Principal dancer of the Bayerisches Staatsballett in Munich and VIP of the dance world!
An Interview by Mihaela Vieru
How did you begin with dance and why?
Both my parents were professional ballet dancers but, due to my family circumstances at that time, they continued to concentrate on Armenian folklore dance instead of classical ballet. My mother was only 17 years old when she gave birth to me on her birthday! She was not able to continue with ballet, due to having children, but therefore continued with Armenian Folklore. At the age of 9 years old I decided to try classical ballet.
Did you like ballet as a young boy?
As a child I was not so interested, as I grew up it was not a question of what I liked or not liked, but just normal for our family. During the first year of dancing, I had to hide that I was going to boxing….it was a personal fight within me whether to do boxing or dancing at that time.
I can remember your very well, many years ago you won the Prix de Lausanne.
Yes, endeed, that was 17 years ago! In 1998 I won the Prix de Lausanne.
You were a revelation, marvelous…everyone was amazed with your incredible talent. How did you cope with all the attention at such a young age?
Well, I think it’s because I had the opportunity to grow up in a dancer’s family, with classical training and having dance around me every day. We didn’t have a babysitter, so I grew up in a ballet studio. As a baby I heard music in my pram. I think the first time I performed was when I was 6 years old. That feeling you get performing is addictive and then you feel free to display your emotions and show those emotions to the public.
You won the Prix de Lausanne and then you won also a Scholarship as a student of the Schweizerische Ballettberufsschule SBBS in Zürich.
While I was in Prix de Lausanne, I only managed to get to the Semifinals. So officially was not eligible for a scholarship, however during this time I met Elvira Braunschweig, the wife of Phillip Braunschweig, the founder of Prix de Lausanne. She helped me to get a stipendium from the Nurejew-Foundation. And the year after I won ' Professional' Prize.
Tigran in Paquita ©Wilfried Hösl
Heinz Spoerli, former Artistic Director and Choreographer of the Zurich Ballet saw you performing in the school. He offered you an engagement 1998. 1999 you was already promoted to Demi-Soloist and 2003 as a soloist.
Mr. Spoerli was the artistic director for the school and for the company at that time and at the same time and it was for me really pleased to be promoted in his company. There I was also performing the premiere of Romeo and Juliet for the very first time for me.
I got a lot of experience working with Mr. Spoerli and dancing the whole repertoire as well as the role of Dorkon in Daphnis and Chloé, the Solo-Boy in Rubies, in Hans van Manen´s Solo and the Große Fuge, Allegro Brillante by George Balanchine.
What were your goals when you came as a soloist dancer to the Bayerisches Staatsballett in Munich?
I didn’t change companies in Zurich, as I was there for 7 years, but I wanted to learn about the western mentality and approach to work and society. So it took me a while to understand all of that and decide what I wanted to achieve in my life. When everything had fallen in to place I had the choice to go to ABT (American Ballet Theatre) or the Munich Ballet. Munich was very attractive to me because of the repertoire and because of the choreographers.
Ivan Lischka was the director at this time?
Yes, that was 2005 and he had already been there since 1998. From 2007 I was promoted to principal dancer.
What was your biggest success in Munich up until now?
I can’t really judge success in terms of sales, but for me being able to dance in performances like Illusionen wieSchwanensee in the Choreography of John Neumeier have proved to me how glad I am that I have continued to dance classical ballet. I danced here so many roles as Raymonda, La Bayadère, Giselle by Peter Wright, Mercutio in Romeo and Julia, Des Grieux in Die Kameliendame by John Neumeier, Lenski in Onegin. But Munich offers such a rich repertoire for example Forsythe, Duato, Killian, Van Manen and much More.
Tigran in Le Corsaire © Wilfried Hösl
Do you have a preferred choreographer?
In my heart, it would be classic, but it is a difficult choice as there are always different works from different choreographers, combined with the music and personal attachment that you have with the pieces. But a preferred choreographer? I couldn’t choose just one, I love working with each one because I always learn something different and new from each choreographer I worked with.
A few years ago you grounded the “Forceful Feelings” Company, what was the idea behind that?
It was mine and Arsen Mehrabyan's idea, we were the first ones of our generation to leave Armenia and come to Europe. It was our idea to ground a company to try to give something back to our own country from what we have learned. And also to represent our art. We have already performed a lot of performances. It is always on a tight schedule as we are all already employed by different companies as a first soloists. But we try to manage to be there to share our feelings through dLe Corsaire_Tigran Mikayelyan_Foto Wilfried Höslance and the performance is a unique concept of our ballet gala styles.
Do you teach in your country now?
Not yet, when we are there we work with the dancers. At the moment we are working on a performance to celebrate 90 years of the Armenian Ballet School.
Ivy Amista and Tigran Mikayelyan in Romeo and Julia © Charles Tandy
What do you think the reason is that so many Armenian dancers are so talented?
I think it comes from having true passion! My generation have experienced very difficult times in the country, we have gone through independence from Soviet Union. We didn’t always have heating or electricity and these difficulties have given us a passion and determination to be the best, rather than just seeing it as a career.
Just seeing dance as a career will not make you be the best, unless you have a passion burning inside of you that pushes you to go further and further. You know you will never really get to the destination, as you can always improve and get better. But having that passion keeps the drive in you going.
You also have very good teachers there.
Yes, absolutely, we generally have very good teachers as they base their training on the traditional Waganova School. The basics for kids which is important for ballet, all the port de bras, hand and legs positions, steps and academic classical technique is very precise in Armenian schools.
We have talked a lot about the schools and teaching, but what is your opinion of the current styles in dance? Because there are so many international styles, why do you think is the best one?
Well, I wouldn’t say it is better, it’s just small differences. In Armenia, though there are many dance schools where you can obtain a diploma but you still cannot join the opera. The true ballet line has been missing in the world today, as it has all been mixed together. So many schools abuse the traditions of the true ballet to gain a name. That is the problem with the schools today, the true ballet schools are magnificent. But you have to understand the traditions of classical dance, like understanding classical music. It is more complex to teach ballet, because it is not about how you explain it to the kids but about how you present each movement. Many schools are not teaching the true movements of ballet. Just having the knowledge is not enough, you need to show the movement precisely.
You dance now at the Bayerisches Staatsballett as a principal dancer many different kinds of roles, do you have a preferred role?
Again: Illusions of Swan Lake (Illusionen wie Schwanensee) by John Neumeier!
You seem to be in love with this role, what makes it so special?
It’s the first role that came with a huge responsibility. It has been the same role for 125 years, and it’s a great responsibility to play that role that has existed for so long. When the ballet is a fairy tale, like 'Sleeping Beauty' or others like Don Quixote, I also love it, as you can really play that character, but the role of the King in 'Illusions like Swan Lake' is a true character and you are playing it in the same land where part of his family are still alive, it gives it a different dimension and challenge. The challenge is more difficult and the responsibility to do it just is greater.
It takes more passion out of you to do that role, so I think I have grown in the character of King Ludwig the 2nd, in my heart by conquering all these challenges and presenting it the way the choreographer wants to see it. How the public views it is important too, but to me it is the role where I can say, I am happy I am a ballet dancer.
You love Ballet! Why? Can you put it in to words?
I love it because I love music and I think when you love music, you love dancing. Then comes the ballet that has the most complex technique, that gives you a challenge and pleasure and adrenaline, but also has to be performed with a precision and cleanness. And you are still an actor, you can represent all aspects of your character on stage, you can take out your anger or your beauty or your sorrow on stage. All these emotions give pleasure.
Does the way you play that role change over time, do you find more expression or a different aspect to the role over time?
Absolutely. The premiere is always important to perform the role perfectly but over time, the more you perform the role, the more you find ways of refining and improving that role. You use your experience, it doesn’t become automatic, but you can make the role your own. Before the Premiere it is so much work just getting the performance perfect that your mind is often split in two. But after the Premiere, when you perform the role you can really perfect it and grow in to it and get better and better.
You are now 34.5 years old. Have you considered what you will do when you are ready to retire from dance?
Yes, one of my future plans is to share the difficulties and challenges of ballet to the younger generations, by performing or creating chances to help them find easier ways through the ballet world than just seeing the difficulties that they are facing.
It is interesting, you are one of the few dancers that actually think about this….
Yes, I would also like to create performances that I have already begun working on, where each performance will be unique as we will work with different dancers.
Where the performance is the star…not the dancers. That will create a new direction for Ballet Galas in the ballet world.
And before we go, what is the most important things in the world to you?
Not dance. I love it….but my family is the most important thing and my health. If we have health, then we can concentrate on the other things we love in life.
Do you have a big family?
I have a very big family, not so many in Armenian but I have a large family in America and now that I am engaged to be married, I have also gained a big family in Serbia.
Not yet….but soon!! Hopefully!
Interview January 2015