By Victor Andreyev
Since 1974, the head of the ensemble, Valentina Gaevaya, has toured over almost every part of the planet with her dancers. Spectators from Denmark, Syria, Cyprus, Jordan, Finland, the UK, Belgium, Japan, India, Italy, Spain, Poland, Germany, France, the USA and Russia have given standing ovations to our Belarusian artistes. Several members of Ms. Gaevaya’s ‘dance theatre’ are now involved in the National Bolshoi Theatre troupe.
Ms. Gaevaya, how did you come to create Khoroshki?
It was a long road. I had been keen on dance since childhood but hadn’t ever thought of becoming a choreographer.
What did you dream of as a child?
I dreamt of being an actress. However, a teacher once told me: ‘Valya, you’re very feminine and small. Which roles could you suit? Think of something else’.
Not everyone is aware of how the title for the dance company appeared. Can you remember how it came about…
Khoroshki village in the Mogilev Region had its own amateur group, comprising ten singing and dancing elderly women and a flaxen-haired young boy, who headed the local club. We saw these creative people at a performance in Mogilev and were impressed by their sincerity. I’ve remembered them for ever afterwards and have a ‘Gusariki’ show in our repertoire: a dance of the Khoroshki village.
You began your career in Mogilev, so how did you come to appear in Minsk?
The Culture Ministry asked me to set up a folk dance company at Minsk’s Philharmonic, encompassing new programmes for Belarusian dances. In 1973, I took up this job, as chief ballet master of the Philharmonic Society. We often toured Russia and gave concerts for tourists in Leningrad. At that time, Intourist offered us a wonderful stage at the Leningrad Hotel, with good lighting and music. We rehearsed our new programmes there, including ‘Polotskaya Tetrad’ — a historical panorama dedicated to the Renaissance age. The Finns used to visit our shows several times while in Leningrad; we came to recognise them individually. In 1984, I was given a room at the Philharmonic Society and my own ballet class. In the early 1990s, I prepared ‘Farewell, 20th Century’, based on the passing century’s popular music. I drew on Jewish customs, as these traditions greatly influenced Belarusian culture. On demonstrating ‘Bobruisk Pictures’ in Moscow, Igor Moiseev especially attended.
How do Belarusian and Russian dances differ?
After arriving in Belarus (I was born in Russia), I immediately saw how wonderfully Belarusians dance and dress and how melodically they speak. This greatly differed from Russian and Ukrainian traditions. I began to set up an ensemble, reflecting the national characteristics of the Belarusian nation, encompassing the Belarusian spirit. I noticed the gestures and expressions of rural performers and used them to inspire my work. With its first programme, ‘Khoroshki’ toured Ukraine, proving a great success. Our programmes couldn’t be confused with others, since each dance was a mini performance, with its own drama and appearance. We told audiences about the life and traditions of Belarus through our dances.
What inspires your costumes?
As soon as our first programme was launched, I began to think about costumes. I went to the Academy of Sciences and asked for documents on Belarusian costume but they had very little information. I then decided to apply to Leningrad’s Opera and Ballet Theatre and ethnographic museum, studying piles of historical documents.
You’ve toured widely through the West. How did people there perceive Khoroshki and Belarus?
Since 1975, we’ve been touring abroad annually, as part of the friendship society. Previously, all who arrived in the West from the USSR were considered to be Russian. For foreigners, there was no difference between Belarusians and Uzbeks. However, when we entered the stage, everyone was surprised, saying that our performances greatly differed from the ‘Russian pattern’ of balalaikas, red shirts, crackers and prisyadka (a step in Slavic folk dancing in which the dancer squats on their haunches and kicks out each foot alternately). People wondered what Belarus was all about. After 1986, we often visited Italy and earned money for the Chernobyl Foundation. Interestingly, people from all over Europe arrived to see ‘Khoroshki’.