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An Interview with Artur Sultanov

Getting to "Da" with OBT's White Knight

by Dean Speer and Francis Timlin

March 6, 2004 -- Portland, Oregon

We recently caught up with one of Oregon Ballet Theatre's latest additions to its impressive roster of dancers, Russian-born and trained Artur Sultanov. We met Mr. Sultanov and his wife, Cynthia, following OBT's last excursion into "White Nights" -- its all Russian music mixed bill program. Amidst the energy and din of a busy late-night eatery across from Keller Auditorium, we had a charming, fun, and informative discussion. What follows is an edited version of that chat.

Clearly, it's a long way from St. Petersburg to Portland. Please tell us about your journey here.

Yes. I'm a native of St. Petersburg, and it was actually my mother's decision to start me in ballet. I auditioned twice and was accepted the second time into the Vaganova Ballet Academy, their "pre-professional" program, at the age of 8. I stayed 8 years and had both my ballet and academic training there. I was one of the lucky ones who got to live at home. Many students, as you may know, have to be boarding students.

I auditioned for the Kirov and at 17 was hired into the corps de ballet. I also had an offer from Eifman Ballet, but I wasn't sure what I wanted to do exactly in ballet, so I took the offer from the Kirov, where I stayed in the corps for two years. One of the best things for me, in addition to gaining experience, was also being a part of the tours the Kirov does. This was great! I got to see Europe and travel quite a bit.

I did go to Eifman Ballet.

Yes, we’ve heard that Mr. Eifman is not a dancer...

That's true. I believe he's actually a musician. He has lots of ideas and can put on a show! His works are very theatrical.

So how did you get to this side of the Atlantic!?

I had a back injury while at Eifman, and in the meantime, my mother had married an American (when I was 18 ) and so came over to visit my family, who had moved to California. I stayed for two months -- in Carmel. After a while, my back got better, and I starting auditioning and joined Alonzo King's Lines.

How was that?

I found it very interesting! We have nothing like it back in Russia. I danced with the company for three years, touring the U.S. and Germany. King gives simple steps but expects a lot of the dancers; to make these steps something interesting. When I first joined Lines, there were 12 dancers, most senior to me, who were interesting to watch and learn from. But after the three years, the energy and personnel in the company had changed, and I felt that I had nothing new to learn. I guested with Diablo Ballet, which is where you first saw me!

Okay, so how did you end up coming up the coast to the Rose City?

Repertory is a primary motivator for me. In Russia, the company was so large that there was very little for the corps men to do -- about only 15 parts in major rep. That means 65 others standing around, being little more than scenery or props. One of the major contrasts between companies in Russia and the West, is that companies at home are like a dictatorship -- no relationship between directors and dancers. We receive directives only, never a professional level of interaction. U.S. companies are very much more democratic. I came to OBT as I was looking for new challenges and I had become unsatisfied with performing the same choreography at Lines.

Both Christopher (Stowell) and I are new to OBT this year, and I think it's an exciting time to be here. I'm really glad Christopher has invited me to join him. The works he's chosen for this season have been intelligent, fun, and challenging to dance. In such a short time of his directorship, he has proven to this company and its audience that the future of OBT is in good hands.

Any choreographers you'd like to especially work with in the future?

Oh, sure! I'd like to dance in the ballets of Forsythe, Duato, and Kylian.

Not all dancers like to take class. How is this for you?

I never particularly liked taking class in Russia, but it's different here. I find that I take class for myself more and enjoy taking classes from all of the teaches, as we have many great teachers at OBT.

I'm teaching myself in OBT's Summer School program. I've taught all the boys in the school a wonderful gypsy dance I learned at the Kirov, which they like and is good for them. I enjoy being on the teaching side (as opposed to the "taking" side). I'm working with 6 advanced boys, which is great.
And, I'm finding that it's also a journey of self-discovery for me, in that I can apply things I'm learning from teaching to my own technique and dancing.

How do you two like Portland?

We love it! We got to go to Mt. Hood recently and adored it.

[And in Russian] Thank you very much for a great interview!

[Still in Russian] You're welcome!

Edited by Lori Ibay

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