Young Dancers In Thier Prime - A Conversation With Betty Lux And Călin Hanţiu

Reporter: You returned to the company that made you famous, the company that you are emotionally attached to and where we hope you will return. I'd suggest that we should evoke the circumstances in which you arrived at the Ballet Company called Fantasio then [in the 80's].Betty Lux: It was a period of probation for the Ballet Theatre, which had an incredible statute for those years. I was employed at the Opera House in Timişoara after graduation and, as in any opera, there were conflicts between generations. It was very difficult for me to assert myself at that age [18 years old].R.: Did this company, founded in that period, create opportunities for the young dancers?B.L.: It represented a solution for three generations of graduates who, upon finishing studies, remained unemployed because all the jobs at all the opera houses in the country were filled (the ballet dancers didn't have the retirement age). Among these there were eight graduates of the BalletAcademy in Moscow. All these dancers and all the talented people would have been lost if this company hadn't existed, it was a solution… There were a few small travels and contracts with former GDR and, more difficult, with Yugoslavia, but the youngsters were desperate, they wanted to practice their job and this solution got us out of the deadlock.R.: You were coming from Moscow after one year of training with great professors. Could you recall that period?B.L.: In Moscow I had the chance of having as professors former great dancers, my classical dance professor was Eva Kuznetsova, prima ballerina at Bolshoi and the other professors were also known in Western Europe: Grigorovich, Vasiliev, names familiar to entire generations.R.: I think in Moscow there were people who had a strong belief in their identity and worth. Did this awareness somehow differentiate the Romanian ballet from the Soviet dance world? B.L.: Now I see things in a different way than I did at that time… The level was not the same because they have a 200 year tradition, however, in our country the mentality was much different, too.R.: Which of the Romanian dancers was your colleague in Moscow?B.L.: Mihai Babuşca, Judith Turos, Cristina Teodorescu, Francisc Strnad, Stela Petre…R.: Some of them were quickly integrated in the seasons of the theatre in Constanţa.B.L.: Most of them worked there because, as I have said earlier, the positions were filled and perhaps I might as well have come to this company the first year, because my mother wanted me very much to be near her, but at the Opera House in Timişoara the maestro Gârbă fired a dancer to hire me. Of course, I knew nothing of this then.R.: In Timişoara you met your husband and partner Dumitru Manolache Lux… B.L.: Yes, I did and due to him I could break away from Timişoara, because he believed in this company, while quite a number of professionals didn't think it would work. It was a real revolution for that time.R.: Twenty-five years have passed since this company was founded and it is still working, at present also as theatre, the only theatre of this genre in Romania. Let's return to those first years and to your experiences after you got hired. What happened then?B.L.: All the ballet dancers had a high level and the atmosphere was propitious in this company, as all of us were of the same age and of the same generation, our only goal was to work and dance well.R.: It was a kind of a project in the modern sense of the term, it was a first project different from the opera plays, which can be described as plays obstructed by a strong conflict between generations of dancers. Here, the young dancers were in their prime and gained power quickly. What did this power mean? You could embark on a race of performance and of exceeding one's limits.B.L.: This was its greatest asset, for it gave everyone a chance. Those who had the necessary power of working got on stage as well. It was an extraordinary work environment, for I worked passionately, I came to the ballet room passionately, there was no day, night, time, break. We lived in our own world…R.: Together with Călin Hanţiu you were the first soloists of Fantasio Theatre and you established the status of "star dancer", that kind of personal quest and adventure that leads one towards the limelight, since you were great names of this company. I suggest we should reconstitute what happened in this company's various phases of development, through the relationship with its founder and mentor, maestro Oleg Danovski, but also the area of artistic and professional relations that emanated from this company and that enabled you to become famous on a very large area. On the other hand it is interesting to reconstitute a world of dance that evolves around the company and at the same time a state of mind and a spirit of competition inside it in order to remain on top and gain recognition in the new performances. Which were the first performance and the first tour that you undertook?Călin Hanţiu: The first time I saw the company was in Cluj with the show The Spring of Dance. It was a show that seduced me and I saw that they were very well trained.B.L.: The show was classically Chopinian in the first part and in the second part there was a recital with several modern acts.R.: I find similarities with the notion of project that we are dealing with at present. It is a company that appeared as an artistic project then, in 1978.C.H.: It is a project conceived by the maestro as a result of his leaving the Opera House in Bucharest. In 1979 they danced in a coupe formula under the title The Spring of Dance, with choreographic miniatures. Scenes from The Corsair, The Romanian Rhapsody had already been created, the duets from The Nutcracker with Doina Axinte and Florin Brânduşe. It was a period of one year and a half in which the maestro succeeded in organizing the repertoire. Basically the ensemble appeared as a result of a crisis situation in which quite a lot of ballet dancers didn't have jobs at the opera houses in the country.R.: It was something new as far as the cultural life offered by the big institutional ensembles is concerned because firstly, it was a company made up exclusively of very young dancers.C.H.: Except for Florin Brânduşe and Adrian Robos, all of them were twenty or a little over. None of the dancers were over thirty, which was ideal for a dance company. All of the people that were employed in this ensemble wanted first of all to make a career.R.: Let's reconstitute then who was in the first line.C.H.: From the ensemble were Judith Turos, now at the Bavarian Ballet, Doina Axinte, Florin Brânduşe, Adrian Robos, Delia Buzoescu… The first performance took place at the American Library in Bucharest. The first great performance was Swan Lake in which Betty Lux danced, too. She was coming from the opera house in Timişoara hoping to escape the canons of the old theatres. B.L.: At twenty I was confronted with the hardest role of classical dance. I can say that I performed it freely as far as the qualitative and artistic aspects are concerned. I was minding only the technique and the correctness.C.H.: I made my début with Swan Lake in Constanţa torturing Doina Axinte, my partneR. I think I was fortunate to have ambitions, I was an adventureR. Also in Cluj, I immersed among five other dancers who were very good professionals but who were waiting for favorable circumstances to dance a pas de deux because they were not registered on the payroll as soloists.R.: What event from that period imprinted upon your memory?B.L.: The repetitions with maestro Danovski for Swan Lake took place on the stage of Fantasio, a stage that was not ideal for this type of ballet, but the quality that we got there was exceptional. C.H.: Especially for me who made the début with the Buffoon. At the premiere you had the impression you were at Bolshoi.B.L.: The working environment illustrates the saying that the man makes the place holy. Those who find excuses claiming they don't have one thing or another are wrong. We had a very small ballet room and we sweated day and night there. We came from an opera house schedule to no schedule at all, and I was not accustomed to such a thing, but we were open to any kind of schedule.R.: It was a kind of a DanceAcademy.B.L.: You sweated in the ballet room, you sweated on the stage. The maestro didn't care what time it was after he started working. This affected me a lot, for I was not familiar with such a schedule. I never knew when I arrived home, if it was day or night, it didn't matter. All that mattered was the result. It represented quite a revolution throughout the whole country at that time for this young and experienced ensemble to perform on all the great stages of the world. C.H.: I think this was the chance of a solid generation, trained in Cluj and in Bucharest. It was the generation that wanted to work its way up even in those circumstances, during a three or four year period. A nucleus had already been formed with the people before us since 1979, we were friends.B.L.: The atmosphere was propitious. It was obvious that there were some arguments, however these were part of the perfect family.R.: And the public?C.H.: The public was enthusiastic. They immediately reacted after The Marvelous Mandarin, Swan Lake, Carmen, Giselle, The Nutcracker were staged. These independent performances won the public rapidly.R.: What was your relation with the other soloists in the country?C.H.: One could feel admiration coming from them. It was something special, something that one could not find in the rest of the country. We lived in our own world.B.L.: We were indeed respected when we went in tours across the country. We were advertised quite much and we were truly very successful. We proved we were successful also abroad since there were very few people who represented art overseas. The success abroad became known throughout the whole country and the respect came immediately. Of course, Oleg Danovski was a name that had become famous long before, known in all the cultural centers of the country.C.H.: He was a sort of a great maestro of our country and he had the merit of protecting his theatre. If you were part of his theatre you felt protected.R.: Every year you worked on a different premiere and other soloists came behind you. Can you recall the parts that offered you the greatest satisfactions?C.H.: Don Jose offered great satisfactions to me. More, it propelled me, but I liked Escamillio more. I was flattered at being appreciated, at being applauded. The idea that I was dancing with Delia, there was a kind of a structure taking shape, they were rather classical and we were focused on character, some specificity appeared. Until 1990, as far as the classical parts are concerned, I liked Albrecht's part from Giselle. I learned it well indeed with Ioan Gârbă and Silvia Humăilă from Timişoara (who had studied at Sankt Petersburg). The maestro had asked them to train us and this was how they came to stage this ballet completely, to fine-tune it. The maestro was abroad at that time and asked Silvia Humăilă to stage it. Silvia was a reputed classical ballet teacher in Italy as well. She studied in Leningrad and practically came with the staging. This is why the performance was very beautiful.R.: There are very many extremely talented dancers that nobody talks about, unfortunately. There is somehow a front line, there are some active personalities in relation to Romania after 1989, but there are many who are outside this general frame that circulates not only in the media but also in politics, and they have been greatly wronged because they created a sort of embassy for Romania…C.H.: In my opinion there was very little advertising, perhaps also because of the past political regime. We suffered deeply. When we went on tours some changes in casting were made and we had no idea. We went with Giselle in Germany and we had the posters of those in Bucharest.B.L.: It was something that affected us very much because it was our work.R.: You had this awareness of a community, of a well joined group with a powerful structure, a group that opened now and then for some of Romania's important dancers. Who did you work with over the years?C.H.: We worked with a choreographer from Yugoslavia whom the maestro had met in Ljubljana, with Ioan Gârbă and with Silvia Humăilă, with Adina Cezar and Ioan Tugearu. Afterwards Francisc Valkay was also invited for a tour in Germany.R.: Any company, even if it has a talented team, must open up. There is no company in the West that doesn't open now and then for new collaborators.C.H.: The problem is that when you start a competition between your people and the others there is no real difference, in my opinion.B.L.: If you bring Tugearu or Rodica Murgu or Valkay, this makes a difference, but there were also some dancers that represented no professional competition. They were not prestigious names for our ensemble. Naturally, opening up was very important, but you have to bring names that you can be proud of.R.: It was a policy of resistance in an institutional system, in a regime as that of Ceauşescu's. It had to resist as a kind of image company for the past regime. Most interesting is that the company managed to detach itself from its propaganda function for the political regime and to prove its value. It continued to be quoted on the Western markets even when its propaganda function moved in other directions or simply disappeared. The artistic value prevailed over the request for image and the company, after 1989, succeeded in being appreciated exactly at the same level, although the cultural environment in Romania, as well as the financial and political ones, have changed considerably. One may say that this company preserved its Western market, but didn't preserve its national market. On the other hand there is a Bucharest market where competition is not for the sake of the company, but for the sake of some arrangements. Arrangements have always existed, and beyond value there are arrangements. Let's return to the details of the company's life, to the tours in Italy with their own specific character, to those in Germany. Can you recall your tours in Italy?C.H.: There was a tour in the spring and one in the summer. In Italy we were known all over the peninsula. It was a pleasure, it was as if you went on tour in the country, you felt at home. There were performances in Rome, Turin, Bari, Cosenza. There were also collaborations with Corrado and Loredana Cosi Rusu. After 1990 came Iancu George with Luciana Savignano – prima ballerina at La Scala and in Turin. We worked in the Béjart system. After 1985 the tours in Italy were interrupted until 1990. In 1990 Manfrinni took us over until 1991.R.: These tours started early, since 1980…C.H.: The biggest city from the first tour was Bonn. Afterwards there appeared the independent performances – Swan Lake, Giselle – Hamburg, Berlin, The Hague, Mannheim, Luxembourg were opening. We traveled from one city to another 400-600 kilometers, the same as now, actually.B.L.: There was a big responsibility and we couldn't perform but on a certain standard.R.: Now, the tour represents a financial opportunity.C.H.: The same was then. For we were glad we could afford what inside the country was impossible or unaffordable.R.: Can you recall the most interesting chronicle that you had over the years, the signature of someone important in that period? This company was not a company that practiced as a system, the company came before the soloists. What was impressive was the flawless mechanism of the ensemble that Oleg Danovski succeeded in putting forward. What was the most important moment of your career with this company?C.H.: To me, very important was Giselle that I performed in Bucharest, at Sala Palatului, the Carmen moment, the tour in America. All the time there was one event following after another. An event was the tour in the country, another event was the tour abroad.B.L.: To me, every new premiere was an important event. One could see in the repertoire the experience and the desire to work. The performance with Giselle was my school-love and each and every performance with Giselle was an important moment because I liked it very much and I felt the performance and the part no matter if I danced at Medgidia or in Berlin. It was equally important for me, as the performance was very important and offered me great satisfaction. I didn't make a premiere and I said: this is enough for me, as it is my beloved performance. As for the rest, I loved all the shows because they were very difficult and for me, the stage didn't matter, but the audience and the atmosphere.R.: You were loved, you were celebrated, there was enthusiasm around you after the performance, the show was actually prolonged with the moments of celebration.B.L.: We went to the show and came back home at 11-12 at night. There was appreciation, there was a reaction from the audience and society in general. Less so from the press. We didn't come in touch directly with the press because the contact was through the artistic secretary only.C.H.: I discovered what the involvement of the press meant only after the experience from Semper Oper, not in Romania. Probably now, after the Revolution, they got involved, but until that time they didn't.R.: There was much less critique compared to Romania. Is this a sort of expression of the status that the art of dancing has in Romania, or do you think this is due to the fact that this company was not based in Bucharest? Was it very little known by the critics in Bucharest?C.H.: I think what matters a lot is the fact that I am not the orchid from Bucharest but from the country.R.: Why do you think that the attention is drawn to the performances in Bucharest and that the big issue, generally, is to be in Bucharest? Why don't they acknowledge the artistic valence of a national company with an ex-centric location?C.H.: It is not acknowledged because there is no respect for those who work in the rest of the country.B.L.: This is what happens in the rest of the world as well, for example Moscow is Moscow, even if Petersburg has a higher level than Moscow, but the latter had advertising. Now it's different.C.H.: In the French system it's the same. What is in Paris is good. In Germany, I didn't hear of X company from the capital of Germany.R.: There is no real image, no rapport of value in the artistic groups from the center and the theatres from the other towns.C.H.: This is what I also said when I came to Constanţa, but I got involved professionally, responsibly, body and soul.B.L.: Any provincial town such as Cluj or Constanţa has possibilities of producing events and attracting the public.R.: It didn't seem to you a sacrifice to make a career in a theatre in Romania. Haven't you ever felt that you could have made a career more easily somewhere else, in the West?C.H.: Yes, I have. In Dresden I had two wonderful moments. After I had the premiere with Spartacus at Gera the ballet maestro came and apologized for drafting the contract with a Berliner for A Midsummer Night's Dream and she couldn't have me dance at Dresden where their national competition was. I was puzzled. Birgitt Culberg came to Dresden where I was starring together with two Germans and there was the intention of propelling them, but eventually, via her assistant, Giuseppe Calgone, she decided that I should play the part. I experienced some moments when it was decided as I felt. I didn't expect some moments that would offer me an extraordinary, fabulous satisfaction.

by Ana Maria Munteanu