Gaiane and Sergei Danilian (photo Marinika Krylova)

Impresarios of Ballet, Danilians Impeded by COVID

2763
0

NEW YORK – Nowadays there are not too many old-fashioned impresarios left in the field of dance in the United States. Ardani Artists, in the person of founders Sergei and Gaiane Danilian, fills that gap, but its work is threatened, like many other things, by the novel coronavirus.

Posters from Ardani productions on display

Their dream started decades earlier in Moscow, in 1990, when the duo founded this management firm. It brought many famous American artists to Russia and began sending Russian ballet stars to the US. In 1992, Gaiane, Sergei’s wife, moved to the US with their two sons but Sergei worked in both countries and delayed finalizing his move till 1998. Ardani Artists established its offices in New York City Center in 1994.

Background

Sergei was born in Sumgait, Azerbaijan but went to Russia for his education, where he met his wife and future business partner Gaiane. Gaiane was born in Yerevan and moved to Moscow at the age of 13. Sergei and Gaiane both studied in the Russian Academy of Theater Arts and afterwards worked for various theaters. Sergei eventually began organizing dance and theater tours.

Danilians with the La Scala Ballet from Milan at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa, Calif. (photo Doug Gifford)

Gaiane and Sergei’s son Armen was staying with his grandparents in Sumgait in early 1988. Gaiane relates that when tensions began to increase in Azerbaijan that year, she had a bad feeling or some sort of mother’s intuition. She spoke with her mother-in-law and asked that her in-laws bring Armen and come together to Moscow, but the latter replied that everything was safe and that they were looking forward to celebrating Armen’s birthday on March 1.

Get the Mirror in your inbox:

Gaiane insisted, and brushed aside the argument that it would be bad luck to come together to celebrate the birthday earlier. She sent tickets, and the mother-in-law brought Armen to Moscow.

Gaiane’s father-in-law decided to stay and ended up a witness of the Azerbaijani pogroms against Armenians on February 29-March 1, 1988. He was kept hidden by Jewish friends, who later moved to Brooklyn, and saw Azerbaijanis throwing infants out of windows.

In the USA

The first big project Ardani Artists organized in New York was in Carnegie Hall, Gaiane reminisced, in 1994. It was called Interrupted Chime, and was dedicated to the 1988 earthquake in Armenia. The Danilians brought over the Nerses Shnorhali choir from Armenia, famous Armenian actor Armen Dzhigarkhanyan, and the Symphonic Orchestra of the Eugene Kolobov Novaya Opera Theater of Moscow (a versatile team of musicians and opera singers). They rented the large Isaac Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, but did not realize that they need to have a public relations firm to write features about the event and advertise it.

She said, “Financially, it was a total disaster. We lost everything. But we built a name. We met a lot of very interesting and very powerful people due to our concept on that stage.”

Diana Vishneva, Sergei Danilian and Ardani’s three “Gold Mask” awards at the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre (photo Igor Zakharkin)

Ardani became very successful in the US. It promoted Russian choreographers like Boris Eifman, Vladimir Varnava, Maxim Petrov and Ilia Jivoy, and famous choreographers from other countries like Nacho Duato from Spain, Christopher Wheeldon, Arthur Pita and Alastair Marriott from England, Mauro Bigonzetti from Italy and Jean-Christophe Maillot from Monte Carlo. It brought famed companies like the Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg, the Mariinsky Theater, and the Bolshoi Ballet to the United States and managed famous dancers like Diana Vishneva, Natalia Osipova and Polina Semionova. Its 25th anniversary gala in 2016 included, besides Osipova, other sought-after dancers like Marcelo GomesFriedemann Vogel, Joaquín De Luz, Denis Matvienko and Ivan Vasiliev.

From left, Sergei Danilian, Victoria Tereshkina and Kimin Kim from Mariinsky Ballet, Gaiane Danilian at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa, Calif. (photo Doug Gifford)

Later, Gaiane said, they set up a series of projects called “Kings of the Dance” for some of the best male dancers in the world, and invited different choreographers from around the world to work with them and create special choreography for those dancers. These dancers included Nikolay Tsiskaridze, Angel Corella, Johan Kobborg, Ethan Stiefel, Marcelo Gomes, Ivan Vasiliev, Desmond Richardson, Jose Manuel Carreño, Roberto Bolle, Guillaume Côté and David Hallberg.

Some of the principal dancers in Kings of Dance, with Sergei Danilian at bottom right (photo Gene Schiavone)
14. From left to right, “Kings of Dance” Marcelo Gomes, David Hallberg, Guillaume Cote, Denis Matvienko and Ivan Vasiliev, London, Coliseum, March 2014 (photo Gene Schiavone)

Ardani pioneered a sort of mini-ballet with solos for two, she said. In general, big companies like the Bolshoi or Mariinsky or Royal are great, but cannot pay attention even to their principal dancers. Ardani fills this gap and as a small company can give such opportunities. She said, “We are eager to see other sides of their talent, to give them that chance to be a star in their own ballet.”

Costume from the Ardani collection (photo Gina Ardani)

Over the years, the couple have accumulated quite an archive. Gaiane said that their posters and archives were shared between two museums in Moscow. In November 2016 various items were donated to the Sheremetev Palace’s Museum of Theater and Music, while over 100 costumes were donated to the Bakhrushin Museum. The two museums held exhibits called Impresario: Dance Trajectory. It started first in late 2017 to 2018 at the Sheremetev Palace’s Museum of Theater and Music, with rare photos of “cult figures,” and a separate exhibit displayed dancers’ costumes and props from various ballets at the Bakhrushin Museum in 2019.

Costume from the Ardani collection (photo Gina Ardani)

They have also published a number of coffee table books, including Diana Vishneva: Beauty in Motion (2008), Impresario: Dancer in New Dimensions (2016) and Choreographer: Boris Eifman, The Man Who Dared (2018).

 

With Armenians and Armenia

The Danilians always kept strong connections with Armenians and Armenia. Gaiane said that while there are many cultured and knowledgeable Armenians who go to the theater, opera and plays, there were initially not that many who would come to ballet, especially classical ballet. However, she said, “We are glad that we found our niche among Armenians and we find that love. We are so happy that we have so many Armenians now who come to see our performances, especially in California. They are so proud of us, and that is really beautiful. We are so happy that now they are coming with their families, bringing grandparents and grandchildren—it is really amazing. We have seen it grow over the years. We finally built our Armenian audience.”

While there are not that many Armenian dancers, the Danilians have worked with a number of them. Gaiane said that furthermore they have friendships that have stretched over decades with many Armenians in other fields. She went back to Armenia in September 2016 and took her now Brooklynite mother in 2019 to Yerevan on her 80th birthday.

Charles Aznavour is among the creative Armenian artists the Danilians have admired and worked with. Gaiane reminisced that the first concert she could afford to go to in New York was of Aznavour and Liza Minnelli in 1993, in the last row of the balcony.

Charles Aznavour interview by Chanel 1 Russian TV station in the Ardani NY offices in 2009 with Gaiane Danilian (crop of photo by Nina Alovert)

Then in 2009, Aznavour was supposed to perform in the New York City Center theater and Gaiane was asked to head the advertising and marketing campaign for the ethnic media (Armenian, Russian, French, etc.) to sell tickets in the tristate area for this performance. She immediately agreed, replying “without a doubt, I will do everything possible which is in my power to ensure that Charles Aznavour’s concerts in New York City will have tremendous financial success. He invested in my homeland, Armenia, so much of his soul, talent and financial resources to see the nation bloom economically and culturally.” She said later, “It was very important for me, because I know that he will help our motherland Armenia with every penny that he earned during his concerts.”

Charles Aznavour, Gaiane Danilian, Sergei Danilian at the Ardani City Center office in NYC prior to Aznavour’s press conference in 2012 (photo Nina Alovert)

Ardani Artists was again in charge of a similar campaign in 2012, but unfortunately immediately after a press conference held at the Ardani offices, tour organizer Live Nation canceled the New York concerts. Gaiane said this was the result of a shameless attempt to cut Aznavour’s fee which the latter did not accept (see https://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/24/charles-aznavour-cancels-new-york-shows-in-contract-dispute/).

From left, sponsor Ashot Khachaturyants, Gaiane Danilian, dancer Natalia Osipova, Sergei Danilian, in Moscow

Ardani also has a major Armenian sponsor in Moscow, Ashot Khachaturyants, who for the last three years provided great financial help. Thanks to him, it was possible to create “Dreamers,” a two-act ballet with the Mariinsky Ballet and orchestra, and the famous Big Children Choir of Television and Radio of Russia, as well as “Isadora,” a two-act ballet dedicated to the famous American dancer Isadora Duncan. He was the sponsor of the two aforementioned Impresario: Dance Trajectory exhibitions and the coffee table book on Eifman mentioned above.

COVID-19 Changes All

Along with shutting down Broadway shows, Carnegie Hall, the Metropolitan Opera and many other cultural institutions in New York, COVID-19 forced an end to all ballet tours. Gaiane said that Ardani had to cancel performances of the Eifman Ballet at Lincoln Center and the La Scala Ballet of Milan, Italy and the Mikhailovsky Ballet of St. Petersburg, Russia, both at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa, Calif. She said that they paid for tickets, airfare and deposits for hotels, but received some of this money back.

From left, Sergei Danilian, Gaiane Danilian, Roman Abramovich, Boris Eifman and Maria Abashova, NYC at Lincoln Center, David Koch Theatre (photo German Gureev). Roman Abramovich was the sponsor of the Eifman Ballet premiere of “Anna Karenina” with the New York City Ballet Orchestra.

The Eifman Ballet was almost sold out for its performance which was supposed to be this June, but Ardani tried to postpone it to March 2021. Gaiane said that she is not sure even if this date will work. She said, “We have to be ready mentally and feel safe to go to the theater.

Even if the performances will be allowed to take place, the theaters state that the entire house cannot be sold out. For example, if there are 3,000 seats in Lincoln Center, only one-third can be sold to allow for social distancing. Gaiane exclaimed, “Can you imagine, to bring a company and sell the house for one-third? You won’t even cover your expenses, and we are not even talking about profits. You will not have funds to pay the artists.” The Eifman Ballet has around 70 people so if this rule stands, Ardani will be forced to cancel, Gaiane said.

The administration of Lincoln Center told Ardani that it is too early to decide and has promised more information at the end of August. Lincoln Center is not sure even if it can open at all next year, but still is selling tickets.

Gaiane pointed out that while it is wonderful that it is possible to watch performances online or broadcast at home, watching in your kitchen is a very different experience than in person. She said, “You go to the theater for live emotion—to react, to feel with our hearts…harmony with beauty and positivity. It is a different feeling. You make your hair, and put on a beautiful dress and high heels. You are going to meet magic—a miracle! And you get to meet your friends in the theater and get champagne. Even if it is 25 dollars a glass, it is the feeling of holiday. You are celebrating something very special.”

 

From March of this year, due to the preventative measures against the epidemic, revenue resources stopped and along with it, the Danilians’ salaries. Only the two Danilians are on the permanent payroll of Ardani Artists.

When they have projects, Gaiane explained, they hire people to work for them. There are more than ten people that work for the company, largely technical staff, who collaborate with the local technical crews of various theaters on lighting, carpentry, set changes, costumes and wardrobes. Before each performance, all production specifications are sent to the local venue to allow for preparation, but the Ardani technical director is in charge of the final arrangements on stage.

All technical staff, Gaiane said, went onto unemployment but the Danilians cannot do this.

As Ardani is not a non-profit, it applied for government support for small businesses, but so far has not received anything, according to Gaiane.

The entire entertainment industry, she exclaimed, is paralyzed. She said, “If the state simply does not provide serious financial assistance and does not help the entire industry, which brings billions of dollars to the US economy, the entertainment industry will not be able to recover for a very long time; an entertainment industry that attracted millions of tourists from all over the world, who came to the United States to specifically watch Broadway shows, listen to concerts at Carnegie Hall, watch the best opera and ballet performances and so on, throughout the country. And it’s not just ticket revenues. It is also revenues from booked hotels, airline tickets, and payments for theater workers.”

Fans to the Rescue

In order to help Ardani survive this period, the Danilians’ two sons organized a GoFundMe campaign with a goal of $100,000. By August 6, almost $18,500 had been raised. According to the GoFundMe description, contributions will help “provide much-needed financial support to members of the Ardani Artists staff and crew whose main sources of income are from live performances.”

Gaiane said, “The GoFundMe campaign is very touching. It is so wonderful. We did not expect our kids to do that. They decided, and said, listen, you have given your hearts to audiences and dancers. You dedicated your entire life to the art of ballet. You are one family.”

She added, “We are so grateful to the people who have helped us so far. They know how much effort and love we put into our performances.”

Get the Mirror-Spectator Weekly in your inbox: