Where's Vyacheslav Gordeyev? That's one question balletomanes who remembered his appearances here with the Bolshoi Ballet in the 1970s were asking during the company's recent American tour.
The answer has two parts. Gordeyev has joined the growing faction of Bolshoi dancers who are on the outs with the company's artistic director Yuri Grigorovich, and he's now running his own company, the Moscow Ballet.
Indeed, Gordeyev and the Moscow Ballet are now dancing westward on their first American tour. With 10 cities already behind them, they arrive in Southern California this week for three mixed programs in Pasadena Civic Auditorium (Thursday, Saturday and next Sunday) and at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (Oct. 26-28).
The soft-spoken Gordeyev, 39, claims to be more than satisfied with his new situation.
"I'm continuing to discover America," he said during a recent phone interview conducted in Russian. "When I was traveling with the Bolshoi, there was always some tension in the air, but traveling this way, as the director of my own company, is more relaxing."
According to Gordeyev, his artistic estrangement from Grigorovich explains why he was not included on the 1987 Bolshoi tour of the United States.
"My artistic relationship with Grigorovich has come to an end," he said with a frankness that would not have been possible only a few years ago. "We still exchange greetings and all that, but I'm not involved in what he's creating now. I have no artistic interest in what he's doing."
While his prestige as an officially designated "People's Artist of the Soviet Union," the highest official title that can be awarded to a Soviet artist, protects his position in the company, he is no longer involved in working on new repertory.
Gordeyev's U.S. debut in 1973 brought him instant recognition from both the public and the critics. After seeing Gordeyev partner Nadezhda Pavlova in the pas de deux from "La Fille mal Gardee," Arlene Croce of the New Yorker called him "one of the best classical dancers in the world."
When he returned with the Bolshoi in 1975 and 1979, the public response was, if anything, even more enthusiastic--especially when he was dancing with Pavlova. Married in 1975, they were the Bolshoi's sweetheart couple, a real-life Romeo and Juliet.
But the 1979 Bolshoi American tour was a troubled one. Though Gordeyev and Pavlova were showered with praise and affection, the critics had few kind words for the choreography by Grigorovich. It didn't help matters when leading dancer Alexander Godunov, a friend and colleague of Gordeyev's, defected--along with soloists Valentina and Leonid Koslov.
There have been many changes in Gordeyev's personal and professional life since 1979. He and Pavlova are now divorced. Recently remarried (and not to a dancer), Gordeyev has continued dancing at the Bolshoi ("Nobody kicked me out"), but only once or twice a month, and always in roles created before 1979.
"And if I only dance one performance a month, what I am supposed to do with the other 29 days?"
The Moscow Ballet has provided the answer. Founded in 1979 by former Bolshoi soloist Irina Tikhomirnova, it is an outlet for Gordeyev's talents as a dancer. It is also allowing him to develop new skills as a choreographer.
Before Tikhomirnova died of cancer in 1984, she asked Gordeyev to take over the company. Under his artistic leadership, the Moscow Ballet has more than doubled in size, from 16 dancers to 34. Only seven of the original members remain, the rest selected by Gordeyev personally.
Besides Gordeyev, the most familiar soloist on the Moscow Ballet tour is Lubov Kunakova, a principal dancer at the Kirov Ballet in Leningrad and a leading dancer in the 1986 Kirov tour of the U.S. "She works with me more than with anyone else, even more than with the Kirov," Gordeyev claims, proudly.
Other prominent guest artists on the current tour include Natalia Tcherkasskaya and Vasili Polushin of the Bolshoi; and Vadim Pisarev, from the Donetsk Opera and Ballet Theater, winner of a Gold Medal at the 1985 Moscow International Ballet Competition.
Gordeyev himself dances in at least two pieces on each program.
During its current tour, Moscow Ballet is presenting three different programs. At the urging of the tour's American sponsors, William Merriman and David Hermon of Santa Rosa, the excerpts have been selected primarily from classical Russian ballets, Gordeyev said.
Back in the U.S.S.R., the company's repertory is more balanced, split "50-50 between modern and classical works," Gordeyev observed.
At home, the Moscow Ballet performs in very large halls, such as the Concert Hall of the Hotel Rossiya and the Hall of Congresses, a gargantuan auditorium within the Kremlin walls that is used primarily for political gatherings.