Endless time is dedicated to nurturing a particular craft, so what happens when one of these professionals is asked to step outside of their comfort zone and take on a style of dance that is foreign to them?
Professional dancers dedicate their lives to honing their craft, often in a specific aesthetic or style of movement. Hip hop dancers are on the constant search for the freshest, latest grooves. Tap dancers seek to find more clarity, dynamic and speed in their rhythmic footwork. Ballet dancers spend countless hours at the barre stretching their limbs and pushing their finely tuned muscles to the limit. Oftentimes this training begins in youth, sometimes as soon as a child’s first steps are taken. Endless time is dedicated to nurturing a particular craft, so what happens when one of these professionals is asked to step outside of their comfort zone and take on a style of dance that is foreign to them? For the dancers at the Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg, that step wasn’t as much of a step as it was a leap, filled with faith in their current mode of training and the knowledge their bodies already possessed. Led by Artistic Director Boris Eifman with ballroom training by distinguished ballroom dancers German Mazhirin and Elizaveta Svetlova, the company takes on Eifman’s The Pygmalion Effect in a dazzling display of precision and artistry.
During his career with Eifman Ballet, Oleg has also been the recipient of many accolades including both the Golden Mask Award, the Golden Soffit Award and being named an Honored Artist of Russia.
Of the many incredible dancers in the Eifman Ballet’s roster, DancerMusic Dance Editor Kristi Licera was fortunate enough to catch up with soloist Oleg Gabyshev, who will be dancing the role of Leon in The Pygmalion Effect‘s North American premiere at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre. A year after graduating from the Novosibirsk State Choreographic College in 2003, Oleg joined the Eifman Ballet as a soloist and has spent his time since then dancing lead roles in many of Boris Eifman’s original creations including Vronsky in Anna Karenina, Treplev in The Seagull and Onegin in Eugene Onegin. During his career with Eifman Ballet, Oleg has also been the recipient of many accolades including both the Golden Mask Award, the Golden Soffit Award and being named an Honored Artist of Russia.
In the midst of all of his success, Oleg still found it challenging to take on ballroom dance – a challenge he had to face in midst of honing in on his character. We asked Oleg to tell us about refining his ballroom technique as well as more in his role as Leon. Here’s what he told us:
…the comedy genre of the production is thought to bring in the exaggeration component to the performance, which makes the dancers’ task a bit easier.
Kristi Licera: The Pygmalion Effect features a variety of dance styles including elements of classical ballet, ballroom and jazz. Did you have to do any outside training or studying in order to prepare for this production? If so, what did that training consist of?
Oleg Gabyshev: It is always hard to master new dance styles. Ballroom dancing is a whole world – a special planet. Normally people learn it from early childhood. It was even a bit scary for me to dive into ballroom dancing. I realize that almost every ballroom dancer can find flaws in the ballroom technique, which our company demonstrates in The Pygmalion Effect. But the point is that we do not present pure ballroom dancing; rather, we present its ballet interpretation. One should understand this. What is more, the comedy genre of the production is thought to bring in the exaggeration component to the performance, which makes the dancers’ task a bit easier.
When [Boris Eifman] works on a ballet, he takes into consideration the personality of a dancer he works with. When you feel that a part is designed for you, you bear a special responsibility.
Oleg: However, we had a very long and intense training period which included rehearsing with distinguished ballroom dancers German Mazhirin and Elizaveta Svetlova. There were several things which we had to learn from scratch. For example, new body positions. Ballet dancers perform “openly”, while ballroom dancers maintain a close hold, which enables them to control the speed of movements and to switch between a rush and smooth, slow actions.
To some extent, it was the technique that guided us through the staging process. Also, Boris Eifman’s support helped me settle into my role a lot. When he works on a ballet, he takes into consideration the personality of a dancer he works with. When you feel that a part is designed for you, you bear a special responsibility.
A studio mirror helps a dancer a lot, but it also cultivates self-admiration (which is so typical for Leon).
Kristi: Tell us more about the role that you have in The Pygmalion Effect. How do you relate to your character, and how does your own personal life experience inform how you portray that character?
Oleg: In the new ballet, I dance the part of Leon – the ballroom dance champion. In the story, he meets Gala, a slum girl, whom he starts training. What is important is that he does that not answer the call of the heart, but a bet. Leon makes the bet that he can transform clumsy Gala into a ballroom dance star because he wants to prove to everyone that he is a genius trainer. This means that it is only his narcissism that motivates him. Meanwhile, Gala falls in love with Leon, but he is not ready to love back because they belong to different social classes.
I think that my character is negative to a great extent. However, I believe that for the audience, he will be a source of irony rather that anger. It is worth mentioning that ballet dancers are narcissists to some extent; we have to spend a lot of time in ballet studios looking in the mirror. A studio mirror helps a dancer a lot, but it also cultivates self-admiration (which is so typical for Leon).
Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg presents The Pygmalion Effect at the Auditorium Theatre (50 E Ida B Wells Dr
Chicago, IL) Friday, May 17 and Saturday, May 18 at 7:30pm and Sunday, May 19 at 2pm.