Astana Opera :Tursynbek Nurkaliev – Ballet Director

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By Dr Shahid Qureshi : –

A decorated Worker of the Republic of Kazakhstan. He graduated from the Almaty State Ballet School, class of Professor M. Muntin. From 1970 to 2000 – the soloist of the State Opera and Ballet Theatre named after Abay. In 2002, Tursynbek Nurkaliyev graduated from the National Academy of the Arts named after T. Zhurgenov as a director-choreographer. Since 2000 to 2013, he was the chief choreographer of the ballet troupe at the National Theatre of Opera and Ballet named after K. Baiseitova.

He is a member of the jury of international ballet competitions: International festival «Shabyt», International Ballet Competition «Baiterek» – Astana, International Ballet Competition «Young Ballet of the World» – Sochi (Russia), Moscow International Ballet Competition – Moscow (Russia), «the Award of Rome» – Rome (Italy), the International Ballet Competition in Varna (Bulgaria), a guest of the Beijing Ballet Competition (China).

Since 2007, he became a member of the International Ballet Competition Federation, Member of the International Union of Choreographers (chairman Yuri Grigorovich). He has staged ballets «The Fountain of Bakhchisarai», «Nutcracker», «La Bayadere», «Swan Lake», «Giselle», dances in operas such as «Birzhan-Sara» by Mukan Tolabayev, a number of choreographic miniatures.

T. Nurkaliyev has fostered a plethora of talented ballet dancers, such as Rustem Seytbekov, Zhandos Aubakirov, Tair Gatauov, Madina Basbayeva, Aigerim Beketayeva et al. He has collaborated with famous modern choreographers, among them – People’s Artist of the USSR Yuri Grigorovich, Honored Artist of Russia Sergei Viharev, People’s Artist of Bashkortostan S. Teregulov, Director of the Roman Academy of Dance M. Parilla, Italian choreographer A. Kondeloro, People’s Artist of Russia Boris Eifman, etc.

I conducted and exclusive interview with directotr Tursynbek Nurkaliev:

1. When and where were you born?

I was born on July 22, 1951 in a small town named Kaskelen in Alma-Ata region. As a child, I did not know that I was going to dance; I did not have an interest in it.

A simple Kazakh boy, who, sometimes on foot, other times on horseback, was used to herding sheep, I, like many of my peers, looked at traces of airplanes flying in the sky over the steppe and dreamed of being a pilot. At that time, it was the most interesting thing that we have seen in life and dream of airplanes helped us move forward.

2. What did your parents use to do?

My father – Abdybay Nurkaliev – was a shepherd; my mother – Seisep Nurkalieva – was a milkmaid.

3. Tell us about your education. When did you develop interests in Ballet dance?

In the late 50s – early 60s the views of Kazakh society began to change. It was time when the influence of the Soviet government was expanding. The reaction to everything new was mixed, but, in spite of that, at 7 years of age, my parents have sent me to a boarding school in the belief that the state will provide me with best possible education. I enrolled in Almaty State Choreographic School at 11. I did not get in the first time. When I was brought to the auditions for the second time, outstanding Kazakh dancer Shara Zhienkulova was one of the members of the jury. I am eternally grateful to Asiya Tulekova, who was the director of the choreographic school at the time, who later became like a mother to me.

I will never forget sitting on a sofa in a hallway, not knowing where I was or why I sat there, watching as boys in T-shirts, shorts and white socks were passing by. At first, it all seemed a bit strange and awkward, but after a couple of hours, my eyes have adjusted to the sight. Kids are always fascinated with everything new and unknown. Likewise, it all began to seem wondrous and interesting to me. It was there, on the screen of a small black and white television named “Record” I saw the People’s Artist of the USSR Makhmud Esambayev dancing “The Swan Lake”. The acting skills of the great artist were at the highest level. At that moment, interest in ballet has arisen in me. I realized that ballet is close to my heart, and I began to strive for it.

After the choreographic school, I immediately started working at the Abay State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet. I had a great desire to dance, was always searching, constantly working, which is the reason why I have accomplished all that I have today. Despite the fact that the years go by, my love for ballet did not diminish. 51 years have passed since I started working tirelessly. After graduating, I went to see my father at the “dzhailau” to show him my diploma. Here, I told him, I have graduated from the choreographic school and started working at the Abay Opera House. My father said, “An opera house? What opera house?” He did not like this idea too much. I spoke to him in detail about dancing in ballet performances at the theatre of opera and ballet. Father sighed and said, “I do not know why you want to do this… This is not a job for a man, leave it, come back to the village. Being a shepherd, herding sheep is a man’s job.” The worldview was very different back in those days. In order for them to learn more about my profession, I invited my parents to the opera house. My father said, “your mother may go, but it will be better that I do not see this.” Therefore, it was decided that my mother would be going to the opera house. After seeing me dance at the performance, my mother told me, “if you yourself like this profession, do not worry about us.” She was not a very talkative woman. Even if they did not understand my profession, my parents supported me, did not resist my choice.

Among the eleven children from the boarding school who went to the choreographic school, only three have graduated. Every year, after coming home for the holidays, many children stayed there. At the time, ballet was just beginning to spread in Kazakhstan and it was greeted with apprehension by many representatives of the older generation. Now, when I come home on vacation, my relatives gather, and some of them even start crying. “It is a pity that your parents have departed from this world without seeing your current success”, they say. Despite this, it is due to my parents that I devoted myself to ballet. They supported me in my choice, understanding and accepting my love for this foreign art. On the one hand – my love of ballet and on the other – the support of the people around me, who helped me grow, guided me.

My teachers are – Shara Zhienkulova, a very well-known personality in Kazakhstan: she was one of the founders of Kazakh ballet; the first professional Kazakh choreographer Dauren Abirov. In 2002 I have graduated from Zhurgenov National Academy of Arts as a director and choreographer, Department of the People’s Artist of Kazakhstan, Professor Zaurbek Raybaev. One of the roles that I performed as a soloist of the Abay Opera House is the role of Spartacus in the eponymous ballet staged by Zaurbek Raybaev. I am very grateful to everyone I met on my artistic journey. Thank you for believing in me when I was young and full of ambition. Of course, just like in any other profession, a lot of work is needed in order to achieve the result. To become a ballet dancer a minimum of ten years is necessary. It is a very hard work, which requires extremely strenuous exercise and emotional stress. Only after successfully completing all this, one can really become a true artist.

4. Please, tell us about your family / personal life / wife and kids

My wife Galiya Buribaeva is a ballet master and choreographer in Astana Opera. Together with her, we have staged the “The Swan Lake” by P. Tchaikovsky and “The Fountain of Bakhchisarai” by B. Asafiev in this theatre.

We have studied together in choreographic school, started working in Abay Opera House together, where she worked for 23 years. She is not only my wife, but also my friend; we go through life together, helping each other. If not for Galiya’s support, I would not have become the artistic

person I am today. We have always supported each other, especially since we share a common love for ballet. In this sense, we can easily understand each other.

Our daughter Jamilya Nurkalieva, like us, is an artistic person. She has graduated from the K. Baiseitova Music School, after that has graduated from Kurmangazy Kazakh National Conservatory and the Center for Media Program, School of Posner, worked at MTV Russia and Condé Nast mass media company. Jamilya is fluent in French and English. She has a master’s degree from Paris-Sorbonne University. The topic of her thesis is “The Influence of French Composer Pierre Boulez on Modern Music”. Presently she organizes contemporary art exhibitions, concerts of contemporary music, and plays the piano for herself at home. Now our granddaughter sits down at the piano and as if ‘plays’ it, “I am like mommy!”

6. Please, tell us about past ballet productions and performances.

I started working at the Abay State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet from the position of the corps de ballet artist of the last line. To be a successful ballet artist it is necessary to work hard every day, which means tremendous physical exertion, because otherwise the body ceases to listen to you, and the artist cannot please the audience with his or her art.

My career as a dancer in the opera house in Almaty lasted for thirty years. This rarely happens, but I am a very athletic person – I started running from a very young age and I have started doing karate since 1975, which extends my artistic life and keeps me in shape. Every morning at 5:30, I go for a run. After that, I exercise, do breathing yoga and karate. After exercising in this way and taking a shower, I go to work feeling like a new person. Of course, in any profession, there are different situations every day, and as a ballet company director, I have to solve all kinds of issues. However, when the curtain opens in the evening, the orchestra starts to play and the ballet artists dance – I am so happy, it gives me wings. Applause is a recognition of the success created by the labor of the whole ballet company, the assessment of daily work of every ballet dancer, choreographer, teacher and ballet master. Knowing you took part in creating this success is worth living the rest of your life.

As I said previously, in Astana Opera, together with ballet master Galiya Buribayeva, we have staged the “The Swan Lake” by P. Tchaikovsky and “The Fountain of Bakhchisarai” by B. Asafiev. The renowned Italian masters Ezio Frigerio and Academy Award-winning Franca Squarciapino worked on the design for both ballet productions. The masters of theatrical design have already carried out four performances in conjunction with the “Astana Opera” ballet company, which were a great success on the stage of our opera house. I would like to note that for famous Italian designers their work on the production of the ballet “The Fountain of Bakhchisarai” by B. Asafiev was the first in their more than successful careers, which made them particularly happy. I also am the author of dance numbers in opera performances, a large number of choreographic miniatures and other dances.

As the ballet company director and ballet master, I actively participate in the education of Kazakh ballet dancers, whom to date have become the city of Astana’s stars of classical ballet. I have created two ballet companies in Astana. When the K. Baiseitova Opera House was founded, the opera house director has called me and said that it was necessary to create a ballet troupe. The next day I took the train and came to Astana. I gave a trial lesson to the artists, which lasted an hour and a half. Everyone was happy, and we worked together perfectly. As best I could, I passed them my experience, because I believe in the fact that if you know how to do something, it is your duty to pass this knowledge to others so that they, too, can continue to work on the common cause for the good of the motherland. My wife Galiya Buribayeva and I rehearsed a lot, carried out the first ballet productions in Astana. As a result – classical ballet of Astana stands firmly on its feet, it is known throughout the world. The ability to work, to create, to forgive, to do no harm is the most important thing.

Incidentally, the creative potential of our ballet dancers allows the staging of the most complex performances. During the two years since the opera house has been founded, under my leadership of the “Astana Opera” ballet company premieres of a considerable number of ballets were held with great success. For example, S. Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet”, staged by renowned French choreographer Charles Jude, who, for more than 20 years, was an Etoile of the Paris Opera Ballet. The leading ballet soloist Madina Basbaeva’s work impressed the choreographer so much, he invited her to France, to dance the leading roles of Juliet in the ballet “Romeo and Juliet”, and Kitri in “Don Quixote” in the Opéra National de Bordeaux.

The same thing happened with another of our leading soloists – Aigerim Beketayeva. The talented performance of the leading role of Camille Claudel in Boris Eifman’s ballet “Rodin” impressed the famous choreographer so much that he started to continually invite the dancer on tour with his theatre troupe. Moreover, this is the first time that the theatre of Boris Eifman invites a guest soloist on their tour. With the theatre of Boris Eifman, Aigerim has performed in London, in the English National Opera, in the Teatro Colon in Argentina and in Budapest.

The renowned maestro Yuri Grigorovich staged three ballets with our company – P. Tchaikovsky’s “The Sleeping Beauty” and “The Nutcracker”, A. Khachaturian’s “Spartacus”. Our ballet company’s performance of the ballet “Spartacus” has been a great success not only in Kazakhstan, but also in Italy, in January of this year, when our troupe went on tour in the Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa at the invitation of the Italian side.

All this testifies to the professional level of our Kazakh ballet, its recognition at the international level. Kazakh ballet is based on the famous Russian, namely the St. Petersburg Ballet School and added to it our own unique national flavor. As part of Astana Opera’s first international tour, our company was the first invited collective on the new stage of the legendary Mariinsky Theatre. Kazakh ballet was highly appreciated not only by the St. Petersburg audience, who know a lot about ballet, but also by the strict ballet critics, highest-level masters of the of cultural capital of Russia, in the heart of the world ballet.

The “Astana Opera” ballet company artists have presented the gala concert program that was created from the best productions of our repertoire at the Mariinsky – the theatre with two centuries of history; the stage, where legendary Russian ballerinas danced on. I would like to note that the first time in forty years, the well-versed in art St. Petersburg’s audience, with the full house, gave a standing ovation to Kazakh ballet. The ballet world of St. Petersburg was pleasantly surprised by the still very young, but, as it turned out, ambitious and forward-looking Astana Opera. From 2600 seats in the theatre hall, about two thousand were the people related to ballet. There were representatives of the Academy of Russian Ballet and the Mariinsky Theatre, critics, art historians, and connoisseurs of high arts. It was a serious test for our troupe that the artists have passed with great success. This ballet gala was organized within the framework of the first and long-awaited international tour of Astana Opera. The company has decided to present the St. Petersburg public with an exquisite selection of the opera house’s best ballets.

In addition to ballet productions, I also stage Kazakh dances in national operas. In Astana Opera, we have staged the production of M. Tulebayev’s opera “Birzhan-Sara”. At the moment, we are working on the choreography for the opera “Abai” by A. Zhubanov and L. Khamidi, the premiere of which is expected in the new season. The director of the production is the renowned Italian master Giancarlo del Monaco, the music director of the production is the principal conductor of Astana Opera, famous Kazakh conductor Alan Buribayev.

Among the interesting projects staged by us at the K. Baiseitova National Theatre of Opera and Ballet are – a ballet-oratorio by contemporary Kazakh composer Balnur Kydyrbek, the first part of which is ballet, and the second is vocal part, the staging of ballets “The Nutcracker” by P. Tchaikovsky, “Giselle” by A. Adam and many others.

7. What are your future plans/ international trips etc. ?

Right now, we are preparing the leading soloist of ballet of Astana Opera Aigerim Beketayeva and ballet soloist Yerkin Rakhmatullaev to perform at the stage of the legendary Italian Teatro alla Scala at a gala concert dedicated to closing of Expo Milano 2015 in October 30-31.

The artists will perform the pas de deux from the third act of “Swan Lake” and pas de deux from “The Sleeping Beauty” by P. Tchaikovsky. It is a great honor for our opera house and the ballet company in particular to present the classical ballet pieces on the stage of the Milanese theatre. A year ago, the Teatro alla Scala ballet company came to visit us on tour. After seeing our artists rehearsing a scene from the ballet “Swan Lake”, the artistic director of the ballet company Makhar Vaziev was pleasantly surprised by their professionalism and invited them to perform at the closing of Expo Milano 2015.

In the next season, we are also preparing the premiere of the ballet “La Bayadere” by L. Minkus and M. Petipa.

Furthermore, according to the results of the tour to Genoa at the end of the year we are going back to Italy – this time in the Teatro Carlo Felice we will present the ballet “The Nutcracker” by P. Tchaikovsky, staged by the outstanding maestro Yuri Grigorovich.

8. any other comments

I would like to note that I am sincerely and deeply happy that I dedicated myself to this beautiful art form. The successes of Kazakh ballet dancers we have educated – Madina Basbayeva, Aigerim Beketayeva, Tair Gatauov, Bakhtiyar Adamzhan, Yerkin Rakhmatullaev and many others, their high level of professionalism, dedication and love for ballet touch me deeply. I am immensely pleased that they truly shine onstage. I can sometimes be strict, but in moderation, since I understand that a creative person can be hurt easily. As a senior colleague and director, I always try to support them. International level experts’ high assessments of our artists and Kazakh ballet school fill me with pride in our beautiful homeland.

Astana Opera

Since its opening, Astana Opera took a very high standard. The chance to work in such an amazing opera house today inspires us all. A lot of work is ahead of us and we are ready to ‘take off’, rising to new heights in creativity. Especially since such great conditions were created for us! The building of Astana Opera is equipped with the latest technological advances. Twenty-six rehearsal rooms, sixty dressing rooms, stage area of 3000 square meters are equipped according to the highest standards. This is very helpful in our work. Moreover, it works for success. Artists of our opera house are very grateful to the Head of our State for the opportunity to work in such a beautiful environment and for the tremendous support and belief in us.

Astan opera president

Thanks to the constant care of our President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakh culture, ballet and opera rise to another level of development and approach the world level. I am proud to be a witness and participant in this process, in what has happened and is happening now. To work in such a beautiful building, which is in all respects consistent with international standards, it is necessary for the artists to measure up to this level as well. Therefore, we hold a yearly audition for ballet, choir, orchestra, opera singers. Thus, the international jury has selected a wonderful highly professional artistic collective.

Astana opera inside

During the performances, the theatre hall is filled with people, indicating our viewers’ rise of culture, the spiritual and intellectual richness of these people. The audience members especially come to see the performances with their favorite artists, asking their names when buying tickets, which indicates both the level of professionalism of ballet artists, and awareness of this art form of the spectators themselves. When the work is completed and the audience explodes with applause after the performance, everyone – artists, choreographers, ballet masters are immensely happy. We are very proud that our productions are very popular with the public, and we, in turn, are putting all our efforts to produce performances on a high professional level. In our ballet company, we always try to be worthy of the trust placed in us and to please the viewers with our creative work. The present generation will grow together with the new opera house, thereby developing spiritually. We do our work for the good of our beloved homeland, for the advancement of ballet and opera.

The fact that we all live in peace and harmony under one big shanyrak is a great merit of our Leader of the Nation. Like any citizen, I am very happy about that and I wish for our country to always have the same peaceful sky. I am very grateful that I live and work in my motherland. I am a simple man, and if my work has contributed in some small fraction to the well-being of our country – I am happy. My dream is for our homeland to always flourish and my life’s purpose is to do my very best to help make it happen.

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