Andrei Bossov, Artistic Director of the Bossov Ballet Theatre

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It’s nearly every teenage boy’s worst nightmare: getting onstage in front of an audience in heavy makeup, dancing around in (God forbid white!) tights. But if there’s something to be said for chasing your dreams, Andrei Bossov is a man who has made a life-long career as a principal danseur, prize-winning choreographer, and nationally reputable ballet instructor. Teens from around the globe audition for the chance to study under Bossov’s tutelage at the Bossov Ballet Theatre, a pre-professional dance school run in conjunction with Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield, Maine. Our phone interview proved to be as interesting as Andrei himself.

So first tell me – when and where were you born?

I was born on November 29th, 1956, in Leningrad. It is not Leningrad anymore, of course, but I still have to put it like that on all my papers.

Were your parents artists or balletomanes? What role did the ballet play in your early upbringing?

None. My father was navy officer and my mother worked at a rail station. I have an older brother, but he had no connection to the art.

So how did you start dancing?

I loved it. I danced whenever music was playing on the radio or TV. So my mother took me to a public dance class; it was free. The teacher told her to take me to audition at the [Vaganova] School. That’s how I started my career in dance..

The Vaganova School is sometimes criticized outside Russia because it appears to take young children and force them to study something very, very intensely against their will. Did you want to be out of the studios and doing other things? What was life like at the Vaganova School?

No, no, no. Nobody takes the children against their will. Is stupid. Training is very intensive, yes, but kids still want to do it. Our classes started at 8:30 in the morning and ended at 5:30 with one break for lunch; in the summer we’d play soccer and in the winter we’d play hockey.. Every night we’d have rehearsal until 8:30, sometimes nine. That’s it. That’s the life. Saturday we had rehearsal, too; Sundays were our free days.

You are renowned as a technically skilled and theatrically dynamic pas de deux partner. What was your favorite role?

I cannot say. Every role is a favorite when you dance it. When you come to the stage you have to give yourself completely. You have to be unique. Otherwise, don’t even bother to come to the stage. You must be able to give happiness to the audience..

You were a principal danseur with the Kirov Ballet during its peak performing years – at the time Mikhail Baryshnikov was a household name throughout the world. What was it like to dance with the “greats”?

Well, I don’t think Baryshnikov was really that popular; at least not in Russia. He left the company in ’72 –

Oh, so you didn’t dance with Baryshnikov?

No. Well, yes, I did, but only for one year. At that time he wasn’t the best. Juri Soloviev and Valery Panov were greater dancers. It was inspiring to look at them during the class. Every class was like a performance. There was very good competition. So yeah, it was a very interesting time for dance, not just in Russia but throughout the world.

What makes an inspirational dancer?

I don’t understand the question. Define ‘inspirational dancer’ for me.

Well, that’s really what I want you to define.

[Laughter]: Well, I’ve never really thought about it before…because I am a choreographer, my perspective is different. I need a specific dancer. I only start to choreograph when I know I have a dancer to fulfill my dream. When I look at the stage I look for dancers I want to work with; I’m looking for a connection. If I don’t have this connection – a soul connection, a certain trust – we cannot work with each other. That connection inspires me. I think all dancers should have opportunities for things to be made especially for them.

During your career, Soviet dance hewed closely to 19th century traditions, rejecting the creative choreographers of the West. How did you feel about that?

Nothing. [Laughs.] You can only dance what the company gives you. Anyway, this isn’t true. We actually did some contemporary things once a year; we needed new things otherwise the company would be dead. There was good and bad work. That’s just the way modern dance is – there’s still good and bad work in the present time.

You have produced many contemporary ballets alongside traditional classics. What inspires your choreography?

Music first. Music is the first click; the music asks me do something with it. After this comes the story, and then the dancers. This is why most of my dreams go unfulfilled; because the music doesn’t fit – OH MY GOD! [Excited, indecipherable.] Federer just did it, he’s the best player in the world! He beat very good American player, Andy Roddick.

The name sounds familiar…my mom watches tennis, I think she likes him.

[Speaking quickly]: Do you know how to [indecipherable]?

Uh, pardon? Do I know how to speak Spanish? No, I don’t speak Spanish.

No, do you know how to play tennis.

Oh, no, I don’t know how to play tennis.

Well usually there are five sets, to win one set the player has to win six games. Wimbledon has stupid rules, so players played much longer and Federer in the last set won 16 games - physically impossible, what he did! He’s the best player in the world, a new record!

Um, yeah…that’s great!

Yeah, really great. Anyway, okay. Next question.

Is there a story ballet you’d like to see performed someday?

Yes, a lot; I don’t have just one to name. This year I wanted to do a new ballet, the opera "Dido and Aeneas" by Purcell. But the financial situation…well, the money wasn’t there. A lot of things go like that, some puzzle piece is always missing, but things change every year. Maybe I will do it in the future. Who knows.

What do you think about TV shows like “So You Think You Can Dance?” and “Dancing with the Stars”?

Stupid. It is awful to ask people who are not professionals to act as professionals, but sometimes I watch it. Very good choreography. But why should people – Americans – anybody, really – compare other people for best dancer? Is not fair; everyone has a different, unique style. Comparison is impossible. Absolutely should not be done.

What do you see in the future for ballet? Is ballet a dying art?

Are you kidding? [Laughs] Dying art? Of course not! Art will never die. It’s impossible. The future for ballet is as bright as ever!

Why do you think art is important for society?

[Long pause.] Because…art tells people that there is…there is someplace…ah…that there is a best place to be, to live in. Art connects people to God. It is a direct connection. It is proof that God exists.

Do you think an arts education is especially important for teenagers? What do you find interesting about your students’ growth during their period of self-creation and discovery?

Yeah – that is, of course, out of the question. I like to see the students transform from people with just a wish to people with determination.

You are currently the artistic director of the Bossov Ballet Theatre, run in conjunction with the Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield, Maine. Tell me, of all the places to start a ballet school, why a small, rural town in New England?

I did not choose it. [Laughs.] Can I call you back? They’re going to talk about the Wimbledon on TV.

Yeah, okay.

[20 minutes later]: So, where were we?

You were telling me how you ended up in Maine.

Right. In ’92 I was touring with the company and at that time I was going to retire.. So I was looking for a job. A friend of mine in New York recommended I go to Waterville – it was going to open a new arts center.. I flew there and I loved it.

Wait a second – loved it? This is Maine we’re talking about, right? When exactly did you fly there?

July, of course! [Laughs.] I loved it all – the nature, the people. I was at the building across from the Waterville Opera House. At the beginning it was very good, great people and great art. But the project went bankrupt; no money. We spent a lot of money on a lavish "Nutcracker" with a set made in New York and principal dancers from the Kirov, but unfortunately one of the sponsors we were depending on didn't pay.

That was where Mike Wyly [a retired Marine Colonel with a daughter, Summer Wyly, who was at the time an aspiring ballerina] came in; he had the idea to go to Pittsfield, to work at Maine Central Institute.

Despite its remote location, dancers from all over the world audition for BBT. You offer an intensive summer training camp for aspiring dancers, and over the course of five weeks you are able to produce a full-length classical ballet. Both during the summers and school years, class size is kept to a minimum to maximize the care and attention given to individual students. It is clear that BBT has a close-knit community feel; why do you think this is important?

Community is important because you have to have moral support. But I don’t think this school is about community, really; MCI is an independent, international school – it relies on money. And ballet unfortunately has to be selective; there is much competition.

So you’re saying that the competition takes precedence over the community?

No, not at all. We draw students from across the country and all over the world not because of community or competition, but because of advertisement. Simple..

Though ballet has never culturally seemed to have an appeal for American boys, sometimes boys from the local high school will fill character roles in your productions. What do you think ballet has to offer young men? Obviously the ballet isn’t for pansies…clearly, you’re into sports.

Ballet does not offer anything; art does not offer anything. I mean, you are the artist; you offer the art, the art does not offer you. Of course you [the artist] offer to the audience; the viewer is filled with your strength and your joy. But I don’t want to “offer” anyone anything. Ballet itself is a very powerful thing. You try it and you can understand for yourself.

Last question: What do you hope all of your students learn from their experiences at BBT?

Respect for the profession and respect for themselves. Respect and love.





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