George Iancu - Interview

The stars of ballet travel almost ceaselessly: Paris today, Rome or Buenos Aires tomorrow, then prepare for a new destination. Gheorghe Iancu, dancer of Romanian origin, settled in Milan 24 years ago, is one of these "Guest Stars".His body's sculptural perfection, his rigorous gestures, perfect and yet suggesting mysteries, his sensuality and passion made the critics declare in 1982: a second Rudolf Nureyev is born. After a 15-year partnership with Carla Fracci, Gheorghe Iancu decided to approach another dimension of his personality, the choreographic one. In 1996, he signed the "Macbeth" opera show's choreography, under the direction of Pier Luigi Pizzi for the season's opening at the Verona 'Arenas'.In 1997 he created the show "Richard III" within a world-wide project organized with the Rovigo Theatre. In 1999 he signed Aida's choreography for the Verona Arenas.This year, the magazine "Danza & Danza" granted him the award for the best Italian choreography of the 2000-2001 season for the ballet show "Donne", after "The Sisters" by Chekhov.The president of Romania has just offered G. Iancu a prestigious decoration, Knight Rank Star of Romania. On this special occasion, G. Iancu has amiably agreed to talk to me for a few hours. You've been considered "the prince" of ballet for years now. Maybe an unfair history has made you totally unknown to us, the people back home. So let me ask you my first question. Have you ever performed at Bucharest Opera House?I've danced on the Opera stage ever since school. After I got the Varna Award (the bronze medal), the prima ballerinas and the managers back then noticed me…in a way, they decided my destiny. My debut happened very fast, in "SwanLake", with Ileana Iliescu. The show, prepared by the maestro Oleg Danovski, was a great success. There weren't too many performances, but I became confident in my future. I had never thought I was going to have such a career, maybe that was actually my success in itself. I didn't want to be like anyone else.How did you discover ballet?Three years ago, I decided to come to Bucharest for the week-end. I didn't want people to find out about it because I wanted to see the places of my childhood again. And the first place I went to was the ChoreographicHigh School on Lemnea Street because it was there that I spent the best years of my childhood. Perhaps my destiny as a ballet-dancer was set because my mother had seen every one of Gabriel Popescu's performances and then she decided, in fact, she dreamt, because fate was the one that decided her son would become a ballet dancer. One summer day, as I was playing football, my mother took me by the hand to this ChoreographicHigh School. It didn't mean anything to me, I can't say that I felt the need to dance as a child. I suddenly woke up in a fairy tale like castle.Did any of the pupils want to abandon school, at some point, because of the teachers' hard discipline and strictness?Well, I think that strictness is necessary in classical dancing because the child has to deal with a very hard, a difficult technique. But I've always felt, beyond strictness, an enormous love from my teachers. Those who have never entered this school could never understand what it was like for us. We were children whose backgrounds were very humble, our parents were simple people. I've livedthere for 9 years from 8 o'clock in the morning to 10 o'clock in the evening, beside some extraordinary teachers. The things I learned from them and the way they got close to me and raised me are unique. I have never seen anything alike in the whole world. Two names are written in all the booklets of the world's greatest theatres: Constantin Marinescu and Miriam Răducanu. They have shaped my spine, artistically speaking.What made you leave the country for good? Because I know you had had short contracts before 1980 and still you used to come back…In 1980 I had the distinct feeling that I would not be able to go abroad anymore because I hadn't done my military service. It would have been a great tragedy for me, because 1 year and 4 months in the army would have meant the end of my career. We were the first generation of professional dancers who had to apply to this stupid rule. So I decided to face the world. I didn't know what was going to happen to me. I was lucky enough as to meet Carla Fracci, the great star of the world ballet. I've danced only with her for 15 years, traveling all over the world.Was it a re-make of the famous couple Margot Fonteyn-Rudolf Nureyev?The very moment I met Carla, this myth of the perfect couple was born. We performed in every theatre in the world : The Metropolitan, The Scala of Milan, Covent Garden, Tokyo, Osaka, the Collone Theatre in Argentina. It was my international recognition.You've always been compared to Nureyev. Have you ever met on stage ?I met Nureyev after I had left the country. I danced with him and under his choreographic supervision. It's true that a certain rivalry was born between us. He had danced with Carla for a long time… We were in a constant competition, especially in the gala shows. But I respected him because he's the most important dancer of the last century; he enhanced the male dancer's dignity, because before him the male dancers had been regarded only as carriers. We can speak now of male Guest Stars who are even more famous than the prima ballerinas.What made you go in a different direction at the peak of your career?I felt the need at a certain point to break away from Carla and have a career on my own. That's how I started creating shows in every theatre. M. Răducanu taught me to have no prejudices. I loved classical dancing, as well as the modern and character ones, without discrimination. The dance has no limits for me. If it's well done, it is important and beautiful in every one of its forms.One of your vast projects in Italy was called "Richard III", a show inspired by the Shakespearian tragedy. Was it completely different from what had been created by then?The essential part of an artist is an extremely diverse personality. Maybe that's also a reason why we're different from other people. We give life to so many characters: we are beautiful, ugly, mean, happy, and unhappy. That's the beauty of art. Nature has been generous to me. It gave me an appearance that was considered beautiful by some people. That's why, in a certain way, I was influenced by this physical beauty that the others saw in me, a beauty I've never been aware of. Since my career began with parts from the classical repertoire, I became 'the beautiful one' for the public, 'the prince' as you said. But at a certain point in my career it so happened that I performed Iago in "Othello", a ballet signed by John Butler. It was a bigger success than the parts in which I played kind and beautiful princes. My interpretation of Iago surprised me. I asked myself if I hadEvil in me.The ego or the ultimate, the real identity of man is his conscience, and everything that happens outside or within knocks on its door. Did you feel the need of an insight ?I wanted the public to perceive my soul's complexity. That's why, when the theatre of Rovigo asked for a project for the 1996-1997 season's re-opening, I pulled out of my drawer the project I had been thinking about for years: a ballet after "Richard III". I was afraid at first, but I've always faced difficult parts along my career. It was a challenge. But that's what makes an artist's life interesting. I always tend to do difficult things.The great Shakespearian tragedies are filled with inner conflicts: within these conflicts, the split personality complex is an important issue. Which one of the character's dimensions impressed you the most ?I think that Shakespeare's greatness consists in having created a terrible character, whose charm captivates one, as well as every character around him. I've asked myself why evil in itself fascinates us. Maybe because there's evil in every one of us. We express it more or less, it depends on our education. This duality is caused by the fact that this character didn't feel loved. That could explain his meanness.But is it alright to love a negative character? And I'm thinking of the world's great dictators…Perhaps, because it develops that incredible negativity, that thirst for power which is a modern, contemporary topic. That's what's been happening nowadays. The thirst for absolute power exists in all of us. Maybe the need to be loved makes us want absolute power at all costs. That one month, when I created the character, I spent my whole life in the theatre. We've all lived there together for a month. We shared the creation. Nothing related to the day-to-day life ever touched us during that time. Creating is like a drug to us. The world dilates, moves away from the stage and everything is being centered in this magical space which is the stage. You forget where you are, in what country, in which city. While working with dozens of people, coordinating them, I felt like a god. The theatre gives me the illusion – like in Richard's case – of having absolute power. It could look like a sacrifice for art's sake, but it's not, because it becomes a pleasure, a way of life.Rovigo has a small theatre, built in the Italian style. The stage isn't that big, but the room is warm and welcoming. How long did it take to create this show ?Rovigo is a provincial town, but small miracles of the theatrical world can happen there sometimes. A production like "Richard III", which was an enormous theatrical mechanism put on stage with substantial help from all over the world, is normally done only in big theatres : La Scala of Milan, "La Fenice" Theatre or "San Carlo" of Naples. They've got lots of money. But this town's history isrelated to the story of a group of dancers who went to the ReggioEmiliaDancingSchool, which was founded by Liliana Cosi and Marinel Ştefănescu. They were this school's first pupils and when they graduated, they founded a small association, and with great passion they started their first productions, hiring various choreographers. They had been asking me to join them for years. Their enthusiasm convinced me and I finally gave up my arrangements that were taking me on the world's greatest stages and I started to dedicate myself to them. The Rovigo theatre supported this association of young dancers and I was asked for a major production. That's when I remembered this project I had been keeping in my drawer for many years. It was a very ambitious project, a bet with myself, because it's not easy to face a Shakespearian text as complicated as this one, in which the word counts the most. The project was so daring it even surprised the theatre's managers. I told them: 'You are a small town. Let's bring the world of art here. Let's make this theatre famous. Let's give this project its well-deserved greatness through the personalities we're going to invite.'Who worked with you?Obviously, my first thought went to Monique Loudière, with whom I had worked before. Etoile de l'Opera de Paris, Monique had, besides the French school technique, the most important thing of all: charisma. She's one of those artists who, even if they don't do anything, they've got an aura that only few possess. I'm less interested in a dancer's execution, the spinning, the jumping. Of course, it's beautiful. But I'm ecstatic about someone who has artistic intelligence, who builds the character almost unwillingly, out of instinct. Monique has this talent. The setting's author, Luiza Spinelli, was there for me, creating the settings and the costumes, and not in the least, Marco Tuttino, one of the young Italian composers.How much does this kind of an enterprise cost?A project as complex as this one is terribly expensive, but an opera project costs even more, for example. Italy is a country with great tradition in opera. All the investments are made in this area and it's normal for the ballet to be the younger sister of the lyrical opera. In a project such as this one, the costs are very big because a huge machinery is being put on stage: a live orchestra, a ballet troupe which is not stable, but especially created for this event. That's what I did at Rovigo, I gave an audition and I created the "Fabula saltica" group, but most of all, I invited the "étoile" performers I was talking about.Richard is a script author, a high-class director. The inner conflict has an important significance in what separates the essence, the reality, from the appearance and the lie. How did you solve this conflict?I wanted the show to have an original atmosphere and the spectator to be permanently transported between dream and reality. That's why the characters die and then come back sometimes. It's like an universe in itself, the history begins all over again and the spectator re-lives it infinitely. A nightmare within a nightmare.The opening image is very powerful. Why did you choose the idea of the elastic fabric?I was drawn to the possibility of working the forms in the sculptural manner. I developed the elastic fabric idea in all of my shows. And maybe that's because during my childhood, in the '70s, I saw some choreographies elaborated by my teacher, Miriam Răducanu, with elastic fabric. The show begins with Richard's ghosts, which are placed under an enormous elastic fabric all over the stage. This elastic magma comes out little by little from the palace filled with Richard's victims, invading the stage. It was very difficult for the dancers to comprehend the message, but I was thrilled to discover how this magma was being born; it was sculpting a big piece of marble. It took days of intense work, many video projections, in order for them to understand my intentions.Luiza Spinelli was a constant co-worker of Strehler's. Have you known her for a long time ?Almost all of my creations have been elaborated with her. In creating the stage for "Richard", we had numerous meetings because I wanted a stage invaded by the setting. In the stage-designing tradition of ballets, a stage that leaves enough space for the dancers' evolutions is being built. This time I felt the need, maybe because the tragedy is so dark, to invade the stage with an overwhelming stage design that would suffocate my space, in order to use it as a labyrinth symbolizing a medieval war machinery. That's why it's a wooden beamed construction, with mobile bridges and the choreography is vertically built, but at the same time, the characters appear and disappear through the doors, bridges, ladders, with an unusual quickness for a stage.A huge establishment in ruin.Exactly. The setting represents a palace's side sustained by beams, a palace that could crash at any second. It's the metaphor of power, which is so ephemeral. It gives us the illusion that we are strong, but history proved that every rise has its fall, and a vertiginous one. Luckily, there's always the hope of re-birth after each crash that takes us to death, to self-destruction.Maybe that's part of the human nature.And I think that the choice of what we should be – the beauty or the beast, comes from within ourselves.

by Silvia Ciurescu