An impromptu interview with Irma Nioradze
in Positano, Italy, Sept. 6, 2003
Irma Nioradze, prima ballerina étoile of the Kirov-Mariinsky Ballet, was the great attraction at the Positano “Leonide Massine” Prize gala performance this year. She opened the show with A Woman, a modern piece by Kyril Simonov, and closed it with Fokine’s The Dying Swan.
Photographer Bruno Farda, a personal friend of many Russian ballet stars, introduced me to Irma’s husband, who took me backstage to meet and interview his wife after the show (thank you, Bruno!).
The interview was very informal, to say the least. Right in the middle of the street! Now and then admirers would come up to compliment her and ask for her autograph. Dancers Giuseppe Picone and Ygor Yebra arrived too; Picone told Yebra about the time he and Irma danced Giselle together in Tokyo without ever having met before, and with only two days for rehearsals. Irma has an affectionate and courteous word for everybody and she seems surprised at all the compliments she receives, though she should be used to them by now!
She’s an outgoing, uncomplicated person, totally free from any international diva attitude, though she’d be more than entitled to one. Now and then she excused herself for her English, but we understood each other very well.
I told her I’d seen her dance in London in 1995 and 1997, when, barely in her twenties, she’d been a strong-willed Gamzatti (La Bayadère), a wild Firebird, and a luminous Lilac Fairy. She seemed amazed that I remember her from the days when she was one of the young principals of the Kirov Ballet.
You’re Georgian, from Tbilisi, and started studying dance at the Tbilisi State Dance Academy, which at the time was directed by Vakhtang Chabukiani, creator of the heroic style of Soviet ballet. Did you have a chance to meet and study with him?
When I was a pupil at the academy, I studied often with Chabukiani, who died in 1992. He didn’t teach only classes for men and boys, as one might think. I even danced Giselle with him. He was a very lyrical and spiritual dancer, even if he’s mostly remembered for his heroic roles.
When did you enter the Kirov Ballet?
After studying in Tbilisi, I attended the Vaganova Academy in Leningrad for one year. Then I won the International Dance Competition in Jackson (USA). In 1992, Oleg Vinogradov, who at the time was director of the Kirov Ballet, invited me to join the company.
I’m one of the many who consider the Kirov Ballet the greatest ballet company in the world. What do you think you Mariinsky dancers have that others don’t?
There are many good companies in the world, and each one of them has its own unique qualities and characteristics. The Mariinsky has the advantage of a great and ancient ballet tradition, which is handed down by illustrious teachers.
Do you have your own teacher at the Mariinsky, who coaches you in all your roles?
In the past few years I’ve been coached by Ninel Kurgapkina, who was Nureyev’s partner and collaborator. I prepared Sleeping Beauty and Giselle with her. Before that, my teacher was Olga Moiseyeva.
You’ve recently performed several of George Balanchine’s ballets. How did you manage the typical Balanchine hip movement, which so many dancers find so difficult?
The Balanchine works I usually perform are Jewels (“Rubies”), Le Palais de Cristal, also known as Symphony in C, and Apollon musagète. I’ve also danced Serenade, but only when I was an Academy student. I love dancing Balanchine, the hip movements give me no problem, they remind me of Georgian folk dances. After all, Balanchine was a Georgian too, wasn’t he?
Do you plan to dance other modern ballets in the future?
Yes, certainly, but after the classics! Classical ballet remains my great love.
Do you have a favorite role?
Yes, of course. I particularly love Kitry in Don Quixote. I adore those fast steps, and I like the Spanish atmosphere. I love character dances. Flamenco, with its typical hand movements, is one of my favorite dances.
You danced The Dying Swan this evening. Your arm and hand movements reminded me of that old film of Anna Pavlova. With whom did you study this role? Do you think there’s a thread in the tradition that goes from Pavlova to you?
Did I really remind you of Anna Pavlova? That is a really beautiful compliment! I’m very glad you liked my interpretation! When I watch that film, Pavlova seems superhuman to me, a pure spirit! I studied the role with my teacher Ninel Kurgapkina, and I also discussed it at length with my friend Nina Ananiashvili.
Did you enjoy being in Positano?
I felt happy and honored to receive this prize, which in the past has been awarded to artists like Rudolf Nureyev, Vladimir Vassiliev and Ekaterina Maximova. Not to mention the town, which is really beautiful.
I’ll be back in Italy soon. In late September I’ll be in Rome for four performances of The Firebird, starting on the 26th. I’ll be bringing my three-year-old son with me. So we’ll be seeing each other again soon!
See you in a couple of weeks, then, and thanks a lot for the interview!