Tell us about Swan Lake, the ballet. What are the qualities that make it a must-watch show?
A. Swan Lake might be an old ballet, but its key message—that love conquers all—is as true today, as it was 122 years ago , when it premiered for the first time. It is a fairytale based on real emotions that everyone can relate to, regardless of the epoch or geography. Swan Lake is known for its demanding technical skills, making it the most difficult to perform and yet the most enchanting classic ballet ever. Interestingly, the ballet did not get any positive response on its debut or premiere show. Today, critics believe that this was because it was ahead of its time in terms of complexity and choreography such that the audiences, a century ago, could not absorb the production’s finer nuances. It was only after Tchaikovsky’s death that the ballet grasped the light of fame. All the aspects of the ballet, from its symphonic music, complex choreography and disciplined performances make it the benchmark it is, for all the art forms in the world.
Q. Swan Lake has already been adapted as a film, the much-acclaimed Black Swan. Do you think cinema can help promote this art form further?
A. We certainly believe that adaptation of classical ballets into mainstream cinema can play a pivotal part in popularising the genre. Given that ballet is still an art form consumed only by niche audiences, and that cinema continues to be a mass influencer, a confluence of the two can go a long way in piquing the interest of more people. Black Swan, particularly, was a beautifully made film that did justice to the essence of ballet. Such productions are important to help audiences discover the marvels of the art.
Q. How central is the role of music in ballet? Can it be experimented with, in terms of the genre and style?
A. Originally, music composed for ballets and traditional classical symphonies were fairly different in style. Somewhere along the way, as ballet became more popular, several classical composers began to compose especially for the art form. In present times, ballet is performed to a variety of musical genres. There are many different routines that dancers learn, and each genre demands different techniques. While ballet is still widely performed to classical music, you might hear jazz, contemporary fusion or thematic compositions with dramatic or romantic music in several modern adaptations of the classics.
Q. You have showcased ballet in different venues around the world. How varied is the response to ballet internationally?
A. For any performing artist, audience response is a mixed bag. All kinds of responses do help in improving your performances. In some countries, people are more visibly expressive, in others they are subtle. Nevertheless, for us, it is an experience to perform for a variety of people, cutting across different ethnic backgrounds.
Q. Are you planning to take ballet to places where people are less aware of this form?
A. We are certainly looking forward to taking the ballet to as many different countries and audiences as possible. However, the Swan Lake production isn’t an easy one. It requires great technical complexity and a lot of infrastructural facilities for proper execution. Moreover, it is imperative that wherever we perform, the audience has a basic understanding of ballet and has evolved artistic sensibilities to appreciate the performance and its intricacies. Therefore, we are indeed taking the ballet to newer audiences but we are proceeding in a thoughtful manner.
Q. Could you give us an insight into the importance of costumes in ballet?
A. Dance costumes are an extremely important part of any performance. Costumes help bring to life the performance that dancers work so hard to master. Moreover, without the right costumes it would be impossible to create the right ambience on stage. In fact, costumes can often play a key metaphorical role and can further enforce the message of the ballet or any dance performance, for that matter. In ballet, costumes should be such that they reflect the right balance of grace and strength and also enable swift and composed movements.
Q. What kind of challenges do you face while preparing for a performance?
A. Some of the challenges, as we discussed earlier, pertain to putting the production together. We need to look closely at the finer aspects of stage settings in terms of stage size, curtain arrangements, lighting and sound provisions, green room facilities, costume co-ordination etc. Each dimension plays a key role in defining how the whole performance comes together finally and the impact it leaves on the audience. Additionally, as a team it becomes difficult to maintain strict control on one’s diet and lifestyle while travelling to new places.
“We certainly believe that adaptation of classical ballets into mainstream cinema can play a pivotal part in popularising the genre.”
Q. Why are you drawn so much to the classics as a ballet director?
A. Classic ballets are peerless in terms of elegance and performance excellence. I’m primarily drawn to classics as a director and a performer thanks to the stories they tell. However, there has been a trend to try a lot of thematically-inspired ballet versions without claiming them as the original. As a director of Swan Lake, I have the responsibility to deliver a better ballet performance which matches up to the original in every way. While I do add my own sense of aesthetics to a few aspects of the production, I make sure that the choreography does not lose the essence of Tchaikovsky’s original piece.
Ballet is all about aesthetics, be it dance or choreography or costumes.
Q. Are there any instances of other modern dance forms being fused with the classical ballet style?
A. Indian artists have been at the forefront of fusing ballet with other dance forms. For example, I feel Bharatanatyam and ballet as dance forms are similar. The dance moves, postures, lyrical choreography etc. all come together to become an important part of the art of storytelling. The only difference is that while Bharatanatyam is the dance form of expressions, ballet is more formal.
Q. It is also fashionable these days to fuse one form with the other. But do you think it does justice to the original art forms? What are your views on dance fusion?
A. My personal opinion is that fusion format of ballet is a different genre altogether, wherein ballet techniques and themes are enhancing theatre experience. It should not be compared to the original art forms.
Q. What are the qualities that make up a successful ballet artist?
A. Ballet as an art form is really complex. It requires intense practice and devotion. Hence, it becomes crucial to be fit because only a fit body can help you get better at it.
You basically need the following:
Physical Strength—Their art requires hours of workouts to maintain proper weight and fitness, as well as enough energy to physically withstand the rigorous rehearsals.
Creativity—Dancers require creativity, which helps them to express the music and story lines they dance to, using unique body movements. This artistic ability allows dancers to communicate ideas through physical expressions, and come up with new ideas to add to dance routines.
Teamwork—They must be able to take direction from their choreographer, and the characteristic of teamwork is equally essential for coordinating their dance routines with other dancers in their company or production group.
Persistence—Dancers do not achieve seamless performances without careful and consistent practice, over and over again. It may take them years before they develop the expertise to perform professionally.