Head of Press Office, Bolshoi Theatre
The Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow – October 2013.
I’ve dubbed her ‘Miss Bolshoi’, the PhD welding spokesperson of the Bolshoi Theater. Each time the Bolshoi is lobbed into the news, and that’s happened a lot lately, she sets the record straight, in Russian, English or French, and reaffirms the Bolshoi as one of the world’s top artistic institutions. She speaks concisely, in dialogue armed with literary quotes. In our chat, she was refreshingly direct and revealed much about the Bolshoi and the world around it. It seems she also has fondness for nature. In her WhatsApp profile photo, she smiles broadly cuddling a koala bear, bordered by emoticons of a dolphin, whale and swimmer.
She is very proud of Bolshoi’s heritage and its calibre of artistry. “There is no other company like it,” she insisted. “The Bolshoi is not just a couple of principals. You can see a pas de deux anytime at a gala. It is the full company, with the corps de ballet, the sets, the costumes.” After seeing the performance of Spartacus, I fully agreed.
On Bolshoi’s repertoire, Novikova said, “Bolshoi is firstly, classical repertoire and Yuri Grigorovich,” who defined Bolshoi’s identity with socialist-style ballets like Spartacus and Ivan the Terrible. “Secondly,” Novikova continued, “new choreographers like Balanchine and Ratmansky. But, Balanchine once said that two people on stage is a story. Not for the Bolshoi; the ballets must tell a narrative.” And, on the relevance of old ballets to our modern society, she explained, “Old classics will never be irrelevant, because it is about human emotion, characters.”
She distinguished Bolshoi’s style from the Vaganova technique that is associated with the equally revered Mariinsky Ballet in St. Petersburg. “The Vaganova technique is more academic, more reserved. The Bolshoi is known for its emotion and socialist style ballets.” On Svetlana Zakharova, acclaimed principal dancer who joined the Bolshoi from the Mariinsky in 2003, Novikova insisted, “she was not such a good dancer when she first came to Bolshoi, but now, she has combined her strong Vaganova training with Bolshoi-style character.”
She has pragmatic advice for dancers. “Dancers need to be very strong people in this career. You need to look in the mirror and be true to yourself. Where is your best potential? If you are fat, you will never be a successful dancer and it will only be depressing to stay in such a career.” That’s useful advice for anyone in any career — find what you do best, and what you do better than everyone else. She added, “Dancers in the Bolshoi do not necessarily need to be Russian; they just need to be artists.”
I asked about the presence of corruption in the Bolshoi. “People gossip about corruption,” she responded, “they shouldn’t just talk about it; that is not constructive. If you see it, you should do something about it. I don’t see the corruption, I hope it does not exist.”
On the current challenges to the Bolshoi, she pointed to the Russian system and society. “Previously, the Soviet system of education was better. The current education system is not enough. If it continues this way, we will produce a society of — ” and she knocked on her wooden desk. She continued, “In Soviet times, there were only three television channels and they broadcasted ballet after ballet. So that is all that people knew. Before, artists like ballet dancers were revered. Now, ballet has lost its status to pop culture and must compete with pop celebrities.” But, she believed that ballet should not change to appease the masses. “High culture is not for everybody,” she insisted, “it should be preserved to maintain high standards.” Beyond the cultural environment, the economic environment also presented challenges. “The current Soviet social system gives only a small pension,” Novikova explained, “it is not enough for retired dancers. Paris does a better job of taking care of retired dancers. Our veterans of the Second World War were recently given an apartment each, but there is nothing comparable for dancers. There is a lot of money but it is unfairly distributed. It’s no more challenging today than in other times. But, today’s challenges are different; it’s about money.”
I asked her which era the Bolshoi at its best. She replied, “each era of the Bolshoi is special. I would love to have been in the company in the ’60s, when Grigorovich created Spartacus. But now is also a special time, dancers are no longer restricted to the Vaganova technique. They have freedom to do contemporary work and to work with different choreographers.” She asserted proudly and optimistically, “This new generation of Bolshoi artists are well trained, vivid, and artistic.”