Interview with Alexandre Katsapov
The National Theatre´s 125th season has come to an end. For the ballet company, this year was rather significant. Except for a number of visits abroad, the company presented three premieres. For the first time we had the opportunity to admire the style of August Bournonville and recently also world famous Mats Ek´s Carmen. Most dancers are now enjoying their well-deserved holidays and some of them... well, you will see.
Spectators are curious about how their favourite dancers are going to spend the holidays. How about you?
My holidays will be more about work than rest. Me, Nikola Márová and Michal Štípa will be guest artists in Taipei during the summer, in a ballet Lady with Camelias by Allen Yu, choreographer from Taiwan. It´s a production of the Chamber Ballet Taiwan. The invitation was for me, Nikola and a soloist of the Slovak National Theatre, Roman Nowitzky, originally. But he couldn´t go for some reason, so they invited Michal with us. Nikola will take the main part, Michal will be dancing Arman and I will dance the older baron. We return to Prague in September, few days after the new season begins.
Don´t you mind that you won´t have a holiday actually?
I am in such age now when I feel something like a hunger for work, for dance, and I don´t want to stop for a few months, because nowadays I really enjoy my work thoroughly and I don´t want to loose my time. So I don´t mind at all. And we will also have a few days off, we were promised to have free weekends in July; in August there will be some Masterclasses on Saturdays, which we will have to attend, but if everything goes well, it won´t be that hard.
This production, is it a neoclassical ballet?
Yes, a big neoclassical ballet in three acts, with music by Giuseppe Verdi. There are plenty of pas de deux and it is rather demanding in terms of technique.
The choreographer Allen Yu also creates in modern style, we were already talking about some collaboration in the future. He works as a choreographer and pedagogue in Graz, so we won´t have to travel a huge distance :-).
The Great Causa of the Season
But the most important issue now is Carmen, I suppose. How long have Mats Ek been here, actually?
He came for the casting in autumn, then we worked mostly with his assistent, Lena Wennergren-Juras, then Mats Ek came in May, just for one day, to see the second cast, then in June for four days; and he spend a week with us right before the premiere.
What kind of person is he?
He´s an absolute perfectionist. We had a stage rehearsal every day, then we had an hour to get to work and we had two hours and a half of rehearsals and trainings. It is also amazing that he is able to show us everything, even how the girls should scream, simply everything. And he differs from some choreographers who are satisfied enough when you listen to their remarks. Not him – you have to show him immediatelly what he wants, he needs to see everything right now. And he started with the remarks right after the first performance.
I´ve heard that you and the dancers have given him some special gift at the premiere evening.
Well, even the day before the premiere performance, we absolutely didn´t know what should we give him, because such things as Czech glass or "Becherovka" seemed too ordinary to me. Then I went shopping somewhere and came across a shop with gifts and decorations, where I found a small model of old bicycle. And it is well known that Ek loves riding a bike, he hired one even here in Prague, so I bought this. We gave it to him backstage after the premiere and he seemed to be very pleased. When Carmen is performed you expect to be given cigars, fans, wine, so we thought for ourselves that he surely had been given plenty of such things. So we were glad that we had found something unusual.
How did you cope with the choreography and acting?
I think this role really fits me. I have Carmen on DVD and I had been watching it often, I couldn´t wait to see when we´re going to start. Of course, I don´t want to imitate someone but I liked the dancer from the video, he is acting so naturally, especially in the scene with the big scream. Ek wanted the tone to go on and on, not to go down, it´s not like an ordinary shout. It´s an amazing moment, I always look forward to it.
When on stage, what are you thinking about?
Normally, the performance swallows me up, I wake up when the curtain goes down; but in this case, I have strange thoughts sometimes. In some calm moments, for example when I´m sitting on the big ball on the stage, I know that there will be a duet and I´m prepared for it, but at the same time I´m thinking of how wonderful it is that I´m here, that my dream is fulfilled and I´m doing a performance I´ve been looking forward to during the whole season.
So La Sylphide didn´t touch you at all?
Well, as I was so much looking forward to Carmen, the other two premieres were not that important to me, but I don´t mean to say I didn´t care. At first, I didn´t fancy starting with La Sylphide, but when Frank Andersen came to work with us, when we saw his energy, his enthusiasm, it stroke us. He was able to influence the dancers during the rehearsals, he gave them such energy that they simply didn´t have time to think about whether they like the piece or not. In the end, I like La Sylphide more than Giselle.
And once you said it seems more easy to you...
It´s nice dancing, the piece is short, there is no partner work... on the other hand the foot work is hard, small jumps, batteries, well, it´s a special technique, it can´t be compared with other styles easily, it is also hard, but in different way. But it´s true that even when I´m dying of tiredness at the rehearsal, when I´m on stage, everything is gone and the performance is over all at once and I´m not tired at all.
Your advantage might be that you have already danced James in La Sylphide, though it was a couple of years ago...
When I started to study the part again, I found out that I don´t remember a single step. Variations are known notoriously, but as to the rest I could remember just a little of the end of the first act, the Scottish dance. But it´s more than ten years, no wonder that one can´t remember it.
Do you enjoy caractère or national dances?
When I was at school, I really liked to dance national dances and I was good at it. But when I was in the last or last but one class, Konstantin Sergejev, the artistic director of the school and a former legendary dancer had died; his succesor was a former caractère dancer, Bělskij, very tall and stout man. And he was always a chairman in all the comissions we had there for exams, and he was always telling me that I am too small for doing national dances, so even when I did my best I never got the best mark. But this was such a long time ago...
What can the spectator expect
Next year there will be a new version of Swan Lake premiered. What is known about it so far?
Kenneth Greve, who is going to stage this brand new production, was here already, he spent a week with us, so basically we know how it will look. There are four casts now. But rather than Prince, I would like to dance Rotbart. Greve himself asked me, whether I wanted to, so I said I would like to try this part because there are not many productions where Rotbart is supposed to be a big role, and as this one is just being created, there are many ways to work on it.
As to the whole performance, it will be in a classical style, with hard variations, difficult partner work, the piece will be demanding as to the technique of dancing. It will take place in the middle of the 19th century, so the costumes will be somewhat different, but still beautiful, tha staging will be expensive, using all possible theatre machinery. It will be worth seeing, but still, we are at the beginning and we will see what it will look like in the end. The spectators should get surprised :-).
And what will you do in the near future?
Right at the beginning of the new season, there will be an extra performance outside of the National Theatre. In the town Uherské hradiště, there is an annual festival of wine (this year from 13th to 14th September). At the very beginning of this event, a folk band Hradišťan performs and they invited Petr Zuska to create a choreography for them. In recent days we have been working on this new piece, alongside with the rehearsals for Causa Carmen and studying the new Swan Lake. Peter has now created a choreography for their four songs and after we get back from our "holidays", we will do another four, the whole piece will have about 17 minutes.
Who is dancing in the choreography?
It is for five people: Nikola, me, Viktor Konvalinka, Ivana Mikešová and Edita Raušerová. Nikola dances a few songs alone, then there are small duets, two boys, two girls, some variations. But we will have to dance on live music, which won´t be easy. Petr Zuska, when creating a choreography on a song, thinks about every single word, every accent of the music. We work with the record, so we would like to have the same music, but this can hardly happen when the musicians play live. But we will have a full rehearsal with them.
What will happen with this choreography next?
Well, this is a solitary event, but the choreography itself should be used as a concert piece. Something like Petr Zuska´s Déjà vu, which we had at the Ballet Gala, it will probably used more frequently, when someone invites us to perform on a gala performance and so on. I think that this choreography of Petr is really good. When we were on a gala in Germany in October with Adéla (Pollertová), it was a big success.
And how about the Phantom of the Opera in the Prague State Opera? It was said you and Nikola were going to dance in it this season but it never happened.
The artistic director of the ballet company of the Opera has asked us recently whether we would like to do it in September. And we would like to, as there is a chance to have a rehearsal on stage, which is quite important with such a performance. So if we return from Taiwan in good condition, we will dance Phantom.
There was no chance to manage it in this season, although we had studied the parts and they had also announced that we would be performing. But it was not possible. We were doing the rehearsals in the evenings, after we had finished our rehearsals in the NT Ballet, it was rather demanding. And also the choreographer, Libor Vaculík, didn´t have much time as he was working on another performance in Pilsen.
In September, there is already Czech Ballet Symphony, Solo for three and Onegin on programme in the National Theatre. And also that event in Uherské Hradiště. Isn´t it too much?
It can be managed. But I can´t imagine what will be with Carmen when we sometimes have a double performance, when Matěj Urban (alternate for José) will be in Germany. Two Carmens in one day, that´s something I would probably not master. It might not look so hard, but this performance is really physically demanding. Especially the run in the end, that´s so exhausting...
And a few trifles at the end...
What about you and nature? It´s about two years ago you said it meant almost nothing to you.
Well, these things change in time. When I was a little boy, I had other interests, altough my mum had a weekendhouse and she has always been into gardening. Then I lived only for theatre but nowadays I start to perceive it, I start to see the beauty of the landscape... I think it´s similar to music, it´s like when children are twelve, they can´t understand Stravinsky.
Do you have time to go to the cinema sometimes?
Every time when a new film appears, which is positively reflected in the media, we go to see it. I can´t say I prefer some genre, when it´s a good film, it doesn´t matter whether it is drama, thriller or horror. I liked Sixth Sense, for example, or the film The Others with Nicole Kidman. I like going to the cinema very much, because in the cinema there can be such specific atmosphere, in the same way as in the theatre.
How about your cooperation with the photographer Pavel Brunclík? Is there something new?
We met few days ago and talked about the future. Next year there will be a huge exhibition of the photos we made together in St. Petersburg, they are very interested in them and Pavel would like to make a selection from the photos that were exhibited last year in the Mánes Gallery. Of course, as an artist, he is never satisfied with his work and we would also like to work on it. We would like to make some twenty thirty photos, so that they would be really perfect. But to get twenty thirty photos we will have to work for a few months. Pavel wants to take only the best pictures to Petersburg.
I know that your mother was on a visit here in Prague, how did she like the premiere?
My mother came for two weeks because I will have no opportunity to get to Petersburg this summer, so we couldn´t almost see each other. And she was enthusiastic about Carmen, though I think that Solo for three had made even a bigger impact on her. I gave her a DVD with this performance last year and she hadn´t seen it live until she came here, and that´s a really different experience.
The National Theatre Ballet performs Solo for Three quite often abroad and it´s a popular piece, what are the plans for the new season?
In autumn, sometime in November, I don´t know exactly when, we will be performing two weeks in Athens, then we were invited with it to Budapest, Petersburg and there are some rumours about Paris. And we will also perform Raymonda in Spain.
Lucie Kocourková July 2008
Photos from the performance: Roman Sejkot, Portrait: Robert Vano, Other photos: author