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About the Change

Ilya Kuznetsov

Principal, Kirov Ballet

by Kevin Ng

Kuznetsov in reviews

One of the most prominent stars in the Kirov Ballet's summer season (2001) at Covent Garden is the 24-year-old principal Ilya Kuznetsov, a tall and handsome dancer with a heroically built body and an impressive head of long blond hair. Kuznetsov ended up dancing 21 performances during the four-week season. In the second week he got good press reviews for his Des Grieux in "Manon" and Conrad in "Le Corsaire" which he danced in the first cast of each ballet.

In the final week he was a noble cavalier in the second movement of Balanchine's "Symphony in C". His last performance in London was in "The Firebird", which was movingly described by Nadine Meisner in "The Independent". ".....Ilya Kuznetsov as Ivan Tsarevich gives the big-hearted performance of his life, impetuously driven by emotion and courage."

Kuznetsov was first seen in London in the Kirov's Coliseum season in 1997, when he made his debut as Albrecht. I met him for the first time during that memorable season.

On Sunday, 24 June 2001, half way through the London season, I arranged to meet Kuznetsov in the Royal Opera House after the Kirov's daily class. (The Kirov dancers work on Sundays as well.) I asked him if there was anything that he particularly wanted to do on that sunny afternoon, besides talking to me for an hour. He replied that he liked to visit the Tate Modern gallery. (He studies painting in his spare time.) Unfortunately he could not be joined by his girlfriend Irina Golub, a beautiful Kirov soloist, because she had rehearsals for "Rubies" that afternoon. I drove Kuznetsov to this magnificent new art gallery, where we spent about an hour inside admiring the fabulous collection. Then we went to have tea, and he told me in length about his career so far.

I would like to express my gratitude to Kuznetsov's colleague Islom Baimuradov, a principal character artist of the Kirov, for his kindness in translating for us.


Question: You danced six performances last week - three of "Manon" and three of "Le Corsaire". And this week you will be dancing von Rothbart in every performance of "Swan Lake". You must be exhausted?

Ilya Kuznetsov: Well, I am okay and not at all tired, because I am into the rhythm of work right now. I have a performance almost every night, but I can get used to it. And it's actually easier for me to work in such a rhythm, instead of the other way round. If, for instance, I am on for two or three nights and then have two or three days off, I find that it would relax me too much.

Ilya Kuznetsov
Photo by Kevin Ng

(Ilya Kuznetsov had to leave London on 7 July, a day ahead of the Kirov company, in order to return to St. Petersburg in time for a concert on the following night at the Maryinsky Theatre in which he was due to dance the "Swan Lake" pas de deux. Several nights later he was to dance "Giselle" with Veronika Ivanova.)

Q: Do you like MacMillan's ballet "Manon" which you danced last week at Covent Garden? Who coached you?

IK: Actually "Manon" is my favourite ballet, I must say. It was Monica Parker who coached me. I've read the novel by Abbe Prevost very carefully, and I empathise very much with the feelings of Des Grieux in the book and throughout MacMillan's ballet. A lot of people may think that Des Grieux is a little bit sickly, but I don't think so at all.

Q: Which other roles do you like? How about Albrecht, which you'll dance in St. Petersburg in several weeks' time?

IK: Albrecht? I don't really get to dance this role all that often. There is a ballet that I like very much, which I did a long time ago, called "The Hooligan and The Young Lady" by Boyarsky. Actually I like all of my roles, and I always try to dance every single role as best as I can.

I like every role that I dance at Covent Garden this season - Des Grieux, Conrad, von Rothbart, Ivan Tsarevich, second movement of "Symphony in C", and Elegy in "Serenade". I find that the deeper I can get into a role with more performances, the more I tend to like it.

Q: What roles do you particularly long to dance in future?

IK: Romeo in MacMillan's production. I've danced a number of works by Western choreographers at the Maryinsky - Roland Petit ("Carmen"), John Neumeier ("Now and Then"), and of course Balanchine. It's good that we have these ballets in our theatre right now. I hope to dance more ballets by these choreographers.

Q: Let me ask you about your opinion on the several choreographers whom you've just mentioned - Roland Petit, Balanchine, MacMillan.

IK: I enjoy dancing Petit's ballets. As for Balanchine, though I enjoy dancing his ballets, his choreographic style is not really my favourite.

I find the movements in MacMillan's choreography very unusual, and not at all comfortable to dance. But MacMillan's choreography is really good, because it brings a new dimension to both male and female dancing. What I particularly admire about his choreography is that it shows very clearly a woman's state of mind.

Actually I like very much Yuri Grigorovich as well. I think he is the greatest ballet choreographer of the 20th century. The Kirov has two of his works in the repertory - "The Legend of Love" as well as "The Stone Flower". Both are classical masterpieces.

Q: Do you have a favourite partner?

IK: All my partners are different, and I can't really say which one is better or worse. I am happy dancing with anyone as long as she likes to dance with me. In this way we can keep an energy on stage, because otherwise nothing can happen without this energy.

I enjoy dancing with Diana (Vishneva) in "Manon", and Svetlana Zakharova in John Neumeier's ballet "Now and Then". I've danced with Yulia Makhalina a lot, and most recently in a concert which Yulia did.

Q: Last week I was amazed that you danced with two different partners (Zakharova and Vishneva) in "Manon", and three partners (Zakharova, Sofia Gumerova, and Irma Nioradze) in "Le Corsaire". It must have been more demanding for you than dancing with only one partner in each ballet, because at least you needed more rehearsals with two different Manons.

IK: Actually for "Manon" I also rehearsed with a third ballerina in London - Zhanna Ayupova. I prepared her for her role; but in the end she danced with Igor Zelensky. I've never found more rehearsal time to be a problem, because I've been trained for this right from the beginning of my career. I started to learn a part and work with a girl, and then with another girl, then a third etc. With experience it's not very difficult for me to dance with different partners, as long as I can be very strict with myself.

Q: Who is your coach now?

IK: Igor Petrov has been coaching me for two years now. Before that I had been taught by Gennady Seliutsky, Makhar Vaziev (the Kirov's artistic director), Marat Daukayev, and Redzhepmyrat Abdyev.

Q: Can you tell us about your guesting experience so far? What companies are you interested to guest with?

IK: I've worked with some Japanese companies. In fact I may be guesting in Nagoya in Japan next January. I've danced in galas in the Finnish city of Mikkeli, and in America. But I haven't really guested with any other company.

The Royal Ballet has a very interesting repertory, and so does the ballet company of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich. Actually I'd like to dance anywhere, as long as a company has a more or less classical repertory that is not totally modern.

Mind you, it's also very interesting to dance in the Kirov too, now that we have works by so many different choreographers.

Ilya Kuznetsov
Photo by Kevin Ng

Q: Have you approached the Royal Ballet this time?

IK: No, I haven't had time to do so.

Q: The Kirov tours endlessly. Do you miss home at all?

IK: Yes, of course I miss my home in St. Petersburg very much. Fortunately my brother looks after my apartment as well as my two-year-old cat, which I found in the streets.

After London we will go on a short tour to Versailles in mid-July, then Brazil for five weeks in August, followed by Athens and then Munich. I look forward to doing "Manon" again in Brazil.

Q: What do you do in your spare time?

IK: I do oil painting in my free time. Actually we don't really have a lot of free time anyway, and I don't have other hobbies apart from painting. I like going to an Irish bar near the Maryinksy Theatre called The Shamrock, but I don't drink any beer now. I am teetotal. I eat there a lot, because I have a lot of friends there. It's like a second home for me.

Q: Which male dancers from outside the Kirov do you particularly admire?

IK: In February we had the first Maryinsky International Ballet Festival. Among the guest dancers who came, I admire very much Ethan Stiefel (a principal of the American Ballet Theatre). I also like Carlos Acosta, not as much for his technique as for the energy that he gives on stage.

Dancers have changed a lot in style in recent years. Older generations of dancers were more dramatic, whereas nowadays there's more an emphasis on the technical side. Technique of course is a necessity. However the first thing that many people think of in a ballet performance is still the acting. So I think the dramatic side should count as much as the technical side. If you dance on stage and only concentrate on the technique, then it will become almost like a circus.

Since I was a kid, I've always liked Maris Liepa (from the Bolshoi Ballet). Liepa was a very good actor with plenty of charisma, as well as an excellent dancer who could jump and turn so impressively.

Q: Finally, are you happy dancing in the Kirov?

IK: Yes, very happy. I am still young (Kuznetsov will be 25 in August) and I know that there is a lot of room for me to improve. I wish to go on making more and more progress instead of standing still.

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