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London is in for a surprise

- Interview with Maria Alexandrova

by Cassandra

July, 2004 -- London

On the opening night of the Bolshoi’s London season, Maria Alexandrova will dance the leading role of Kitri in “Don Quixote”, surprisingly she has only just been promoted to the status of principal dancer and when I met her recently to talk about her career, I quickly realised what an up-hill labour her progression to the top has been. Time and again she was passed over for roles for which someone in authority had considered her unsuitable. On the other hand choreographers have almost fallen over themselves to create leading roles for her (two of which she will dance in London) with Lacotte, Ratmansky, Eifman and Poklitaru all recognizing her unique gifts. Audiences simply adore her; read the comments here on Criticaldance about her performances in Paris earlier this year and you will discover just how easily she can captivate the public. At last it seems Alexandrova is to be accepted as the supreme artist she truly is and her stubborn struggle to assert herself is at an end as her enlightened new director acknowledges her blazing talent.

I found “Masha” to be good-natured, thoughtful and articulate. She is very striking looking, with a flawless ivory complexion and the large features that the stage loves so much – big eyes and a wide mouth with a smile that can compete with that of Julia Roberts. Throughout the interview I was impressed by her love of dance, by her need to communicate with her audience and above all the sheer joy she experiences from being on stage. Having been fortunate enough to see her dance on a number of occasions, I feel the word that best sums her up is – superb! Watch her dance and you will agree with me.

Mary Barnstable: First of all your early life; do you come from a theatrical background?

Maria Alexandrova: Absolutely not!

So you discovered dance for yourself and were attracted to it?

My mother wanted her daughter, her Masha, to become a little ballerina. She guided me towards that goal so that when I discovered dance for myself I also knew that my mother was very fond of that, so our desires were united.

So she goes to all your performances?

Yes! She goes to all my performances in Moscow.

What roles will you be dancing in London?

Juliet, Kitri in “Don Quixote” and two roles in “The Pharaoh’s Daughter.”

What was it like working for Pierre Lacotte? Was it very different to working with a Russian ballet master?

At first I had a small role and didn’t receive so much attention from him when I was dancing the part of Ramse, but later when I was preparing to dance Aspicia (the leading role) he worked extensively with me. He was extremely demanding to the extent that when he wants to get something from a dancer he will not have any regard for how you feel. It doesn’t matter to him what you are doing today or what you are doing tomorrow. No. He will demand what he wants to achieve.

I’d like to ask about “Romeo & Juliet” - had you danced in any other production, such as those by Lavrovsky or Grigorovitch before you danced in this very new version?

Before I danced this new “Romeo and Juliet” I had only danced the balcony scene from the Lavrovsky production at a concert and not anything else from the ballet because in the theatre they did not consider that it was my emploi.

“Romeo & Juliet” is a very modern work; tell me about modern dance in Moscow. Is there a wide modern dance scene?

There are some small groups that dance solely modern works and don’t dance the classics, but there are very few of them and modern dance lags behind the west. In Moscow it is not the same level as here.

Do you personally welcome a move towards more contemporary work at the Bolshoi?

Yes, I think that it is necessary but not on the main stage, we are lucky enough to have two stages now and on the main stage we perform works that symbolize the glory and the long history of the company and exploit the great capacity of the Bolshoi Theatre. I think that modern ballets would not be so good in that auditorium, they would get lost there because it is such a vast stage. The smaller stage is an ideal space in which to experiment. It is good for another reason as well; every year there are new younger dancers joining the company and they can’t get roles so soon on the main stage, so they can try themselves out on the new experimental stage, as it is very important that they discover their talents and personalities while they are still young. It gives them opportunities so they don’t remain in the background all the time. I still feel when I dance on the smaller stage that I am dancing on tour!

Influences: Has there been a teacher who has influenced your style?

Tatiana Golikova is the teacher who influenced me and helped me to reveal my resources and from the very beginning she helped me emphasize my positive features and to overcome my deficiencies and I am still working with her today.

Is there a role you particularly associate yourself with, a role for which you have a special sympathy?

There is a role that makes me feel very comfortable and very happy and makes me feel like a girl able to do what she likes. It is Ramse in “Daughter of the Pharaoh”.

It’s a very beautiful, a very spectacular ballet.

Is there a role that you don’t currently dance, that you would like to dance? Personally I would love to see you dance Odette/Odile.

Thank you very much for saying this! I am rehearsing this role at the moment. At one point I thought it might be possible for me to dance “Swan Lake” for the first time in London but they decided that I would have enough work here without this role.

At first in the theatre I was told it would be a definite no to my request for a “Swan Lake”, because they said it is not for me and that I am not suited to such roles in the classical repertoire and that it is not my emploi. However, in recent months, I began to feel a shift of opinion in the theatre so that I could try the role even though in the past they were resistant to my dancing the classical repertoire and I had in fact done very little. Personally I adore the classics and I want even more to prove that I can do it. Now that I have a chance I will definitely do it.

I think you’re a wonderful classical dancer and “Swan Lake” can benefit from a number of equally valid interpretations.

I have to say that it’s easier for me to dance in the West and easier to be accepted here. In my own theatre I always have to prove that I have the right to dance a particular role and to show I can achieve some success, while in the west somehow it is easier to get this acceptance and success.

What are your hopes for the future; would you for example like to guest with other companies to get experience in a wider number of roles?

I cannot say what I will do or what the future holds for me but I can just say that I want to do it; I would love to give guest appearances with other companies. That doesn’t mean that I don’t like my theatre; I love my theatre so much and many things link me to my theatre - it is my home and I love to dance there but definitely I would be very interested to try other companies that have different productions by many choreographers. I would love to experience what is happening in other countries.

You have appeared in several ballets by Alexei Ratmansky how do you think he will influence your career now that he is director?

One of his ballets in which I appear, “The Limpid Stream” played a very significant role in my life and in a way it was a turning point, because it was such a success both as a new work and for my performance. It was a very unusual production for the Bolshoi and it was actually greeted enthusiastically by everyone and for me personally it was important because it showed I became more prominent and couldn’t be hidden any more. It was also a big success in Paris, something that definitely influenced my career, but what will happen later I don’t know. It was a successful ballet for my career and for Alexei Ratmansky’s career, but what he will do in the future I cannot forecast.

I notice from your list of roles that you’ve danced “La Sylphide”, how did you feel dancing in that very different style of choreography?

I felt wonderful! Because every girl dreams of being in a fairy tale, of being a sylph, being able to fly and to flirt and this was something buried deep inside. Life doesn’t give you a chance to experience these things, but in this ballet when you dance this role you become a sylph who is so detached from real life and doesn’t realize what reality has in store for her. It is just an enormous joy to find yourself in this ballet. Some people thought that it’s not my role and some people said that it wasn’t for me because I have dark hair and dark eyes. But I know where my heart is and my heart is in this role, I feel this role. I can do it and I love to do it.

I think Taglioni also had dark hair and dark eyes.

When I danced this it was the time when in the theatre they were rehearsing Balanchine and Violette Verdy was at the time working with the dancers. After the performance she came backstage and she embraced me and expressed her admiration saying “it’s wonderful that you know exactly what this role is about” and she praised me and kissed me and then next day when I passed her by in practice clothes and my hair in a pony tail she didn’t recognize me at all and when I said hello somebody had to tell her “this is Masha who danced yesterday” and she looked at me again and she still didn’t recognize me, but only when I smiled at her did she finally recognize me.

I was very impressed by your performance in “Symphony in C” on video. Would like to try more Balanchine?

I have danced the “Tchaikovsky pas de deux” as well, with Filin and also with Samodorov at the new opera. I love both works because they are so sunny and so cheerful. There is so much joy in both “Symphony in C”, in both the third movement and the pas de deux. I really enjoyed dancing it because of the optimistic feeling.

Tell me about your partners: do you have a favourite partner?

I’ve danced with all the Bolshoi male dancers and they are all highly professional and I enjoy dancing with every one of them, but there is always one special dancer with whom I danced since a child – Nikolai Tsiskaridze. We had a wonderful partnership in part three of “Symphony in C” and then when the management of the Bolshoi showed this Balanchine again in the first triple bill I danced the pas de deux. But when the second combination of Balanchine ballets were prepared I was unhappy not to be dancing with Nikolai, because he was injured. People started asking, “Why doesn’t she dance?” and finally the management told me to dance and I danced it with Alexander Vorobiev in his first major role. But I would love to repeat it with Nikolai because we had such a good rapport in this role - dancing “foot in foot”, as we say.

I imagine there will be a number of new faces this time around in London?

Yes, I think London is in for a surprise as there will be some fresh discoveries to make; at least I would like to see that London makes discoveries this time. I speak not only on my own behalf but also on behalf of everyone in the theatre when I say I would love this tour to be very successful

I think it will be.

At least the repertoire is very strong and I think it is admirable how the Bolshoi is able consistently to show different productions.

Will you be dancing in “Spartacus”?

I usually perform Aegina but this time I will not dance it in London. Come to Moscow!

I will. What about audiences, do you notice a different audience reaction when you are away from Moscow?

Actually we always have good reactions to our performances. The audience we dance for are very good natured and friendly and the difference probably is that when we dance in Moscow we feel at home and know that at least some of the audience knows us and some people come specially to see me, whereas when you are on tour to a new town you have to show yourself, you have to make yourself known to people and become accepted. You have the extra excitement and challenge, so however good the reception you feel you are opening a window on a new world for yourself and for the audience. You cannot imagine what happiness, what a good experience, what a sigh of relief we had when at the dress rehearsal in Paris when “The Limpid Stream” finished, there was a flood of applause and people were clapping so much in unison for such a long time, it was such a relief because we were worried. This was such an unusual ballet and the fact that we were accepted by the knowledgeable audience even though they knew it was a only a dress rehearsal. They were clapping a long time and showed us that it was a success and we were very, very happy.

I really hope that success will be repeated here and I’m sure it will be.

Actually the beginning of the preparation for the Paris tour was not easy because first of all we knew we wouldn’t have Nikolai on our tour and one of the trump cards, Pique Dame, in which he had the leading role, had to be replaced by “The Limpid Stream” and in our opinion success could not be guaranteed for this new work. Then we also discovered that yet another principal dancer, Sergei Filin, would also be unable to dance and then, when we were on the flight to Paris we learned that one of our technicians had died in Paris on the first day he arrived at the theatre and all these things made us worried. There was a lady who came to see us looking for Nikolai Fadeyechev, as she was his admirer. She was from an old Russian immigrant family she began talking to us telling us “I don’t like Lacotte’s ballets and won’t watch “Daughter of the Pharaoh” nor the “Limpid Stream” which I’m not coming to see at all because it is set on a collective farm so I don’t think I would like it”. As she told this to me and Yan Godovsky, who replaced Sergei Filin, we looked at one another and tried to forget what she said because it wasn’t too pleasant to remember but in the end it turned out that it was a success.

I want to come to London again and again. I have already been here a lot but there are always more things to see.

Edited by Stuart

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