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Gagik Aghbalyan

Masquerade Ballet to Premier in Yerevan Despite Shoestring Budget; Where are Armenia’s Wealthy Arts Sponsors?

Aram Khachaturian’s Masquerade ballet will have its premiere on March 5 at the Alexander Spendiaryan National Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet in Yerevan.

Masquerade was written by Khachaturian in 1941 as incidental music for a production of the play of the same name by Russian poet and playwright Mikhail Lermontov. Later, in 1944, Khachaturian extracted five movements to make a symphonic suite.

It was only after Khachaturian’s death that composer Edgar Hovhannisyan wrote the score for the ballet by uniting the music written by Khachaturian for the suite with his other creations.

Vilen Galstyan, a People’s Artist of Armenia, and a professional ballet dancer and choreographer who headed the Spendiaryan Academic Theater’s ballet in the 1980s, is the creative genius behind the premiere.

“It’s difficult talking about ballet. It must be seen. The dancers and the orchestra have worked hard to present a top-quality performance,” Galstyan told reporters today.

Galstyan allowed the press to watch one of the ballet’s last rehearsals before the premiere.

A reporter noted that the costumes and decorations seemed gloomy, giving the impression to spectators that the main heroine, Nina, must die.

Galstyan responded that he too had comments about the costumes and decorations. He said that Masquerade was planned to be an expensive performance but that financing proved to be insufficient. 

“Costs were few. For a med-level ballet. When they invite Grigorovich, they pay 100,000 Euros. The costumes are sewed at the Krasnodar atelier.  They are high quality and expensive. I have nothing against Grigorovich. I adore him. He placed me on the grand stage and I toured the world for twenty years.”

(Here, Galstyan refers to Yury Grigorovich, a dancer and choreographer who dominated the Soviet and Russian ballet for thirty years)

Galstyan said that the opulence he envisaged doesn’t appear in the performance. “We’ve done it with our meager resources,” he said. 

When this reporter asked Galstyan why he doesn’t use his “charisma” to demand more money from the government, he said that he doesn’t like to use it to beg for money.

Galstyan said that 35 million AMD (US$72,000) was spent on producing Masquerade.

When asked to comment on the government’s approach to funding operas and ballets, given the large amounts spent overseas, Galstyan merely responded: “Simply put, when someone is invited overseas, they’re paid a lot. Someone coming from overseas gets more than I do.” 

When asked about the general problem of funding the arts in Armenia, Galstyan pointed the finger to top government officials.

“The government, Serzh and Rita Sargsyan, invited Grigorovich. We don’t attract such attention. I’m presenting Masquerade on a shoestring budget. I wanted it to be more luxurious. For each costume to have a separate color. I wanted much. But that’s an expensive luxury not afforded me.”

When I asked why wasn’t more money being allocated to serious academic art, Galstyan said he couldn’t say why the ballet wasn’t sponsored to a great degree, even though, in his opinion, ballet is the most beautiful of all art forms.

“The wealthy in Armenia don’t attend the ballet,” Galstyan noted. 

Galstyan also dreams about premiering Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake in Yerevan. In this, money is also an issue.

He said it would be a big minus if the Spendiaryan Academic Theater didn’t include it in its repertoire.

Photos: Gagik Aghbalyan

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