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Yuri Possokhov and Cinderella

Choreographer
San Francisco Ballet,     Bolshoi Ballet...

by Renee Renouf



© David Allen and SFB

Possokhov (dancer) in reviews

Bolshoi 'Cinderella' reviews
(reviews after June 2006 will be the Possokhov production

Bolshoi reviews

Renee Renouf reviews



A mid-day rainy April provided the chance to interview Yuri Possokhov on a break from his San Francisco Ballet rehearsal schedule. Possokhov joined San Francisco Ballet in 1994 as a principal dancer following a decade with the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow and a year in Copenhagen with the Royal Danish Ballet.

In person Possokhov is just as imposing as his stage persona, but face-to-face an aura of warmth, diffidence and slight impishness replaces the mild austerity, correctness and soulful charisma the audience witnesses from the proscenium arch. His English flows easily, wrapped around the softened vowels and endings which his native Russian language provides, a lilting contrast to the frequent flatness and nasality heard in native American speakers. Behind his slightly slanted blue eyes in the classically shaped head, one senses the imagination working as Possokhov responds to questions, considers or expands on an answer.

“It was a commission,” Possokhov explained to my query regarding the dynamics behind his creation of a new Cinderella to Prokofiev’s score. “The Bolshoi asked me and I like it. I probably would never have chosen Cinderella myself, but because it was a commission I have to do it.” According to the Moscow Times review, however, the Possokhov take on the damsel in the ashes has a particular twist. When treating the round-the-world-hunt, Possokhov inserted Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel and Maria Callas in Tosca.

Ratmansky, the artistic director of the Bolshoi who also danced in Denmark, and Possokhov shared the same Bolshoi training. “We had the same teacher, Pytor Pisaev, a very famous Russian teacher. Ratmansky was three years younger. We did take class together some times.”

Possokhov’s penchant for choreography was dormant until he joined The Royal Danish Ballet. Prior to that, however, Possokhov had studied at GISTIS, the noted Moscow Choreographic institute, which has the reputation as being something of a gauntlet for Aspiring dance makers. “I already did some choreography there, but I finished GITIS as teacher, not as choreographer. But we have subjects we have to choreograph, so my first choreography was there. I forgot about this. It is interesting, I did some ‘suicide ballet.’ I left Russia but I finish all the subject, but no certificate.”

A ballet created on him by Anna Larksen, the Danish choreographer, marked Possokhov’s first conscious interest in choreography. “This was the first time a ballet Was made on me. After this, it was a big influence on me, so step by step. When I came here, it changed my life, this company.”

Possokhov’s first ballet was created for Muriel Maffre. “I had been injured, so, not to waste time, I asked her, ‘Can we do this?’ “ A second solo work was created for Felipe Diaz, now soloist with the Dutch National Ballet, for the 1998 International Ballet Competition in Jackson, a wonderfully atmospheric piece which Possokhov set to Scriabin music. “Actually I put that piece in my ballet Study in Motion. Look for it, it’s there;” my ballet.co reviewed described it as “intensely romantic abstraction.”
 


Yuri Possokhov
© David Allen and San Francisco Ballet


Earlier in his choreographic life, Possokhov commented that he had a problem dealing with the corps de ballet. “It’s very hard to deal with a crowd, a lot of people,” He admitted. “It is much easier with one or two. Especially in the beginning, it was scary, but now I feel much more comfortable. I’ve done already two ballets with a lot of people. I’m not so free with them, but still it’s easer. It just takes time.”

My question about the influences contributing to Possokhov’s particular interpretation of Cinderella and Callas elicited some thoughtful observations. “I realized that I had to do a ballet that never was performed. I didn’t want to do classical version. But I also have respect for Bolshoi Theater; they need classical ballets because they are trained as classical dancers in the school, so this combination was important. For this ballet, I brought in a friend, who is in a ballet company, and we start to study. Hans Dieter Schaal, who has designed for San Francisco Opera, helped me with the production. Everyone, everyone, said Prokofiev is not very profound. But I realized that everything in his music is concerned with his times, his relationships.” He continued, “It was a time when he lost his wife. That’s why you can understand the music, why it is so tragic. Cinderella is his wife!”

“I thought before it was dark. After, I realized, it’s not dark, it’s the relation, it’s a little bit like his soul speaking. When we came to this point, we realized that he had to participate in what happens, as if he is speaking, and we had to follow his order exactly. If you know when it was written, it becomes much more clear.”

Possokhov’s comments led me to a website, www.prokofiev.org, stating Prokofiev was evacuated to the Caucasas in 194`1. Cinderella was commissioned by the Kirov just before the Nazi invasion of Russia; Prokofiev was working on the piano score to the second act as the invasion commenced, and the composition went on hold, not to be resumed until 1943 to be premiered in Moscow in 1945 with Galina Ulanova in the title role.

Lina, Prokofiev’s Spanish wife, and his two sons remained behind in Moscow; He and Lina were never reunited. In 1947 the Soviet Government nullified retroactively all marriages to foreign nationals. In 1948 Prokofiev married Mira Mendelsohn who had Collaborated with Prokofiev on opera librettos; she was amongst the cultural figures evacuated to the Caucasas. Carolina Codina, a soprano whose stage name was Lina Llubera, and Prokofiev had met in Chicago.

How long had Possokhov studied the music and Prokofiev’s background? His reply, “A year, I spent a year listening to the music until I knew it backwards and forwards. Then I was ready to start choreography.” In an interview for the San Francisco Ballet website, Possokhov said he had just two and a half weeks to mount Cinderella on the Bolshoi dancers, three acts, each forty minutes.

Any chance San Francisco Ballet might mount this new work? “Maybe, There are some conditions. The family permits only the full length of the music to be performed and it’s long. Also, Bolshoi has exclusive rights for five years. I am not aware of all details in contract, but Bolshoi will perform Cinderella twice in London the summer of 2006.”
 


Svetlana Zakharova as Cinderella
© Damir Yusupov


Asking about Possokhov’s current plans with San Francisco Ballet Possokhov Disclosed, “Next season I am doing Firebird her, the ballet I did with Oregon Ballet Theatre, but it is more complex, bigger cast. Oregon Ballet Theatre is a small company.” Rita Felciano reported it was told like a Russian children’s fairy tale. “It’s sad,” He explained, I made Firebird a woman; she participates, she loves, but she does not get Ivan. It’s triangle. She helped, but she lost.”

Are there other projects? There was a faint trace of impish inspiration in his face as he answered, “I have other ballets, but I don’t know how to male. I have three full-length ballets and five one-acts in my mind. But it doesn’t mean I will do, but they are turning around in my head. It’s good that I have some projects; it’s worse if you don’t know.”

So far as commissions from other companies are concerned, Possokhov replied, “I am still dancing, so I have no time to go anywhere. Thank God Helgi Tomasson let me go to the Bolshoi Theater.”

In Possokhov’s Cinderella, there is a figure on stage. “It’s Prokofied. He always is on stage.” Perhaps this is a role Possokhov might undertake himself? “It’s not a Dancing role. It is acting.”

Just the week following this interview, San Francisco Ballet announced that Possokhov was retiring from the company following the company’s July appearances at the Lincoln Center Summer Festival in New York City. Then just a month later, the company announced that Possokhov had been named Choreographer in Residence, the first to be so named, although several company members during the Christensen and Christensen-Smuin era functioned in a like capacity, but never so designated formally.

It would be a marvel if it were possible for Possokhov to appear in the role in London. Given his new status, the possibility seems stronger.


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