Gracefully Yours, Momchil Mladenov

Episodes Momchil Mladenov

Momchil Mladenov in George Ballanchine’Episodess Episodes. Photo © Tony Spileberg

 Momchil Mladenov was born in Bourgas. He graduated the National High School of Ballet in Sofia and in 1997 earned a Bachelor of Arts from the Ballet Department of the National Academy of Music in Sofia. From 1993 on up until 1999 Momchil Mladenov is a principal dancer of the National Ballet of Bulgaria. In 2000 he starts a career in the USA and two years later he becomes an assistant to Kathryn Posin. In 2007 he becomes a Principal dancer with The Suzanne Farrell Ballet.

If the gifted and inspiring ballet dancer and choreographer Momchil Mladenov was to write a letter to Bulgaria, he would probably finish it with “Gracefully Yours”. However he is not using words to express his love to Bulgaria, he is using what he can do best – ballet.

Momchil is the main driving force behind the beautiful project American Ballet for Bulgaria with which he wants to bring back the fame that the Bulgarian National Ballet company once had. Teodora Petkova met him to find out more about his enthusiasm, sources of inspiration and thoughts about ballet.

Building Bridges

You are the driving force behind the of Cultural Bridges association, is building bridges hard and does it imply letting go old ones?

Of course it does imply letting go old ones. But, it’s interesting how the idea came up. I was on tour with Suzanne Farell ballet in 2005, working with the National ballet of Canada and it kind of sprang in my mind, I said, why not, the National Ballet of Bulgaria and the Suzanne Farell Ballet, and that’s how everything started pretty much.

I’ve always wanted though, even when I went to America, I’ve always wanted to try to gain the experience, for myself of course, but also to bring it back here. I knew, I know, how difficult the time was here in Bulgaria for the dancers. Because after ‘89, nobody really cared about art much, it was very hard economically so then, however, the idea came out, and it sat a second year, sat a fourth year, I was dancing, I had to keep up with my career, dancing career, and  gain more connections with people that I worked with, that have worked with Balanchine, worked with Jerome Robbins, worked with Forsythe, worked with many many great choreographers.

And then I was like, ok, cultural bridge, cultural bridge, bridges, bridges between countries, between nations, the program  Ballet across the world … And then I thought of Bulgaria as my home country and what inspires me really to want to be here and to feel great when I am here. And it came.

Cultural Bridges Logo

The logo of the foundation Cultural Bridges came out of the bridges of the famous Bulgarian architect Kolio Ficheto

Actually the logo of cultural bridges came out of the bridges of Kolio Ficheto. I saw a photo of them. Ok, a bridge, I thought, something that is instilled in Bulgarian culture, may be the logo will come out, and then, my cousin who is an artist made the logo. But I said to him, I want dancers. I want this bridge to be connected with dancers somehow, and cultural because it’s global. So, he started doing a couple of drawings, and then finally he came up with the one that you have seen. It’s so seamless, and at the same time you see dancers, you see a bridge, which is amazing. I was so happy with the logo. So very much. And it really said what I wanted to do. Bridge nations, dancers, art. They are actually laying out to make the bridge.

You are so concept oriented. Building bridges through dancers, through traditions. So you are not letting go the old ones? No, I am not, because if it wasn’t of the old ones, I wouldn’t have been able to build the new ones. Like the Romans, like the Thracians… The Romans came, built on top of the Thracians, then the Bulgarians came, built on top of the Romans. There’s tradition that you can’t escape from.

But, as you told me, about the economic hardship after ‘89, there’s probably something that should be burnt… Well, not exactly burned, renovated. It is very important, of course, to know that the first ever international ballet competition in the world was in Bulgaria. Ever. In 1964. And all the big stars, from all over the world dancers, came to that competition, and made big. Our tradition is in a way injected by the style in Russia, and we also have something very special in Bulgaria, because of the competition, because we have seen many different worlds come and dance. Our school is yet based on Vaganova and the Russian technique, but we have picked our likings and also kind of infused it in our training, and we do have something very special. We have great passion for dance, and we have style that is not like any other in the world. It is very subtle, but there is.

And by what I am doing is trying to build on what we have lost for the past 20 years. Because when the borders were closed, in the Communist time, not many big artists came to Bulgaria and it was hard for the younger generation to grow up and dance, there was no one to see, except Varna Ballet competition. So, yes, we know some of the big stars. But when I went to the United States and when I joined Suzanne’s company, I didn’t know who Suzanne Farell is , only because I didn’t have information. Now we have Internet. We can see anything, as long as we are interested to go and check it out.

Do you still do master classes, like last year? Yes, actually, this year since I came, I taught the company every day for the past month and keep going. Because I do want to get them ready in a way and excited about what’s gonna come. And this year’s program is very ambitious, very ambitious!

Is it ambitious because of you? Yeah, but not only. Because I have projected what I would like to happen for the dancers in Bulgaria. I have experienced all those things that they dance, I have danced them as well. And I don’t dance anymore, but it’s their turn.

You don’t dance anymore? Yes, I stopped dancing last year. I dance a little here, but not as I was in my early thirties, so, for me it’s impotant for them to experience what I did, through their bodies. And that will help them become even greater in the 21st century.

Transforming or transformative

As for the teaching, what does teaching teach you? Wow, a spectrum of things. It teaches you on how to understand people, first of all. Teaches you how to be personal with each one of them. Because each one of them is different, different little piece of the whole puzzle, different little dust, particle of the dust from the whole Universe. So you have to understand each one of those particles, and it’s overwhelmeng of course, you can’t, but you try.

Teaching does that – teaches you to understand, teaches you to know, of course we have established statics, that the ballet has to look like and you cannot escape from that. But once you’ve learned that, once you know the laws, then you can break the rules.

Like in jazz… Like in jazz, like in Balanchine, like Forsythe like any great choreographer in the world, but you really have to know the laws first. It’s with everything pretty much like that, not only with dance.

If you really want to improvise, you should be very steady with the basics first. Yes, and then expand, then just let go, your passion, your inspiration, the music, the steps.

And now a question, not trivial at all :), what’s your favourite character?

Continue reading