‘Maybe I Am Talented, but I Am Not Genius,’ Ballet Star Liepa Says

Times Staff Writer

Andris Liepa, the Bolshoi Ballet wonderboy who had the New York dance world trilling over his guest appearances with the New York City Ballet earlier this year, apparently takes a more modest view of his artistic accomplishments than some critics.

“Maybe I am talented, but I am not genius,” he said Tuesday, settling into a chair in the cramped office of the UC Irvine dance department. “I am not Baryshnikov. Now, he is genius. He has extraordinary technique and everybody sees this. Normally, I am good dancer. Maybe now I understand more about ballet. But this is after 7 years of hard work.”

Nevertheless, even Liepa would have to agree that he has a genius for getting around. Last month, with special permission from the Bolshoi and the Soviet Ministry of Culture, he signed a 1-year contract to appear with American Ballet Theatre as a principal dancer. If all goes well, Liepa could become the first artist to dance with both the Bolshoi and ABT as a matter of course.

“Why not?,” asked the blond, 26-year-old star, who will appear tonight through Saturday with the UCI Dance Ensemble at the Fine Arts Village Theatre in Irvine. “Everything is changing in Russia.”


Apologizing for his English, which is remarkably fluent after only 4 months of study, Liepa said he and ABT artistic director Mikhail Baryshnikov had already discussed the long-range possibility between themselves. “Misha tells me there is no reason to change company,” Liepa said. “If I want to dance with both Bolshoi and ABT, that is fine.”

Although Liepa has not taken up such a possibility with Bolshoi artistic director Yuri Grigorovich, the dancer thinks that it would not pose a problem. “Grigorovich understands why I come here and not only him,” he said. “Everybody understands. I talked directly to the minister of culture.”

Calling himself “maybe a bridge” between the American and Soviet ballet world, Liepa explained that he has wanted to learn the Balanchine repertoire for years, an opportunity afforded him for the first time, if only briefly, when he appeared with City Ballet in February.

“It was to me always a dream,” he said, adding that now he is also hoping ABT associate director Twyla Tharp will create something for him. “I ask Misha about new pieces, and he told me she comes after Paris, and maybe she starts to give me new production. But I don’t know yet which.”


In the meantime, Liepa said, he has learned Baryshnikov’s new staging of “Swan Lake,” which will premiere at the Orange County Performing Arts Center on Dec. 2 as part of ABT’s upcoming tour of Southern California, as well as Balanchine’s “Ballet Imperial” and MacMillan’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

Tonight, moreover, he will make his first appearance in Folkine’s “Le Spectre de la Rose” and Medkov’s “Sunlight” at the Fine Arts Village Theatre on the UCI campus. On Saturday, he will appear with City Ballet principal Valentina Kozlova, who defected from the Bolshoi a decade ago, in an appearance sponsored by the UCI dance department and San Juan Capistrano’s Coast Ballet Theatre.

If it seems unusual that a Bolshoi darling, and now an ABT superstar, would choose to dance with a student group, Liepa doesn’t think so. “I don’t like to stay like a stone,” he said. “You don’t only work in New York. I like people who give all their life to ballet. Sometimes when dancers are not professional, they love dancing more. Anyway, I like to show my work to everybody.”

Bolshoi principal dancer Andris Liepa will dance Fokine’s “Le Spectre de la Rose” and Medkov’s ‘Sunlight” today through Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. Tickets: $6 to $10.

Liepa and New York City Ballet principal dancer (and Bolshoi defector) Valentina Kozlova will dance the Petipa-derived “Corsaire” pas de deux and the pas de deux from Balanchine’s “Apollo” in a benefit performance Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $50, to benefit the UCI dance department and the Coast Ballet Theatre .

All four performances will take place at the Fine Arts Village Theatre at UC Irvine and will feature the UCI Dance Ensemble. Information: (714) 856-6616.