|Irek Mukhamedov: 'I never said I'd stopped dancing'|
|Life & Entertainment - Performing Arts|
|Written by news desk - telegraph.co.ukm|
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Nearly a decade since Britain last saw him, the great Irek Mukhamedov is returning to the London stage to star in the three most famous ballets of all time. Mark Monahan meets him.
'I was a dancer-actor in England. I will always love the stories, I will always love the drama inside, I will always love blood on stage.” So says Irek Mukhamedov, a performer the mere mention of whose name is enough to make balletomanes go weak at the knees. Between 1990 (when he quit both the Bolshoi and his homeland to become the star principal with the Royal Ballet) and 2004 (when, with an OBE, he left that company for administrative posts elsewhere), the great Tartar proved one of the most magnetic performers ever to grace the Covent Garden stage. Seldom had such muscular, virile, virtuosic technique been allied to such interpretative passion, intelligence and versatility, and the result was a dancer – especially in the works of Kenneth MacMillan – off whom you simply couldn’t take your eyes.
Now, almost a decade since Britain last saw him, Mukhamedov is back. Former New York City Ballet principal Peter Schaufuss, the Dane who last year brought Frederick Ashton’s Romeo and Juliet to London, is now about to give the first UK staging of his ambitious Tchaikovsky Trilogy. And, throughout a week that will see multiple performances of the late-19th-century classics Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker – including a marathon triptych next Saturday – it is Mukhamedov who is topping the bill.
Mukhamedov’s duties these past years have been chiefly behind-the-scenes, as the director of ballet companies first in Greece and now (with his wife of many years, Masha) in the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana. So, I ask him when we meet in an opulent flat in London’s East End, what was it about this project that he found so irresistible?
“I think it’s mostly the invitation by Peter Schaufuss,” he replies. “For me, Peter Schaufuss was one of the greatest ballet dancers – we’ve danced together in some galas, but when we came across each other it was more in the friendly, private way that you and I are talking now. It was a really good big surprise to me to receive an email from Peter asking me if I would join him in his project.
“And secondly,” he continues, “it’s London. For me London will always be a central place, a centre of culture. I learnt a lot here. For me, London is a second home – but then,” he admits, “we dancers call everywhere we live 'home’! And of course it brings out the discipline in me – I have to bring myself back into the correct ballet discipline.”
Off stage, as on, Mukhamedov blazes with charisma. Blessed with the easy, self-deprecating confidence of the truly gifted, he is at once intensely serious-minded and immensely jovial, with a ready, unguarded smile. His English, fluent and yet peppered with irresistibly Russian flaws, is served up in a magnificent Slavic baritone – so dramatic is his delivery that he could talk about changing a fuse on his kettle and it would still take on a kind of Wagnerian heft.
At 52, he appears fit as a fiddle, and astonishingly similar to how he looked the last time we met, 18 years ago, in what was my very first, cub-reporter interview. (“Ah yes,” he says, “I do remember the face!”, charming enough either actually to remember or else to pretend that he does.) Still, although he regularly does classes with his dancers at Ballet Ljubljana – “to set an example, so that they will learn by eyes as well” – has he found suddenly training once again for the rigours of stage performance a bit of a shock to the system?
“No, not really,” he says. “I did dance two years ago – I’ve never said to myself, 'I’ve stopped dancing’.?” Even so, when I ask him how his fitness is these days, he disarmingly replies, “Well, you know, mind and heart are saying, 'I’m better than everybody else’. But body sometimes is saying, 'Easy, easy, easy boy!’?”