Marinel Ştefănescu - Interview, 2000

Marinel Ştefănescu graduated from the Choreographic School in Bucharest. He is awarded the 1st prize at the International Contest in Varna and the Special prize of the International Contest in Moscow. He becomes first dancer of the Opera House in Bucharest, being invited several times to the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow and the Kirov Theatre in St. Petersburg. He creates pieces of choreography from the age of 17. He defines his style as follows: "The music of a genuine artist inspires me every time, I'm trying to reach the purity of his soul." In 1972 he settles in Italy. Together with Liliana Cosi, ballet star at La Scala in Milan, he founds in 1978 the company "Associazione Balletto Classico – Liliana Cosi and Marinel Ştefănescu" and the school bearing their names in Reggio Emilia, Italy. The performances are created at the center in Reggio Emilia in specific locations: ballet halls, scene painting hall, hardware storehouses, scenery and costume tailoring. Every year the company has around 70 shows in Italy and at least one international tour, now totaling over 1600 shows in more than 350 cities in Europe, Japan, America, China and the Middle East. Most of the teachers at the ReggioEmiliaSchool are former stars of Romanian ballet. Marinel Ştefănescu has had a new passion for a few years now: painting. He came back to Romania in order to take part in the varnishing of his exhibitions at the Opera House and the "Apollo" Gallery. "I've been waiting anxiously for you, Marinel. This is a special moment both for Ileana Iliescu, whose partner you were, and for me, as an old schoolmate, a moment evoking the beautiful years of our youth. How are you living this moment now, after nearly 30 years?" "I am very moved. On entering this little park in front of the Opera I remembered the love between 19 and 25, I relived the impressions of my most beautiful years of glory, potency and youth." "Were you expecting this?" "An artist can express his emotions at any age. I feel effervescent and nervous because it's not easy to play around with debuts anymore when you're 54, I'm referring to my paintings with their two varnishing days at the Opera and the "Apollo" Gallery, and because of the eternal butterflies in one's stomach when having to stage two performances at the Opera with one's own company." "You have taken on a new path in life, I understand." "Painting has always been in the picture for me. It may be that the movement in space, the outline, the choreography, probably the 24 years that I have created and done the lights for the show have made me take up painting. But the decisive moment was in 1997, when because of health problems I gave up dancing for good; I had to because of a paresis… but there must be something nicer to talk about. I'm sure that had I not done this, I would've been a finished, because I was more than a fanatic, in the first 18 months I drew, I painted 6-7 paintings a night and I had the guts to bring the first of them here." "Actually, your tumultuous life has now emerged on the canvas." "Yes, they are actually states of mind. I feel the color, when, let's say, I don't have the schooling. And an instinct of the hands. Actually the last canvases I created only with my fingers, with hands… I actually moved the matter and blended the colors." "You created a new choreography." "Yes, that's right!, but that one remains eternal. I'm sure, however, that one day my painting will be classical. I have named my exhibition "Waiting for the new times"." "What about meeting old colleagues?" "This meeting is something very complex, which combines with the memory of those who are with us no more, an "invisible" meeting. You can actually find the answer in my paintings' exhibition, now at the Opera. I dedicate this exhibition to my masters, my former colleagues, maybe also to the young ones of today. To all those that have lived, loved and died under the unfortunate conditions of the stage art. That is actually why I have chosen certain works linked to the dramatic environment, to the theatre's atmosphere, its mysteries, to its sorrows and melodramas…" "With a view to long-term endurance in front of artistic and material difficulties, the company "Associazzione Balletto Classico" has already got important history. Doing a ballet company so soon after having left Romania seems a pioneer's adventure." "Yes, from 1974, when founded, to this day, the company has enjoyed constant success. It's a miracle both for the Italians and in Europe. I've never seen something like this before. We can remember various companies in our youth days, like Sandler's Wells, Royal Ballet, who quickly changed their orientation or forgot the respect for the classic." "Is this "respect for the classic" that important?" "I myself will never lose it. For me, Classic equals Perfection, Eternity, today's Perfection, tomorrow's. I love the classic. The classic is my life. I prefer classical music. Many friends ask me why I don't create on the music of our contemporaries. No! I prefer the classics. They give me perfection. Like in painting, no one can paint better than Rembrandt, no one can compose better than Mozart. You only have to find your way, your own track. But the most classical things are also the most modern. They were all modern in the beginning, in their age, Tchaikovsky, Skriabin, Beethoven. When we went to the Festival in Costa Rica or in Brussels, all the critics said the following: it's the only company that produced new classic works (we remade "SwanLake", "Don Quixote"), furthermore, on diverse musical pieces, symphonic, concerts. A company that has no competition. Because there is no other in the world that would put on present-day "classic" or "neoclassic" with the virtuosity, the technique, the lights and everything else modern in the performing world. I sign the choreography, the scene painting and the direction, so there can be no exceptions…" "When did you set out on the world's stages?" "Before finishing school, I was sent to the International Contest at Varna. It was a group of 12 students, Cristina Saru (who settled in the United States almost 30 years ago) and me surpassed the grades. But I was 17 and Cristina 16. Ulanova called us and said it was a bit undiplomatic for us kids to take the medals, but she said that if we came the next year, we would surely win a medal. In the last decisive school year, I was having disastrous grades. My form master called me and said that should I not pass my baccalaureate: bye-bye Varna. So I started learning. I passed my baccalaureate on 6 July and they gave me the ticket for Varna. The others had left a few days before. At the time I asked my colleague, Pavel Rotaru (settled in the United States for 25 years – founder of the "Pavel Rotaru" company in Atlanta) to pull my contest number and when I got there I saw it was 13. All the Americans said, oh my god!… But what do you know, number 13 got into the final, the only Romanian, with Cristina Saru, of course, and in the final there was the surprise!… I got the highest grade, 12 points. But because another young man had got the same grade, i.e. Baryshnikov, I had to share my prize with him. Of course, it wasn't too difficult to find two diplomas that night, but we had to have our medal cut in two, I one half, Baryshnikov the other." "How old was Mikhail Baryshnikov?" "He was a year younger than me. It was the most ravishing contest, the toughest competition, think about it, there was Vladimirov with "The Flames of Paris", Baryshnikov with "The Flames of Paris", Ivan Marko, Ivan Naghi and I with "The Flames of Paris"…This was a huge surprise. The head of the commission was Ulanova, then there were Alicia Alonso and Erik Bruhne. All of them told me that decisive in my case was the very varied contest program." "This medal made you leave Romania?" "Definitely not! I came back to Romania and was sent to Iaşi, despite my medal. Because there was this great tragedy in my life. Few people know that ever since I got into ChoreographySchool, everyone was saying, "Gabriel Popescu's nephew". When I went to Varna in 1965, you realize who Gabriel Popescu's nephew was, he had just applied for political asylum, had just then fled to Paris. Let's get back to Iaşi. I had some wonderful colleagues there. However, they taught me that if I wanted to leave for Bucharest as soon as possible, I'd better not take the keys to the apartment I had been distributed. And then I went on strike a little bit. I went to sleep in the railway station, so the police would see me. This was found out immediately by the Ministry, and I was indeed called immediately to Bucharest. But I was losing all the touring. I went to the airport 27 times and I would come home because I wasn't being given the visa, not even for Cuba could I get one, think about it, how could I ever have fled from Cuba… But I have to admit that those years at the Romanian Opera were my most beautiful." "So how did you leave then?" "One time I had the guts to ask for a meeting with Ceauşescu. Of course he didn't receive me himself, but someone else from the Council of Ministers. He asked me in and enquired, what's with the hair. I had it long, like any dancer. He looked at me quite amazed and said he couldn't help me in any way. This is where Ceauşescu showed up. He asked me into his office, listened to me and started making phone calls. I could hear him saying: 'Yes, alright, but what can he do about it, if his uncle wants to kill me, he can do it with him here as well.' He hung up and told me: 'Have a safe trip!' And this is how I went to Bordeaux for the first time… Yes, indeed, it was the most beautiful period in my life.""Marinel, how do you find Romania now?" "In the last 5 years I've been extremely discreet in Italy as well. I enter the theatre, give no interviews, what I'm doing now is very special…My company contains extraordinary people with a lot of ballet culture. I don't know whether they've got extraordinary qualities, but this doesn't matter to me. What matters is for me to look into their eyes when I am building the exercises and to see that flame of mine reflected, because it is you, the performer, who create what the artist before you has in mind. I can't say the city moves me, but rather the nature, the air. I'm very sensitive to smells. On entering the Opera, I could feel its specific smell from 30 years ago, I can't really put my finger on it, but it surely is that smell." "How do you see your future?" "I think I am the only person who doesn't expect anything from the future. I respect God immensely and the first thing I say when I wake up in the morning is: 'Thank you, God. I have woken up!'"

by Silvia Ciurescu