Mariinsky Ballet Brings Fokine and Russian Soul Stateside

Russia’s renowned Mariinsky Ballet presents a Fokine program October 12 – 15 at Segerstrom Center for the Arts. The company performs four Fokine classics, Chopiniana, Le Spectre de la Rose, The Swan, and Schéhérazade. While all the pieces hail from the early 20th century, they remain compelling and fresh while preserving important links to ballet’s history. The World Dances spoke with Acting Ballet Director Yury Fateev and Principal Dancer Xander Parish about this program, the challenges and rewards of Fokine, and more.

What do you find most interesting and rewarding about Fokine's work?

Yuri Fateev (YF) Fokine was the one who invented and produced the idea of “acting dance.” That’s the base of his revolutionary innovation in classical ballet. So many, including Balanchine, have been inspired by Fokine’s notion of developing in different directions.

Xander Parish (XP) For me it is the breadth and the range of his work and being able to experience so many different things in his various ballets. Just take the two pieces I will be performing, for example.  Chopiniana is a serene, meditative piece in which my character is a poet dancing through his thoughts using the most classical technique. Schéhérazade couldn't be more different! Set in a harem, it is very passionate and full of exotically charged choreography that couples perfectly with the lush music.


What do you find most challenging about Fokine's work?

YF In Fokine’s productions you have very difficult dancing techniques, which were very unusual in the beginning of the 20th century. It’s based on imaging, sculpturing, poetry, and musicality.

XP Despite the range of themes he uses, he still has a common thread running through his work, which is his signature style. It's always important to maintain this while still showing the very different characters and emotions in the various pieces. 


Why do you think Fokine remains relevant to today's audiences?

YF Fokine’s ballets are timeless because no one has yet been able to discover anything better or more original in beauty. Again, ballet is about beauty and one of the most beautiful art forms. One can feel that Fokine strived for beauty and perfection in his works.

XP His works were dramatically ground breaking when they were created and they are still out there today as examples of how the boundaries of the past were burst through. This makes them extremely important works
historically and fascinating for today's audiences to watch.


Mr. Fateev, how did you select the Fokine pieces the company will be performing?

YF We chose some of the most important and great works of Fokine, whose body of work has a century-long history and still holds a freshness and beauty today. For me, ballet is first of all about beauty. The four ballets by Fokine are united by one title: Russian seasons. But the differences in music and style make this program so special. 


Mr. Fateev, what do you look for in your dancers when casting this work? 

YF First of all, it’s the amplua position (or the lines through which dancers can express theatrical qualities) of the dancers. This is something that audiences in the West aren’t as aware of. Every artist must fit in a role not by their physicality but also by their personal spirit and energy. Only in this case, will audiences be impressed by the performances they see. I’m very happy that in the Mariinsky Theater, we have many talented dancers who can achieve what’s expected of them.

Mr. Parish, which roles are you dancing in this show and how do you prepare for them?

XP For this Fokine program I will be performing two different pieces, Chopiniana and Schéhérazade. Preparing is a fun process, rehearsing with my ballerina and also rehearsing for my own solo parts by myself. I'm very fortunate to have an excellent coach to take me through my paces and correct me to get the ballet ready for performing. 

Mr. Parish, do you think American audiences will receive this performance differently than Russian audiences, and if so, how?

I can only speculate that these Fokine ballets, born out of the Russian soul, have their spiritual home in Russia, even in the Mariinsky. They are already embedded in the conscience of the Russian audience, who are more used to seeing them. I imagine it will be the first time seeing these ballets performed together for many audience members during our shows in California. It may be quite a revelation for some of them. I hope they will receive it with interest and enjoyment!


Photo: Xander Parish in Chopiniana, photo by Natasha Razina