When Mukhamedov joined The Royal Ballet in 1990, he worked closely with Kenneth MacMillan, who cast him in many existing roles and created Winter Dreams and The Judas Tree for him. Lendorf has worked with several leading choreographers at The Royal Danish Ballet.
ZA: Can you tell me about your work with MacMillan?
IM: It was two years of – something. Two years of incredible time. I would say I understood, before that [performance of] Mayerling when Kenneth died, I understood that I had something. We had created already, in two years, two ballets. There were more to come, more ideas to come. There was a chance to grow, not only as a dancer, but as an artist, as a personality on stage. I loved to be in the company. I never preferred to be a guest artist, I always preferred to be in a company. I learned not only the craft of The Royal Ballet, but also what Kenneth wanted – every day, we worked with Kenneth on Mayerling, we worked on Manon. Every day, we talked about it. Always, with his drama ballets, we talked about it. So there was all this information, not just “learn pirouette and go”.
ZA: What did you talk about?
IM: Practically everything. Who is Vershinin, who is Woyzeck in Different Drummer, who is Rudolf in Mayerling? We even started to talk about Rasputin, in Anastasia. Kenneth had an idea to maybe change it a little bit, make it more about Rasputin, not just about Anastasia and the others. We talked about that, too. I remember, this new documentary arrived about Rasputin, so we said, “Let’s see what’s new there.”
It was that kind of sharing, in the studio, because Kenneth never – well. When I speak with older people, who worked with Kenneth before, they said, “You actually got Kenneth on a different level.” When I was working with Kenneth, he never shouted. He was a quiet man, he was so workable, he always knew what he wanted.
He was always giving you challenges. In any step, he would give you a challenge. For example, the solo in Winter Dreams. He asked me to do saut de basque, so I did saut de basque. Then he said, “Can you do a saut de basque, and imagine the wind blows, it breaks, you end up on the floor.” Yes, okay, let’s do that! So the idea was there. He always knew which step, and they were always steps with a philosophy. Kenneth was working on you as personality, not on you as a dancer. That’s how I found out. It’s the freedom of exploring yourself.
ZA: Just now, you spoke very equally about the roles that were created for you, such as Vershinin, and roles you stepped into, such as Rudolf. You spoke as if you found similar discoveries in both.
IM: That’s because Kenneth always tried to help me by maybe changing a little bit for me, too. When he created it, he had one thought, one inspiration. When I came, he had a completely different inspiration and wanted to help me. By him helping me, I was helping him to understand him as well. By changing something – even in Manon he changed things. For me.
ZA: Alban, what experience have you had in working with choreographers?
AL: Of course, not so much. But I’ve worked with John Neumeier a little bit. He didn’t create anything, but we worked on Romeo and Juliet and The Lady of the Camellias. Then with Christopher Wheeldon, we did his Sleeping Beauty two years ago. I was the Bluebird and the Prince, it was a good experience.
In August, I will work with Alexei Ratmansky, he’s doing a completely new ballet, an old Russian tale, The Golden Cockerel. I’m going to be one of the two brothers, the two princes. Apparently – Irek, I don’t know if I’m right? – in Russian tales, if there are two brothers, it’s kind of stupid. If there are three, the oldest are stupid and the youngest is wise.
AL: I’m looking forward to it, it’s going to be fun.
ZA: You’ve both danced different versions of the same story, often to the same music – different Romeo productions, now these Tchaikovsky productions. How is it moving from one to another?
AL: I think most of the time, it’s the same feeling and the same character. You can do different steps, but if you’re in love, you’re in love, if you’re jealous, you’re jealous. It’s a feeling.
IM: When you come to do different versions of the same ballet, your brain, the physical memory of the body have to work differently to understand the choreography, to do the choreography right. But the story is still the same. Maybe some little twists, but generally it’s the same idea. It’s the same tragedy.
ZA: Irek, you came from the Bolshoi, Alban, you come from The Royal Danish Ballet. How do you find the different company styles?
IM: I would say there are great schools that produce stars, French school, Russian school and Danish school. So I think we’re not far from each other, because the Russian school adapted all the styles – we’re the best one! [Laughter] Then it becomes individuality. There are different teachers. My teacher taught me to be a man on stage. Other teachers teach a completely different way of being a man on stage.
ZA: Alban, what do you think? Working with different choreographers, say.
AL: It’s very different, from person to person. Neumeier doesn’t really care about technique. Well, he does – he casts you for a role, he knows you can do it. But he doesn’t care about technique, it’s all about what you do with it. You go very deep into it. It’s good. Other than that, most instructors and choreographers, if you just try your best, they’re happy. If they tell you to try something and you try – maybe you don’t do it, but you try to do it. Nobody likes to repeat themselves, to say things more than once or twice. So everyone should just listen. It doesn’t matter who they are.
ZA: What else will you be dancing at The Royal Danish Ballet?
AL: We have a new production of La Bayadère coming up. I’m very excited to do it, because for me, Baryshnikov is my favourite. He’s very charming on stage, and humble, and very good technique, and then he did the movies! So I very much admire the Russian way of dancing, like Bayadère. Big couronne positions [Lendorf moves his arms to demonstrate a Russian-style position]. I like that. I like doing James in La Sylphide, Gennaro in Napoli, but I’m excited to do this. I’ve seen it on YouTube since I was ten, since the internet came up with it! It’s very exciting.
For more from Irek and Alban, see July’s edition of Dancing Times.
Photograph: Eric Richmond