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Ana-Maria Petrova between the thorns and the flowers of Via Egnatia

22 August 2011 / 16:08:15  GRReporter
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Talented, beautiful, bright, true. These are the four virtues of Ana-Maria Petrova’s aura. You can not help but feel it when around her. You somehow know about it instinctively when watching her on the screen. She is an actress, dancer, journalist, poet, wife, mother - a true Renaissance figure in the early 21st century, who lives and works between Rome and Sofia. She came into our homes and won her way to our hearts as the beautiful Nedda in Stefan Dichev and Nikolai Mashchenko’s "The Road to Sofia" and attracted our attention for decades with her film roles, interviews with some of the biggest names in world culture. Ana-Maria is the wife of one of the most famous Bulgarian opera singers Nikola

Ghiuselev . In an interview with Maria S. Topalova she speaks of her poetic searches, intercultural dialogue and living in the rush.

I understand the symbolism of flowers and thorns, because nothing is definite in life. But why of Via Egnatia?

Because I go along this old Roman road every year, sometimes even 2-3 times and it is something like a transition in my life, because in my last collection of poems Flowers and Thorns of the Via Egnatia includes some poems from my first book of poetry that have been translated into Italian and I have original Italian poems too. I write in both languages, depending on how it sounds to me in that particular moment. Sometimes it sounds directly in Bulgarian, and sometimes in Italian, I write it down and then I translate it into the other language. This is my second book of poetry, and it is in Italian. I had not much time to go in this direction, but I wrote all the time. The last thing I wrote was in March this year. The first collection of poems was called Prayer for Life. It was in both languages but a few poems were in Italian. It was published by the publishing house Ivan Vazov, which was one of our major national publishers but unfortunately it does not exist now.

When did poetry come into your life?

I was about 16-17 years old when the cinema and the poetry came into my life. The ballet came since I was 8 years old and I started working as a journalist in the 1990s. The first poem is called November Surprise and I wrote it in November 1977, because it snowed. I did not expect it to snow, but it started, it was very cold, and then I wrote this poem.

How did the cinema find Ana-Maria Petrova?

The director Nikolai Mashchenko found me when I was a teenager. They had begun to prepare this particular film The Road to Sofia based on the novel by Stefan Dichev and there were screen tests. I was already in the group of actors at the Cinema Center and they started to call us. I had not completed my secondary education yet and I went to the screen tests. In fact, he chose me among (I saw the statistics later) 300 and more girls. I even remember when he said, "you are a true Bulgarian." The funny thing is that later in Italy they said I looked like a true Sicilian or something from Southern Italy. No one knows what is in the blood and what went wrong over the centuries. So, Nikolai Mashchenko, who is one of the most eminent Ukrainian film directors and was the manager of the Belzhenko film studios in Kiev, found me. He had undertaken to make this mega-production - five television series, but also a film version of The Road to Sofia and then I met the very Stefan Dichev, who was an idol for all Bulgarians. People like him as a writer very much and he has many successful novels.
 

What is the strongest memory from the filming of The Road to Sofia?

I was engaged with the film for five months. Perhaps my strongest memory is the first day of shooting in a church in Plovdiv. My first day of shooting was a scene right from the third series - you know that the film does not follow the script chronologically and then I was dressed in these beautiful costumes of that era and I have pictures from that time. I'm in the frame with one of the main characters who played the French Consul – the prominent Georgian actor Otar Koperidze and he had to be my fiancé in the film – Nedda’s fiancé. There was a priest and the director rushed in front of the camera, because we started to prepare for the rotation of the camera and said, "And now we have to congratulate our young actress so and so" with flowers. I have a picture of exactly the moment when the director gives me the flowers and I was very excited, I even think that tears came into my eyes.

Then, there were other very interesting and difficult moments because in one of the test screens - I think I went twice to test screens with camera, the director had to cause a dramatic reaction in me and at one point I had to cry. And while I was saying the text, the scene was made so that there was even a torch, and even it all was unnatural on the second picture, he placed the torch in front of my face. I got into the mood and at this point the torch had provoked a very strong dramatic effect and I cried. He said, "OK, then you can do it." And this unlocked my ability to cry when I have to. It is very difficult for you to cry, but the dramatic moment, the tears, should be in the right time, not earlier. And then, if the retake is repeated you have to prepare again. But you learn. It is enough to have that intensity and then everyone finds a way technically.

What has your relationship with the cinema evolved over the years? Did you have the chance to participate in other major productions?

Yes, of course. I started very early in Bulgaria. After The Road to Sofia I made a few things: a film of our great film director Vili Tsankov, also a film of Vasil Mirchev and the second film of Nicholas Maschenko was Karastoyanov Brothers, also a tragic epic about the September uprising. Then, I married and my daughter was born and I stopped for a while. I stopped forcibly in order to be with her during her first four years and then gradually I started accepting commitments, the first of which was a German-Bulgarian Western, which sounds strange. It was for the East German television. We shot in Potsdam and in Bulgaria. It's about the Mexican history and about an important moment in the history of Mexico – the uprising against the French domination in Mexico and I played the daughter of one of the candidates for president of the local people. I was such a very strong and femme fatale. There were many scenes on horses ... and we were several Bulgarian actors and several German actors and Gojko Mitic, Djoko Rosich and Nikola Donchev, who perished and who was a very good Bulgarian actor. There were two big series for the German television and the Bulgarian one, of course, it was a co-production.

The next year was my debut in Italy and then with a fiction series of 13 series for the Rai 1 channel, of an Italian director.  My favourite Bulgarian television director, who is also not alive - Svetozar Atanasov - introduced me to him. So, the Italian director called me and said that they started shooting a film and he would like to introduce me to his colleague, because the second director was Bulgarian. And the Italian has decided that I was very appropriate for one of the main roles. That was my debut in Italy. The series was called Golden Years - 13 series for Rai 1 and the Bulgarian National Television.

Then, I started to play primarily in films, and some other fiction films, and after that Octopus 7 came. The series of the Octopus are 10. For the first time there appeared Stefan Danailov and we were partners, and Raul Bova, who replaced Michele Plachido as Plachido’s character died and a new commissioner came. And that was the official debut of Raul Bova not only in Octopus, but in Italy. He became a great actor already, one of the best young actors in Italy. Then my other commitments followed with Lina Vert Muller, except Luigi Perelli’s Octopus.

Then the collaboration with the great writer of the Italian cinema Pupi Avati came with whom I made four films and things went well. But I would say that I have never relied so far on the outside and I have always wanted my work to speak for me, not my acquaintances with someone. Especially now, if you know a politician in Italy things will go very well for you. It is the same in Bulgaria, unfortunately. I did not go in that direction. I say "unfortunately" because things went in this direction and this even has devalued the word "actor." My colleagues - I mean real actors, actresses – suffer a lot because all people have cropped up who pretend to be actors, but do quite different things that devalue the profession.

What is the difference between the true and devaluing actor?

They have the passion and love for the profession within themselves. As I said, no one had told me to learn several monologues by heart and when Mashchenko said, "Tell me something," I recited Tatiana's letter to Onegin in Russian. I did not know I would need it. I just was prepared and I liked to do these things. In addition, a person studies either at a Theatre or Film Academy or elsewhere and improves, makes courses. The man grows inside.

What is happening now? This phenomenon started in Italy. Bulgaria usually copies the negative steps of some countries in different sectors, but this is a long conversation. But why devaluation? Because creatures appear who wake up and say "I'll be an actress or actor and he will settle me." That “he” is a director of a television, an important figure, a politician. Then, there comes the time when the acting career does not satisfy these girls and they begin to say, "I want to become a minister," because this is the situation. They see what happens. These are especially hard times for culture. And that disappoints me.

We really hoped that this right-wing government will be able to manage culture well, but it turned out that they have other priorities. And that is bad, because the culture and the people working in this sector are people who represent the country. This is true for Italy, and Bulgaria. Moreover, the terrible situation when mothers take their 14-15-16 year old daughters and toss them into the hands of important people on whom it depends ... this is terrible, you know. There are many such cases, but I would not mention any names.

Anna Maria Petrova in the Cinema:

In all these years, have you missed the ballet? Have you ever wanted to go back to dancing?

Yes, I have been doing nothing for six years. I do not even teach. I stopped dancing as a performer long ago, because the river of films and television and production activity took me. I already dabbled in journalism work since 1989 as a correspondent from Rome for a program of the Bulgarian National Television. I qualified and continued to work in Italy as a TV newswoman So, I mean that I stopped the ballet long ago. But at the same time, because I finished ballet pedagogy and choreography I was engaged in teaching in Bulgaria, in Parma in Italy, and in Rome. But I made plays too. I made some ballet plays in the Bulgarian National Television.

Meanwhile, I completed courses in jazz techniques with two American teachers. I had the pleasure to be on a specialization in Ballet Bezhar in Lausanne for a month, while Morris Bezhar was alive, of course. Then I taught jazz techniques too. Then, in 2000-2001 I made stages at the conservatory in Sofia, the Ballet Faculty of Jazz Techniques. So, I was engaged until recently but I started missing it already. I saw Sofia's head of the school of choreography not long ago which is now National School of Dance and includes folk dancing which we also studied. And that's what I said, "I already have a strong nostalgia and I must start again." She said, "You should think it over, because there is no turning back". Maybe I'll start again because it endures; it is your whole life. I began when I was eight and especially when you are professionally trained, it becomes your nature. And I just miss it. I am doing it myself but it is different when you have the incentive to prepare, to give to others and I would say that I was very good at this too and it was nice, but I have to find time. I guess there are moments in life when there is a priority, and then comes the next.

We all remember the series of your interviews with the biggest names in world culture. What attracted you in journalism?

It was television journalism, I buried in it quite young and I liked this very direct contact with people who were in the limelight. I made many interviews for the Saturday morning show of the Bulgarian National Television, Good Morning, at that time. There was a section called Major Plan in which we presented famous people, people of any nationality and who were in the Italian capital. Then I collaborated with newspapers in Italy and Bulgaria, but the visual means of expression remained more attractive to me. You have to control a lot of things in television and cinema. You have to control how far you are from the man, how you hold the microphone, where to put it, where the camera is at the moment, not to turn your back to the person or not to lean I do not know how, etc. In fact, there are a lot of things you have to control and the combination and your reactions between those who direct it and what you have to give the person have to be very fast as you are interested to get answers. You also have to think about the length of questions too. You should not talk more than him or her.

Working in television is more complex, more difficult and therefore more interesting. It came to me naturally because it was linked to my development before and after it. I like to do documentaries as a producer and director, because this is associated with the visual expression of reality.

How did you fall in love with Nikola Ghiuselev?

It was long ago. Even before filming The Road to Sofia. When we met, he was a guest in Gounod’s Faust in the role of Mephistopheles in the Sofia Opera, and I participated while we were still at the ballet school. I participated in the Walpurgis Night, which is a whole dance play within the same opera. I played Cleopatra. Actually, we met there for the first time and then for some time because of the performance. Years passed by, I grew up and he even says, "I waited for her to grow up" and at one point I had already graduated ballet pedagogy and choreography, worked in the opera and moved to the musical theatre. Then, someone had given him my number and we started dating.

What does it mean to be  the wife of so great a singer as Nikola Ghiuselev? What does it mean to be part of the life of the world opera elite?

It is a pleasure first. Second, it is a responsibility because he is a world star, I also have my career and weight, but his is of global level. I insisted on it even more than him in some cases; I helped him as a manager in many situations. There was no competition between us. I was even angrier than him and proud. I was not angry with him, but because of his problems and situations. This is really important. The fact that I have musical education was helpful too. I am in these circles ever since I was a child, I studied musical theory and piano for 13 years, I lived in the opera not only because we rehearsed there, but because I had this upbringing, this education which brings you to music and somehow it was perhaps understandable. We have common language for spiritual values, human values, we are the like.

You spend your live between Rome and Sofia. Where do you feel like home, where do you feel better? Where do you feel that you belong to?

No one could get away from his or her birthplace, from the home country. It always attracts you. Therefore, I feel at home in Sofia, but also in Rome, because I love this city. I am there since 1990. Especially now, when my child grew up and got away from me because my daughter Adriana is 25 years old and started working and living her own life. So I'm more independent, I no longer have these concerns that I had before. The mother is always mother, she has worries but she does not need me, I am not right next to her any longer, which means, as she said, "Now, Mom, think for yourself." But I really feel very well there, I am calm, I can see all the things, I have responsibilities - I must be there because of my work and my home because it needs someone to take care of it, because Nikola is mainly in Sofia – he has students. His health was not good lately but he is fine now. So, he basically stays in Sofia and he likes to live in our house there, in which he has put much effort and tension once.

You have been organizing cultural events between Bulgaria and Italy for several years. Greeks take part in them too. What exactly are you trying to do?

This expression “to develop intercultural dialogue” is fashionable in Italy, but also in European countries. There have always been a lot of people in Rome and Italy, they have passed and crossed different fates and nationalities, and it is interesting to combine the Bulgarian history with the Italian, Greek, French, and it captured me and I'm interested. I know Emilio Raffara for about 25 years when we lived in Parma and he taught in the music school there. He is a Greek musician, a guitar teacher, he has a group and they travel and perform. When I made the first edition of Art and Friendship in Rome aiming to unite artists of different nations, to share culture, experience and talent, Emilio Raffara played the guitar, the pianist was an Italian and played Gershwin, accompanying our pop singer Rositsa Bordzhieva and the actors were me and a an Italian colleague Saverio Wallonia, the son of another great actor Ralph Wallonia.

The event took place in the hall of the Bulgarian Embassy in Rome and more than 300 people attended it. When it became clear that there will be a Greek musician, the Greek Embassy offered to participate and organised tasting of Greek wines as a present. Our Embassy presented the Bulgarian cuisine and beside the Greek guitar player, there was presented a book about Maria Callas by a Bulgarian author and we got a beautiful mix. It was on the occasion of Bulgaria’s joining the European Union in 2007. Then, in 2009, I made a second edition with Bulgarian, English, Italian and French writers of poetry, big names again in the accompaniment of a 12-string guitar and Roman canzonets in one of the oldest Roman theatres in a typical ancient neighbourhood in Rome and now I am preparing the third edition .

How do you see Anna Maria Petrova after 10 years?

It is a very difficult question - I do not know, I hope to be in good shape, especially if I am doing ballet. This keeps the spirit. I must tell you that the ballet creates an inner discipline and shapes you as a person who can make sacrifices in live in the name of something spiritual. This gives an inner education. And I hope to be in good shape, still working and doing what I like and love, and enjoying health in the family and me.

Tags: Ana-Maria PetrovaThorns and Flowers of the Via EgnatiaThe Road to SofiaPoetryCinema
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