatkina – they are entirely different. Technique and aesthetics progress in line with the changes in our life. I do not believe that ballet’s value relies on fully preserving choreography created in the past. I would say that the value of ballet is revering the past while continuing to develop it. Tradition and style must evolve with time. Otherwise, the audience will lose interest in ballet.
Q.: How has the preferences of the audience changed over time?
A.: I will give you some examples. For instance, in the period of the Russian Empire, the performances were divided into several acts and lasted from early evening until midnight. Then, the audience went to the balls, and the next morning they relaxed, freshened up, and prepared to go to the theatre in the evening again. The ballet performances in the last century were also quite long and consisted of three to four acts. Nowadays, it is difficult for the audience to watch a four-act ballet, so multi-act performances are no longer staged. There are some performances of classical heritage that are exceptions such as Swan Lake, Don Quixote, The Sleeping Beauty, Raymonda, and La Bayadère. However, even these ballets are being staged in two to three, but not four acts. The rhythm of life and the perception of plays by the audience is different now. While I believe that we should not be guided by spectators, it is necessary to meet their expectations. If we stage performances which are not entertaining for the audience today, then they will not come tomorrow.
Q.: You started your career as a choreographer with the One Thousand and One Nights ballet by Azerbaijani composer Fikret Amirov. It is quite a risky decision given the fact that you staged it in the United States where the public does not know a lot about Azerbaijani music and culture. Were you not afraid to have such a debut?
A.: I chose it because I love the music of this ballet. Besides, the play in the United States was promoted as an oriental themed performance, which I always found interesting. I counted on the spectators who would come not to listen to the Azerbaijani music, but to watch a production based on the Eastern literary heritage. After visiting the theatre, they became acquainted with such a unique composer as Fikret Amirov and such an original culture as Azerbaijan. It was my first performance not only as a choreographer but also as a new artistic director of a ballet company in the United States. It turned out remarkably successful and even became a part of the United States’s collection of the best dance performances of the year. Later, I was invited to stage this ballet in Cincinnati and Atlanta, and we toured with this performance throughout America and abroad, it went over well everywhere.
Q.: Do you have plans to stage any other Azerbaijani musical ballets?
A.: I would like to stage the One Thousand and One Nights ballet in Russia, at the Mariinsky Theatre. I have earnestly discussed this idea with Valery Gergiev (artistic and general director of the Mariinsky Theatre) and received his approval. Additionally, I accepted an invitation to stage this ballet at the National Theatre in Sofia, Bulgaria in Spring 2020 for the premiere performance.
Q.: Do you follow the developments in Azerbaijani ballet? Do you know Azerbaijani ballet dancers?
A.: Last summer I was the vice-chairman of the jury of the Varna International Ballet Competition, which is the oldest and most prestigious ballet competition in the world. That is where I met the artistic director of the Azerbaijani ballet and two Azerbaijani ballet dancers, who were taking part in the competition for the first time in many years. I believe that is all of my knowledge on the topic. Since leaving Baku is 1977, I have not had any ties with Azerbaijani ballet, which is a pity for me.
Q.: Would you like to work with Azerbaijani ballet dancers?
A.: I like working with new ballet companies in general, sharing my experiences, and helping them to develop. I am happy when I can help contribute to this process. However, my path has never brought me back to Baku, though no one has ever invited me back.
Q.: When was the last time you visited Baku?
A.: The last time I visited Baku was in 2010 or 2011. Baku hosted an international cultural forum under the auspices of the President of the Republic, and I was invited as a representative of Hungary. That is a bit funny, but at that time, I served as an artistic director of the Hungarian National Ballet. I came for two days and did not even understand what city I was in, because Baku had drastically changed for the better. This short visit interrupted my more than 30-year absence.
Q.: In one of the interviews you said that you got to the ballet by accident, and perhaps you would have more talent in another sphere. It is quite a modest assertion, considering your achievements in ballet. Nevertheless, in what other spheres could you succeed?
A.: I think I could be a good musician, but I cannot complain about my life in ballet. I do what I love to do, and it gives me a boost of energy and happiness.
Q.: There is a popular opinion that the world of ballet is very cruel. Do you share this opinion? What is the most difficult thing in the ballet world?
A.: For a successful career in ballet, a dancer requires three components: unconditional talent, hard work, and, of course, luck. If a person is talented but lazy, they will not succeed in the profession. If a person works hard but does not have any talent, they will not succeed either. However, even a talented and hard-working person can go unnoticed if he or she does not have luck. I do not think that this is cruelty. It is also true that injuries are common for ballet dance performers, but I would not call ballet a cruel profession. I believe that our profession is quite difficult but extremely interesting, and, unfortunately, not everyone is able to live this interesting life.
Q.: Do you have a dream related to ballet, and if yes, what kind of dream?
A.: All of my dreams have already come true. As an artist, I worked with the best teachers and danced with the best partners in the best theatres in the world. Then, my destiny made me an artistic director of a United States ballet company, and it was a smooth transition. I was lucky that when I left the stage my phone did not stop ringing, even for a day. Then, by fate’s will, I began to stage ballets. This again happened accidentally, because we lost the choreographer that I had invited to stage the One Thousand and One Nights ballet. Of course, the performance had been already announced. When I asked my colleagues, “Well, we have sent the choreographer back, but who will stage the ballet?”, they looked at me and said: “You will. You have great ideas, and you understand it very well.” So, I started to learn about the profession of a choreographer. Currently, I stage new ballets at the Mariinsky Theatre on a regular basis, as well as a project in Asia and Europe. In the summer, I will work in the United States and also Europe. I have many projects, and thanks to God I am in demand and have a lot of invitations. Besides, the Primorsky Stage of the Mariinsky Theatre, where I serve as a ballet master in chief, is an unprecedented and interesting project. The theatre is a two-hour flight to Japan and China, and a one and a half hour flight to Korea. Our task is to make the Mariinsky Theatre the most important in the region, and to present the art of ballet in the best possible way of keeping in line with the theatre’s high standards. I have a lot of plans for the future and they are all related to ballet. I would be happy to one day come to Baku, share my experience, and see what I can accomplish.