When did you start dancing?
I took my first ballet classes when I was about 6 years old. It was in Brussels, and with a Russian teacher married to a Belgian. Her name was Mme de Zeum.
After my first class she asked my mother to get me some pointe shoes for the next one, “Her legs are strong.” Hence I got my first pair, black as I recall! Maybe because of that, pointe work never was the least bit scary to me; and she was right, I did have strong legs, and was none the worse for it 🙂
And I can only thank Mme Nicolaeva Legat for, later on, when I was 9 years old and in her boarding school for a little while, introducing me to multiple turns and fouettés at that age . Since then, I looked forward to the 32 fouettés when I danced Swan Lake, rather than fear them as many do. It did sometimes go a little way too towards helping to save a less then satisfactory performance!!!
Why did you start dancing?
I think it was music that made me want to dance to it in the first instance – but also, having had the good fortune to be taken to see outstanding performances, I wanted to dance those great roles. The mad scene was alway reenacted in the bathroom afterwards.
The ambition was not to be a principal, but to have the possibility to dance and act Giselle, Swan Lake etc… not Aurora at the time, although it ended up the first full length I ever danced. It became a firm favourite when I discovered how much possibility there is to act as well as dance it, and the variety: from young shy princess celebrating her birthday and being introduced to her suitors; falling under Carabosse’s spell; being a vision which seduces Prince Florimund; and finally reaching her wedding day and maturity.
The music is so glorious, the choreography helps speak it and tell the story – a great experience – enhanced of course by performing it for the first time with Rudolf Nureyev, even with only two days rehearsal with him in the beautiful Teatro del Liceo in Barcelona.
Which dancer inspired you most as a child?
In no particular order: Plisetskaya, Beriosova, Hightower. Most Russian dancers of that time, Ulanova of course. But also Vyroubova, Chauviré and many more… All very different, but all stylish and with enormous personalities.
Which dancer do you most admire?
Of the present dancers: Osipova at the top of the list! I just love the guts, the determination but most of all that she has a POINT OF VIEW about everything she dances, and she 100% believes in it, and that is all too rare nowadays, where so many dancers are so careful and fearful of being ‘wrong’. It makes audiences sit up and care and creates the healthiest of controversies.
Nicolas LeRiche as one of the great male artists of our time. I find David Hallberg fascinating, interesting and interested…
And then the very talented dancers at any level who have yet to find the place where they can develop and flourish, and who are prepared to risk all to find it, rather than sink into self doubt. Wasted talent is so sad to witness…
What’s your favourite role?
Well that`s a hard one! I used to say, with truth, that it was the one I was dancing at the time. And I think it’s important that it be that way. I don’t see how any dancer can perform at their best, unless, through some means or other, they find a passion for what and who they are portraying.
Now in hindsight: Juliet, Giselle, Aurora, Odette-Odile, Béjart’s Serait-ce la Mort, Webern Opus 5, and Le Voyage Preludes, and Mazurka in Les Sylphides, Myrtha, and so many more… so I guess it is still the same, as I think of them, each transforms into a favourite!
There were only two I didn’t like… but I’ll only admit it to myself even now.
What role have you never played but would have liked to?
Manon – Tatiana – Shrew!
What’s your favourite ballet to watch?
Any classic with great artists who make me care about their characters.
Who is your favourite choreographer?
So MANY! They are all so different – it`s like saying which is your favourite fruit – strawberries or raspberries or peaches or mangoes! SO – here goes: Cranko, MacMillan, Petipa, Bournonville, Balanchine (the older I get the more I appreciate), Fokine, Ashton, Robbins, but also certain works of Massine, Kylian, Ek, and Béjart of course.
Of the present generation, I`m very interested in Wheeldon, Ratmansky, McGregor (whom I think I would have much enjoyed working with as a dancer), Crystal Pite.
The list is very obvious I’m afraid, but that’s because there is good reason for their choreography to have lasted.
Who is your favourite writer?
Lewis Carroll, Marcel Proust, Iris Murdoch, Winston Churchill, Dickens.
Who is your favourite director?
Peter Brook, Peter Hall.
Who is your favourite actor?
Maggie Smith, Glenda Jackson, Judi Dench, Alec Guinness, Colin Firth, Ben Kingsley, John Hurt, Peter O’Toole… and my uncle of course, Sir John 🙂
Who is your favourite singer?
What is your favourite book?
The complete works of Lewis Carroll – the contrast between his scholarly persona and the fantasy of some of his writings. Marcel Proust, and then the list would go on and on.
What is your favourite film?
It was very, very difficult to watch, but the recent Amour was one of the best films I have ever seen in every possible way. Slumdog Millionaire, Quartet, Bridge on the River Kwai.
Which is your favourite city?
Aaaaahhh – all these impossible questions! Right – here we go: Venice (well anywhere in Italy), London, Paris, New York, Sydney, Cape Town, Boston, San Francisco.
What do you like most about yourself?
What do you dislike about yourself?
Always feeling that I am running after time.
What was your proudest moment?
Here we go again… I guess it is any time I feel I have said something that triggers creativity in a dancer.
When and where were you happiest?
Well, I have been blessed in knowing and working with some extraordinarily inspiring people. And I think it was when I was in their orbit.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Great artists, whatever the art form, and… great food!
What is your greatest fear?
I am too superstitious to spell it out…
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
My eyebrows. I plucked them when I was a teenager, and they never grew back, so I am obliged to draw them in every single day!
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Don’t really think about it.
What is your most treasured possession?
My mini iPad these days. Amazing how much it does for me!
What is your greatest extravagance?
Food, shoes and bags. Oh, and electronics.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Well I don’t really know, but I used to think a good motto to live by was to do to others as you would be done by, but now I realize that how I would like to be done by, is not necessarily at all how others would like 🙂
On what occasion do you lie?
Rarely I think, but if I feel telling the truth might be hurtful and detrimental, then I might, but first I’d rather try to avoid saying anything.
If you hadn’t been a dancer what would you have liked to be?
A mathematician (I was really good at maths at school). A philosopher. Anything involving being with animals (preferably wild).
What is your most marked characteristic?
What quality do you most value in a friend?
Putting up with me!
What quality do you most value in a colleague?
Working towards the same goals, even if through different means. Sense of humour.
Which historical figure do you most admire?
Which living person do you most admire?
What do you most dislike?
Mint and aniseed. Misunderstanding.
What talent would you most like to have?
Of the gab?
What’s your idea of perfect happiness?
Pretty close to what I have right now – the possibility of assisting talented dancers to find their way in the profession.
How would you like to die?
What is your motto?
Too much is better then not enough! (It’s easier to take away then to add…)
Maina Gielgud – a biography
Trained by the great Russians including Tamara Karsavina and Lubov Egorova, and later Rosella Hightower, Maina Gielgud has had an incredibly diverse career creating works with Maurice Bejart’s XXth Century Ballet, and as a principal with London Festival Ballet and Sadler’s Wella Royal Ballet, an international guest artist, and partnering Rudolf Nureyev. She then directed The Australian Ballet (1983-1997) and the Royal Danish Ballet.
Free-lancing since 1999, she stages both classical works such as her highly acclaimed The Sleeping Beauty and Giselle for The Australian Ballet (staged also for Boston Ballet, Ballet du Rhin, and Houston Ballet), and various works choreographed by Maurice Bejart, including Serait-ce la Mort, Bhakti, Webern opus 5, and Songs of a Wayfarer.
Maina made a comeback in 2003 as a dancer and actress in Bejart’s L’Heure Exquise, and now guest teaches and coaches around the world. She had a special relationship with English National Ballet under the directorship of Wayne Eagling, with whose dancers she worked for several months each season.
January 2013 saw her staging Serge Lifar’s Suite en Blanc for San Francisco Ballet which will be performed by the company in New York this October.
In May 2013 Maina revived Erik Bruhn’s La Sylphide for the Rome Opera Ballet; it was the last production he did for The Australian Ballet, in 1984.
Next stop Milan at La Scala for guest coaching of Nureyev’s Swan Lake with Natalia Osipova as guest artist.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.