Italian translation by Svetlana Bazhenova and Silvia Brioschi, after kind suggestion of Vladimir Kara
“Evgenij Polyakov. Back To the Origins.”
An interview collected in Moscow in May 2002
Sofija Oranskaya: Zoya Semionova, tell me about your son and the important period during his formation: from the admission into the Ballet School until before his departure abroad.
Zoya Semionovna Polyakova: Evgenij was born on April 27, 1943, to a family of engineers. I am a technical engineer in the food industry and my husband, Pavel Polyakov, was also an engineer; his father was killed during the war, when Genia was six months old. During the war, Genia’s father came to Moscow for a mission — because he attended the Military School — so he could see his son, who was then four months old. But within two months, Pavel fell on the Byelorussian front and, to me, it meant nothing more than to be sent to his grave. Ever since attending kindergarten, Genia always wanted to take part in childrens’ plays, dancing as a soloist. But it was after seeing The Nutcracker that he decided to dance forever. When it was time to go to public school, he said he would not go to school, but that he absolutely wanted to enter the Choreographic Institute. The school year had already begun and my mother, his grandmother, asked the former Director of the Academy of the Bol’šhoj Theatre (Elle Victorovna Bocharnikova, ndt) to check and evaluate the child’s talents. Genia went through various rooms to be examined, where his musical qualities, aptitude qualities, and health conditions were judged — receiving high scores for all the requirements.
After examining him, the director of the school said that the boy had qualities that were above average and that he would be admitted. He studied at the Choreographic Institute for nine years and, for every year he always received the highest marks in classic dance: 5. At the age of 12, as a student of the third course, Genia
took his first steps on stage at the Bol’šhoj Theatre, taking part in Swan Lake, then Sleeping Beauty, as well as managing to participate in other productions of ballet and opera in the ensemble scenes. While a student at the Choreographic Institute, and when he was coming back home, he loved to organize, together with a girl, our neighbor, Natasha, to dress up — wearing womens’ clothes and shoes, while Natasha wore Genia’s clothes. Evgenij madly loved classical dance and, despite our modest possibilities, he was going to Leningrad to attend performances at the Mariinskij Theatre — especially when his favorite dancer, Alla Shelest or other ballet stars, were dancing. Once, in December (1957, ndt), Beryl Grey — Principal Dancer at the Royal Ballet and the first English dancer who was invited at the Bol’šhoj — came to dance Swan Lake. Buying a ticket was impossible, but Genia managed to flee security, sneaking up to the fifth level where he could watch three acts before he was discovered and taken to the police station. But everything turned out fine. During the year of his Diploma, he got a 5 in the final classical dance examination, the highest of the votes. In a performance at the Bol’šhoj Theatre, on the occasion of his Diploma, Evgenij danced with Tamara Rusova (later Principal Dancer at the Novosibirsk, ndt) in the ballet Vain Precaution, with music written by Hertel (known in the West as La Fille Mal Gardée, ndt) which has a great success with the audience. At the end of his schooling, and because of his good academic performances, he was rewarded with a trip to Germany — together with his classical dance teacher, Alexei Ermolaev. Evgenij had a contract with the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theatre, where he worked for eight years as Principal Dancer and where, at the same time, he taught classical dance at the dance academy of the theatre. In Novosibirsk he got married and divorced. In 1970, he returned to Moscow to teach classical dance at the Choreographic Institute, the Bol’šhoj Dance School, where in 1962, he had completed his studies. One of his students, Fedyanin (Vladimir, ndt), was chosen to participate in the Varna Competition for Young Dancers and won the Gold Medal in the Senior category, in the 1972 edition. In 1976, Evgenij Polyakov emigrated to Italy.
S.O.: For which reasons did Evgenij emigrate to Italy?
Z.S. Polyakova: Officially, Evgenij would have emigrated to Israel. But to get to Israel, you had to pass through Italy. Once arrived in Italy, he stayed there for a while. A famous teacher (Žarko Prebil, ndt) said to him: “You won’t go anywhere, because you will work in Italy.”
S.O.: From which city are you from, Moscow?
Z.S. Polyakova: No, I’m not from Moscow, but Evgenij was born here. Even Genia’s father wasn’t from here, but he lived in Moscow for a long time. I came later.
S.O.: Did Genia have children?
Z.S. Polyakova: No, he didn’t. He has married once with a Ballerina from the Novosibirsk Theatre.
S.O.: Where did the idea of devoting himself to dance come from? Did anybody dance in your family?
Z.S. Polyakova: No. In our family nobody had ever been involved with dancing. As it’s said, “It came from God”. Genia was always dancing — at home, in kindergarten, even before he saw The Nutcracker.
S.O.: How did he manage to go to the dance school?
Z.S. Polyakova: I brought him there. Because when I faced the ultimatum that he would not go to school, with the school year already started, I had nothing else to do but to contact the director of the school and ask her to give him an audition. I also said: “Look at him and drop him”. I have never been very convinced about this profession. This happened in 1953, Genia was 10, at the Institute they were taking boys starting from 10 years old, after the third year of elementary school. The day of the audition came; it was a Sunday. The director of the school, a very dear woman, said to me: “Take only the shoes, the shorts, and a tanker”. And so we arrived. Ella Victorovna instructed a dancer — whose last name was Cherkasskaya (Tatiana, ndt) — to accompany him to the dance room. Then she invited us to his office and said: “Genia’s abilities are above average. He can settle in the class.” He studied with a lot of will, very well. And almost since the beginning they used him in the group scenes of some performances. This was making him happy.
S.O.: And for you?
Z.S. Polyakova: Well, I understood there was no other way. It was useless to try and dissuade him or transfer him to another school. Of course, at some point, I gave up and I helped him as much as I could. The school was far from home. Genia, of course, was madly in love with dance. It was for this love that he incurred in that accident when he was caught, taken away from the theatre and brought to the police station. When this happened, I was away from home for a business trip. Genia lived alone for a while and one of our neighbors took care of him. But everything was fine.
S.O.: Later, when he went abroad, did you stay in touch?
Z.S. Polyakova: Yes, of course, Genia was calling and writing.
S.O.: But he could not come back?
Z.S. Polyakova: Of course not. You could not even think to come back. Only in 1990, when everything changed, I managed to go to him in Paris, where he was working at that time. In 1991, the Opéra Ballet came to Moscow in tournée. Genia could come with the theatre, but he didn’t want to.
Z.S. Polyakova: The reason is simple: Genia departed from here with a thousand problems. For example, to be able to leave, it was required to have a certification that had to be released from his last job, and they didn’t want to give it to him. They insulted him. Genia then went to the party committee to somehow try and press the school of dance, where he taught classical dance… But, overall, it was all very complicated, and all this was very heavy for him. He knew that, if he had come to Moscow, he would have inevitably met the people who had insulted and criticized him. So Genia gave up on the trip…
S.O.: Was Evgenij used to keeping a diary?
Z.S. Polyakova: No. Never. But from Italy he used to write letters; especially in the beginning, after he left here. In Venice, at the Teatro La Fenice, he didn’t work long. From there he wrote amazing letters. For the first time he was in such a city. He was writing very detailed and long letters.
S.O.: Did you keep those letters?
Z.S. Polyakova: Unfortunately not. Afterwards, he left to Florence. Also there, he was captivated. And also from there, he wrote. But from Paris he wrote very little. Only two or three letters. He was calling.
S.O.: Why didn’t he write from Paris? Was he not liking Paris?
Z.S. Polyakova: No, he liked Paris very much; but there, he was working a lot. When I visited him in 1990, I stayed one month in Paris and he only had two half days free. Genia didn’t even have the time to show me Paris. There was another person who showed me the city.
S.O.: Did Genia suffer leaving home?
Z.S. Polyakova: I have to say that there was no nostalgia in the letters. Although once, when I was in Paris, Genia told me: “ You know, Mom, it’s very heavy to live.”
S.O.: Did he refer to living abroad or in general?
Z.S. Polyakova: It was nostalgia, but simply didn’t use that word. But, certainly, I realized that it was nostalgia. I was very sorry that for him, at that time, it was so difficult to leave. And because of that departure, he had been so mistreated by the Institute — where he had studied and worked after arriving from Novosibirsk, where a lot of his teachers are still working now. And all of them always treated him very well; until then. But when the gossip of his departure spread: what happened! Yes, I think he was nostalgic, but this marked the second period of his life abroad, when he was working in Paris. Although he didn’t leave the company in Florence, where he was going every week from Paris. But he never wrote to me about it. I guess because he didn’t want to make me worry. Yes, he understood that, also for me, this was heavy.
S.O.: In addition to dance, what other interests did he have?
Z.S. Polyakova: Genia was very passionate about art. Especially figurative arts. He was often attending galleries and exhibitions. When he was going to Leningrad, he was never missing a visit to the Ermitage.
S.O.: And him? Was he painting?
Z.S. Polyakova: Not paintings; however, all alone, he painted a wardrobe. We were living in another apartment where there was a big wardrobe that he painted. Well, some sketches, but in reality he never cared to paint.
S.O.: And what about his relationship with literature?
Z.S. Polyakova: Genia loved poetry. We had a lot of books. But I have given away many of them because I wouldn’t have anyone to leave them with. He also loved prose and had his favorite artists. In ballet, he loved Maya Plisetskaya — she was his idol. He loved her very much and went to her shows.
S.O.: What did Genia love the most in literature?
Z.S. Polyakova: Genia loved poetry. He really loved Blok. I think he knew him all by heart. He also loved Majakovskij. Pushkin. And he knew a lot of Lermontov’s work by heart.
S.O: And among foreign authors?
Z.S. Polyakova: We had a subscription to the magazine “Foreign Literature”; I kept the issues for many years. Genia was reading this magazine. In general, he liked the narrative. He read a lot.
S.O.: Did Genia love being in nature? Go fishing? In the woods?
Z.S. Polyakova: No, Genia didn’t like this. He didn’t mesh with nature. When he could, he would go to art galleries, exhibitions, and prose.
S.O.: What was Genia’s character? Mild, dark, sociable?
Z.S. Polyakova: Genia was very sociable. He always had a lot of friends. He loved people; he liked to be with company. Especially when he was studying at the dance school, they were going on vacation all together. In school he was often more friends with girls. They were coming home to visit him, and he liked to go at their place as well. Genia was very sociable and, in general, had a very easy, calm, balanced, and accommodating character. What people would say good in his nature, let’s give him the last homage…
Moscow, Spring 2002
Note from the author: This interview was not intended to be published, but to provided additional information for a documentary about the outstanding choreographer from the Seventies to the Nineties of the XX century: Evgenij Polyakov (Génia Polyakov, Maître de ballet, Chorégraphe – Directed by Vladimir Kara — Production by Yuri Evgrafov). Unfourtunatly, Zoya Semionovna was very tense during the interview. Obstinately, as a partisan, she didn’t answer many questions, so much that I couldn’t give a real human picture of Evgenji Polyakov (task that was assigned to me by the authors — since his mother could not tell about him as a teacher and as a choreographer). Here, there were two factors as impediments. First, the fear rooted in life itself. Evgenij Polyakov’s departure abroad in the 70s was so difficult that it left an indelible bitterness in his mother’s soul, for the offenses that her child had to suffer — a resentment to those friends and colleagues who, because of his departure, became enemies. Second, like many colleagues, Evgenij Polyakov was a homosexual and, among other things, he contracted the same disease for which his colleague Nureyev died. For the mother, who grew up in the strong tradition of Soviet morality, everything was experienced as a shame and dishonor; the horror of a damned era, in which people forgot about morals and God. As a result, during the interview, I had the impression that Zoya Semionovna was on alert; with the intention of not saying too much, trying not to let anything appear… To note: Zoya Semionovna started to speak freely only when I turned off the recorder. Finally relaxed, she began to tell… Too bad I don’t have the vocation of a spy: I would have brought two recorders.