Vladimir Vasiliev: “Now it seems hard to believe, but I immediately found myself trusting him and agreed.”
When the idea to set up a Bolshoi ballet school in Brazil first came about, Vladimir Vasiliev was Artistic Director of the Bolshoi Theatre. It was he who decided to open the first and only Bolshoi ballet school outside of Russia. At BRICS Business Magazine’s request, he agreed to share his emotional account of the project.
I do not think that any of us present at the birth of the Bolshoi Theatre School in Brazil in March 2000 could have ever imagined that the artistic life of our baby would fly faster than a meteor.
We barely managed to blink before we found ourselves on the verge of its fifteenth anniversary. For ordinary people, this age would be tantamount to adolescence, but for artists who dedicate their lives to professional dancing, it means a coming of age. Ours is the art of the young, and the work of this wonderful ballet school in Joinville only goes to prove this idea.
It all started back in what is now considered the end of the last century – somewhere between the second and the third millennium – with an idea born in the minds of those who dedicated their boundless love to classical dancing, and the art of the Bolshoi Theatre in particular. In 1998, when I held the office of the Bolshoi Theatre’s General and Artistic Director, I was approached by Alexander Bogatyrev, the Director of our Dance Company and a former dancer at the Bolshoi Theatre, who said that the mayor of Joinville had submitted a proposal to open a Bolshoi Theatre ballet school in his city. Back then, it hardly came as a surprise; we used to receive several proposals of this sort each year from different countries. Obviously, the renown of our theatre was attractive, and not just for artistic reasons. Usually, ideas to open Bolshoi schools were presented as commercial projects and would come from metropolises and capitals; this time around, however, it was from a small town that I knew virtually nothing about. As an artist, I had toured Brazil several times, but never had a chance to visit Joinville. Credit should be given to Alexander (Sasha) Bogatyrev’s eloquence and his fervent desire to convince me. It was obvious to me that he strongly believed that the idea was brilliant and that everything would come together just fine. It was impossible not to believe him. Moreover, I highly valued his professionalism and knowledge, which is why I decided not to say ‘no’ from the outset and to familiarize myself with the proposal and all of its details.
The ‘Bolshoi’ school in Joinville is unique both in terms of its scale and social significance. I do not know of any other school in the world that would offer a repertoire consisting of the three toughest classical ballets: The Nutcracker, Giselle, and Don Quixote
It was with this in mind that the same mayor who was so taken with the idea of opening a Russian ballet school flew to Moscow from Joinville to meet me. He spoke of plans that were so ambitious that if it weren’t for his remarkable personality, I would have had grave doubts as to whether they were feasible. However, it was obvious to me from the very first glance that I was dealing with an extraordinary person – with someone who was energetic and proactive, whose word was his bond, someone who had no doubt whatsoever that everything would work out exactly as he promised. It was Luiz Enrique da Silveira – an outstanding politician not just because whatever he said was as good as done, but also because he himself had an incredibly artistic personality. He loved art in the highest sense of the word and wished for this noble art to come to his native town. It was at that time that I learned about his admiration of the Bolshoi Theatre’s Russian ballet school and that he wanted to replicate its every minute detail. Now it seems hard to believe, but I immediately found myself trusting him and agreed to found a Bolshoi Theatre school in Joinville, subject to specific and explicit terms and conditions.
We had little time left to build the new school – just over a year. A great deal of organizational work remained to be accomplished; we also needed to select the teachers and other staff and students. After everything was said and done, the most amazing part of the idea to open the school was its social vector – the school was supposed to bring in talented children from poor and struggling families and give them a chance to study for free. During the initial screening process, we looked at nearly 9,000 kids and admitted about 250 of them.
When our group of managers and artists from the Bolshoi Theatre flew to Joinville, we could not even imagine the great surprise they had in store for us. When we disembarked from the plane in Joinville, we were totally amazed by what we saw. On the tarmac, we were greeted by joyful music and a sea of flowers basking in the welcoming, Brazilian sun, as well as many neatly combed children wearing stylish uniforms; these were the first students of the new ballet school. Leaving the airport, we saw banners and posters all around town advertising the opening of the school and the gala concert with performances by Bolshoi Theatre artists – all organized to commemorate the event.
Yet the greatest surprise waited for us when we reached the school’s building, located in the Centreventos complex. All of the guests from the Bolshoi were invited to determine whether the school was ready to start a new academic year and operate using the Bolshoi’s unique Russian methodology, which involves eight years of study, in addition to many other extracurricular disciplines such as music and drawing classes, history, popular character dances, and drama. The school also offered professional medical services for students who were about to face serious physical challenges. I could not believe I was watching it unfold in front of my eyes; the school created a perfect environment for studies and rehearsals. Chief among this splendor were five spacious rehearsal rooms (something found in only a select few of the largest schools in the world) that were named after the great ballet masters of the past: Vaslav Nijinsky, Anna Pavlova, Galina Ulanova, Asaf Messerer, and Alexander Bogatyrev (to our great sadness, he passed away before the school was opened).
To this day, whenever I am asked about the ‘Bolshoi’ school in Joinville, I respond by saying that this institution is unique both in terms of its scale and social significance. It is also unique in that I do not know of any other school in the world that would master and offer a repertoire consisting of the three toughest classical ballets: The Nutcracker, Giselle, and Don Quixote. But they do not draw the line there – every time I come to Joinville, I am happy to see that the school continues to evolve.
Patrons of the school have helped it over the years, and include large Brazilian companies. I would like for Russian energy corporations beginning to operate on the Brazilian market to also join this wonderful project. After all, it would offer a great opportunity to meet new partners and interact with Brazilian colleagues on a whole new level.
Now as I cast my mind back to the time when the school was taking baby steps to its first small victories and challenges, I instantly see the faces of the little girls and boys who entered these spacious halls for the very first time. I can see their first teachers. My hat goes off to all of those teachers and mentors who invested their experience, their hearts, and souls into these children. I am positive that our graduates will continue to bring joy to our audiences with their art, their attitude toward the profession, their integrity, and their highest level of artistic skill. There is a substantial amount of my own efforts in each and every one of them, and this fact alone means that my life and my work have not been in vain. Just like many of those who stood by at the creation of this school, I have much to be proud of. Today, our children have lived up to our efforts and aspirations, and our concerns have paid off. The school is not resting on the laurels of its previous triumphs though; it is getting stronger year after year. The curriculum includes not just classical ballet – modern dance is also broadly represented. I am always happy to meet both teachers and students. Working with them makes me stronger and more confident of the future.
However, there is one thing that still bothers me after all these years, that still keeps me awake at night. When we were in the midst of creating the school, one of the conditions was that it must have its own theatre where the graduates of the Bolshoi Theatre School could work. However, that still remains to be accomplished. Year in and year out, the School’s graduates join the ranks of various ballet companies in the world’s most famous theatres, including the Bolshoi in Moscow. Their work takes them to different countries, but I would like them to stay here and practice their art in their home country that gave them the wonderful gift of their profession. What is remarkable is that the great Brazilian architect Niemeyer already created a fantastic ‘cosmic’ design for a complex that could accommodate both a theater and the Bolshoi Theatre School. I would very much like to live long enough to see the day when this great master’s idea comes to life and the doors of a Joinville ballet theatre open wide to all audiences wishing to see the beautiful art of dancing, which would find a way into their hearts and minds without any need for translation. I would very much like to see the day when students from different generations – who went on to become artists dancing in different corners of the world – come together in Joinville and open a new chapter in the town’s cultural life. They would make all of Brazil proud and, God willing, the rest of the world too.
Of course it is Russian…
No doubt it is Brazilian…
Pavel KazaryanWhen two parties are fascinated by a common cause that is greater than anything else, even cultural differences change from barriers to stepping-stones.
The Bolshoi Theatre School in Brazil represents the largest Russian-Brazilian culture and education project. In 2013 alone, it organized more than 70 performances in most Brazilian states, as well as in Paraguay, Austria, and Switzerland. It also selected 20 boys and 20 girls out of more than 4,000 children across Brazil to be its first-year students. This makes it difficult for me to briefly summarize the organization’s work.
I will begin with a very telling story about the school. Last year, we decided to improve the teacher’s lounge by replacing some of the old furniture that we had bought back in 2000 when the school was founded. As is commonly done in Brazil, we called a meeting so everyone could share their opinions on the matter. It was a split vote – our Brazilian faculty members wanted to change absolutely everything: replace white cabinets and sofas with brightly colored furniture, move everything around, and hang new pictures and posters. Quite conversely, their Russian counterparts wanted to buy new furniture that looked exactly the same as the old furniture and leave everything in place.
Naturally, a compromise was found. However, this story is very interesting, and indicative of the similarities and differences between the Russian and Brazilian cultures.
There is no doubt that the school is Brazilian. It is young, daring, and hot-tempered, with emotions going overboard even in seemingly innocuous situations. And of course it is also Russian – complete with the discipline, grandeur, and traditions of the Bolshoi Theatre’s wonderful heritage and famous dancers and teachers.
In the end, it is mutual respect and a symbiotic relationship between the two cultures that provide the unique recipe for success at the Bolshoi Theatre School in Brazil. I am certain that all Russians would be delighted to know of the Joinville staff and students’ high regard and gratitude of Russia, our ballet, and our culture. Just recently, I met a small boy walking through the school’s halls trying to learn phrases in Russian with a smartphone app.
Indeed, who would have believed that a girl born in a provincial town in the Southwest of Brazil would end up in Vladivostok working at the Primorsky Opera and Ballet Theatre? Or that three Brazilians would go on to join a very small group of foreign nationals working for the world’s best ballet company at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow? Who would have thought that graduates of the school would work all over the world, from small-time schools in Australia and South Africa to corps-de-ballet at the American Ballet Theatre? Or that Russian teachers who settled down in America would call to thank their classmates – the Russian teachers who trained such quality artists in Joinville?
Ballet is undoubtedly a part of Russia’s identity, its trademark. Perhaps the greatest upside is that anyone who decides to learn to dance inevitably and irreversibly falls in love with the Russian culture, watching old archive recordings or videos of modern Russian ballet stars – Joinville, Santa Catarina, Brazil is the living proof