Lê Ngọc Văn
English National Ballet First Artist Lê Ngọc Văn has come to Hà Nội to choreograph Swan Lake for the past three months. The full four-act ballet will premiere at historic Hà Nội Opera House this Saturday, October 12. He speaks to Sunday Việt Nam News after costume rehearsal last week.
Inner Sanctum: The dress rehearsal has just completed, how do you feel now?
Lê Ngọc Văn: I'm very proud. And I'm also touched to have seen our dancers work really hard. They have been outperforming their usual selves. I need to say that the working conditions, practice facilities and investment for ballet shows cannot be compared with other international ballet companies. But to say the truth, our dancers have tried their utmost.
Today, Việt Nam has become more economically developed, but the treatment to the artists and dancers has stayed very modest. Their salaries stay very humble, and they have to do other jobs to survive. I've heard the average monthly income for dancers is at VNĐ4 million (US$170) while a good quality pair of pointe shoes for performance cost VNĐ3 million! It is unfair to compare. In my company in the UK, a dancer is provided with 20 pairs of pointe shoes for a month, but they perform up to 250 shows a year. But let's just stop here. What I'm trying to say is that our dancers have worked really hard and their love for ballet is immense. At ballet schools, they may not learn all the techniques to a great level, or even when they work for ballet companies, there aren't so many programmes for them to polish their techniques. When I teach them some techniques, I explain, analyse and show them how to make it works then they can master and later use them in their dancing, they become very motivated.
Inner Sanctum: How much time have you spent on this ballet?
Last October, Ly Ly (Trần Ly Ly, acting director of Việt Nam Opera Ballet theatre) proposed to me to choreograph Swan Lake for VNOB. I had asked and got a three-month leave to come and work here in Hà Nội. I sent the materials for dancers to start with. For the past three months, I work day in day out with them.
Inner Sanctum: Is this your choreography? Have you studied other versions such as George Balanchine's Swan Lake?
This ballet I choreograph is based on the original by Lev Ivanov. Of course in arts, we inherit from our predecessors, since Petipa choreographed this ballet back in 1895. When we work with dancers, it depends on the country and the actual ballet company to tailor a ballet that exposes the dancers' strengths. Most ballet companies in the world base their stagings both choreographically and musically on Petipa and Ivanov.
Inner Sanctum: What frustrates you most when you work on this ballet?
It's when dancers keep forgetting to correct their mistakes. When I tell them the mistakes, and the next day they repeat the mistakes again, I have to stop them and retell them what to do. It's time consuming when I can help them master other moves or expressions. In Việt Nam, there's a saying, "văn ôn, võ luyện" meaning you have to keep refining your writing and practising your martial arts moves. You just have to keep practising every day.
Inner Sanctum: Are you satisfied with what you've seen?
After today's rehearsal, I must say I'm satisfied. But being satisfied is not good enough. Iʼm a perfectionist, always demanding perfection. But we are all humans. We are not robots. And this reflects even more in our dancing. Today you feel well, you dance well, but on other days when you do not feel well, your dancing may be affected. But we have to try our best to not let our audiences see it. To have perfect movements and lasting health, the only way is to practise every day.
The dancers are practising at the top of their capacity right now. If they can maintain this schedule, it will be very good. The management can keep this momentum and go on with other projects. But if they cannot maintain the regular training schedule, and dancers lose their techniques and skills, it will take too much time to get them back again to reach this level of expertise.
Inner Sanctum: What is the top priority when you choreograph a ballet?
Quality. Quality ranks first. When you are capable of producing a good quality ballet, then the spectators would pay for the tickets. When they have seen it, and liked it, they would want to share with their friends that it was great and it moved them. This show makes a record in all of VNOB history when tickets are sold out one month prior to show day.
Inner Sanctum: With this ballet, will it run until there are no more viewers, or it will run for only a few times for VNOB's anniversary?
The commemorate show will be on October 7. Tickets have been sold out for October 12 and 13. Further tickets have been on sale for December 14 and 15.
Swan Lake is an ambitious ballet project for any ballet company in the world. If you can make Swan Lake, you can stage any other ballet. When you see twenty two white swans dancing on the stage, you are watching the most numbers of dancers on stage in the history of VNOB. We have the Việt Nam Ballet/Dance Academy to thank for having trained the young dancers. They are very talented, devoted and love what they are doing. For this I would like to mention Thu Huệ, the prima ballerina dancing the White and Black Swan in this ballet. She is by far the top ballerina of the country today. She has worked really hard. Just look at how she still keeps talking to the conductor Đồng Quang Vinh after rehearsal time.
Thu Huệ dances Black Swan for the first time. — VNS Photo Thanh Bình
To be honest, to see the artists hard work and knowing how hard they have to work other jobs alongside to keep this job an opportunity really moved me.
I still have one regret, though. The stage of Hà Nội Opera House has become too small for such a grandiose ballet. A small stage limits the dancers to showcase their skills and techniques. They cannot jump high and further. To make a really impressive Swan Lake, it should be performed on a bigger stage that of the Friendship Cultural Palace. But that one does not have an orchestra pit for the musicians.
Việt Nam has reaped economic success and it would be better if culture and investments for cultural projects match economic growth, I have a strong belief that our companies can be on a better international level. In the past three months, I have worked with many talented and devoted dancers. I want to mention Như Quỳnh, who has just been back six months after her maternity leave, but she did not miss a single practice session. She worked hard to perfect her moves and expressions.
About younger budding talents, I want to complement Đức Hiếu, who is going to graduate soon. He is definitely a rising star who's only 18 years old but possesses perfect techniques and performing skills. VNS
*Graduated from the Việt Nam Ballet/ Dance Academy in 1996, Lê Ngọc Văn further studied at the Lyon National Conservatory of Music and Dance. From 1998 to 2003 he worked as dancer at the National Ballet of Marseille.
2003 to present : Dancer at the ENGLISH NATIONAL BALLET.
Guesting with Vietnam Opera Ballet, dancing "Gold" in Mac Milan 's the Sleeping Beauty at the London Coliseum Theatre.
Principal role in Balanchine's "The four temperaments" and "Who's Cares?"
MenYMen by Wayne Eagling launched by Sky's 3D Channel.
Creation "the Weight of Love" represent the Great Britain at the Shanghai World Expo 2010 in collaboration with Shanghai Ballet, English National Ballet, British Council and British Embassy in China.
2012: Won Creative Award for creation " La Danse du Stravinsky" performed by Shanghai Ballet
Finalist at the 24th International Competition for Choreographer Hannover Germany
Finalist at the Beijing Ballet and Choreography Competition 2017
REPERTOIRES AS A CHOREOGRAPHER
2019: Swan Lake by Vietnam National Opera Ballet
2018: Bolero & Suite en Blanc entered the repertoires of Vietnam National Opera Ballet
2017: Suite en Blanc, commissioned by English National Ballet
2017: Fantaisie Impromptu, commissioned by English National Ballet
2014: Bolero, commissioned by Shanghai Ballet
2012: Four Seasons, commissioned by English National Ballet
2012: Grand pas du Bach, commissioned by Shanghai Ballet
2011: Vue de l'autre, commissioned by English National Ballet
2011: Chase, Britten Theatre London
2011: Black Gold, English National Ballet
2010: The Weight of Love, commissioned by Shanghai Ballet
2009: Concerto for five, English National Ballet
2008: Duo, special creation for Young Jae Jung at Varna Ballet Competition
REPERTOIRE AS A DANCER
*Alice in Wonderland by Derek Dean
*Acte by R. Seyfried
*Carmen by Roland Petit *Cinderella by M.Corder
*Cinderella by C. Wheeldon *Concerto violin by G. Balanchine *Coppellia by R.Hynd
*Esplanade by Paul Taylor
*Firebird by Maurice Béjart
*Firebird by G.Williamson
*Fleure d'Autaune by M.C.Pietragalla *Flower Festival by A.Bournonville
*Giselle by M.Skeaping
*Giselle by Akram Khan
*La Sylphide by A.Bornonville
*Le Corsaire by Anna Marie Holmes
*Melody on the move by M.Corder
*Manon by MacMilan
*Paquita by M.C.Pietragalla/ Petipa *Perpertum Mobile by Christophe Hampson *Petrushka by Serge
*Raymonda by M.C.Pietragalla
*Resolution by Wayne Eagling
*Romeo & Juliet by Rudolf Nureyev *Romeo& Juliet by V.Danzig
*Rubbies by G.Balanchine
*Sakountala by M.C.Pietragalla
*Scheherazade by M.Fokine
*Strictly Gershwin by Derek Dean
*Swan Lake by Derek Dean
*The Four Temperaments by G.Balanchine *The Nutcracker by Wayne Eagling
*The Nutcracker by Christophe Hampson *The Sleeping Beauty by MacMilan
*The Rite of Spring by Pina Bausch
*The Rite of Spring by MacMilan *Tzigane by George Balanchine