conversation with Kirill Melnikov
Munich, Germany, March 31, 1999
The short engagement of the Kirov Ballet last March in Munich had a special meaning, at least for two dancers of the local Bavarian State Ballet. Kirill Melnikov and his wife Elena Pankova, since 1992 first soloists with the German company, were once members of the KirovE.
Kirill Melnikov was born in Leningrad in 1966 and studied at the reputed Vaganova Academy in his hometown (class of Gennadi Selyutsky). He joined the Kirov Ballet upon graduation in 1984 and performed leading roles in all the major classics (La Sylphide, Giselle, Le Corsaire, Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker). Possessing all the qualities of a true danseur noble, foremost excellent partnering skills, he brought his many characters of princes and noblemen to life thanks to his keen eye for dramatic detail.
1990 was a significant turning point Melnikov’s career. In that year he left the Kirov, eventually to join the Bavarian State Ballet in Munich, where he found new artistic possibilities and challenges, and was able to enlarge his repertoire considerably with pieces by Balanchine, Cranko (Romeo and Juliet, Onegin, The Taming of the Shrew), Neumeier, Kylian, Van Manen, Vamos, Martins, and Béjart.
When I met Kirill Melnikov in Munich for an interview one day after the Kirov Ballet guest performances during the Ballettwoche 1999, I was rather curious to hear his thoughts about his former company, now almost ten years after he left Russia. He also spoke eloquently about his own years with the Kirov, about his break with the company, the ensuing difficulties of starting a new life and career in the West, and above all about his boundless passion for ballet.
DANCEVIEW: Kirill, you saw the Kirov Ballet performing here a few days ago. What do you think of the performances in general?
KIRILL MELNIKOV: First of all, I have been waiting to see them for a very long time. I saw them in Salzburg once, two years ago. For me they represent my hometown; it’s my first company. I was expecting to see the beautiful quality, the atmosphere, the magic that I always remembered, especially when I was in the Kirov, in the original Maryinsky Theatre.
Here, now, I have seen Swan Lake danced by Irma Nioradze and Evgeny Ivanchenko. What can I say? Generally, it’s fantastic work, the ensemble is good, they still keep up the good tradition—which is important. They have a beautiful school. The company has changed very much. There are many young dancers now, with long legs, long arms, very tall dancers. They did a good job, but, I must say, there was something I missed. Especially from the soloists, the principals.
First of all, there was no duet, there was no pas de deux. Somehow, there was no contact between them, as if they were really separated, as if they were dancing solo. This I missed. For me, the most important thing is the atmosphere, the contact and the acting; the relationship on stage, not the double cabrioles and the double tours, which he did and she did quite well. This contact, this relationship is more important for me. Because when the prince arrives at the lake, he does care who comes. He is waiting for something, because it is his destiny, his wish. But this guy didn’t care who came, whether it was a swan, or a horse... I don’t know. There has to be more sensuality on the stage. This I missed.
DV: Maybe this was just this one guy, this one performance? Or did you see others as well?
MELNIKOV: I saw the first performance with Svetlana Zakharova, who is a beautiful dancer, with incredible facilities. However, for me she is just a little bit too young to do this kind of role. She needs time to grow. Her technique is very good, but she needs to be more mature, to be a woman.
DV: She is nineteen—
MELNIKOV: Exactly. I couldn’t expect so much. Incredible work, what she did. Also, her partner Danila Korsuntsev. He looked very cold. A good tall dancer, with a nice technique, a nice line, but cold. Okay, he is young, but when you are young you have even more excitement on the stage. I remember I was shaking all the time. I did so many technical mistakes on the stage, but I loved it. This is important as well, because otherwise it becomes a little bit too mechanical.
The same for Les Sylphides.I love this ballet, and I danced it quite often in Russia: I find it has to be done better as well.
DV: It was the same guy, Ivanchenko —
MELNIKOV: It was the same guy. Beautiful line, gosh, to have these legs, this body. He has everything. But it’s not about technique in this piece. It’s poetry, it’s impressionism, it’s the atmosphere that counts. And I don’t care about his double cabrioles (which were quite stiff anyway)—a single cabriole is enough and you just fly above the earth. But this he didn’t manage.
Also the seventh waltz wasn’t very good. Again in the pas de deux there was no contact, they didn’t breath together. Irina Zhelonkina I liked most, because she has a good elevation, she is light and she has the proper quality for this role. She is also older.
Of the other two girls, Maya Dumchenko—she tries, she is a nice dancer. I saw her in Romeo and Juliet. Fine, she has a good quality and I think she has a good future—I hope. And I hope she has a good coach—this is also very important now with the competition. But there could be even more lightness.
Also, what was disturbing for me was the pointework: too hard. When I was in the Kirov I never noticed it, because it was normal. But here now, it struck me it destroys the atmosphere in this romantic kind of ballet. The lightness is gone and you hear them all the time on the floor. Shame.
Sofia Gumerova, the other girl in Les Sylphides, again beautiful legs and body, but also cool. It could be done with more soul: the excitement she must have while she is dancing and which I must feel when I am watching her. I was a bit disappointed.
The corps de ballet worked well, perhaps a little bit too precise for me. It’s too good. I mean, it’s good to have everybody together, but I always remember the old teacher who said: “Forget the technique; just dance, enjoy.” And this is important. They don’t have to think about lines, because it’s in their blood anyway. Of course, in the corps de ballet, you have to be together, but you still have to enjoy it as well. Enjoy it, even if it is a small role.
DV: Why was this excitement, this joy missing in the performances?
MELNIKOV: Something to do with the coaching, yes, and the rehearsing.
DV: Sometimes it is said that this also has something to do with the tension in the company caused by the director.
MELNIKOV: You know, in the time of Oleg Vinogradov, there was a lot of tension in the company as well. They were scared. But now, there is this money problem and those tours. If you’re not good enough, or not disciplined enough—Out! This is the problem. They all try very much, maybe they try too hard.
But something has to come from the teacher, from the coach as well: “Girls, fine, we have this quality anyway; we did it a thousand times...” If you see the schedules, incredible. Maybe it’s just too much. They have to be able to breathe out, to relax. I know what it is like. In the end you get empty, like a bottle. You try to push yourself, but you get exhausted. You have to find a golden middle and be able to say: “Now stop... Just relax.” It doesn’t have to be like the army.
DV: Of course, the Kirov Ballet has always been famous for its corps de ballet.
MELNIKOV: Yes, I remember they were saying that the prima ballerina of the company was the corps de ballet. It’s true. Without the corps de ballet maybe the Kirov wouldn’t even exist.
But, I find that nowadays the soloists don’t posses that quality they used to have, or not what this company needs. Look, when I started dancing, there were lots of examples. Lots of dancers with experience, above 35, even 40 years old. Imagine this, you are 18! You just look around, you watch from the wings, you learn. But what happens now? Maybe 95% are dancers of the young generation. They have nobody to watch. There is nobody who can say how they have to do it. This is also important. You cannot change a company so much in this way. The generations need to follow one another, slowly.
DV: The oldest ballerina is Altynai Asylmuratova, 38, and then we have Yulia Makhalina and Irma Nioradze, around 30.
MELNIKOV: When I came in the company, there was Kolpakova, Komleva, Evteyeva, Sizova—I danced with Sizova in my first Fountain of Bakhchisaray. She was over 40 and I was 18. What an experience when you get this ballerina in your hands! You would do everything for her. You look at her as something you never saw before. I really learned my partnering work from these ballerinas. It’s so important.
Now in the Kirov, it’s like the whole head of the company suddenly disappeared and there is nothing left but the Kindergarten. You really need a “mother,” somebody to teach you, to tell you how to do things. Now, you have two young dancers of 18 or 20 years old, with no experience. Who is going to teach them? They can’t learn anything from their dancing partner. Also, I feel that somehow they don’t listen anymore either. I spoke with a teacher, who complained that the dancers feel they know everything already, and even think they know better. They don’t listen.
DV: Now they also have a lot of facilities, thinking of all the video material which is available. They can watch all these great performers of the past.
MELNIKOV: Exactly, we didn’t have those. In our time, we didn’t have video recorders. We weren’t even allowed to watch Nureyev, Baryshnikov, Makarova. We only had photos.
Of course, the whole political situation has changed. Now everything is free. They become famous stars immediately, they earn good money. We never had money. I was happy just to be able to dance. I was happy that half of the company went on tour while I stayed at home and I could dance more. I didn’t care about money.
There is the economical problem in Russia. I mean, if you would earn a good salary back home, there wouldn’t be that urge to go on tour. Now the tours exist just for the money. Always money, money. You need it, because you cannot survive with the salary you have in Russia. Yet this money can never be the only reason to dance. I never had money, but this was not why I left the Kirov.
DV: Why did you leave the Kirov Ballet?
MELNIKOV: First of all, I felt lonely after my teacher Vadim Gulyaev left (he had to leave because of some situation with the director Vinogradov and started to work in Japan). I was alone. I used to have somebody to work with, but after he left, there was nobody. I started to work alone. In fact it was a turning point in my life. But anyway, the situation in the company with Vinogradov... I had a bad relationship with the director. You know how this goes in large companies like this. I always had support from my teacher, but after he left I really felt down and realized I was going to die artistically.
I didn’t plan to leave; it happened spontaneously. Vinogradov was in a way very generous, he gave me a last chance, he said. He asked what I wanted to dance. I said that and that. Fine, one day I went up to the office asking to obtain some rehearsals. The people there answered: “Why?”—“Because Vinogradov told me.”—“No, you are not on the schedule.”—“But, he promised...”—“Ask him, then.” But he was on tour at that moment, so nothing was working. And while we were doing a three-day gala for Alicia Markova in London, I decided to stay and find a job. I thought that would be easy. If you are a dancer from the Kirov Ballet everybody will take you!—Yes, I was young and stupid, of course. Lots of dreams, you know.
Anyway, I stayed in London and I went to the Royal Ballet to do classes, but Dowell didn’t have any place for another principal—it was the time when Mukhamedov arrived. The same in the English National Ballet. I did some galas, to earn a little money. Luckily I had friends to stay with. Elena, my wife, went back to Russia and one day she called me, saying that they had raised my salary and promised to make a film of The Sleeping Beauty with the two of us. I didn’t believe it and a week later she told me it was indeed a trick. Ruzimatov and somebody else made the film.
DV: So how did you eventually became a first soloist [the highest rank] in the Bavarian State Ballet?
MELNIKOV: Just by chance I met Richard Collins, a ballet master who studied and danced for five years in the Bolshoi. He became director in Cincinnati and he invited me to join his company. I danced in Cincinnati for a few months and when the season ended there, I danced with London City Ballet. Afterwards I wanted to return to Cincinnati, because Suzanne Farrell was going to make a program for Elena and me. That would have been great. There was a lot publicity in dance magazines, with interviews, photo calls in New York, and so on.
But when I wanted to go back to Cincinnati I heard that our friend Richard Collins died in a car crash. Everything just changed. We couldn’t go back to Cincinnati, there was no director, and we had to stay with London City Ballet. We did an enormous amount of performances and tours with that company. It was a good experience in a way, because I never had so many performances. We did Romeo, Swan Lake, Nutcracker, Giselle, Othello, really a lot of work. After a while though, Elena had enough of it and decided to have a baby.
So she stopped and I worked. We started to think about the future, we needed something else. Then I heard that in Bonn that Valery Panov was starting a new company. We went to see him, and he said he would take us both. He had lots of plans. That sounded good.
Yet, at the same time my agent told me that there was a place for a principal dancer in Munich. I went there for a couple of days, did class and they offered to take me as first soloist. And the contract they gave me was even better than in Bonn, so I canceled my engagement with Panov. I started to work in Munich. After the baby was born Elena joined me. The director in Munich, Konstanze Vernon, knew Elena from before and after she did class she was offered a contract as well.
It was all so unexpected: we could work together in a good company, with fantastic studios, a beautiful theater, a nice repertoire. Imagine, before I got a contract they invited me to dance Onegin with Ekaterina Maximova. My God ! I didn’t sleep for two weeks. I slept with the book of Pushkin! Very interesting for me, this work. It went well and I was very happy.
DV: How did you cope with the new repertoire in Munich?
MELNIKOV: We did lots of new things, Romeo and Juliet, Taming of the Shrew by Cranko, we did Hans van Manen, Kylian,... all things we didn’t have in Russia. And after these hundreds of Swan Lakes and Giselles we did in London, I wanted to try something else.
At first they said, “You’re Russian, you have a good classical training. It’s going to be difficult for you to dance neoclassical and modern things. You will have to adapt. Let’s wait a few years.” However, I couldn’t wait, and immediately tried Cranko, van Manen,... and it worked. I believe that if you have a good classical base you can do everything. Of course, you have to rehearse, to adjust to all these different styles, but it’s not impossible, unless you’re too stupid.
I wanted to be flexible, I wanted to try everything. In Russia you get this stamp: “You have blue blood, you are tall, so you are a prince”, and you can’t do anything else. But here, it was a real challenge and a whole new world opened up for me. It was not just the dancing that was so interesting, but also the work on the role. This I enjoyed most. You think to yourself you cannot do it, but you make yourself do it. That’s great.
In the end they wanted to give me only modern things, but I refused. I still wanted to do classical. This is my base, and without it you cannot do modern. For me, doing a different repertoire, doing modern ballet, next to classical, it helps. Dancing modern works helped me to do classical roles in another way. I started to think differently. I found new meanings in the roles. When you do only the classical repertoire—that’s fine—but in the end it becomes routine. You need something fresher. You do something else and when you go back, you already see different things. I find this experience of doing other styles important to develop the classical repertoire.
DV: Don’t the modern styles affect your classical dancing in a negative way?
MELNIKOV: Physically it’s very difficult. You have to plan well. Switching from one to the other makes you fight with your body. After a modern ballet, you need a proper break before you attempt classical again. It’s quite difficult, because different muscles work. It’s important that you have a good class. With a good class and a good teacher, with classical exercises, you never lose the base, even if you dance modern. But once the class starts to be neoclassical, or even half modern, then there is a danger.
I arrive in class to recover from what I had before. It puts me back. When I come in the morning to do class, it’s like returning from a bad party and I have to put everything back. I know that the training, the class in the West needs to be better. There are a lots of styles. English, Russian, French, American,... it’s mixed.
For me the best training is the Russian one, because it is simple and genius. You cannot do better. Why try to do better? Why try to invent a new bike, when it already exists? There is 250 years of tradition in there. Why change it?
I know that many in the West hate the Russian school. Especially in England. They just hate it. But they forget that the English school wouldn’t even exist without Russia. What they do in England, I found very old-fashioned. It’s too square, it’s too stiff. Excuse me. Even the American school wouldn’t exist without the Russian school. Balanchine? He was in my school in St. Petersburg. His base is Russian.
DV: You mentioned some choreographers. You have been dancing Balanchine as well?
MELNIKOV: I danced Balanchine while I was still in the Kirov: Theme and Variations. I loved this ballet. Maybe I didn’t understand what I was doing—I was too young and if I would dance it now, I would like to work more with it. I didn’t work with his assistant on that, because I wasn’t cast and I had to cover for somebody who fell ill. It was quite spontaneous what I did—I even danced it in London; it was very hard, this different style. I don’t think I was good, but I enjoyed it.
DV: What do you think of Balanchine, the choreographer?
MELNIKOV: I am not a specialist of his work, because I haven’t seen that much.
Symphony in C has a really beautiful pas de deux. I quite like this. He is very musical. I love Theme and Variations, Scotch Symphony. It’s also important with whom you work. I remember Elena worked on Scotch Symphony with Suzanne Farrell and she gave her everything.
We had Apollo here. When it is danced really well, it works. However, when the level of the dancers is not perfect, when there is no individuality, you need something more. It’s not just the steps, which you can learn. You have to put in something more. Take Baryshnikov. He is great, because he adds something from himself, which makes it work even better. Like we say in Russia, you have a bread with a raisin inside—it makes it better than just the bread, and gives it a special flavor. I’ve seen many performances of Apollo which were okay, but again the ensemble has to be perfect. Then it really works. Otherwise it becomes too old and boring. Of course, it is NOT boring, but it has to be danced well.
It is the same with Petipa. Why do you hear so many people say that Petipa is old-fashioned? No, it’s antique, and antique cannot be old-fashioned. But it has to be done well. The quality of dancing has to be perfect. But when they start to mix styles, Petipa with Ukrainian dance, or, I don’t know, Lambada, that’s the end. The style has to be precise. And this is something they don’t always understand in the West. But, you try to change something in Neumeier, or Kylian, or Balanchine—That’s impossible. Don’t change a finger or a turn of the head in those choreographies! But with poor Petipa, you can do everything—nobody cares. It’s criminal what they do to his work. I really believe that the Kirov should create some kind of foundation for Petipa’s work.
DV: You think it’s good news that they are mounting the “original” Sleeping Beauty at the Kirov?
MELNIKOV: That was done already here in the West, with the same notes. I think they shouldn’t do that, to go back that far. It’s too much pantomime. THIS has become old-fashioned, I think. Anyway, the English versions are like this. I think we should not forget what Vaganova, Chaboukiani, Konstantin Sergeyev, Lopukhov did for these classical ballets. They developed the dance, the technique had improved and what they added was in the proper style and with respect for the atmosphere. They changed things, yet they didn’t destroy anything. But to go back now to the time before these people worked? No, I don’t know. That’s no longer interesting.
And all these new spectacular costumes... I think it’s just a waste of money and time. Besides the Kirov had one of the best Sleeping Beauties around. Why change it? Probably politics again, or they have to do something... Okay, when they restored the Fokine ballets, that was great, because they didn’t have these ballets. It’s beautiful work there for Scheherazade and The Firebird. It’s like a museum, an exhibition: nice, beautiful pictures, costumes. That’s interesting. Especially Scheherazade. I could see that the movements were created for Nijinsky (watch the photos). But again, it has to be danced well—not too much sexuality, not too much sexy belly-dance. It has to be done with taste.
DV: I remember Konstantin Zaklinsky’s performance of the Golden Slave some years ago showed he had been studying the positions of Nijinsky. It was completely different from the performance of Islom Baimuradov we saw here.
MELNIKOV: Yes, the new generation... The new dancers, they work hard, for sure, but they work only in the studio. When the door is closed at the end of the day, they forget everything. My teacher used to say, when the door closes, you go back home and then you have to start your work, up here (points at his head): you think, you look, you read. When you go back the next day to the studio, you must be prepared so that you don’t have to start from the very beginning again. You need to work on your own, it’s not the teacher who must develop, it’s you. Your teacher says: “Do that and that.” Fine, you don’t need to think, you don’t need a brain. Just do it. You trust your teacher. But when there is no teacher, or a bad teacher, you start to think, you have to develop on your own. This is important and it takes time. You have to do so much on your own.
Imagine, people dancing Kameliendame, and they never even read the novel. Or Onegin, and they never read Pushkin. And they tell me strange things. I say, excuse me, but take a book. They discuss with me about a character. How can you do that if you never even read Pushkin? I don’t think many dancers do that: read and think about what they do on the stage. I read Madame Bovary before I did Emma B, even if the ballet had nothing to do with the novel, but okay, I still felt I had to read it. Otherwise how can you express yourself?
Yes, Zaklinsky, maybe he worked with photos, read things about it, perfect. This is the old generation. The new generation? I’m sure Uliana Lopatkina, she is also like that. I’ve seen her in performance, she is something special.
DV: Svetlana Zakharova was once asked in an interview if she ever saw the film of Ulanova and Plisetskaya in The Fountain of Bakhchisaray before she danced the role of Maria herself—No way. But then you see the result, Zakharova’s reading...
MELNIKOV: I’m not surprised. You don’t have to copy, of course. But you need to have an idea. Maris Liepa wrote a wonderful book, which should be in each dancer’s library. Especially when he writes about how to prepare a performance. He says, if you don’t have any ideas yourself, just watch the great dancers. At first even copying is not bad, but at least you have to start from something. I watched people like Nureyev, Vasiliev, or Baryshnikov. And I got ideas from their performances. Of course I couldn’t copy them because of their different physique. Yet, sometimes during a performance I was thinking “I am doing it like Nureyev.” even if it wasn’t like Nureyev at all, but it was a start. Look around you, all these great dancers, they have so much to offer, you know, Vasiliev, Nureyev, Soloviev,...
Soloviev, my God !.. Of course, I only saw films of Soloviev much later. He was forbidden in Russia because of his suicide. And then finally in America I found this video with various pas de deux and solo’s of him. Wow! It’s often said that Russians cannot move, that they cannot do clean footwork. But you can see for yourself. These films were made thirty years ago and when I showed them to some of the guys here, they couldn’t believe their eyes. Incredible, how he is doing those double tours? Nobody can do it now. This elevation, this ballon!
Soloviev was always a true prince with the proper quality for it. He was a good actor. Watch that film of The Sleeping Beauty with him and Sizova, Dudinskaya, Makarova... Beautiful ! Great movie. I don’t think many of the young dancers have seen this film. That’s the problem.
Maybe they just play with joysticks at home, or with their computer, or try to make money. It’s okay if you think that ballet is just for money and you stay in the corps de ballet. But when you dance principal roles -
DV: There’s more to it than just that?
MELNIKOV: Ballet is everything for me, it’s my life. Sometimes people ask me, already bored, why Elena and I always talk about ballet at home? Because it’s my life. I am disappointed when my work doesn’t look good. I really care about what is happening now. I think there is a serious problem with ballet nowadays. I feel that everything has been tried, everything has been done. But nothing happened. You know, they tried to dance naked, they danced in the water, under the water, maybe they will dance in the cosmos next time. Who knows? But where is what we call “ballet” with all that? What we have been studying for eight years? I believe there has to come a renaissance for ballet. I am convinced people will start again to care more about the classical repertoire, to care about quality, not spending a lot of money for nothing, for something which is thrown away after one year. Everything is done in this century.
For me ballet is beauty. I have to feel emotion when I watch ballet and I don’t want to get depressed. Quite often I get depressed from ballet evenings nowadays. Why? Life is already so hard. I don’t want to get home after a ballet evening with a headache. No, ballet is something to escape from the world. Ballet must give people hope, good energy, ideas, spirit. You know, sometimes I need to see a fairytale, something that tells me that life is not so hard after all, that the world is still beautiful. We all need that. We’re all children.
I was quite happy to see this Swan Lake from the Kirov again. I was tired of seeing these princes who are all so depressed, stressed, mad, crazy,... in the productions here, with all those psychological meanings. Good for once, but please not all the time. In our production here for instance, from Ray Barra, everything is very tragic and dramatic. Very interesting, yes, but dark and strange, and sometimes I want to see a happy prince, like in the Kirov production, even with a happy ending. Everything has to be in balance.
DV: Which other ballerinas did you dance with?
MELNIKOV: Altynai Asylmuratova. Unfortunately I didn’t dance much with Altynai. It was just Esmeralda, and Le Corsaire. But I had the chance to dance with her here in Munich Swan Lake some years ago. I was very happy about that. She is a great ballerina. Very emotional, expressive, and you get this fantastic contact with her. I like a ballerina from whom you get an answer when you ask something. Sometimes just with the eyes. When you improvise, she follows you, that’s a great thing. I have the same feeling with Elena. I can see she is in a certain mood to try something else, but I will follow her.
With Elena Evteyeva I danced quite a lot, Giselle, Les Sylphides, La Sylphide... From her I learned such a great deal as a partner, because she was so precise and accurate. She always wanted to be comfortable. She had this kind of lightness, this romantic quality. I also danced with Gabriella Komleva: La Sylphide, Esmeralda. Another great ballerina...
DV: How did you cope with life in the West?
MELNIKOV: It was very different. In the beginning I was surprised and also disappointed. Difficult as well. I was young, I spoke a little French, but I arrived in London, so I had to learn English. Quite fast I started to speak English.
It struck me the style is very different, the relationships, the mentality, the style of work in ballet companies here. Everything. The private lives, the contact between people. In Russia people are very honest. You immediately see the reaction. In England, that was quite different. They are very nice to you, but after you turned your back, you can see that there’s actually another reaction. That was very strange for me. People are more emotional in Russia, here they just keep on smiling. In the beginning I couldn’t accept this.
And then all this bank business. I didn’t know what all that was. You know, getting money out of the wall? What the hell is that? I used to have all my money in my pocket. Everything was so strange. I was like a child.
In 1986 I first went to America with the Kirov Ballet... My God, I couldn’t believe what I saw. They made us believe it was bad, you know the propaganda from back home. I know why they did it. But it wasn’t bad at all. They had everything; we had nothing in the shops. I had to adapt very fast, and I believe I did so quite fast. I was young.
DV: Is there anything you miss?
MELNIKOV: Yes, my parents, my family are still in Russia. Sometimes my parents come over. I love St. Petersburg very much. The first time I went back home after five years, I didn’t know how I was going to react. I was excited, but had a terrible feeling. After one week I felt home again. It was so different already. The sadness of the people. But I still think of Russia as my country, with beautiful people, talented, a really rich country.
DV: But you found a new home here in Munich?
MELNIKOV: Quite, and I have to be happy with what I achieved here.
Do you ever think of going back to Russia - permanently?
MELNIKOV: You can’t pass the river twice. It would be a mistake, I think. Of course, I would love to dance with the Kirov. But I’m not sure if I would be able to go back and adapt again. The situation is so unstable in Russia, no social security and so on. I want my son to grow up in a safe atmosphere. I have to think about this, not just about myself.
DV: What’s your favorite music?
MELNIKOV: I love Mozart and Bach. I always want that choreographers use beautiful music. Not this extravagant new music without any melody. Once in Salzburg, we had a Mozart Festival and they asked me to do a choreography on the Requiem of Mozart. I first said that would be impossible. The music is so beautiful. But they advised me to use the piano transcription by Liszt. I did the choreography. I danced with Elena and it worked. They asked me if I would continue with this, but I never thought of myself as a choreographer. I never thought I can do really great things. I don’t know, I might try again later.
I feel that choreography is not just a combination of steps. Like Béjart once said in an interview: “My choreography is not just for fun. Enjoy it, but each step means something.” And I believe in that. But before that, I need to get out of my dance career, for you can’t combine a dance career with choreographing. You have to be a choreographer 24 hours a day.
DV: Did someone ever make a ballet for you?
MELNIKOV: I would love for someone to make a ballet for me. It happened before, but it wasn’t a big role, nothing like Onegin, you know. This kind of stuff. I love to dance this. Well, it’s good to dream...
DV: What are you plans for the future after you stop dancing?
MELNIKOV: I have started taking a pedagogic course. I will have my degree in one year. We have a Russian professor here, Mr. Prokofiev from Moscow—Great teacher—He made soloists like Liepa, Mukhamedov, many great dancers. I’m learning the pas de deux class.
Still I hope I can dance for a very long time—I like to forget how old I am. Actually, I am somebody who never makes plans. I try to live today. I feel you have to enjoy your life today, who knows what tomorrow will bring. You wake up, you enjoy the sun, the rain, whatever the weather is. You have to be grateful that you live.
I realize I have to think about retiring of course, but somehow I think I will never retire, you know. Maybe change completely, but I really can just do ballet (laughing). It’s my life.
1998-2003 by DanceView