Driven by positive thoughts

Over the past month or so, Irek Mukhamedov, one of his generation’s most renowned ballet dancers, has been at the helm, as artistic director, of the National Opera Ballet. He had originally come here to work as an assistant for Lynn Seymour, who had assumed the post but, unfortunately, she later returned to her home base in the UK after being unable to bear the travails of Greek bureaucracy. Mukhamedov, who was born in Kazan, Russia, and spent nearly a decade as the Bolshoi’s lead male dancer, stayed on. Driven by optimism and perfectionism, Mukhamedov’s decision to stay has brought back hope. He spoke to Kathimerini about his latest pursuit. How was your first month as artistic director at the National Opera Ballet? It was a learning experience, a process of getting to understand myself as well as the needs of the dancers. Some days are very difficult, others are calmer. It’s the normal life of an artistic director. Where are you taking the repertoire? My wish is for 50 percent of the projects we’ll be presenting to stem from the neoclassical repertoire – ballets through which a team can tell a story, project its characters. That’s one of the strong aspects of this dance troupe. A quarter of the projects must be drawn from the classical repertoire because it’s necessary to keep our standards high. I want the other 25 percent to come from contemporary and modern works. For example, «The Moor’s Pavane» by Jose Limon, which was presented last month, was enthusiastically received by audiences and the dancers who performed had an opportunity to open up to something new. What are the team’s capabilities? Everything has to do with education and the repertoire. It depends on which ballets it will perform and on the number of performances. This way, the team’s standard will develop. You can’t change things by rehearsals alone at the studio. The dancers have to get on the stage. The National Opera Ballet’s number of performances are very few, don’t you agree? Absolutely. Twenty-five performances a year is nothing… In my first year with the Royal Ballet in the UK, I performed 80 shows. But it doesn’t matter, numbers aren’t that important. If, instead of 20, we did a further 10 shows, and added another 10 later on, it would be better. Lynn Seymour confronted many bureaucratic problems at the National Opera Ballet. How about yourself? Bureaucracy exists all over the world. It’s just that more time is needed in Greece. There are so many documents that need to be signed… Sometimes there needs to be mutual understanding between the dancers and the artistic director. If a dancer needs to leave because of a family problem, he or she does not need to come to me so that I can sign a paper to give consent. It needs to roll naturally. I understand that this is a form of discipline which is often needed. Bureaucracy will always exist. We simply need to be well prepared. Another problem that annoyed Lynn Seymour was that the dancers constantly kept an eye on the time. Is this actually the case? If you go to watch any dance troupe anywhere in the world, you’ll find that all dancers look at their watches, not because they’re not disciplined, but because they may have another rehearsal to go to right afterward, so they need to think about themselves. For example, they may want to eat a sandwich in between. It’s very natural. I’m constantly looking at my watch. Only the truly happy people live without their watches. I don’t think that’s a major problem. It depends on how you look at it. Dancers also keep an eye on the time at the Bolshoi and Kirov ballets. They’re constantly looking at their watches at Covent Garden… Maybe the regulations there are better. Things here are different. This is a developing country, a developing team. The National Opera Ballet has been punished so many times. There’s a life out there. The same applies for me. The important thing is not how famous or professional I am. I have a life, children, a family and want to be by their side. I don’t want to be in here all the time. Upcoming show Tell us about the next production to be presented by the ballet in January. «Four Last Songs» by Rudi van Dantzig was on the program and has already been presented, so this will be a revival of it. «New World Symphony» by Germinal Casado had also been scheduled. But we received a request for 20 dancers to take part in the opera «Protomastoras» (The Master Builder), which will tour China. So Casado’s ballet was canceled. We then made an offer to Casado’s assistant, Pierre Tavernier, who lives in Athens, and he’s preparing for us a choreography called «Baroque’n’Roll.» It’s a balanced program in terms of duration and I believe that audiences won’t complain that it’s too brief or not long enough. Does the lack of an artistic director at the National Opera affect your work? I feel neither more freedom nor more pressure. I hope the National Opera’s new artistic director shares my views about the ballet’s future, and that we don’t have conflicts. It would be ideal if he or she, as director of the theater, and I, as the ballet’s director, could unite forces. This way we could offer support to the National Opera’s future course and all perform at optimal level instead of clashing. Are you strict with the dancers? Yes. You need to be. It has to do with the dancer’s inner discipline. Of course I understand that Greece enjoys fine weather throughout the year. The way of thinking is different than in Russia – the pressure you carry inside you. My lifestyle’s pace is also changing and I understand why people here don’t go down the metro’s escalators as fast as they do in London. Nobody’s in a rush. It’s part of a culture that I need to understand. Of course things are different in the recording studio. You’re a dancer and you need to do your work. Are you enjoying life in Athens? We like it a lot – both my family and I. Life here is very different. There’s always tomorrow. We won’t die today. We can take care of it tomorrow. This isn’t always feasible, but yes, many things can wait until tomorrow.