Vadim Muntagirov on life under lockdown and dancing at the ROH again, to be seen this Saturday

Vadim Muntagirov.<br />© and courtesy the Royal Opera House. (Click image for larger version)
Vadim Muntagirov.
© and courtesy the Royal Opera House. (Click image for larger version)

Part of the Royal Opera House #OurHouseToYourHouse series which also includes the ‘Live from Covent Garden’ series on 20 and 27 June 2020. More details of streamed shows.

The Royal Ballet’s Vadim Muntagirov can be seen dancing Ashton’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits as part of this weeks Live from Covent Garden transmission on Saturday night – 20 June 2020. After that you can see it on demand until 3 July 2020. More details including streaming link (costs £4.99)

Vadim Muntagirov, on his own on the empty stage of the Royal Opera House, will open the second Live from Covent Garden concert in a solo choreographed by Frederick Ashton, known as The Dance of the Blessed Spirits. He won’t, in fact, be performing live. A recording of the solo will be screened before the singers, Sarah Connolly and David Butt Philip, and a chamber orchestra assembled for Das Lied von der Erde (Song of the Earth).


The five-minute solo was choreographed for Anthony Dowell to perform in an opera gala in 1978. It’s to an extract of music by Gluck from his opera Orpheus and Eurydice. Ashton had first choreographed the opera for a production in 1958, and used the soulful flute music for two later solos. Dowell had coached Muntagirov in the 1978 version for a masterclass in September 2016, part of the Ashton Rediscovered series mounted by the Frederick Ashton Foundation. Muntagirov has performed the solo several times since (as have others, including David Hallberg and Ivan Putrov).

We spoke to Vadim Muntagirov by phone before the performance, while he was wondering what the experience would be like.

JP: For this occasion, under lockdown conditions, how have you managed to prepare the solo? Have you had anyone coaching you?

VM: I prepared myself. I met Kevin [O’Hare, artistic director] to talk about rehearsals – I couldn’t even give him a hug! We didn’t want to take any risks, so I’ve used the video I had of the [Ashton] masterclass four years ago. It’s a very emotional solo. Each time I’ve performed it I had different stories inside my head. Once, my story was about being alone without my parents, growing up without them, and trying to express that I missed them. This time, preparing for Saturday’s show, I do feel that loneliness and sadness, but being able to perform and actually to run around on stage by myself, even without an audience, will be quite special. I don’t think I will have to act much. My feelings will come out naturally.

Video created by the Frederick Ashton Foundation

How will the recorded performance be for you, alone with a cameraman?

I can’t even tell what it’s going to be like, being in the building without any other dancers, dancing on an empty stage. Usually, you always have someone else, an eye, a teacher looking after you. They told me I have to take my own make-up and do it by myself, which will feel strange. I feel more independent, in a way (sighs).

Watching last Saturday’s concert, Live from Covent Garden, was quite distressing, with each performance ending in silence without appreciative applause.

Actually, it’s been every day like that, pushing myself to do class and rehearse by myself. I’m doing this solo because I live on my own, so I can’t dance with anyone else. But sometimes I’ve had my parents on the line from Russia [both are former ballet dancers] giving me feedback, which has made the working process much easier. Doing everything by myself has been quite hard.

Vadim Muntagirov in rehearsal for Swan Lake.© Bill Cooper, courtesy the Royal Opera House. (Click image for larger version)
Vadim Muntagirov in rehearsal for Swan Lake.
© Bill Cooper, courtesy the Royal Opera House. (Click image for larger version)

You’ve been doing class at home by Zoom?

Every second day, we’ve had class from Brian Maloney, our resident ballet master, on Zoom. I’ve found classes on YouTube, like Mariinsky class and a Bolshoi class with Boris Akimov – I think everyone loves Boris Akimov. I can’t complain because I’ve managed to rent a little studio nearby. It’s not much but it’s a huge difference compared to doing ballet class in my living room for the first month. When I came to the studio, I realised how much out of shape I was. I was working really hard at home, even harder than when I was at the Opera House, but I could only go up and down and I couldn’t move my arms properly. When I started to move big again in the studio, it was a bit shocking. I’m better now but not in the previous shape of two months ago. I try to to maintain my form because I know how hard it will be to get back again.

We’ve seen you on Instagram (@vadimmuntagirovofficial), inventing ways of amusing yourself and us. Your flat has a not very high ceiling and you don’t have a sprung floor, so it can’t have been ideal (though your antics are very funny).

No, but generally I haven’t felt that bad. There’ve been just a few days when I’ve felt quite low, depressed and frustrated. I’ve been sat at home on my sofa at the peak of my career, not being able to do anything. But I’ve been stress-free in a way – I’ve had a rest from guesting and opening nights, just waking up in the morning and doing class. I completely exhaust myself, so I can go home and not need to worry about performance next day. I don’t have to be kind myself, so I push myself then recover for the rest of the day.

You were frustrated once before lockdown, in December last year, when the Paris Opera was on strike and you were preparing to guest in Nureyev’s three act production of Raymonda. The show was cancelled because of the strike.

I was really looking forward to it because at that time in the Royal Ballet we were doing the third act only and I was going to be adding first and second acts in Paris. I had a lovely partner, Valentine Colasante. It was a shame because so much work had been put into the production. The Paris Opera got Irek Mukhamedov to work with us in London for several weeks. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen, but I’m trying to stay positive because of the time I spent with Irek, one on one. It’s not that often you can spend that much time in the studio, having fun with him. It’s a time I think I will treasure for the rest of my life

Have you been watching other companies’ performances online?

Yes, some live streamings. I watched one from Munich because my friends were dancing, Laurretta Summerscales and Yonah Acosta [who are principals in the Bayerische Staats Ballett]. We were in English National Ballet together and good friends. It was interesting for me to see how they are doing and it seems they are all right.

Marianela Nuñez and Vadim Muntagirov in Don Quixote.© Foteini Christofilopoulou, courtesy the Royal Opera House. (Click image for larger version)
Marianela Nuñez and Vadim Muntagirov in Don Quixote.
© Foteini Christofilopoulou, courtesy the Royal Opera House. (Click image for larger version)

What are your hopes for the future? Any firm plans?

I have a few guestings – I think earliest is in September, which I don’t think is going to happen, but I’m hoping for the best. I’m still planning to go to Prague as usual to teach at Daria Klimentova’s Masterclasses at the beginning of August – not dancing, but I’m really enjoying teaching. For me, it will be first step forward. I think the key is that I just have to keep working, keep working hard. All of us ballet dancers, we can’t give up. We can’t just relax and wait. When I go back, my body must be ready for that, otherwise I could injure myself. What sounds very promising is that the Opera House is planning to let us in slowly from the beginning of July to do class in a studio. I’m sure all us dancers will be so happy to be back – I hope that they will let us be close to each other. Of course, there are worries about being able to do full-length ballets, maybe small ones at first. I hope we can perform, if not in front of thousands of people at the Opera House, at least by filming and streaming. We miss performing so much.

Best wishes for Dance of the Blessed Spirits on Saturday and please keep putting fun posts on Instagram to keep us entertained!

About the author

Jann Parry

A long-established dance writer, Jann Parry was dance critic for The Observer from 1983 to 2004 and wrote the award-winning biography of choreographer Kenneth MacMillan: 'Different Drummer', Faber and Faber, 2009. She has written for publications including The Spectator, The Listener, About the House (Royal Opera House magazine), Dance Now, Dance Magazine (USA), Stage Bill (USA) and Dancing Times. As a writer/producer she worked for the BBC World Service from 1970 to 1989, covering current affairs and the arts. As well as producing radio programmes she has contributed to television and radio documentaries about dance and dancers.

1 Comment

  • I enjoyed your interview with Vadim Muntagirov, the divine Vadim. His performance on Saturday touched me deeply as do all his performances. He is the first dancer after Sylvie Guillem who has touched my soul, not only with his Apollonian physique and fantastic physical power and precision but also with his dramatic ability and his amazing sensitivity with which he approaches every role. I was so hungry to see something of high quality that at the end of his performance on Saturday I cried. I admire him and adore him and wish him the best with his career and personal life. I express my deepest gratitude to him for making me experience all these sublime feelings with his heart rendering performance.
    I also thank you for giving me the opportunity to express my thoughts and feelings. Sincerely yours, Maria

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