I did not want to share with you one of those traditional biographies listing where I was born, where I studied and where I danced. As an artist, I want to share with you my story. Yet, have you noticed how difficult it can be to speak about yourself?
So I asked Simone McGregor of Biscuit works to help me answer all the questions you often ask me as a more creative and entertaining biography.
After all, if you want to tell a good story, all of these elements must become inseparable so that the audience becomes captured; spellbound even. For the audience, the sheer excitement of experiencing that suspension-of-disbelief is why they go and see him perform in the first place. And that is what Denys does. He bends the audience to his will. His movements reflect what the audience feels. Do they feel joy? Or sadness? His entire self creates and delivers that emotive energy to anyone who goes to see him.
In the past many people have always asked him questions. Why he adores ballet so much. What does he think about before he goes on stage? They talk about the work he has done so far. But rarely do they ask about what Denys is made up of.
What causes that Denys-mousikē that the audience loves to watch?
To understand it we have to go back to the beginning.
Denys used to go along to his sister’s traditional Folk Dance classes, sit on the side and watch. At the age of 5 he was already watching the coordination and the musicality behind all the dance exercises. Week after week he sat there watching the class, learning their choreography through process and practice. He watched how they moved their arms. He watched how the fabric of their costumes added expression. He watched how the carefully choreographed movements create a performance more beautiful than he could have ever imagined. It was through this experience that he understood, very early on, that an emotional performance would resonate with how an audience might feel.
It wasn’t long before the 5 year old Denys no longer wanted to sit on the side and watch. He wanted to be involved so he started dancing too. Within weeks his folklore teacher was calling him ‘Vasiliev’. Of course, at this age it was his mother who had to sit him down and explain exactly who this ‘Vasiliev’ was. He knows now of course! His teacher, back then, said to Denys he ought to make the switch from folklore to ballet. She even brought in a flyer to class for a Ballet audition. It was for 7-8 year olds and Denys went along with a friend. Denys recalls watching the panel of selectors through the keyhole and instead of being afraid of them, his curiosity allowed him to watch and observe. He watched the panel of selectors discuss his friend’s flexibility and jump technique. So, when his friend came out with such a happy expression on his face Denys he knew that he too had to go into that room.
Denys queued with the others to audition and was met by the security team who asked him how old he was. He replied 6. The security guard looked at him and explained that he was too young to audition, but he could come back next year when he was old enough. As young as he was, Denys felt ready. He felt ready to go into that room and dance so he just refused to leave until they let him audition. Eventually they gave in and they let him through. Denys must have made quite an impression as he was awarded a place in the Ballet Academy of Vadim Pisarev at the age of 6, a year earlier than anyone else.
At the age of 11 old Denys remembers clearly how his mother sat him down, after an appalling event, to explain the financial strain that was now put upon them. She also explained very carefully that they did not have the means to fund his school and that she would go to the Academy to let them know. Denys was deeply upset but knew, despite his young age, that sometimes this was just the way life was. After his mother spoke to Iryna Pisarev she went back to Denys and told him the news that the academy was very happy to keep him at the school under full scholarship. This scholarship meant the world to Denys and he has never forgotten what they did for him.
In 2004 he graduated from the Academy of Vadim Pisarev and he went on to win a Gold Medal in Kiev. It was because of this that he was awarded a two-year scholarship in Munich, Germany to study at the Heinz-Bosl-Foundation Ballet Academy. It was here that he met his teacher Alexander Prokofiev, this meeting would change Denys life forever.
Alexander Prokofiev taught Denys that, as an artist, beauty has to come first because Ballet is beauty first of all. He told him that your hair, the way you move, the way you speak, your choice of clothes is everything, it means everything. Ballet is a lifestyle, it is to be lived, breathe, danced and performed.
When Denys first arrived in Munich he didn’t understand why Prokofiev was very tough with them, and him in particular. But once Prokofiev understood that Denys had a passion for learning, in any circumstances, he became much kinder and he continued to share his wisdom. Denys remembers very clearly Prokofiev explaining to him what success means to an artist-dancer:
Denys knew quite early on that Prokofiev had an amazing reputation for getting the most out of any dancer who studied under his methods. Prokofiev encouraged Denys to only show the world the very best that he could offer, he would often say to his students
For Denys it was Prokofiev’s constant commitment to the artistry of ballet that has heavily influenced how he performs today. The constant effort and dedication that Denys had put in during his time at Academy of Vadim Pisarev and under Prokofiev proved to be more than worth it. In 2006 Denys went on to sign a professional contract with Wiener Staatsballett
In 2007 he became a demi-soloist, a soloist in 2009 and then in 2012 he became a young Principal dancer. Here, in Vienna, he met and was heavily influenced by some of the world’s most famous ballet dancers and choreographers. It was here that Denys was personally mentored by Alexander Grant from the Royal Ballet in the role of Alain for the ballet; La Fille mal Gardee by Sir Frederick Ashton. He later also met Roland Petit, a French dancer and choreographer who was with Denys during the rehearsal for ‘Die Fledermaus’.
Now L’Arlésienne by Roland Petit was a ballet that Denys had always dreamed to dance, but when it was scheduled for the season he had already been cast in Mazurka, Suite en Blanc. The day before L’Arlésienne was to be performed Denys just happened to be walking along the corridor whilst everyone was rehearsing and saw Manuel Legris, Wiener Staatsballett’s director doing Frederi part in the studio: the dancer for the Frederi part became very ill. To add to fate, the cover for the role also became also very ill and on the morning of the performance there was no one available to dance Frederi.
Manuel Legris came up to Denys and asked if he thought he could dance tonight. Denys, even though he understood that this was a very challenging role, deeply artistic and that required immense endurance, agreed to do it. With the help of Manuel Legris and the Corps de Ballet, Denys learned the steps, assimilated the drama, the music, the richness of the role within less than 12 hours. Although there wasn’t much time and even though the pressure must have been immense Denys delivered an outstanding performance. He still describes this performance as one of the best ones of his entire life. He remembers the audience stomping their feet, something that they rarely do, and the volume of cheering and clapping is something he will always remember.
By Simone McGregor, Biscuit Works