x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Mariinsky Ballet director Yuri Fatayev vows to preserve the company's classical brilliance

Mariinsky Ballet director Yuri Fatayev speaks to us on the eve of his company's Abu Dhabi debut.

Yuri Fatayev.
Yuri Fatayev.

Talking on the eve of his company's Abu Dhabi debut, the Mariinsky Ballet director Yuri Fateyev sounds justly delighted with his dancers' work on tour. "When the curtains go up on our performance of Chopiniana, the audience always claps at the beauty of it. Our company has a unique spirit that we hope makes us ambassadors across the world for Russian culture."

The company's craft may be quintessentially Russian, but Fateyev, who has led the company since 2008, insists that the Mariinsky has a distinctively different style from Moscow's Bolshoi Ballet, its spirit partly flowing from the company's home city of St Petersburg.

"Since Peter the Great founded it 300 years ago, St Petersburg has always been Russia's window to Europe, the first place to which Italian and French-style ballet was introduced. Building from this spirit, in Petersburg we dance with Russian soul but European presentation."

But can this difference in spirit be seen by a less specialist audience? Fateyev insists that it can. "In the St Petersburg style, nothing is done for the sake of show alone. Instead we have great musicality and an intense concentration on every detail of the performance, right from the turn out of feet on to every detail of the dancers' bodies. There is no active imposing of [Moscow-style] bravura - our shows don't have the atmosphere of the circus, but more like you might imagine dancers at the Palace of Versailles."

It is this elegance and obsessive precision that makes the company ideal to present the work of the St Petersburg native Michel Fokine, a figure Fateyev sees as key to Russian ballet's development. "Fokine's work was such a vital step in the development of Russian ballet, a bridge between the classical and the modern. One the one hand, the choreography is classical, but the spirit is also very progressive - it's 'pure dance' that moves away from pantomime, taking really serious music and putting its ideas into the dancing itself."

This mission - bridging the gap between classicism and modernity - in many ways remains the Mariinsky's own. Since Fateyev took over, the company has broken fresh ground, collaborating with modern choreographers such as the ballet reformer William Forsythe.

Fateyev nonetheless vows to preserve the company's classical brilliance. "I have always wanted to maintain the classical heritage of the company. The whole world is performing ballets created specially for our company and we have no right or wish to reject them."