Mihai Babuşka - Interview

I know you don't like to talk about yourself and your successes. You were telling me some time ago about a certain maturation of verbal expression that, with dancers, develops in time in parallel with motile expression. I noticed that we, dancers, do a lot of things instinctively, without theorizing them: we don't think in words, but in movements, dimensions, images. It is difficult for me to express myself in words, I would express in movements rather than in words what I see, what I feel. Which side of your career seems to you more important, that of a dancer, pedagogue, choreographer, or department head with the National Opera? I love dance in general. I am still trying to hold on to my career as a dancer, and adjust to the physical and biological limitations of my age. My ligaments and spine are not so flexible as they used to be, but one mustn't lose contact with the stage. In the entire accumulation of experience, something pushes you from the back, a force that has to come into view which sometimes bursts out. To be a choreographer is a matter of time, it is a complex thing. I am an artist who wants to convey something through his work, and I don't like to blow my own trumpet about being a ballet chief. I am a man who loves ballet and has something to say in his art. What are the basic coordinates of your artistic activity? The love for dance, the respect for my colleagues' work, and an aspiration to a high quality of the things done together. A choreographer, besides his own, personal experience as a dancer, also needs an organization of the choreographic science… First of all, to be a choreographer is a gift coming from somewhere, as in sculpture or painting, it is an unfathomable bond to divineness. If you add to it musical culture, a science of dance, the study of great dance creators from Petipa to MacMillan, from Bournonville to Grigorovici, you begin to shape a language. In recent years you have changed your role range, you took up another register, and I feel you're doing it wisely and without regret, as you don't cling to a Prince posture. I don't want to become ridiculous, as happens to others. I love dance, and that's what matters. It is important to understand your body, to understand your physical shape, and to have a sense of the ridiculous, actually common sense. I don't think the audience wants to see an old dancer. Even if we train ourselves conscientiously in the rehearsal room, the body will confess to the audience, it will disclose to them secrets we would like to conceal. You graduated from the BalletAcademy at the Bolshoi in 1977. Is it such a substantial school as to allow you to live on the experience accumulated therein for the rest of your career? It is a solid basis. To one's career, it is a serious foundation, a very strong construction. It is not only the school itself, but the whole atmosphere, the industry, that respiration that surrounds the school and the theater, that magic of life dedicated to art – all these are things that remain. However, it is not enough, one must move on, meet choreographers, try to understand their mechanisms. After all, the Russian school is only a school: presently, I believe it is the best school in the world, because it develops the musculature and gives you a rigorous technique, but from the point of view of the repertoire, the Bolshoi has somehow remained confined to conservatism. I for one had the chance to meet Western choreographers, and later the explosion of information on video cassettes and TV channels contributed to the broadening of my horizon… You took over the leadership of the National Opera ballet company at a difficult moment marked especially by depopulation – to be exact there were few dancers left you could rely on. What or whom are you relying on right now? The main crisis Romanian dance – and generally Romanian ballet companies – are going through now is one of mentality and artistic scope – these are the key problems. The financial situation has also left its mark on the structure and quality of the troupe. Right now I am striving to recover the confidence in the future for our ballet dancers and to determine them to believe in what they are doing. It is true that sometimes my exigency makes them feel uncomfortable, but the time is over when it was all a walk from left to right and explorations of all kinds… The company must revert to normal standards. As you raise many youths, as a pedagogue, you are in the position to make up for deficiencies acquired in school. How do you intend to improve the situation? Lately I have counted a lot on young people, and even if some debuts were not extraordinary, they have enough time to make progress. A 19-year-old does not come with complete instruction from school, therefore he will learn on the move. My chance is to know and see who can do what while training them, and I demonstrated that most of the times I bet on the winning horse. I shall continue to rely on young people, and the product that makes it to the stage will be more and more competitive internationally. Cinderella was your first big show, entirely your own, including stage direction, libretto, and choreography; it was not a remake or adaptation after Petipa or anyone else. It was also a tour de force as far as the rhythm of production was concerned. Generally I work very slowly. I had never thought I would do Cinderella. I was listening to a different kind of music, I was thinking and feeling other things. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, I had to stage the show because we were hard-pressed for time and the impresario was requiring this title for the impending tour. I had already danced in a stale, boring, sad version of Cinderella during which one could sleep like a baby for three hours. Therefore, I knew the music and, after listening to it again and again, I began to live it. Then it all came naturally. Some passages I didn't even want to do came out quite easily; others, which were pretty clear in my mind, took days, nights, weeks. With Corina, you have been known for years as Pygmalion and Galatea. How is it to extend home your life on stage?  If it hadn't been for Corina, there are many things I would have never done – Cinderella included! I have visions, I think fast, and she jots them down. My neighbor living on the floor underneath is going mad because her lamp is swinging continually. In the living room, I do ballet steps and leaps, so I had to replace the lamp I kept bashing my head against with ceiling lights. When I prepare a choreography, Corina spends day and night writing down (we have many tomes!), she also draws, and sometimes we squabble because I speak too fast and she cannot catch all I'm saying. Anyway, I feel Corina is part of me. And she is a hand – more right than my right hand. Besides, she served me excellently when we danced together. As a prime soloist, I danced with Corina; as a pedagogue, I worked with Corina, and thus she attained the performances of today; now, as a creator, I can express myself more easily through Corina. But it was a great pleasure to work with Loredana Salaoru, Horaţiu Cherecheş, Ovidiu Matei Iancu, Eugen Dobrescu as well – and I hope there will be others too. What role did good fortune play in your career? Do you consider yourself lucky? I think life offers you a series of opportunities you must exploit, but work comes first, not luck. Even if at some moments you don't have a chance, if you keep trying you can't fail. What is your greatest achievement so far, and in which sphere of your activity? This is a hard one. I cannot say I love one thing more than another. I love my profession, I love art. Some say we sacrificed for it – it's not true: it is for it that I have lived and breathed. I truly believe in everything I did, even if I did not like it. Occasionally I had to dance something I didn't like, but this helped too. I know you are planning a few smaller works. While staging a ballet, you always cook up another, prospective one… I listen to a lot of music of many different kinds. I let things settle down for a long time before I find the score that conveys what I want. It happened to Palladio, which stayed three years in the drawer only to be ready in two weeks. The same happened to the music for Transhumance Pas-de-deux, in which I intended to prove that folk music speaks a universal language that can be danced anywhere in the world, without making it necessary to render stylized Romanian steps. I recently saw a choreography made by an American on panpipe music played by Gheorghe Zamfir, which I consider the most beautiful thing done on Romanian folk music. That man felt the respiration of the panpipe, and passed it on to the movement of the body – he was sensational! And a reporter's question: which thoughts are you taking with you on the tour in the Netherlands at the end of 2002? The thoughts one begins with any performance. I am glad that the offers have reappeared after a long time, that this troupe is winning the impresarios' confidence again. Secondly, I consider we represent a culture, therefore we should make a good impression to erase the vestiges left behind by some of our compatriots, to be the spiritual ambassadors of this geographic region.

by Vivia Săndulescu