In recent months, Gabriel Stoyanov has become known as the first Bulgarian accepted to study for a doctorate at the most prestigious ballet institution – the Agripina Vaganova Academy in St. Petersburg. We contacted him to talk about dance, self-expression, and attitudes towards homosexuality in Russia.
Hello, Gabriel! What are the three most important things HUGE readers need to know about you?
Hello! Thanks for the invitation to do this interview. The most important qualities that define me are that I am disciplined, dedicated to the profession, always on time, and maybe also following my dreams until they become a reality.
When and how did your passion for the art of ballet first appear?
Most likely this moment came when I was admitted to the National School of Dance in Sofia. Then I realized that this period will be great preparation for the stage, for life, and even for the creation of not only professionals but also personalities. It was a wonderful year, filled with a lot of dance and built-in me incredible discipline and responsibility for the profession. When I was in 10th grade, I decided to focus on one thing and I chose ballet. I can’t say that there was a specific ballet that prompted me to make this decision. Sometimes it happens that boys want to become ballet dancers after being impressed by some unusual performance on stage. It happened to me differently. I danced a lot since childhood, there were a lot of dances at home too. Ballet has become not only happiness for me, but also the embodiment of the freedom to move and express myself.
Which came first – awareness as gay or passion for ballet?
That I’m gay. I don’t think it was a specific realization, but rather a moment when I decided to share it with close friends, and also at a later stage with my family. I have always had a passion for dance. I do not think that one has anything to do with the other or is comparable. Rather, it is a stereotype that has developed in some way in society but does not correspond to reality.
Has ballet always been interesting to the LGBT + community? And is it open enough to her?
I think the ballet world tends to be much more open and accepting when it comes to sexuality. People tend to focus more on the artistic side of things anyway.
You are currently studying at one of the most prestigious ballet academies in the world – “Agripina Ya. Vaganova” in St. Petersburg. What does this mean for you?
At the end of August 2020, I decided to take a risk. I did not count on anything, but the result was a pleasant surprise – I was accepted. I remember as a child I dreamed of entering the academy. This is the oldest ballet academy, which has preserved the traditions of classical ballet to this day! To draw information from the sources of ballet art, from people dedicated to a common goal – there is no such indescribable feeling. As I told you, that was my dream. I would like to note that there are high requirements and very high competition. I guess this is a very big motivation for the applicants. Studying at the Academy is difficult and responsible, but all the conditions are created for us: wonderful demanding teachers who softened my character and supported me to fight for my dream and not lose my heart. Even a simple visit to the legendary studios was happiness in itself.
Over the last decade, Russia has built a reputation as one of the most homophobic countries in the world. How do you feel as an LGBT + person in St. Petersburg?
I do not live in St. Petersburg at the moment, but I can say, judging by my frequent visits, that the Russian ballet world and the country usually adhere to the “do not ask, do not say” policy. There are many high-ranking figures who, although not officially out, are widely known as gay. These people enjoy great respect and support from the public and the government, even though they are known as “deviants”. Some of them even have high-ranking same-sex relationships without affecting their careers. As long as no one talks about it openly or “parades”… I have never been treated differently or worse. On the contrary, the academy treats me fantastically, I get help all the time so that I can master my studies. I have an extremely rich palette of Russian friends too. Ballet is so highly valued in Russia that you are never questioned as an artist, even if people suspect you are gay.
Who are the people who inspire you the most and why?
My biggest inspiration is the ideas I create, develop, and try to put into life. Also my teachers and the fact that they believe in me and support me. This is priceless!
Do self-expression and activism have a place in the art of dance?
We can always face the social stigma of being a boy in ballet. The thought of a boy starting ballet immediately carries connotations of homosexuality, weakness, and femininity. Ballet is an incredibly exhausting job. Dancers spend their lives being told to raise their legs higher, to push their limits, to jump beyond the possible, constantly realizing that their best must be better. They face stigma and ridicule, on top of the difficulties of the profession, and this sheds light not only on the spread of bullying that boys suffer from peers outside the ballet studio but also on their passion and determination to continue dancing, however.
For many people, an evening in the theater is a joyous occasion. The audience is dark, the orchestra begins a beautiful symphony, the spotlight comes on and a tall, muscular figure enters the stage, carrying his partner, a whole human being, over his head with effortless grace. A moment of fascinating balance between artistry, athleticism, and biology. Ballet training is perhaps one of the most intensive and exhausting educations that young men can receive. But for some, all they see is a man with makeup and walk-in tights.
A message to HUGE readers?
Don’t stop working on yourself. Not only physically, but also mentally. You have to be strong in this world – be it in ballet or in general. It is important to develop to have something to be proud of. Do not allow yourself to be categorized by your gender or your sexuality, but by what you have achieved and who you are as a person.