Denys Matvienko and Radu Poklitaru are among the biggest names in modern Ukrainian ballet and in the heat of summer it seemed as if Ukraine was losing them both. The former caught in limbo by conservative management, which he claims was a deliberate attempt to stifle his creativity, the latter in a financial drain that forced him to deliver an ultimatum to the government. So just what happened in Kyiv’s ballet scene and where do things lie now?
The first scandal erupted with Matvienko who, after earning fame in Russia and the rest of the ballet world, made a homecoming to the National Opera of Ukraine to head the ballet company and bring to Kyiv legendary modern ballets like Radio&Juliet, Complexions and many others. He was an instant hit with audiences and the opera theatre was packed every time Matvienko took to the stage.
However, in April the dancer found out his appointment to the post of director of the National Opera’s Ballet Company had never been signed by management. He did not believe it was an oversight. “There has always been opposition to talent and profoundness,” Matvienko commented about the situation. Later, in July he “officially” resigned from his unofficial position with the theatre and his resignation letter was signed in dramatic fashion by the head of the opera, Petro Chupryna, outside on the square in front of the Opera House.
At about the same time, a press conference took place, where Radu Poklitaru, acclaimed choreographer and director of Kyiv Modern Ballet (KMB), stated he had dismissed his whole dance company, as he could no longer afford to top-up their official salaries. KMB was founded in 2006 and was originally sponsored by businessman Volodymyr Filippov. After the 2008 financial crisis the patron could no longer lend financial support and in 2009 KMB officially became part of the Kyiv Municipal Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre for Children and Youth.
Being a state-funded institution meant the salaries of the dancers were modest: “It’s around 3,000hrv,” Poklitaru says. “As you can imagine it’s impossible to live in Kyiv with this money. Many of my dancers are from other Ukrainian cities, so they have to rent apartments and share with two or three people – it’s uncomfortable and humiliating, so I understand why many of them have left in search of better financial conditions.”
From April to June, Poklitaru lost nine of his 21 dancers, and backed into a corner, he issued an ultimatum: close the theatre or attempt to get some serious support from the state. “It’s ridiculous Ukraine cannot afford the 40 people of KMB – a ballet that represents Ukraine from Portugal to Thailand and gets standing ovations and international acknowledgement,” Poklitaru said at the time.
Matvienko is vocal in his criticism of the National Opera of Ukraine’s management: “I cannot recall a single occasion that a talented individual going into the National Opera has not been kicked out! I hoped it wouldn’t happen to me...that I’d be an exception, but later realised my work – including six new ballets and bringing in world-famous dancers – was obviously viewed unfavourably by management.”
He admits it was an emotionally taxing experience. “My biggest regret through this whole story is I had given hope to dancers – they’ve experienced a new level of work and management. Now they are left with nothing – things in the theatre are going back to what they used to be. On the other hand, I don’t regret trying – it’s been an experience for me!”
This “extremely unpleasant story” as Matvienko calls it, coincided with what is probably the most important event in any person’s life – the birth of a child. “When my daughter Liza smiles,” he says, “all bad feelings melt away! After all, this story has a happy ending: my wife Nastya is a prima at the Mariinskiy Theatre in St Petersburg so we had to decide whether she would end her dancing career and stay with me in Ukraine, live between two cities, which is tough taking into account our child, or leave. So, now we are back in St Petersburg and both back to work.”
He does not have a full-time job and does not want one, preferring to be an “invited soloist” at such prestigious theatres as the Bolshoi Theatre, New National Theatre, Teatro alla Scala, Grand Opera, and the American Ballet Theatre. His loss to Ukraine is Russia’s gain, though he says it’s not for ever – Matvienko promises to perform in Kyiv as often as possible in his busy tour schedule.
For Poklitaru the battle for his theatre was also a difficult one: for more than two months the Minister of Culture Leonid Novokhatko could not find time to meet with him. When the meeting finally happened in the middle of summer, Poklitaru threw down the gauntlet outlining point blank the need for the arts sector to be adequately funded. “Ukraine is now experiencing great interest in dancing. Take any gym, any school sports hall and you’ll see people of all ages – from kids to grannies, dancing Latino, modern, capoeira even! At the same time, Ukraine so far has not got even a centre of modern choreography!”
The latter was among options Poklitaru considered for his theatre and is exactly what the minister finally promised to support: a centre of modern choreography named, again, Kyiv Modern Ballet. Its aim is, like the original, to promote modern dance culture in Ukraine, but its scope has been widened. The centre will hold master classes, schools, festivals, exchanges, and, of course, create new and original productions. The next major performance in Ukraine overseen by Poklitaru is planned for March of next year – it promises to be a large-scale production of the folk opera When Fern Blossoms staged in Palace Ukraine and featuring not only KMB dancers, but the Veryovka Ukrainian Folk Choir, and members of the symphony orchestra. Despite his victory, Poklitaru says it was the indifference that initially disappointed him: “Indifference is worse than straight-forward evil because we encounter it much more often.”
Check out performances this week featuring Denys Matvienko and choreography by Radu Poklitaru and his Kyiv Modern Ballet
A Spectacular Evening of Ballet
Dialogue featuring Denys Matvienko (UA) and Nina Ananiashvili (GE)
Palace Ukraine (V Vasylkivska 103)
14 October at 19.00
Ukraine’s greatest star of the ballet Denys Matvienko along with Georgia’s Nina Ananiashvili are coming together for an evening of artistic dialogue. Ballets such as Radio and Juliet, Quatro and other equally intelligent modern pieces will be presented this evening, as well as a few classical favourites. Anastasiya Matvienko, the Mariinskiy Theatre’s prima, and wife of Matvienko will also be performing, after a short maternity break. Welcome them all back to the stage this autumn.
Tickets are 80 –1,200hrv, 247-2316
The New Swan Lake
The Contemporary Swan Lake (modern-ballet in two acts) featuring the Kyiv Modern Ballet
Kyiv Theatre of Opera & Ballet for Children & Youth (Mezhyhirska 2)
15 October at 19.00
One of the Ukrainian capital’s most well-known and loved contemporary collectives has taken a choreographic classic and made it their own, thanks to the genius of dance master Radu Poklitaru. Swan Lake is reborn in this new, contemporary version, which sees Odette magically turned human. As a philosophical reflection in movement, the question as to living someone else’s fate is central. The answer, which sees our no longer feathered heroine as someone she is not, proves a cruel verdict.
Tickets: 80 –200hrv, 425-4280
by Kateryna Kyselyova