Nikolai Tsiskaridze. The first star

He flies straight to the dome, a blood-scarlet plume flows behind him under a directed stream of air. Looking, how easy, as if playfully, he stands there, at the height, under the light of spotlights, as he gracefully poses, without objection, rising into the air again and again, despite the hellish pain from the tapes of the whole body, you see: here is an artist from God! Surprisingly, he realized his vocation as quite young, in the first grade, when, at the teacher's request to depict his future profession, he drew a ballerina and signed: “Bolet”. Probably from the word "pain" (pronounced like [bol] in Russian), – his mom joked. Phenomenal natural data, multiplied by strength of character, is the key to a happy artistic fate. And not only artistic: Tsiskaridze has been the head of the Russian Ballet Academy named after A.Ya.Vaganova for six years, reviving the spirit of the legendary institution.


Each great artist is a child inside, playing in the proposed circumstances, like a girl playing with a doll as a mother and daughter or a doctor. The highest proficiency in the profession, which, on the one hand, is talent, on the other, is genius, and on the third, manipulation of feelings, is amazing. The artist is a person with many complexes trying to suppress these complexes. As a rule, these are people with bare skin; in public, they are different than in life. In the “Theater” by Maugham, the main character Julia explains to her son that the real grief is ugly and to play it on stage you don’t have to test it – you need to be able to portray it. There are vocalists who just sing beautifully, and there are those who create a theater in each song. As Larisa Dolina once said: “This is me a singer, and Pugacheva is an actress who sings.” That's why every song by Pugacheva is an event, a mini-performance. Perhaps from a vocal point of view, someone does it much better, but no one ever touched a living as much as she did. It’s the same with artists: if you don’t understand that theater is a temple, and if you only work in it and don’t serve it, you become an ordinary person. Because in the theater it is impossible to work, in the theater you can only serve. That is why an ordinary person cannot enter the scene: his grief will be ugly, he will not be empathized. I myself do not like to move, I do not like to play sports. For me, lying on the couch and doing nothing is the most comfortable state. I started ballet only for one simple reason: I saw that I hade unique data, such abilities didn`t exist in millions of people, and if I did not take advantage of those abilities, I`d make a mistake. Because the Almighty God gave it all to me, as well as the brilliant teachers on my way, and I just had no right to not use this gift. After all, so many people dreamed of being in my place, but they did not succeed in anything: pushing me, they fell. Nothing came out of them, but everything went out for me. Therefore, if you do not serve, then nothing will come of it.


Everyone has some superstitions, and artists too – theatrical people are very superstitious. In part, the theatrical world is demonic. Although many people say that they do not believe, they wish each other to "break a leg", because they know from experience what happens if they wish good luck!.. Another thing is that in the Bolshoi Theater there is an opinion that the way to the stage should not be easy, that one should definitely poison man’s life. When I helped some of the young artists, they reminded me that I shouldn't help anyone. But I am sure: everyone eats that pood of salt that he has been destined to, and it is not necessary to add.


It is impossible not to experience physical pain if you are engaged in serious sports or serious art. Each profession has its own accompanying nuances, including pain. But it can be different: physical, moral, spiritual... It takes time to form a movement, and very often you don’t want to wait, but you understand that there is no other way. Pain is accompanied by physical fatigue, and this, too, must endure. There is even the opinion that, talking about the wrong side of the profession, you can turn away from it. I recently spoke with the son of my girlfriend. His parents arranged for him to help the sick in an American clinic, although he does not study medicine at all. Just for life experience. And so he showed himself so well that once a doctor invited him to assist in the operating room. The child was greatly impressed, and he wrote a very large essay about what human life is. After all, on the one hand, this is a very beautiful story about how people save lives. And on the other – a very ugly story: blood, physiological manipulations, the insides open... Someone, seeing a faded flower, will say: “This is how life goes,” and another will say: “Oh, look, weed!”. So it all depends on the eye of the beholder...

Pas de deux

The opera or ballet act lasts at least 50 minutes. The modern viewer is no longer able to sit out so much – after 45 minutes everything should be stopped. If it depends on me, then I cut out something from the production. We must understand that we all already live in the world of gadgets, this does not change. And the age limits that they are putting on posters now are absolute nonsense, because today every child has a phone in his hands, which means he will find and look at all the bad things in the world. In these circumstances, the age limit in the theater – just hypocrisy. If you do not teach a child to sit through a symphony concert, at least one act of an opera or ballet, then later it will be difficult. Today, theaters such as Bolshoi, La Scala, Covent Garden, stand apart because 99% of viewers come there to take a selfie and check in.. And this is a disaster! People who simply earn money from them are allowed to manage theaters, and this is everywhere in the world. At the Bolshoi Theater, a generation of fans were killed by depriving them of the opportunity to go to shows every day: they could not afford to buy expensive tickets! There used to be a pass system – these people sat in some uncomfortable places, someone even stood, but they lived by this! And today, as an artist, you are deprived of a real viewer. Moreover, one of the most serious ballet critics in the world – Clement Crisp – no longer writes in the Financial Times: reviews have ceased to appear there. They switched to a rating system with points, asterisks, and he declared that he did not want to do this. But before this edition influenced the entire world theatrical palette! All this means that the system ate itself. Each epoch has a turning point when everything must start in a new way, and we are now living through this moment of turning point. Galina Vishnevskaya in her book writes in great detail that “we sing for two-three people in the hall, who were at the last performance, and before last, and will be in a month, who compare myself with me”. I do not know what the next generation is waiting for, because today in the flow of information it is almost impossible to become really interesting, to become a star. Now each apartment has at least 150 channels, and if there is also satellite TV, then a thousand, and you can constantly jump from channel to channel. But the worst thing that has appeared is the rating. Therefore, I have said many times that I would not like to be an artist now. I managed to enter the last door of the last train of the train leaving for eternity, and became the last star of the Bolshoi Theater on a national scale.


Now at the entrance exam, children do what they used to do in high school. Sometimes unrealistically gifted children come to us, but it’s simply impossible to keep their attention. Very infantile, boys are emotionally behind in the development of the year by four, although they are often very physically superior to us at the same age. My students now at the age of 15 do what I did at 19, 20, but their emotional (non-mental) development is at the level of 12 years. And it is amazing that they are familiar with many things thanks to physiology: they, for example, have experience of physical love, experience of far from first relationships, and the experience of being in love has not yet come. I am very surprised by this, because they have everything differently. Somehow I tried to explain to girls that Juliet first married and then lost her innocence. And they could not understand what the intrigue is, why she, unhappy, was so tormented!

Because the understanding of this in the modern world is lost, there is nothing sacred about it. Psychology has changed, and much can no longer be explained. For example, why didn’t Romeo deliver the message in time: “And why,” they ask, “could an sms not be sent?”


The major literary works, which are considered world classics, were composed by Christian authors. And they often punished their heroes according to the laws of the Bible. We cannot fail to take this into account, especially today, when they are rewriting the plots of old performances, making films, destroying concepts... I ran into this when Rolan Petit staged The Queen of Spades. He was very resistant to making the ending exactly according to Pushkin. And I tried to explain to him: you are Catholic, and Pushkin is Orthodox, if in the Catholic faith the heaviest punishment is death, then the Orthodox have the heaviest punishment – not death, but deprivation of mind. And Pushkin does not kill Herman, he concludes him in a mental hospital. Therefore, every time I try to make the children think what the meaning of the work is.

Especially in the romantic ballet, where in general every detail is with meaning. The sylph flies from a certain place, it is not by chance that it comes from the right corner, she has peacock eyes on her wings – every little thing with a million subtexts, and the viewers of the XIX century did not need to explain them. The viewer of the twentieth century already have to explain that in Giselle, for example, Earl Albert was in his own village to have fun with a girl, who was his private property, but in order to pull this off, he dressed as a peasant. Giselle in general occupies a special place in the history of ballet, because the second act appeared in it – the count's repentance. According to the laws of romantic ballet, the negative hero did not have the right to classical dance: only a positive hero could dance classical dance! That is why the entire first act Albert wears characteristic shoes and only in the second act, receiving forgiveness and redemption, acquires the right to classical variation. Although to this day a huge number of people are confident that this is a love work, and not a social drama. I ask each child a question: “Why does the myrtle branch break? Love? There is no love! He has a cross on his chest and a cross behind him, he is surrounded by Christianity, and she is from the other world.” It is a pity that the understanding of such subtleties is lost and works of art lose their value...

Of course, Russia is huge and there they choose from a huge number of children, but Azerbaijan is much smaller, and here it is chosen from a much smaller number. If we take in school about sixty children, then we understand that at best ten are nothing, and the rest are so-so, and, unfortunately, this has always been the case. Ballet data is the rarest, because ballet needs a very good figure and good coordination, and this is rarely seen lately, because many are born through a cesarean section. Certainly, such a birth injury is not good for the brain, and coordination – it is primarily the brain. And also musicality is the most difficult. There are four types of hearing: hearing when you hear and can write; a rumor when you can play a musical instrument; hearing when you can sing – coordination of hearing and voice; and hearing, when you can move, is the rarest kind of hearing. I am not a supporter of master classes in general, although I spent a couple of classes at the Baku Academy of Choreography and at the Azerbaijan Gymnastics Federation. This can be interesting for teachers, but one can speak about the result only if they gave children for a certain period of study. And so – just a famous person came to them, held a lesson, maybe it was interesting, maybe hard, but you can’t talk about the result.

Interview by Leyla Sultanzadeh

Photo by Khalid Zeynalov

Thanks to the administration of the Baku State Circus and the management of the Baku Academy of Choreography for their help in organizing the shooting

The material was published in the 59th issue.