Kirov Ballet, Artistic Director
Born in 1960, Makhar Vaziev entered the St. Petersburg Vaganova Academy of Ballet in 1973 and graduated in 1981. The next years he worked his way through the system up to principal dancer of the Kirov Ballet. In April of 1995, he became the Kirov's company manager.
by Jack Walker
November 24, 1995In the office of Makharbeq Vaziev & Farouk Ruzimatov,
The Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg Russia
You're not originally from St. Petersburg. What part of Russia are you from? Vaziev:
North Ossetia, in the Caucasus Mountains, at the Russian border with Georgia.
How did you get from the southern tip of Russia to the Vaganova Ballet Academy?
Scouts from the Kirov would tour the Soviet Union. Every year the school started a group in a special class, an ethnic class, with students from a specific area of the country. I was seen by the scouts and was invited to attend the Academy in a class of students from my area. These special ethnic groups aren't formed anymore.
You were a long way from home here. Were you able to maintain contact with your parents during the years in school?
This is a terrible moment in your life, when you are away from your parents, when someone takes you from your mother and father and takes you far away from home. Not every child can cope with it. Sometimes children would not stay in school and would go back to their parents. I think we learned to be independent very early, to get into the habit of doing everything by ourselves, alone. Maybe because we were in St. Petersburg, so far from home with everything was strange for us, we needed parents even more than children who were born here. Every child needs to be with parents.
Were you in the same training group as Farouk Ruzimatov in ballet school?
Yes. That's how we met. We both started at the Academy in 1973 and finished in 1981.
Farouk told me that you are his best and closest friend. What was he like when you first met him?
That was 1973. We were both small boys. Even at this age -- he was 9 -- he had an unusual sense of tact. This was my first impression of him. I was three years older, and I liked his respect for the other students, for the teachers, for everyone. He was very open and very sensitive. After knowing him awhile, we started to feel that we would have a difficult time without each other. He was like a brother. This feeling has continued for 22 years.
What kind of student was Farouk?
He was a fanatic, a terrible fanatic, because he adored the art of ballet. From his early childhood, everyone could see he loved it. I don't remember when Farouk has missed even one morning class, whether he was sick, had a strenuous performance the night before, or whatever.
Isn't this true of other dancers, too?
Farouk was different. From the beginning of school he was captivated by ballet. It was his passion. He never had any doubt that he wanted a life in ballet, and he devoted himself to it. Everything else was unimportant to him. He had made his choice. In my opinion ballet was his calling, with no doubt. I don't remember another example of a child who made such a dedicated decision at so young an age. One time in ballet school he was very ill, and he couldn't stand up in class. He would go to the rehearsal room, lay on the floor, and he would do everything there. For three months he did his exercises on the floor. It was clear that ballet was his future.
I'd like to ask a few questions about training at the Academy. What was a student's schedule like?
We studied six days a week, from 8:45 a.m. until approximately 7 p.m. A typical day went like this: 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., classical dance class; in the next three and a half hours, four academic classes; from 2:30 p.m. to 3:15 p.m., free time; then, another hour and a half of academic lessons; finally, an hour and a half of special discipline classes, which included character dance, duet dance, and acting.
Were boys and girls in separate classes?
With one exception, boys and girls were together in all the classes. This included academic lessons, duet dancing, character dancing, and acting. The exception was classical ballet, because there is a distinct difference between the male and female technique.
Did you wear uniforms?
Yes, of course. In the early years, there was a particular way to dress. The boys wore a white T-shirt, black shorts, white socks, and white ballet shoes. The girls wore a white leotard without sleeves or tights, white socks, and white ballet shoes. The teachers needed to see the students' knees and the tension in the arms, legs, and torso. When the teacher was sure the children had learned correct positions for legs and arms and had learned correct body tension, usually after three years, they changed to different clothes. The boys wore black tights and black ballet shoes.
[Editor's note: Young ballerinas looked forward to the change, because the studios in the school were very cold. After three years the girls wore a black leotard with long sleeves, cream-colored tights, and pink classical shoes.]
Who paid for the Academy training?
At that time everything was paid for by the state. Now it's different. The parents must pay for the education. However, an especially gifted child may receive a scholarship. Even now, however, the parents don't have to pay very much. During the last three years when I was in school, students got some money from the Academy every month, but not much, and we had to pay for our shoes, transportation, clothes, and any personal expenses from this. It was normal for most parents to contribute to their child's expenses, but a very small amount. Students from St. Petersburg lived at home. The others of us slept and ate in the school dormitory.
How did you get to the Academy from the dormitory?
First, this is only a short distance -- one bus stop. We always rode the bus without a ticket. The controllers would catch us, but they always excused us, because they knew we were students from the ballet school and we were poor, so no great problems. To tell the truth, we enjoyed this "dangerous," not-quite-right, little diversion.
In the past I know that people with political connections or family connections had an easier time getting accepted into the Academy and completing their studies. But I believe neither you nor Farouk had such connections. Did this make school more difficult for you?
Of course, to some extent parents of certain situations could help their children in different ways.
Was school life more difficult for a child who did not have connections? Were students treated differently from one another?
As a rule, when I was studying -- and I don't want to name them now -- the children who had parents who were famous dancers were the most incapable students -- and I don't know why. Their parents worked with them extra time to help them do better. We weren't jealous, because we understood they needed the extra help to keep up. There are a few exceptions where children have proved to be as capable as their parents. For example, Andreas Liepa, son of Morris Liepa is one. His father was a great dancer, and he is also very capable.
[Editor's note: Morris Liepa was the second dancer after Vladimir Vasiliev in the Moscow Bolshoi Ballet. Liepa died a few years ago, shortly after his retirement. His son, Andreas Liepa, was a principal dancer with the Bolshoi Ballet for many years and has been dancing with the Kirov Ballet in recent years. At the Kirov he also works with other dancers to prepare them for performances.]
Farouk told me that during his first 3 or 4 years of school he was thin and small. When did he begin to show his potential.?
Yes, he was really quite short. Every teacher often said that he was very capable, and they said that it was sad he was so small. The other boys in his group were much taller. Farouk was a full head shorter than all the others.
There was a humorous aspect to this. In performances of the Nutcracker Farouk performed the third act child’s pas de trois at an age older than was typical. Normally, it was danced by students in the third year, but he was so small he could do the part during his fifth and sixth years. People who didn't know him were amazed that he could be so "young" and do such great work.
When Farouk was 16, his arms and legs suddenly shot out. It was incredible. The last year in school he grew to normal size.
Do you remember the first principal role Farouk danced at the Mariinsky Theater? How did people react to his performance?
Of course, I fondly remember this. When he first came to the theater, everyone had recognized him as an outstanding personality. In the beginning when he worked as a background dancer, it was an impossible for him to be in the corps de ballet. It was like musical dissonance: he did everything stronger, more clearly, and much better than the others. He was much, much, much better. He was more artistic. It was very clear that the corps de ballet wasn't his place. He destroyed every ensemble he was in.
Within two years he moved up to soloist, and I remember his first role. It wasn’t a classical part. It was the gypsy dance in Don Quixote. He danced colorfully, brightly, and vividly. But naturally his ambition was to dance the part of Basil, the principal role in this ballet. His career progressed, and his first starring role was indeed Basil. He was fantastic, not resembling anyone else. He was uniquely Farouk Ruzimatov. He demonstrated a bright star-personality. And whether someone liked him or didn't, no one was indifferent toward him.
For me Farouk is the number one ballet star in the world today. I say that not because we are friends, but because for me it's true.
Others have told me the same thing.
Of course, the world is gifted to have many, many very good dancers -- and I put Nureyev and Baryshnikov in a separate class, because they are genius -- but of the people dancing now, this generation, Farouk is the best. I am always surprised by how wonderfully he is appreciated -- especially in Japan. At times I have thought that if Farouk were a candidate in Japan, he would be elected president. I see that much love for him in Japan.
How does Farouk prepare for a performance? What is his day like when he will be dancing a major role that night?
The closer the performance, the more he needs to be alone. He likes to stay alone.
Farouk is so serious about ballet, I wonder if he ever jokes?
He has a gigantic sense of humor. It’s no secret to anyone that he sometimes plays the clown with the troupe. For example, he will fool friends with his talent of imitating voices. He can create interesting and dubious situations. He is a master of the joke. I remember a tour where everyone was living in the same hotel. Farouk changed his voice and called everybody, telling them he was the director of the city zoo. He invited all of us on a special excursion to the zoo. He created a huge group for this bogus trip. Yes, there is a balance to his serious side. It’s great when a person can find the humor in a situation.
What specific qualities make Farouk a good friend?
He is faithful, he has a natural, in-born kindness, and he has great humanity. He is devoted to what he believes in and he is understanding. He has old-style Christian character. I have not thought about it before, but one reason I like him is because he has done some very kind things. That's all I can say. He wants to keep that part of his life private.
Is Farouk married? Does he have children?
Yes and yes. He has a beautiful one-and-a-half-year-old baby with his present wife, and he has a fine ten-year-old son from his first marriage.
Is the oldest child a dancer?
Yes, he has passed the first year in the Academy. But it is difficult for Farouk to think about. I'll ask him how the boy's studies are going, and Farouk shows mixed feelings about the situation. You see, a child with ballet parents has a tough experience. On one hand, a teacher who may want the parent's appreciation will give the child false praise and make classes too easy. On the other hand, a person who may have a vindictive attitude toward the parent can be emotionally abusive to the child. Meanwhile, other students usually feel that kids with ballet parents are getting special advantages, no matter what the truth may be.
Now, the obligatory question: What do you and Farouk like to eat?
He and I are much different. I prefer only certain things, but it seems that he can eat anything. Generally, he likes exotic cuisine, especially Japanese. Possibly because he has frequently been to Japan, and the food is familiar to him. Yes, Japanese cuisine and fish... and select red wine.
Is there a particular eating routine or diet for performance days?
You know, ballet dancers are always asked if they are following some special diet. I think this is a question for women, not for men. If a male dancer works a lot, he will not have fat on his body.
In the hours before a performance, all dancers eat little or nothing. They need to have a feeling of lightness. The lighter one feels, the better one dances.
Now that you are company manager and Farouk is assistant artistic director, do you have new problems? And what is your vision for the future of the Kirov?
For a long time dancers never had the chance to sit in bureaucratic chairs. But we do not have great difficulties in our new positions, because we work together, and we divide the obligations between us. As for the future, I am optimistic. We have plans, a sense of perspective, many ideas, a range of prospects and possibilities. There are problems that we will solve step-by-step.
We are not revolutionaries, because this is a theater with a classical heritage, perfectly preserved. However, we must keep in mind that there is more to life than tradition. We need to produce new ballets. But there are many challenges. In this theater, the actor, the dancer, must share a vision with a master who wants to stage something new. There has to be a lot of agreement. Then, no matter how much cooperation we have, no one can ever be sure of the final result, so there is hesitation. As long as we first maintain our classical heritage, we will find the best way to make new productions in the future.
You and Farouk went to school with many of the dancers working now. For years all of you have been professional equals. Now that you and Farouk have gained administrative responsibility, has your relationship with the people who have been your friends over the years changed?
Strictly speaking, yes. It is easier to say that they have changed their relationship to us rather than the other way around. It is mutually understood that their fates and their professional lives depend in some degree on us. It is a difficult adjustment. We have been studying and working together for years, but at some critical moment, I will be sitting behind this desk when someone comes to me and must sit there. Our relationship changes.
The main thing is that people feel they are being evaluated properly, and that they understand they are needed in this theater. It is no surprise that we have some difficulties, like everyone. You know, the theater loves very talented people, and we are part of the theater.
We are first concerned with developing our dancers' talent and maintaining our high standards. However, even those dancers who are not as naturally gifted, do work hard and make an important contribution to the total theater. It’s very important but also very difficult to find the perfect place for everyone. Artists are very sensitive, and to be true to themselves they must believe in their hearts that they are the next Baryshnikov or Makarova.
What characteristics does Farouk like to see in the dancers he works with?
A high level of professionalism, talent, and dedication. He is not tolerant of mediocrity. I believe this is a normal attitude for someone who is so demanding of himself.
When he entered the theater, he refused to take part in any activity that was not necessary for his work as a ballet dancer. You can ask the people who knew him at the time. It seemed he never left the rehearsal hall. He would run from one hall to another, to whichever was free. He might sleep an hour here and there, then run back to a rehearsal hall. The people here were rather astounded.
Can you tell me if there are special plans for Farouk in the coming months? I heard that Vinogradov might stage Romeo and Juliet with him.
Vinogradov sometimes thinks about doing this. Farouk doesn't want to dance the role of Romeo. He wants to dance the role of Tibault -- the part with stronger character aspects.
I want to ask about Adam and Eve, the 1971 ballet staged for Baryshnikov, Soloviyov and Panov?
Oh, that was a great. It was a perfect collection of artists.. This spring will be the 25th anniversary of the first performance. The Kirov administration has considered giving a second life to the ballet in this anniversary year. The composer, Andrei Petrov, has called me and asked if we might stage a revival production. We would invite the original dancers to the performance -- Baryshnikov, Panov, Kolpakova. Probably Farouk would dance in this production, and I think he would be very good.
[Editor's note: Yuri Soloviyov used a hunting gun to commit suicide at his dacha in 1977. He was a talent equal to Baryshnikov, but he couldn't find a comfortable path through life.]
You are young, and you could be at this desk 20, 30, or 40 years. Do you have long range plans for the theater and for your career?
I don't think I'll be here anywhere near that long. There always needs to be a change of generations -- a fresh stream. I can't see working here past the time I can make a respectable contribution. Every person has his own time. It's not important how long I am here. It's more important that the theater always has good, dedicated people working for its benefit.
Look at the Moscow Bolshoi Ballet for example. I respect very much the ex-artistic director, Yuri Grigorovich. However, it was a difficult situation to have the doors closed for 30 years to anything new. Except for the most traditional classics, only the ballets of Grigorovich were on stage. Of course, he was a genuine ballet master. His ballets are great: Legend of Love, Spartacus, Stone Flower, Ivan the Terrible, Gold Century. It was a great time, but now is a new time. We need to look ahead, and the doors need to be opened.
The theater is not me, nor Farouk, nor any individual. It's a whole group of dancers, other artists, and yes, administrators. Our first task is to promote the ballet in its entirety.
Who has influenced you the most during your development in the ballet world?
It has been the theater in general and many, many people working here. If you want names, I give you Farouk, and I give you Mr. Selutskiy, who worked many years to prepare both Farouk and me for ballet performances.
Two quick questions. For the past few years, when away from work, Farouk has usually worn black clothes only. Do you know why?
Yes. It’s his favorite color for clothes.
Finally, I know you are sometimes called "Makhar" and sometimes "Makharbeq." Which is correct?
Either one. It doesn't matter -- though I like to be called Makhar. "Beq" is an old indication of nobility used in my culture in North Ossetia. But now I live at the Mariinsky Theatre. I am Makhar.