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About the Change

Marcia Haydee

Prima ballerina
Stuttgart Ballet

by Kevin Ng

Haydee in Interviews/news items

Marcia Haydee, the former prima ballerina of the Stuttgart Ballet, is one of the most renowned dramatic ballerinas of the twentieth century. Haydee, now in her early sixties, has maintained her star status for nearly four decades.

In the 1960s the Stuttgart Ballet was under the artistic direction of John Cranko who created a number of full-length dramatic ballets which established the company's reputation. Haydee was his muse, and among her most famous roles are Juliet, Tatiana in "Onegin" and Kate in "The Taming of the Shrew". In Stuttgart Haydee formed a celebrated partnership with her colleague Richard Cragun which lasted for nearly 30 years.

Haydee also served as the artistic director of the Stuttgart Ballet from 1976 till 1995. In the last few years Haydee has returned to Stuttgart Ballet from time to time to dance the character roles. During the Hong Kong Arts Festival in February, this Brazilian-born star gave two performances of "Tristan Isolde", an intensive dance theatre duet, with Ismael Ivo who is a former dancer of the Alvin Ailey Dance Company.

Question: Nowadays you dance mainly the character roles like Lady Capulet.

Haydee: I stopped dancing for two years after 1996, then I came back to do Madge in "La Sylphide". I also did Lady Capulet in "Romeo and Juliet". There's absolutely no technique whatsoever in these roles, only acting.

Q: Do you miss dancing on pointe, and wish that you could still be dancing the ballerina roles?

H: Not at all. That period is over, and I don't even think about it any more. I don't worry about age. The older you get, the more you can give. You have to find the essence of life - youth, maturity, even aging. To have true power on stage, one must know all of that.

Q: Is the witch Madge in "La Sylphide" your first Bournonville role?

H: I think it's a very interesting role because you can make a character out of it. Yes, that was my first Bournonville role. Stuttgart used to have Peter Schaufuss' production of "La Sylphide" when I was director, as I brought Schaufuss over to do the production. It's been revived in the last few years.

Q: Do you still have much contact with the Stuttgart Ballet?

H: I go sometimes to guest with the Stuttgart Ballet, but not very often. Yes, I've contact with them. But now it's different, because it doesn't belong to me (Reid Anderson is now director). I am not that interested any more.

Q: When you dance the modern dance works nowadays, do you feel that you are starting all over again as a dancer?

H: I don't think that there's much difference, because the important thing for me as a classical dancer was the acting. And now in modern dance it's also the same. So acting is the main strength for me in dance.

Actually modern dance is perhaps not the right term, because what I did with John Cranko was already modern. I don't make such a distinction. I wouldn't say that what I do with Ismael Ivo is modern dance. Modern dance has a certain category like Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor etc., and that's not what we're doing. I would label it as dance theatre instead of modern dance.

Q: Do you find as much fulfilment in these works as in ballet?

H: The truth is that dance now is not the most important thing in my life. Before dance was everything, and I only lived to dance, but now it's no longer the case. Now I am glad that I dance, but dance is not so important as before. I have my husband, and another side of my life that for me is most important.

Q: Which of the roles that Cranko created for you do you see as the most significant?

H: I think all of them were very important, because each one is part of me and my career. I can't say which are the most important. Also there's "Lady of the Camellias" created on me by John Neumeier in 1975, as well as his ballet "A Streetcar Named Desire". Also there are Bejart's ballets like the full-length "Wien Wien Nur Du Allein". I also did "Divine", a piece about Greta Garbo that Bejart created for me, and then "Isadora", "Gaiete Parisiene". We did many. I had those Bejart ballets in Stuttgart, and I also did them in Brussels with his company.

And Kenneth MacMillan created for me "The Song of the Earth", "Requiem", and "The House of Bernada Alba."

Q: Let's start off with Cranko. Did you feel that you had any say when you were creating a role for him?

H: Richard Cragun and I always questioned him about what he really wanted, and I told him if I agreed or not. There's always a dialogue with the choreographer, otherwise there's no way one can create a ballet. You have to talk to the choreographer and help him.

Q: How was MacMillan different from Cranko?

H: They're all different - Neumeier, MacMillan, Cranko. They all had different ways of working. Cranko never really prepared the steps till he came to the studio. MacMillan always prepared the steps before, and he used to have an idea of what steps he wanted.

Q: You've created some pure dance roles for MacMillan like "Requiem" and "The Song of the Earth" which you mentioned earlier.

H: Actually, "Requiem" and "The Song of the Earth" are not just pure dance roles. Each has a story and a special feeling about it, otherwise I wouldn't have done them, because I don't like to do pure dance roles.

"Requiem" actually has a basic story, as it was a tribute to John Cranko, and I represented the person who was holding together the whole company, and who was alone and had lost somebody she loved very much. There's a very strong relationship to John.

Q: Have you danced any of Ashton's ballets? Which of his ballets do you wish you could have danced yourself?

H: No, I haven't. I didn't have time to wish to dance any other ballet because I already had enough to do with my own ballets.

Q: What about Balanchine's ballets like "Apollo"?

H: I danced many of his ballets - "Allegro Brillante", "La Valse", "The Four Temperaments", "Apollo" - because Cranko had Balanchine in the company's repertory. I never liked to dance in Balanchine's ballets, as they need a kind of dancer different from myself. I think Balanchine is a great choreographer, but he's not for me.

Q: In the 1960s and 1970s was there much competition between the many stars of that era like yourself, Fonteyn, Sibley, Seymour, Makarova, etc.?

H: I never competed with anybody, I wasn't interested in competition. Competition is for sports, but not for the arts. I just did my best, and if people liked it, it's OK. If they didn't like my performances, they didn't. I was never worried about being better than anyone elsoe. I just wanted to do my own career.

Q: Besides your celebrated partnership with Richard Cragun, did you actually dance much with Reid Anderson? I saw you dance "Onegin" with him in London with the English National Ballet in 1991.

H: Ricky was my partner, and our partnerhsip lasted till the end. We danced 30 years together till 1996. I danced sometimes with Reid, for instance if someone was injured, but it wasn't really a partnership.

Q: How did you meet your current partner Ismael Ivo?

H: At the moment we are dancing together, but I wouldn't say he's my partner. We met in Stuttgart. I always went to see his performances, and he came to see mine. We've known each other for a long time, but we never really danced together till two years ago when he had the idea about doing "Tristan Isolde", and that's how we started.

Marcia Haydee and Ismael Ivo in Tristan Isolde
Photographer Rolf Arnold

Q: Was he responsible for the choreography of "Tristan Isolde"?

H: We both did the choreography, but most of it was Ismael's idea. However we did together the creation of the steps.

Q: What do you find so special about Ismael?

H: His energy. When you have a partner that suits you, there's a certain kind of feeling that I experience like with Richard. It's something that I can't explain.

Q: What other works have both of you danced besides "Tristan Isolde"? And what are your future plans?

H: We did "Aura", a ballet that he created for the company in Brazil, which was in memory of his teacher Alvin Ailey. We have many plans for the future, e.g. having Vladimir Malakhov do a piece with us, doing "Medea" with the Ankara Ballet. We'll see what happens, because nothing is settled yet. If it happens, it happens; and if it doesn't happen, it doesn't.

Q: Let's turn the subject to your long directorship of the Stuttgart Ballet. You commissioned David Bintley to do "Edward II", and invited Malakhov as a guest.

H: Yes, I think it's Bintley's best ballet. I noticed that he had talent, which was why I invited him to come to Stuttgart. As for Malakhov, he had already danced with me when I invited him to dance "Sleeping Beauty" and other roles. But it was Reid Anderson who actually brought him into the company.

Q: And surely it's not a coincidence that Stuttgart produced so many choreographers like Jiri Kylian, John Neumeier, William Forsythe, Uwe Scholz.

H: They all started in Stuttgart as dancers and then became choreographers. No, it wasn't a coincidence. It's because we always gave opportunities to new choreographers. Actually it was Cranko who started this, and I just continued this policy.

Q: Did you make it a priority to preserve Cranko's ballets? What about his plotless ballets, e.g., that are not seen much nowadays?

H: I kept some of Cranko's ballets, especially the three main dramatic ballets - "Onegin", "The Taming of the Shrew", "Romeo". After all his reputation was founded on these dramatic ballets. But a lot of the time I brought in new ballets. We didn't keep many of his plotless ballets, except the pas de deux like "Homage a Bolshoi".

Q: You changed a lot in your production of "Sleeping Beauty" for the Stuttgart Ballet? What other productions have you staged?

H: Oh yes, I changed a lot especially the role of Carabosse which I changed completely. I made it into a role for Richard Cragun, that was one of the changes in my production. I kept more or less the fairies' variations and the pas de deux. I also produced "Giselle", "Coppelia", "Firebird"; I changed everything in these productions.

Q: Do you return to Stuttgart Ballet from time to time to teach?

H: No, I prefer not to, and I very seldom watch performances. When I'm in Stuttgart, I go to my house which is an hour away from Stuttgart. Actually I only go to Stuttgart when I have work, to dance "Tristan" and other productions. But I don't do very much with the Stuttgart Ballet.

Marcia Haydee
Photo by Kevin Ng

Q: Do you think that Cranko's ballets are still danced as well as in your time in the past? Is there actually a Cranko trust similar to the Balanchine Trust?

H: Oh yes, I think Cranko's ballets will continue to live for a long time. As long as there are good dancers, they can look great in the ballets.

There isn't a trust. There is a German called Dieter Graffe who has the rights to all of Cranko's ballets. He used to be my co-director when I was in the company. He was away in Canada, but is now back living in Stuttgart. He doesn't however stage the ballets, he has special people who have the notation and they are the ones who go around the world to rehearse Cranko's ballets.

Q: Why did you finally decide to finally retire as director in 1995?

H: I didn't want any more, as I had had enough by then. It was too long, 19 years as director were enough for me.

Q: Which young dancers do you admire nowadays?

H: There are many good dancers, but I don't see any that I really admire that much. But then I've been very much away from dance, I don't go to watch that many ballets any more. You need a Nureyev, e.g., to make a big star, but there's no Nureyev in the world now. There's Malakhov maybe, but they don't have the same kind of power like Nureyev and Fonteyn, because they don't have the ballets created for them that can develop them.

Q: Which young choreographers do you admire nowadays?

H: Very difficult question. I don't think that there are choreographers yet that are on the same level as Cranko, Neumeier, or Bejart. I think that there's a lot of young talent, but whether they are going to develop into great choreographers I don't know.

Q: And nowadays choreographers tend to create more for the male dancers instead of the ballerinas. Don't you think?

H: Yes, there has been this tendency since Bejart's time.

Q: Do you think that classical ballet has a future?

H: Oh yes, I think that it will have a future if one can preserve the choreography. Classical ballet will always have a place in the world, it's never going to die. But the ballets have to be carefully preserved and well danced, because otherwise there's no point in having them as museum pieces. I think that classical ballet has to be taken care of so that it can develop with time.

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