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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

A Warm Welcome

Part 1 of 2

Boston Ballet recently announced the appointment of Mikko Nissinen as its new Artistic Director, and judging from the press releases, we have cause for celebration. Born in Helsinki in 1962 to a family of artists, Nissinen began studying dance at 11 and began performing soloist roles and winning major prizes at 15. At 17, he joined the Kirov Ballet School, then danced with the Dutch National Ballet, the Basel Ballet, he was a Principal for 10 years.

Serious injuries led to his retirement from dancing in 1996 when he was appointed Artistic Director of the Marin Ballet in San Rafael, Calif. – no great surprise for a man who conceived the desire to become an Artistic Director at 18 and who has studied hard ever since to prepare himself for the job. In 1998, Nissinen became Artistic Director of the Alberta Ballet where he still has a year to go before assuming his full-time responsibilities in Boston. For now, he’s shuttling back and forth between Calgary and Boston. Yet, despite his hectic schedule he made time to talk with me recently at Boston Ballet’s headquarters on Clarendon Street.

Mikko (Finnish for “Michael”) makes an extremely good first impression. He’s obviously very bright, very knowledgeable, very thoughtful, and very charming. (Is it clear that I liked him?) He has broad international experience and an amazing variety of interests, which include Vermeer, Mark Morris, Asian religions, Jackson Pollock, architecture, David Lynch, and Italian cooking. He also speaks a fluent and idiomatic English (along with several other languages). I began by asking his impressions of Boston Ballet’s recent production, “Suite Saint-Saens” and “A Midsummer’s Night Dream.”

Mikko Nissinen: I was very impressed with the company, and I’m very happy with what I saw. The company is dancing very well.

Alan Helms: What do you see as the principal strengths of the company?

MN: The top principal female rank is phenomenal, and that is a tremendous asset for any company.”

AH: You’ve said that you want to “raise the bar artistically” and also that you would like the Boston Ballet performances to “have a certain edge and freshness.” What does that mean?

MN: When I talk about “edge and freshness” it means not dancing safe. It means pushing yourself further and even to the edge where it becomes impossible to go further. Take no prisoners, and go for it, because that gives electricity and excitement for the audience. And while the dancers do all that, I don’t want them to fade away with their expressions because I want tem to be with the audience so that when they turn away the audience wants them to turn back. I want this inner action going on all the time because then the dancing is real, it’s live, it’s now, it’s an experience. I would like to see that more in all dancers these days. Dancers are so conscious of their feet, and that matters, yet, but audiences watch 80 to 90 percent from the knees up. If you’re not fully present, it doesn’t matter what you do with your feet.

AH: Do you have any ideas for promoting the company, making it more prominent, creating the publicity and attention it deserves?

MN: That’s a big ambition and it starts at every level. We have to take the ball in our court and keep dancing better and with more excitement. The customer who comes to see us has to leave happy. I want the audience to have such an exciting experience that they can talk about it and come back and see us again. And yes, we need more media coverage, more fundraising, more community outreach. You have to work from all the angles, and there’s no quick fix. But when you have quality and total commitment and tremendous passion, it’s going to happen. We’re going to start pushing and pushing and pushing until we make it happen.

See next week for Part 2 of Helms’ interview.