Corps de Ballet, The Bolshoi Ballet

Moscow – August 2013

“I will be DJing at a club in a couple weeks, you should come.”  Arsen Karakozov said to me enthusiastically.  We were the Dada cafe in central Moscow; a group of his friends sat in tables next to us, having drinks or playing poker; one was also a Bolshoi dancer and another, a famous DJ in Moscow.  Dressed in a grey t-shirt, jeans and sneakers, Karakozov had an easy smile and cool attitude.  He didn’t display any tell tale signs of a Bolshoi ballet dancer, but his dark eyes glimmered with drive and passion.

He had his biggest setback at 18 years old while preparing for the Prix de Lausanne competition.  “I tore two ligaments,” he said regretfully, “I was doing an easy warm up move, a leg extension, and then it snapped.”  During the two years of recovery, he developed an interest in contemporary dance, oil painting and DJing, which remain creative pursuits for him outside of his work at the Bolshoi.  As a DJ, he collaborated on a performance piece with Argentinean painter Malcolm Roxs, and recently, he choreographed a contemporary dance piece for an arts festival.  In the future, he would like to create a performance piece that mixes visual art, music and dance.  He confessed modestly, “I would like to be a Diaghilev, to create a new neoclassical style.”  He’s currently inspired by Jiri Kylian, the ground-breaking choreographer who put the Nederlands Dans Theater on the map, and would very much like to work with him someday.

Karakozov has been with the Bolshoi for ten years; the audition is still one of the most exciting moments of his career.  “I had to wait six hours for the audition,” he recalled with agony, “but the good news afterwards made it all worthwhile.”  Now, at 30 years old, he still gets nervous before shows, and that means he is excited to perform.

Photo © Eric Shakhnazaryan

Photo © Eric Shakhnazaryan

He reflected on changes in the company and to ballet. “The new generation of dancers at the Bolshoi are more open,” he observed, “they question things.  Sometimes that conflicts with Bolshoi traditions, but, it is a good thing because art should be collaborative.”  He asserted, “ballet today is too robotic.  Everyone’s fifth position looks alike.  We need more lyrical expression.  Everyone should not find the perfect pose but the way that works with one’s style.”  A healthy self-perspective is important to him; “you must critique yourself, watch yourself in a video.  You should never think that you are perfect; you should always strive for more.”

“All Bolshoi dancers work very hard,” he nodded humbly.  Karakozov lamented that the increasing motivation for money threatens the Bolshoi as an artistic institution.  Like many who are critical of Russia’s modern materialism, he spoke fondly of Yuri Grigorovich, who was Bolshoi ballet’s artistic director for over 31 years until 1995.  “Soviet people are the same everywhere.  They need a dictator,” he explained, “a father figure to give them discipline; that was Grigorovich, the father of Bolshoi.”

Perhaps Karakozov sums it up best, injected with requisite sarcasm – “The Bolshoi is like a family.  When we come back from vacation in mid-September, we will be happy to see each other; the next day, we will hate each other again.”

Karakozov doesn’t come across as a typical ballet dancer, but to identify anyone as such ignores each dancer’s multi-dimensional artistry.