The meaningful, the concentrated and the inspiring

Igor Zelensky has been director of the Bayerisches Staatsballett since 2016. He has expanded the company's repertoire with productions by renowned choreographers such as Sharon Eyal, Yuri Grigorovich, Wayne McGregor, Christian Spuck and Christopher Wheeldon. He is especially interested in constantly working on the quality of dance and choreography and in promoting younger dance creators. In the interview, Igor Zelensky talks about the importance of ballet today, about the different choreographic styles that interest him and about what remains after a performance.

When you talk about ballet, a great passion can be felt. What fascinates you personally about this artistic form of expression?

Ballet works without words, but it communicates nonetheless. That is what makes this genre unique. As soon as a dancer appears on stage, you see his soul, his values, everything he wants to express. When you feel this inner impulse, this energy, you are gripped as an audience member. The essential lies in the body language. In order for it to be conveyed, a very good technique is needed. It is not enough to simply have a well-built body and the right feet; there must also be a drive to want to pass on something with the dance. Ballet requires inner richness. Some people think of dancers as living statues who look pretty and move well. But that is not what ultimately makes a good dancer. This becomes very clear with modern dancers. They don't necessarily have to be perfectly built, but when they start moving, you forget everything. Their movements are filled with content, you become captivated, it has a magic. This effect comes from the fact that no language is used, but the dancers still have something meaningful to say. I could therefore well imagine that at the beginning of human history, the first thing that came was dance. Because everything that really has content is also conveyed through the language of the body.

The choreographers you have invited use very different dance languages. Does that mean a big challenge for the company?

Yes, the change between classical, neo-classical and modern choreographies demands a lot from the dancers. But that also makes the work exciting for the company. And I am proud that choreographers in demand all over the world are interested in our company because we cover a wide range. People like Wayne McGregor, Marco Goecke, Alexey Ratmansky or our house choreographer Andrey Kaydanovskiy enjoy working with us because our dancers are curious and technically at the highest level. That is why we have succeeded in attracting choreographers to the house who not only rehearse existing creations, but also realise world premieres. In the next season, for example, this will be Marco Goecke and David Dawson in the three-part evening Passages. There are also some very exciting projects lined up for the following seasons.

There are people who accuse ballet of not being an easy art form to understand because it does not use language. What would you say to that?

I would say: yes, these people are right. Ballet is complicated. But the simple is also less interesting. You have to surrender to something that at first seems incomprehensible. It's no different with an opera or a classical concert. If you look and research and ask yourself questions, then an understanding and an interest will develop. It ultimately has to do with what you want to see and experience in this life. You can read a bad book or a good book. You can watch something on YouTube all day or devote yourself to an exciting subject that will take you further.

You have to be able to take the time ...

Of course, it's an investment. But grasping complex texts or works of art requires a certain amount of time. Our life is very fast nowadays, so it is also part of learning to concentrate. This is true not only for children, but also for us adults.

Is the audience in Munich a concentrated audience?

Absolutely, it is a very interested audience, an audience that appreciates our work. You also come to this building well dressed, which I personally like very much, because going to the theatre always has something festive about it. And this preparation for a performance is already a form of concentration.

You yourself have danced on the most important stages in the world. What does the National Theatre mean to you?

The building is unique. It has 2,100 seats and is one of the largest theatres in Europe. It is a very special feeling when you sit inside. It has fantastic acoustics and a beautiful atmosphere. As soon as you enter the theatre, you become someone else. In my opinion, this has not only to do with the architecture, but also with the incredible heritage. So many important artists have worked here. That's why this house has its own charisma, which has perhaps been enhanced by the reconstruction after the destruction. You know, the people who planned this back in the early 19th century, they had a perspective for the city. Not only did they create a beautiful place, but they also thought about the education of the population.

The theatre as an educational institution can also be a deterrent.

That's a pity, because our productions are open to everyone. Education doesn't have to mean acquiring a canon, but being inspired by something. We have children's performances, classical, neo-classical and modern performances that are interesting for very different groups. It's important to me that we can show a wide range of repertoire. Cinderella by Christopher Wheeldon appeals to a different segment than Spartacus by Yuri Grigorovich, for example. In addition to classics such as Swan Lake or Giselle, we also present very modern pieces such as choreographies by Wayne McGregor or Sharon Eyal. This keeps things interesting not only for the audience but also for the company.

Recently you also brought out a new story ballet, The Blizzard.

The Blizzard by our house choreographer Andrey Kaydanovskiy is a special production because, as a story ballet, this piece is not classical in the strict sense, although it goes back to an older text. This has to do with Kaydanovskiy's dynamic movement language, which goes far beyond the traditional vocabulary in story ballet. With him, the story goes through the body, you can feel the emotional content.

You need dancers who can do that.

Dancers have to be able to gain a lot of artistic experience, which is why at the Bavarian State Ballet we don't perfect a single style, but deal with different choreographic signatures. Not all ballet is the same. It's like going jogging today and swimming tomorrow, it requires completely different muscles. One sport is a little easier than the other. You have to learn how to deal with it. In addition, the audience also expects us to show a new side of ballet again and again. Therein lies an exciting dynamic for us as a company in this city.

In addition to the traditional theatre stage, there are now a whole range of digital platforms and streaming offerings. What role does ballet play in this media environment?

Ballet is not just a dance movement that you watch. It is complemented by orchestral music, lighting, costumes, the stage and so on. All these elements create an atmosphere that you can't experience anywhere else. Nothing is recorded in the theatre. It's all about the here and now. Our life always takes place in the now. That is what we experience very clearly in the theatre. When the performance is over, we go back home to our own world, but we continue to live with what we have experienced. And no one can take this experience away from us.

Igor Zelensky

"It's all about the here and now. Our life always takes place in the now. That is what we experience very clearly in the theatre."