Music Spotlight: Ivan Barbotin, Anastasia Original Score Composer

Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, Ivan Barbotin began playing guitar at age 10. Within a couple of years, he formed the rock band Sphinx which soon won the “Soviet Union’s Best Youth Band” competition. At 16, he joined Russia’s celebrated rock band Forum as lead guitarist, where he was half the age of the other musicians. With Forum he toured the country to sold-out audiences and became Laureate of the Song of the Year Festival in 1989, a career-launching annual TV event.

After moving to Canada in 1990, Ivan turned his attention away from music for a decade, during which time he studied languages and linguistics. He also worked as a video editor at Leafs TV and NBA TV Canada. Ivan eventually returned to music and began working as a full time film and television composer.

In 2000, Ivan wrote his first ballet score, The Velveteen Rabbit. Two more ballet commissions followed: The Emperor’s New Clothes and Anastasia. He has since written numerous compositions for film and television series appearing on Discovery and the BBC, among many other networks throughout the world. Ivan’s music has been performed and recorded by various orchestras including The Russian Philharmonic and The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony. Ivan has a doctorate in composition from University of Toronto.

Anastasia is doing extraordinarily well with tremendous feedback on the performances in every venue. We thought it was only fitting to talk to Ivan about his original score and how that has played a part in Anastasia’s success.

Ballet Jörgen Anastasia
Photo by Linda Schettle.

When did you first start thinking about composing for the ballet and what inspired you to do so?
I remember being quite excited when Bengt first asked me to do the score for Anastasia. It was clear from the get-go that it was going to be a project on a scale I could only dream of doing, and that alone got my mind racing – producing themes, textures, harmonies and so forth.

How did you learn about Canada’s Ballet Jörgen (CBJ) and Bengt’s Canadiana approach to ballets?
My dear friends Rea Wilmshurst and Andy Silber introduced me to much of the Canadian ballet scene in the mid-1990’s, including Bengt Jörgen and his ballet company. I was very impressed with Bengt’s vision and tenacity. His drive to demystify the art form and to make it accessible to people across Canada was contagious.

What was your approach and creative process like for Anastasia and what did you learn about CBJ?
I usually think in very abstract terms when composing. That was also my approach when composing Anastasia. I was mostly given a carte blanche with respect to the details of the project and was guided by general mood and pace goals set out by the choreographer, such as happiness, sadness, danger, anticipation, mirth etc. I was very happy to learn that, unlike other choreographers, let alone film directors, Bengt was thinking in broad strokes with respect to music and was not going to micro-manage this dimension of the ballet.

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Can you talk about the differences and creative challenges in writing and composing music for film and TV as opposed to the Ballet?
Writing for ballet is always a delight. Dance and music are a marriage in heaven. I’ve even heard that some cultures don’t have a linguistic distinction between the two. Nothing compares to being able to put together sounds meant to accompany displays of physical human beauty in motion. As to the difference between writing for ballet and film, music is more exposed and has more to carry on its shoulders in ballet. In film, especially considering the dominance of modern, Hollywood-driven film score aesthetics, music often has more of a background, supportive – or even “invisible” role. It’s considered that the less attention music draws to itself in film scores, the better. There are, of course, exceptions, but that’s the general trend.

What new works can we look forward to in the future?
I’m currently in the final stages of a video game project. The particularly fun part is that it’s a game about music. Word is it’s going to get released globally this summer. More video game projects are in the works.