Snug black jeans, a thin pullover, a white scarf elegantly thrown behind his back that seems manageable even outdoors, white, as wax, his face, and tinted black cropped hair. Personally, I remember Bulat AYUKHANOV like this for all my life. I could never find right words to describe how I perceive the maestro when I see him on TV. When we met, he did it for me: “I am a flower ... but with thorns.”
With this comment he meant the inhospitality of spectators in Atyrau, who rarely present artists with flowers, despite good performance:
“What are flowers to me? With the all those I received in 45 years I could cover the entire Red Square. I don’t like them.” Here he raises his chin and pronounces the above saying – “I am a flower myself with thorns” and we laughed.
A few minutes ago he came into the room with no idea of journalists seeing his tired appearance - bow backed, pale faced with sweat on his forehead. He’s been suffering from an occupational injury all day. I saw he was bad in the morning and he rejected an interview, so I arrived in the following evening without my notebook – just to watch ballet. After performance his body seemed to have stopped aching, and he turned more talkative:
- I don’t drink now. Ballet is my balm.
- Did you ever drink?
- If offered… A man who never drank is not a man.
- We, ordinary people, describe our daily life as “family, kids, work.” And you?
- We live in the prism of ballet – music, rhythm, beauty… We hear and see the music of life. This is an aristocratic profession for the selected.
- What about unavoidable household issues?
He gesticulated as if fastidiously pushing this unpleasant to him word away:
- There is no household to me. A successful lesson, a successful rehearsal, a perfect variation and a perfect performance – this is my world. This is the art of a minute: look at the girl – she’s danced Anna Pavlova today and she needs to dance it again tomorrow. Such a need-to-do-again charges us and generates good relations among us with no envy, greed, malice or meanness.
- I thought the latter were a norm in artistic environment?...
- In bad, in bad environment. If you do ballet you have no time to fight and spin intrigues. After pretty much jumping you won’t even be able to look at your husband…
- But family and art…
- …Family is a luxury, a real luxury! If spouses are from one sphere of activity it is ok. But if he is a physicist and she is a ballet dancer, the situation will be “give up ballet, you won’t go to concert tour, everyone touches you.”
- Does it mean if you haven’t had your family you would have achieved bigger success?
- I would achieve the same, because my mother-in-law, my mum and my wife well understand me. A ballet couple may survive only if there are uncles, aunts and grandmas to look after children. So it happens that two get married, but have nothing to call own and give their children to round-the-clock nursery. It is very hard to combine ballet and family.
Suddenly the door opened and someone broke on our conversation:
- Are there many students of you in Atyrau?
- As many as fleas, he shortly replied.
- You have a good sense of humor, I said to compliment him.
- My humor emerged from shortage of plenty.
- I need time to process what you just said.
- Let me help you. Humor comes from shortage: of intelligence, wealth, friends or entertainment…
- Where is your best spectator?
- Everywhere! He said at first and then added: In Saryagash! They look at us as if they are watching a miracle.
- By the way, your guys in costumes and make-up looked as a miracle in the grey corridors of Small Academy of Arts. But you complained about spectators in Atyrau…
- I didn’t mean to complain. I just expressed my impression – you know people in the west of Kazakhstan are very pragmatic. They are not mercantile, but… I don’t know… you give them service, they come and sit (Bulat imitates our behavior – braids his arms and leans back in the chair). This is my personal feeling.
- You are 75…
- Ok. But humans are not eternal…
- They are. They are eternal in art. When I die I will be dedicated a tomb stone. Modesty makes graves beautiful. Jokes aside, my team will manage without me.
- How much is paid for such a high art?
- $400-500 and more to beginners. After 30 years of age they get bonus for skills. I believe no one ever created a masterpiece with a full stomach. And that’s not my saying.
- What is the required body weight for a ballerina?
- A normal weight – you can either be plumpish and light or be skinny and jump as if hammering a nail. (Later, the girls of troupe said it was 45kg in average. Given this they eat much and burn calories at the stage and rehearsals. So it happens ballerinas suffer from cellulite sometimes).
- What’s the retirement age in ballet?
- On a common basis. For the last 20 years women retire at 58 and men at 63. They, in Majilis, are like dumb – they feel our early retirement is not acceptable. Do you know how it feels like for a 40 year old ballerina to jump? She can hardly make love, not to mention dancing ballet at this age. What about 50? All ballet dancers are sick people – all of them have chronic diseases. And they are proposed to change occupation. Who can I be except a ballet dancer? I know nothing but ballet. One may judge the level of civilization in the country by its attitude to the people of art. Any sportsman in big sport and any ballet dancer virtually become physically impaired in midlife – their careers are short. Some create families, some not – the ones who sacrifice everything for the art. In Europe and Russia, ministry of culture grants apartments to ballet school graduates. But here, I am not allowed to accept anyone without residence registration, given the greater part of candidates comes from rural areas. Today we premiered ‘Anna Pavlova’. I spent 57 years to eventually stage it. By now, we’ve shown it in Almaty, Atyrau is the second stop. In March we are going to London. I requested 16 million, but they gave me only 10 and said “get along with this sum”. How can I explain them I am not sure I would be able to pay my return, before I board to the plane to London?
During our dialogue the theater administrator made several peeps into the room hinting it was time to go. After the last reminder, Ayukhanov frankly uttered:
- You have squeezed me.
- Really? Accept my apologies.
- I won’t. Let me get breath.
On the way to the sink he grumbled “That’s why I don’t like journalists – once they start they end asking if we eat or go to toilet”
- And do you eat? I reacted.
- See. I told you. No, I don’t and even feel shy to approach toilet bowls.
While he was cold showering his face, I asked another male artist who had been getting a make up: Do artists keep a special diet?
- We should avoid baked rolls and butter. But our girls like them very much.
- And you?
- We have to eat much - we carry our lady partners.
Wiping his face with a towel, Ayukhanov saw I was still in the room.
- Are you a Tatar? No? Strange. You exhausted me with your meticulousness!
I hardly left the room laughing loud. There was a belly laughing behind the door too. After bell rang he, overcoming the pain, rushed to the stage. On the way he saw me and shouted “Hey, why are you standing here, go to hall to watch us”. At last he excused me.
By Zulfiya BAINEKEYEVA
Bulat Gazizovich Ayukhanov was born in 1938, in the city of Semipalatinsk (today Semey), Kazakh SSR, USSR. He is famous Kazakh Soviet artist of ballet, choreographer and ballet master. Doctor of Arts, professor of Jurgenov Arts Academy, People’s Artist of the Republic of Kazakhstan, laureate of USSR State Prize, Holder of Platinum Tarlan of Kazakhstan Club of Philanthropists (2000), member of International Information Systems Academy (2004), laureate of International Socrates Prize (2010).
In 1955, Bulat graduated from Almaty Choreographic College. In 1955-1957 he continued his studies in Leningrad Choreographic College, where he made friends with one of the most celebrated dancers of the 20th century Rudolph Nureyev.
Founder and leader of State Classical Dances Ensemble of Kazakh SSR (1967 – Young Ballet of Almaty, since 2003 State Academic Theater of Dance of the RoK).
He is a living legend of Kazakh ballet and a cultural brand of Kazakhstan.