The secrets from the Legend!
Vladimir Djouloukhadze, a renowned ballet dancer and one of the world top ballet teachers, rarely gives interviews but he made an exception for us.
This year Vladimir Djouloukhadze celebrates the 50th anniversary of his ballet career. It’s hard to imagine! We met with him at his house, full of character and style, near Washington DC. Decorated with the paintings of his wife Luba, it feels welcoming and cozy. Today I hope you will learn more about Vladimir’s life and his views on ballet.
-Vladimir, trained by the legendary ballet masters, you had an international success as a dancer. Can you talk about your first steps in the profession? When did you first see a ballet performance? When and where did you start taking dance classes? Was it your decision or the one of your parents?
I saw the first ballet performance thanks to my mother who had a subscription to the Georgian National Ballet. But it did not make a lot of impression on me. I was much more interested in sports. Nevertheless, my parents placed me in a dance studio and later in the Tbilisi Ballet Art State School.
I treated ballet lessons like sport competitions trying to be the first in jumps and turns.
-The great Vakhtang Chabukiani was your teacher. How did it happen? When did you first meet him? What impressed you the most? Later you were trained by Fea Balabina, Tatiana Vecheslova, Natalia Dudinskaya, who were Agrippina Vaganova's students.
At that time, Vakhtang Chabukiani, an Artistic Director of the Georgian National Ballet, was also the ballet school director. He was a true legend who changed a style of male dance in the 20th century. I was privileged to be his student in my last 2 years at the ballet school. As a dancer, Chabukiani had a magical power over the audience. The same can be said about him as a teacher.
Unlike many teachers, Vakhtang Chabukiani paid a lot of attention to the arms. He was constantly reminding the students that their arms shouldn’t be like sticks. Later, I realized a great role of the arms for dancers and recalled his classes with gratitude.
I was also very lucky to be trained by Margarita Grishkevich, a student of Agrippina Vaganova. She was teaching girls but prepared pas de deux with me and her student for the final recital. She gave me a lot. Later, as a professional dancer, I was trained by other Vaganova’s students – Fea Balabina, Tatiana Vecheslova and Natalia Dudinskaya.
Ballet as art is not tangible. Mostly, it is based on a tradition of passing knowledge from one generation to another via personal experience. In the pre-video era, there was truly no sufficient system of capturing choreography and staging. This is why a personality of a teacher has always been, and still is, extremely important.
-What were your dreams at that time?
When a student, like all my friends, I dreamed of being the best dancer at the ballet school, and later, at the theater that would allow me to perform all the principal roles.
-Tell us a little bit more about your career as a dancer. Which roles were your favorite?
My career as a dancer was very successful. I got lucky. Just a year after graduation, I was dancing the leading parts at the Georgian National Ballet. There, I was coached by the outstanding ballet masters that fostered my progress. As a principal dancer, I performed practically all the leading roles of the classical repertoire. Our new artistic director Georgi Aleksidze introduced me to choreography of José Limón, George Balanchine, Alberto Alonso as well as his own works which were very difficult to perform. It helped me grow technically and artistically.
At the same time, I was invited to participate in the world tours of The Stars of the Soviet Ballet, a group of eminent dancers. We performed in over 20 countries in Europe, Asia, America and Africa. My partners were renowned ballerinas – Irina Jandieri, Nadezhda Pavlova, Alla Khaniashvili, Ludmila Semenyaka, Lubov Kunakova, Nina Ananiashvili, and Irma Nioradze.
There were many favorite roles. I absolutely loved Diana and Actaeon pas de deux. Dancing Basilio in Don Quixote was always a great pleasure and excitement. It was a demonstration of technique, power, passion, and humor. It is like a test for any dancer. I deliberately did not dance Giselle until late in my career recognizing that this part must be danced by a mature dancer in order to convey all the tragedy and charm of that ballet. It was very difficult. I didn’t even expect how difficult it was, since emotions exhausted you and took out more energy from you than mere jumps and turns.
-I know that you danced in many countries. Which audience do you remember the most?
The public was always friendly in all the countries where I performed. But the most memorable audience was in Japan. If they like you, then it is love for life. And if they have an opportunity, they will follow you everywhere.
-Now, let’s talk about your career as a teacher. You have been teaching ballet for several dozen years. When and how did you decide to start teaching?
I began teaching when I was still actively dancing. I was actually asked to teach a male class at the Tbilisi Ballet Art State School as they didn’t have a teacher for the boys and partnering at that moment. I thought I knew ballet enough to teach. The first realization that dancing and teaching are two different professions came when famous Fea Balabina demonstrated her master class to my students. It made me think about getting a special education as a ballet pedagogue.
Unfortunately, many dancers become teachers because it is time to end their performing careers, thinking that if they danced, they can also teach. It’s not like that at all.
-You‘ve got a master’s degree in Ballet Teaching and Choreography at the GITIS university. Why did you choose GITIS?
The life of the dancer is very short and you have to think what you will do after you leave the stage. GITIS-University was the only school of high education in ballet teaching and choreography in the Soviet Union. My studies with the GITIS outstanding professors reaffirmed that my decision was right and earned me a master’s degree.
-As a teacher, essentially you strive for each student to become the best dancer he or she can be. When people talk about ballet, they often mention incredible pressure. Do you force your students or do you have some tricks and techniques that encourage and inspire them?
Ballet requires discipline and focus but a teacher cannot force a student to work. It will never work. A teacher can only help a student to set goals and inspire him or her to work hard in order to achieve them. It is necessary to find a personalized approach to each student in order to awaken a desire to work hard, maybe even harder than it seems possible. There are ways that open their vision and a teacher understands the student better. I encourage my students to ask questions, to share their concerns, and at the same time I ask them questions about their interests, their favorite dancers, performances, and etc.
A personalized approach is extremely important, especially at the advanced level when the students begin to develop not only physically, but also aesthetically.
Students will trust you if they see the result – and then they cannot be stopped. They will push themselves to do more and more. If the students have interest, then their desire, passion, and excitement will come.
-What do you think about new trend of teaching via Internet?
Online education is a good auxiliary tool that gives an opportunity to get information that otherwise a student cannot get. It overcomes the distance and time limitations, and in many cases, makes the top teachers’ training available to everyone. Given today’s circumstances, Internet education is a good solution. Under the normal conditions, this is an additional source of information.
You know that some teachers give regularly dancing classes free of charge. What do you think about this?
If people run free online classes, they probably need it for their own purposes. I look at it as a kind of advertisement. There are thousands of classes, but they are not very different from each other as they present just a set of ballet combinations.
-What’s a difference between a regular on-line class and a serious professional instruction, targeting a specific achievement? How does a focused single-purpose class differ from the myriad of other lessons posted on the Web now? What makes an on-line class a real educational experience?
In the methodological class, every movement, right down to each finger, is thoroughly explained by a teacher and understood by a student.
This is the only way to get results, as the right foundation is created from the right explanation, allowing further development. Otherwise, it is a mere exercise, a simple warm-up. Everyone can come up with their own combinations. That is not education.
-What can students learn from a professional video dance class?
As I mentioned before, a class with a detailed explanation creates a solid technique foundation, whether it’s a video class or in person.
-There are thousands of video classes on the Internet. How does a student choose the right one?
It’s a difficult choice. As I’ve noted before, in ballet training a teacher plays a key role. A student should always look at the teacher’s record. If he or she developed the students into successful dancers before, there is a pretty good possibility that this teacher can help you, too. Also, teacher’s stage experience is important. It is different from just a video. You can watch a video and copy it in the classroom, but with that you would not teach the student anything as you do not know how to use this material. When choosing a class, the students should also set up a goal – a warm-up class or an educational class – in order to help them choose the right one to meet their needs.
-How to become a ballet star? Who is more likely to become a professional dancer – hardworking or talented but undisciplined?
No professional teacher can guarantee that a student becomes a star. Often, the stars are not those who have natural abilities, but those who work hard, push themselves. All this is based on consistent adequate training. Of course, if there is also talent then that is an ideal combination.
Ballet does not consist of stars only. There are few stars, as in any field. Our goal is to train ballet dancers of high quality. There are various levels of ballet companies, with soloists and corps de ballet, and their level depends on how correct and solid is the foundation they have built during their training.
As for the competitions, focus is extremely important. Full immersion is required, without any distractions. It also needs mental preparation. You can be a brilliant dancer, but you’ll get lost at the competition if you cannot handle your emotions. You should cultivate self-control and confidence, which are attained only through hard work.
-I know that you are a teacher of many great ballet stars. Are you choosing the right students or are you capable of making a star of anyone?
I do not choose students, although, of course, every teacher is looking for talents. As a teacher, you help any student become the best dancer he or she can be.
-I realize that a pedagogue teaches not just the ballet techniques, but fosters in students determination, mental fortitude, ability to overcome fears and limitations, reach for one’s dreams … How’s all that applicable in everyday life? You’ve been a competition judge. What do you think are the most important things to focus on while preparing for a competition – regardless of the level? What personal qualities should the students develop that will increase their chances of winning the competitions and becoming the best dancers?
For the competition, it is necessary to exercise determination, hard work, patience, and psychological balance. You have to remember what your teacher says, and see yourself not only in a mirror, but in your mind. Be critical of yourself as if you are another teacher.
All these qualities are very important in life.
-Another question: what is common and what is the difference between the two professions in which you have excelled – teacher and dancer?
Teacher and dancer are two different professions, but they are closely related. A dancer does not automatically become a teacher. It is one thing to be able to do it yourself, and it’s quite another to know how to teach others according to the methodology. Important components for becoming a ballet teacher are specialized education and stage experience. And a gift for teaching. It is a hard profession. Without endurance and patience, you cannot become a teacher. Experience – a number of years in the profession – makes you a professional.
-And the last question: what will you wish to everybody who does ballet and wants to become a famous professional dancer?
Love ballet. If you do not like this profession, you will not love yourself in it, you will not push yourself and you will not have patience. It is very, very hard and can be sustained only with great love. Otherwise, very soon, you will get tired and exhausted.