Irek and his wife Masha had been looking at the questions as they were posted on ballet.co. So he had already given some thought to them, before he recorded his answers.
Anneliese: Can you remember a performance, or a solo or pdd during a performance, when you came offstage and thought "That's it, that was the performance of a lifetime", when everything came together and worked perfectly and had that extra special something?
Irek: Each performance is a lifetime. This is it. In every performance I give my all on stage. I cannot describe any particular one. Each performance is the performance of my life.
Roddy: What has become of Natalia Arkhipova with whom you danced Nutcracker at the Bolshoi? I really enjoyed both your performances and the production as a whole. What would you say are the main differences between the ballet environment in Russia and in England?
Irek: I donít know. Iím not in touch with Russia much. I know she isnít dancing anymore with the Bolshoi. She was dancing with the Grigorovich Company and after that I donít know.
Kate: Giselle is the defining role for a ballerina. What role would you say is the defining one for a male dancer?
Irek: Any role is a defining role for a male dancer. I like to do dramatic roles, but I donít mind doing classic roles. Some dancers prefer classic to dramatic roles. Maybe itís a question that can be put a different way. Which role can lift you up in your career and give you a step further. I think it depends how you do it Ė and how memorable an audience find it. Rudolph in Mayerling is an incredible role and character. But it does not mean other parts in that ballet are no good. Other dancers may define themselves in other roles. Itís very difficult to say that Giselle is a defining role. Maybe for a ballerina itís Swan Lake. It is not only Giselle. For a male it could be Rudolph from Mayerling, or Albrecht from Giselle, or any role. For me every role is important.
Kate: Do you think that with so many new versions of ballet classics and even more new individual pieces, that ballet is becoming deconstructed? If so, is this a good thing?
Irek: I think it is because modern choreographers try to shock audiences with new versions of the story of Swan Lake or Nutcracker. If someone sees Nutcracker for the first time and itís from a modern choreographer with shocking things on stage, and not the classical version, thatís the one theyíll remember. Afterwards they will not want to see a classical Nutcracker because as far as theyíre concerned theyíve seen Nutcracker. Itís the same music, and nearly the same story. And itís shocking and it will stay forever in their memory. This is what distracts ballet as a classical art. We have to fight very hard to keep classical ballet as it is, not to be ashamed to repeat ourselves and to do classical ballets as many times as possible.
Kate: Do you think ballet audiences of today tend to focus on the wrong things? As a dancer, what subtleties in your performance would you hope your audience would appreciate?
Irek: Yes. As classical dancers now we have to adapt whatís happening in the dance world generally, not just the ballet world. The ballet world has to do modern stuff as well as revive classical pieces. The dance world is so enormous, but weíre losing audiences. To bring the audience back, dance has to adapt. We need to bring more life, entertain audiences more, and make them smile. Not always with dramatic ballets but also a little bit of fun so that audience can come back to us
Anneliese: I wouldn't expect you to say who your perfect partner has been - but is there anyone you've never had the chance to dance with but wished you had?
Irek: I wish I could have danced with Margot Fonteyn. I would like to feel how much I know about Margot Fonteyn. I think she had a romantic soul. There was something special inside her that I would like to have seen coming through on the stage.
Lara: Is there one role, other than Ivan the Terrible in Russia that you would like to dance one more time?
Irek: I donít think so. I thought I would do Ivan the Terrible, but Iím now having second thoughts and thinking it may not be such a good idea now. If when I was 40, perhaps. But at 41 or 42? I might try just one special guest performance. But thereís nothing else I see myself doing.
Jim: Do you ever feel homesick for Russia? Do you keep abreast of events in Russia? What do you think of Vladimir Putin's policies relating to the arts in Russia?
Irek: One important thing I like in the West is the freedom to do the job you want to do. Iím doing art and only art. Iím not mixing politics and art. I donít care what Putin thinks and what he is doing, because I am so far away from Russia now and Iím not homesick and not missing it. I know that there I went to school, had the beginning of my career, and made my name. But thereís nothing else I can say.
Genevieve: My name is Genevieve, and I am 10 years old and i am a big fan of yours. I wanted to ask, as I know you have children, whether they are following in your footsteps and enjoy dancing.
Irek: Sasha my daughter, whoís 11 still wants to dance, but she is also very nicely mixing colours, so she might think of being a designer. Max, my son, heís aged 5, he is sometimes at home copying Sasha and copying me. And I say to him ďMax Ė shall I take you to ballet school?Ē And he puts on him such a face showing to me ďGo to hell!Ē
Marj: You mentioned "Valentino" as a project for 2002. Can you tell us anymore?
Irek: This piece, Four Horsemen, which weíre doing at the Gala, is a piece of light and easy research, and itís an experiment more for myself as a choreographer, to see what can be done in a way to show the passion of tango on stage. Valentino was a passionate tango dancer. Four Horsemen is a kind of run-through the Argentinean tango to see what can be done with it. It doesnít mean that we precisely do Valentino. We are researching and trying to understand if itís right to do it this way or another way altogether. It may or not develop into a full-length ballet. Hopefully there will be a couple of impresarios in the audience. Weíll see if it develops further.
Marj: You have always invested your dance characters with a sense of soul. As a choreographer, if your choice was confined to two dancers, one with great technic but no ability to portray character, the other almost the exact opposite, who would you choose, and how would you work around it?
Irek: When I read this question I laughed so much that Iíll try to answer in a cheeky way. Both technical and dramatical dancer, I would say. You never know. I am always challenging myself to work with a dramatic dancer who cannot do such and such a trick or not quite technical ability to ensure that he learns from me. Or technical dancer who has not the dramatic ability, to teach him to be more dramatic. I would take this as a challenge. I would not want to choose. I would take both.
Marj: Do you have any plans to keep us British fans up to date with your future career wherever it takes you. The world is now a very small place and it is sometimes easier to get to Europe than central London?
Irek: Iím sure if I dance at Paris Opera everyone will know. But I will not dance at Paris Opera. And for sure if I suddenly dance at the Royal Ballet, which I donít think so, they will know immediately!
Viviane: I like to hear some thoughts on ballet-education and vocational training nowadays. What are the major differences with training in Russia?
Irek: I still think that young dancers who finish at Russian school are trained much better. When they come to a company they are technically much better. They know themselves better and are in charge of their lives more. Here in the West dancers are still children even when they finish school. They come to the company and theyíre still boys and girls instead of already being professional dancers and taking responsibility for what they do on stage. They donít think about what theyíre doing on stage. The Russian school is still the best in the world. The second I would say is the French school, but not the English one. Something else in needed here Ė a different attention to how they approach dancers, how they chose dancers for a school. If a boy or girl is passionate to dance, it doesnít mean that they will be very good. You need to check talent, the technical ability, the strength, extensions, and so many things. And then artistically it will develop in the school. To say ďThis girl canít dance, but sheís so passionate on the stageĒ doesnít mean that she will be very good anyway. The schools here donít push students to be responsible for themselves and what they do at the barre, what they do at the centre. Here students are spoon-fed. In Russia they have to do it for themselves and the teacher is there to help them to think for themselves.