One of the most renowned dancers in the world, the new master choreographer of The Mariinsky in Russia, and an internationally revered ballet judge, just so happens to live in Carmel.
Eldar Aliev and his family have lived in Carmel since the early '90s, when Aliev was asked to be the principal dancer for the former Indianapolis Ballet Theatre. Shortly after he was promoted to artistic director until the company's closure in 2005. Though Aliev now spends most of his time back in Russia, he still considers Indianapolis his home.
"Our house is there, our dogs are there, our son is there," says Aliev. "Everything is there."
Aliev's career as a dancer began at age 9, one year before most children start at the Professional Ballet Academy in the former Soviet Union. He was with a neighbor dropping off her daughter for an audition there and one of the teachers pulled him aside and said he should consider dance. He tried out and made the cut. He had never even seen ballet before he dedicated his studies to it.
At age 18 he graduated, winning a Russian national competition and joined Mariinsky as a dancer. Shortly after he was promoted to the role of soloist, and eventually given the title of principal dancer.
Aliev has performed in over 40 countries on some of the most well known stages in the world (Covent Garden, the Paris Opera, the MET, the Kennedy Center, La Scala and the Sydney Opera House for example). Aliev has literally danced in every major role found in the classical repertoire. He also has worked hand in hand with choreographers like Yuri Grigorovich, Roland Petit and Maurice Béjart.
By 1991 he was on his fourth tour of the United States. Being 33 at this point he knew his days in ballet shoes were numbered; he needed a plan for retirement. Clive Barnes, a famous critic with the New York Post, was a close friend. Barnes' wife called Aliev and told him that the Indianapolis ballet was searching for a principal dancer. When he traveled to Indy, he quickly fell in love with the city — and most importantly the company. The group was 20 years old when he arrived.
"I was actually running the company and learning English at the same time," says Aliev.
He was able to take the company on international tours and get its shows broadcast across North America.
According to Aliev, the board unexpectedly decided to shut down the company, saying they would bring it back in two years. Aliev says he knew that wouldn't be the case.
"It's not an easy thing to do," says Aliev. "You don't go to the store and buy a ballet company ...
"I miss that company so much."
He referred to it as the removal of a jewel in Indianapolis' cultural crown.
After the demise of the Indy ballet, Aliev was asked to come back to The Mariinsky, where he focuses on preserving the classics.
"Those steps I know the best, because I know that inside out," says Aliev, referring to productions like Giselle and Swan Lake. "I know classical ballet inside out. I know every production. I know every role in every production."
The repertoire in Russia is significantly different than those in the West. Here, a company will put on one show at a time, combining several in a season. There, a series of roughly 10 are chosen and maintained year-round with shows every week.
"It's a completely different approach to the development of ballet theater," says Aliev. He also notes that audiences in Russia are far more critical.
"In the United States the audience is more sincere, where in Russia the audience is more knowledgeable," says Aliev.
The difference means that on opening night in Russia, he is siting next to his wife, leaning over to ask what she liked and didn't like with each production.
Just last year he created five shows for The Mariinsky and two international pieces, in addition to judging competitions around the globe, hosting a summer international program in Russia, and holding his footing as an artistic director. Throughout it all the backbone of his work will always be the classics — something Aliev handles with care.
"I have to be responsible for every step I am putting on stage," says Aliev. "I think the classics are immortal."
Aliev is doing his part to keep those jewels polished.