Today the Donetsk Opera House is the country’s best. Apart from exhibits and concerts, the international festival “Stars of the World Ballet” is held on its stage (it was held for the 19th time last year). The theater’s company goes on numerous tours across the Donetsk region and abroad, and it is a huge merit of Vadym Pysariev.
Pysariev has a tradition: when he enters the theater, he strikes the bell behind the scenes, near the director’s booth, and everyone knows that the artistic director is at work. Pysariev’s energy is simply amazing. Yesterday he was in Paris, today – in Donetsk, and tomorrow he is going to the US! At the same time he is making no fuss and keeps finger on the pulse. He is aware of all the problems of the theater, has time to resolve all the questions that arise, be an arbitrator in arguments (which are always present in creative teams), reveals as a pedagogue the secrets of classical dance for the young generation. Besides, Pysariev collects stones. In his office one can see a part of the huge collection (from amber and quartz to clinker from the mines), and he can tell many interesting things about them for a long time, as if it was not ballet he has been involved in for his entire life, but gemology. We started our conversation with the most recent premiere of the Donbass Opera. Judging by the scale and sensation made by this international artistic project, Donetsk Theater has made a serious claim for the Shevchenko Prize 2013.
“I am very glad that Wagner’s Flying Hollander has appeared on our billboard, and that we are the only Ukrainian opera house, which has been able to stage this beautiful, yet complicated for performance, work,” Vadym PYSARIEV admits. “All people involved in this production did their job very well, by no exclusion, and I am proud that our company has shown its great professionalism. As for the Shevchenko prize… You know, after our production Bohdan Khmelnytsky [Kostiantyn Dankevych’s opera staged by Vasyl Vovkun and conducted by Vasyl Vasylenko, with the leading parts performed by Stefan Piatnychko, Yurii Alekseichuk, Vitalii Dudkin, Liudmyla Shemchuk, etc. – Author] did not won the prize several years ago, and if the theater and performers are not awarded for staging a classical work and national theme… That was a nationwide creative project: masters from Lviv, Kirovohrad, Kyiv, and Donetsk took part in the production. I was really sad then, but I am no more upset about it. If we win the award, it will be good, if not – we will live somehow.
“It is important that we have managed to stage for the first time Wagner’s Flying Hollander on the Ukrainian stage and that the professional test, like Richard Wagner’s music, has been passed with an excellent mark by the entire company. For Donetsk our premiere has become a cultural event. The production has caused sensation: it enjoys full houses, and this is the most important thing. The general rehearsal was attended by students and teachers of the music school, conservatoire, veterans of stage, musicologists, and critics, and they all met the production with ovation, giving a special mention of the originality of the interpretation (by Mara Kurotschka) of the opera’s libretto, very effective set design (3D format). With the help of a unique video projector German scenic artists Torge Moeller, and Momme Hinrichs managed to create an illusion of a ship sailing amidst the stormy sea and even pictures of the underwater world. The production of The Flying Hollander also involved Vasyl Vasylenko (chief conductor of the Donbass Opera) and Mikhail Sinkevich (Mariinsky Theater, Saint Petersburg – he conducted the premiere), choirmaster – Liudmyla Streltsova, the performer of Hollander’s part Andreas Macco (Germany), Daland – Walter Fink (Austria), Senta – winner of international competitions Lesia Aleksieieva (National Opera of Ukraine), Senta in childhood – Lia Bocharova (seven-year-old schoolgirl from Donetsk), choir, ballet, and orchestra of the Solovianenko Opera House in Donetsk.”
Do you intend to show the production at festivals abroad? Will there be a tour across Ukraine?
“The production uses complex scenery (nine tons of weight), it takes three days to assemble. But for as many as possible spectators to see the opera, we will try to make the production more mobile. Several generations have grown, who don’t know Wagner’s works, and we want the audience to love high art from childhood. I liked it when after the premiere one boy said: ‘Donetsk Flying Hollander is three things in one.’ And this is true. The work is amazing: Wagner’s music plus the effective picture on the screen, and wonderful performance. Critics have already named our production ‘high European style and opera of the future,’ which means that it was not in vain that theater was going to the set purpose, and we have taken this high level.”
When I look at the billboard of the Donbass Opera, I even feel envy: it has such a diverse repertoire, very interesting lineups (of world scale) are performing on its stage. In this you have left behind many colleagues, in particular, the National Opera of Ukraine. Do you always have full houses? Is it trendy to go to Donetsk Opera House?
“It seems to me we have passed different stages and today the audience goes to our productions and concerts because it feels a kind of spiritual need, and wants to plunge into the enchanting world of theater, relish the music of classical composers, assess the mastery of our artistes and musicians, and also ponder the sense of life. For example, our previous premiere Petite Messe Solennelle by Rossini. In the time, which is hard for everyone, we wanted to draw people’s attention to eternal values. Faith in God is what every person should have in them. Requiem by Giuseppe Verdi is an outstanding work as well. After such music the soul seams to fly high. And the audiences have warmly accepted the premiere of the ballet Notre Dame de Paris (to Cesare Pugni’s music, choreography by Yevhenia Khasianova). It is gratifying for me that not only long-time admirers of ballet go to our theater, but youth, too. Theater reminds people of the fact that besides everyday fuss, there is love, feelings, art, and many beautiful things in life. And they should be making our life. Theater makes us ponder over this, in such a way elevating every person.”
The choreography school named after you will mark its 20th anniversary in 2013. There is a branch of this educational institution in Ivano-Frankivsk. Currently your students are known over the world as winners of prestigious ballet competitions. Could you remind me, how did the school start and how do you see its future?
“The ballet company of Donbass Opera is to 90 percent made up by our graduates. The students of the school undergo training in our theater, taking part in the productions. For many years the students have been participants of the Talented Children project. Today our best students perform in the famed ballet companies. For example, Maria Chuhai and Lilia Lishchuk have become performers of the ballet of Mariinsky Theater in Saint Petersburg, Yana Salenko is the first dancer at the Berlin Staats Opera, Denys Cherevychko performs in Vienna Staats Opera, Andrii Pysariev, Yaroslav Salenko, and Yevhen Lahunov are soloists of the National Opera of Ukraine, premieres of the ballet of Donetsk Opera House Lilia Orekhova, Alisa Avilova, Yana Cherkashyna perform the solo parts in the productions of the Smirnov-Golovanov Theater of Classical Ballet in Moscow.
“Currently the greatest problem is the fact that as soon as a young dancer makes himself known in a competition, he gets invitations to the leading theaters of the world right away. We cannot keep them neither by high wages, nor bonuses like apartment. All 16 dancers of the most recent graduate course have left Ukraine. This is a serious alarm signal, but there is nothing I can do. Although the Donbass Opera is a national theater, compared with the National Opera House of Ukraine our performers get lower wages. However, we don’t give up. We have held on a good level the 19th festival ‘Stars of the World Ballet.’ We are looking for sponsors and patrons in order to pay honoraria for performers of extra class, such as Ilze Liepa, Farukh Ruzimatov, and Nina Ananiashvili. Owing to the festival the audience has an opportunity to familiarize itself with the trends of modern choreography and understand in which direction the art of ballet is moving, see the creative exploration and experiment, relish the virtuoso mastery of the performers.
“The project ‘East-West’ was created on the base of the Tvorchy Olimp Charity Foundation, helping to get closer to and focus on art and all-human values. We opened a ballet school in Ivano-Frankivsk, and it is operating well. I want its students to show their program within the framework of the festival ‘Grand-Prix,’ Europe’s only forum of children’s ballet, which we have been holding for nine years on the base of the Donetsk Opera Theater. I dream about revealing the stars and helping them at the beginning of the thorny artistic path. Currently a total of 120 persons are studying in the Donetsk School, and in Ivano-Frankivsk only 80 (there is only primary school there, forms 1-4). We have no arrogant attitude to youngsters. We respected the older performers and looked up to them. We watched them rehearse and took good notes. It seems to me it is better when a child studies at school, and goes home only on days-off and vacations – this makes one more disciplined. We select the best, helping them in professional growth and further studies. We have a boarding school for people from other places, because children from all over Ukraine come to study in Donetsk. It is gratifying for me to see that the seeds we sowed start to yield fruit, and our students will soon become the face of the Ukrainian ballet.”
In your opinion, what is ballet of the future, modern or classics?
“Modern is good today, but it will become boring tomorrow, and The Swan Lake always enjoys full houses. I have performed in modern and classical productions. You need to experiment, but you should not forget about the classical school, because it gives the pureness of positions, technical performance of every pas, there is a beauty of lines, the feeling of music, and the overall result should be aesthetic. Therefore modern will never replace the classic. I think that national theaters of opera and ballet should be an etalon of culture and repertoire. In a play everything should meet the highest standard: decorations, costumes, performers, and there must be a live orchestra performance, not a phonogram. Otherwise the audience will feel the falsehood and won’t come to see the production again. For example, Heinz Spoerli (Zurich), a talented director-choreographer with an original manner of thinking and obsessed with creative work, gave open lessons in Donetsk where every performer could show his abilities. I can’t wait to see the premiere of La Bayadere staged by famous dancer Natalia Makarova on the stage of the National Opera of Ukraine. I think the play will be original. The Kyiv stage not only should be the main stage for our country, but also a guideline for European theaters, because we have a strong national school of choreography and its representatives are now performing as part of the most famous companies of the world.
“I support the creative competition between theaters, the performers and audience will only benefit. I suffer a lot when soloists and musicians leave the theater. We have lost so many talents! Therefore I do my best to keep the company. For example, a soloist of the National Opera gets 6,000 hryvnias of wages, and ours – only 3,500 hryvnias, although both theaters have a ‘national status.’ This is wrong, and it is high time for the Ministry of Culture to resolve this question. I am grateful to the local authorities who help us. Today the Donetsk ballet, choir, and orchestra perform on the top European level, and this is not I who says this, these are the words of foreign critics. There should be a well-weighed state policy of supporting the theater, whose company glorifies our culture and country by its mastery.”
Should not the theater’s work be organized not as a repertoire theater, but a theater enterprise, perform a play every day for a month or two, as long as it enjoys full houses, and hire performers specially for the play, and then stage a new project with a new lineup. Many theaters abroad are working according to this scheme. What is your attitude to this?
“Very bad. I have worked according to this scheme abroad. Our theater is a repertoire one, and its billboard shows classical masterpieces both in ballet and opera. We have productions which are being shown for year or two, and even for 10 years may be popular among the audience.
“I very much regret that these days the main TV channels do not broadcast the best productions (I don’t mention the Kultura Channel, because for some reason they show recordings not in the prime time, but early in the morning or at night). I remember, when I was a schoolboy, I watched on TV ballet productions and operas performed by stars of Bolshoy and Mariinsky (called Kirovsky at that time) theaters. Namely these productions impressed me very much, I fell in love with ballet, which has become my life and fate. Should not we revive the forgotten tradition? I can name a dozen our productions which will be interesting for the audience.”
The year 2013 marks anniversaries of two composers, Verdi and Wagner. Aren’t there any plans of actions jointly organized by the theater and embassies of Italy and Germany, Goethe-Institut, and Italy’s Institute of Culture?
“We will for sure give concerts and will show productions from the oeuvre of these classics. I think if the organizers of the festivals dedicated to the 200th anniversaries of the classics invite us, we will gladly take part. The music by Verdi and Wagner is amazing, and it would be wonderful to stage not only an opera, but also a ballet, as a tribute to these geniuses.”
Your elder son Andrii, currently a soloist of the National Opera of Ukraine, a winner of prestigious international competitions, is continuing the ballet dynasty. What are daughters involved in?
“Oleksandra has become fond of sport, she takes part in tennis competitions, and has already achieved some victories. Inna and I [Pysariev’s wife Inna Dorofeieva is a well known ballet dancer, currently a pedagogue-rehearser. – Author] did not insist that she took up ballet, and the younger, Sofia (she is 5.5 years old) will apparently take up choreography. She has all the qualities required, and most importantly, she wants to learn to dance. I’m an adherent of the idea that children should choose their destiny themselves, because it is very important for you to have a profession you like, not the one imposed on you by your parents.”
You have studied at the Kyiv College of Choreography, which is far from home, and trained for 10-12 hours a day, mastering the art of dancing. Will you send Sofia to school?
“School improves discipline. It fosters independence and responsibility. Although we don’t really want to send the girl far from home, therefore my wife and I are still pondering this option, we still have time. Currently our daughter is eagerly visiting gymnastics and ballet lessons.”
These days to manage such a theater as Donbass Opera, you need to be a good manager, able to find the money for new productions, organize tours. Will there be more premieres? Hasn’t The Flying Hollander eaten all of your financial reserves?
“If there is desire and creative ideas, there will be funding, too. And we have a huge desire to work. Of course, we took up a great risk, staging The Flying Hollander, but I understood that we needed to make a revolution and draw the audience to the production. We are thinking on staging next year the opera A Masked Ball by Giuseppe Verdi in a worthy manner, as well as The Fountain of Bakhchisarai by Boris Asafyev.
“It has become imminent that we need to revamp the building. We have come up to the moment when the stage is technically outdated. Our building was constructed as a drama theater, therefore there are acoustic gaps and the stage has a round shape, which is awkward for the world of ballet. We simply want to have two stages, for opera and ballet, and not to disassemble the decorations, but simply bring them down, lifting new flooring for the next production. This will enable us to show several plays a day.”
But then you will have to stop operating for one year or two at the least!
“Certainly, but time has come. If we won’t do this, who will? During the revamp the company will be able to perform on other stage of Donetsk (like Yunist Palace, drama theater, Slavic Culture Center, etc.), think over the touring routes across the country and abroad, prepare mobile productions with not very massive decorations. Our chief conductor Vasyl Vasylenko and I have contacts, the theater and we are well known, and I think that the audience will take interest in a tour presenting the best productions of our repertoire.”
Many directors complain that because of the law on patronage and sponsorship, theaters are dragging miserable existence. In your opinion, what needs to be done for the renaissance of theaters?
“To draw good performers, we need to pay them good wages and provide them with good apartments, encourage their initiative and mastery. Hopefully, the governor of Donetsk oblast will support my initiative and we will build a home for our theater. We plan to make an extension of the theater’s building, there are plans concerning the housing for the employees, deepening and reconstruction of the stage. Now we need to find the money to make our dreams come true.”