At 7am, her body is poised for the first round of stretching. After a full half an hour, she treats herself to a light snack, then back to a series of rigorous training until after midnight.
Training may begin early in the morning for many dancers, but if you are Irina Kolesnikova, the prima ballerina of the St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre, it never really ends. Married to the theatre’s founder and impresario, Konstantin Tachkin, the Russian couple has a four-year-old daughter who is also training to follow in her mother’s pointe steps. From 8 to 13 May, Kolesnikova will grace the stage of The Theatre at MediaCorp to showcase the acclaimed classic Swan Lake.
Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake is distinctly unlike the film Black Swan, a thriller adaption with Natalie Portman sprouting feathered wings at the end of a supercharged pirouette. The performance harks back to the original German fairy-tale, showcasing unrivalled “white acts” denoting young Prince Siegfried’s relationship with the Swan Queen Odette, tracing their trials and tribulations to their heart-warming reunion. With its spectacular and dramatic ballroom scene, sublime music and deeply moving story, it remains a ballet that towers over the rest.
We speak to the duo to find out more about the art of ballet, history of the company and culture, and their impression of Black Swan.
Hello Tachkin and Kolesnikova! Tachkin, what were some of the driving forces behind the founding of St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre?
KT: From a purely business point of view, the market is driven by demand. At the same time that I first became aware of the ballet art, I also became aware of the demand for tickets which was made quite clear to me in my capacity as a manager for a tourist company that hosted tourists to St Petersburg.
Arriving guests to our famous city would first ask, “Where can I get tickets to see the Russian Ballet?” So first, I was driven by the business side of the enterprise, then I realised that I actually loved the art form. I enjoyed the music, admired the scenery and costumes, and I was in awe of the talent and dedication of the dancers. It was a perfect combination: a desire to own my own business and a love for what I was doing.
Given your background in Russia’s elite special forces, are there any aspects of ballet that are as intensive that audiences might not be familiar with? What do people not know about the world of ballet?
KT: Ballet looks so easy—that was my first impression. But then I realised that a soldier and a dancer have one major thing in common: Discipline. The ballet art is one of discipline, not just on stage but off stage as well. I remember my life as a soldier. I was never “off duty” [and] it’s the same with dancers. Yes, there are performances several times a week, but the profession is an everyday profession. Dancers are always “on duty”—diet, training, physical fitness, never a moment of weakness.
How far has the art scene in Russia changed since two decades ago?
KT: In one way, not much change; in another way, great change. Our Russian government still subsidises major companies, such as ballet, drama, opera and the likes. But it has also allowed the growth of private enterprises. Some have damaged the image and prestige of Russian art, others have survived to increase the demand and love of the arts. I consider my St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre to be a company that provides a great stimulus to the growth of the love for Russian ballet. [We] insist on quality before profit as we receive not one cent of subsidy, yet we survive and add to the rich tradition of the Russian ballet art.
Kolesnikova, how long have you been dancing and when did you start?
IK: I started formal ballet training at the age of 8. Prior to that, I was a figure skater and then a Rhythmic Gymnast. My dance training was a really serious step, not as a hobby, but a deliberate decision to dedicate my young life to the art of ballet.
A typical day in a prima ballerina’s life will look like…
IK: Oooh…I love to sleep in. But class (training class) is usually at 10.30am. So, I get up early at around 7am, spend 30 minutes stretching my legs, back neck and arms. [I have] a cup of tea, maybe some porridge then off to class. After class, I probably have some rehearsals, by mid-afternoon it is time for my “big” meal of healthy food: fish, salad, maybe some berries. Then off to the theatre for a warm up, makeup, costume, and performance. After a show, I like to take it slowly. Maybe a light meal and then to bed by 1am.
Of course, at the same time, I must fit in my duties as a mother. My daughter is four years old. She is an angel and never demanding, but still, I always make sure that I have time for her. SHE is the most important thing in my life.
What are your favourite steps/moves to perform?
IK: 32 fouettes, and I’m really good at them. My fouettes are a major part of my Swan Lake performance.
Which of your performances has left a lasting mark on you?
IK: [It was] 2014 in Istanbul, I returned to the stage after the birth of my daughter. It was a milestone in my life. I was a ballerina again and a mother too. It was a personal and momentous moment in my life.
Are there any drastic changes to family routines?
IK: Every mother knows that once you have a child, life as you knew it has changed forever. My routine as a dancer has not changed. I just have two routines, going at one as a dancer, one as a mother. I make it work with the help of my husband.
What do you wish you’d known before you started dancing?
IK: I had no idea how demanding my career would be, the denial and the physical pain. But I’d not change a thing.
Did you both see Black Swan? Was ballet portrayed correctly in Black Swan?
No, the movie was absolute rubbish. Nothing like the real life of a ballerina. We laughed all the way through and all the way home.
What is it about Swan Lake that makes it a classic?
KT: It’s the perfect package. Choreography that lasts for almost 120; an unmatched musical score by the master, Pyotr Tchaikovsky; the opportunity to see a beautiful story danced by lead dancers who actually get to act and show emotions through the dance; and a “wrapping” of beautiful scenery and glorious costumes. Honestly, what more could you wish for?
The St Petersburg Ballet Theatre: Swan Lake
When? 8 to 13 May, 7.30pm (Thurs, Fri, Sat); 2pm (Sat); 1pm (Sun)
$75 onwards per ticket (Ticket information here)
The MES Theatre at MediaCorp, 1 Stars Avenue, Singapore 138507
We have 1 pair of tickets for our readers to experience The St Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake for themselves. Interested? Head on over to our Facebook to join the giveaway!