A Day in the Life of a Professional Ballet Dancer | IE ABC (Art)icle Series


By: Maria Kostychenko

Last Wednesday, we celebrated International Dance Day, paying tribute to every performer whose passion drives them to tell stories through movement. This article intends to explore the beauty, hard work, and inspiration behind the art of dance by interviewing one of the leading dancers of Bolshoi Theatre: Kristina Kretova. Born in Orel, she graduated from the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in 2002, and joined the Kremlin Ballet Theater, where she danced the leading parts of Giselle, Odette-Odile, and many others. After joining Bolshoi Theatre in the season of 2011/2012, Kristina became one of its leading ballet soloists, dancing both classic and contemporary ballet while working on directing her own show. Kristina has shared with our readers her ideas about modern ballet, her aspirations and dreams, as well as her insight on the life adjustments she had to make during this quarantine.

Check out the interview with Kristina:

Can share with our readers how you chose to pursue a career as a ballerina?

Since I was a child, I can clearly remember how much I loved to dance. I was always drawn to the theatre and dramatic arts, attending several theatre studios and taking part in theatre plays at school. Being told that I might have a talent, my mother signed me up to the choreography school in Orel—my city of birth, a few hundred kilometres south of Moscow. After studying there for three years, my teachers advised me to apply to the Moscow Dancing Academy. I went there with my mum, and after passing all three stages of admission, I got in. When I was a child, I simply enjoyed dancing and movement, but had never dreamed about making it my profession. So, you can say that it was my parents’ dreams and determination for me to become a ballet dancer that pushed me towards this career.

Well, our parents always seem to believe in us a bit more than we do, don’t they?

Clearly, that was what happened in my case, and I’m very grateful for their insistence and support throughout my career.

Would you say there are roles in ballet that you enjoy dancing the most?

Well, recently I found myself more interested in performing roles of dramatic heroines. If I had to choose three of my favorite roles at the moment, they would be the role of Vera in A Hero of Our Time by I. Demutsky, the role of Hermione in The Winter’s Tale by J. Talbot, and the role of Anna Karenina, recently featured in La Personne’s issue about Bolshoi Theatre.

Those are very difficult heroines to understand and perform… how do you manage to understand and transition into the role of your heroines?

Firstly, I always read all the available literature about my heroine. Sometimes I also watch documentaries or dramatic movies. For instance, before dancing the role of Anna Karenina, I watched both Russian and foreign movies about her, trying to understand the character on a deeper level. It also helps to film my performances and look at them afterwards, to align my posture and movements with those of the heroine. I can dance for hours both in the theatre and at home, trying to understand and feel the emotions and movements of my heroine, and aligning my feelings with hers before the performance.

That seems like a very emotional and intricate process. Which role would you then consider hardest to perform?

Swan Lake was always the hardest to perform for me. Even though Don Quijote is more challenging, Swan Lake requires utmost precision in its movements. Thus, even a tiny mistake or wrong movement can ruin the whole choreography, making it particularly challenging to perform. I’m always the most nervous about performing this ballet, also because you always have to perform two characters—Gisele and Odette, the white and black swans, so radically different in movement and character.

While performing this role, you are always trying to fool the prince and the audience with your movements. The heroine is you, which is both thrilling and challenging.

Which choreographers did you enjoy working with the most?

I have danced all of the leading roles in the Bolshoi Theatre, like the roles of the Sleeping Beauty and Gisele in Swan Lake, yet after taking part in all of these diverse ballets, choreographed by different people, I prefer working with John Neumeier the most. He is the choreographer behind two of my favorite ballets of all time – Anna Karenina and Lady with Camellias. I cannot explain to you the thrill that I got when he chose me to play these roles, as at this point, I didn’t really believe that I was going to become a soloist at Bolshoi. The thrill and excitement I felt back then are still present every time I go up to the stage and start dancing. From the Russian choreographers I enjoyed working the most with Kiril Serebrinov, an outstanding choreographer with a phenomenal sense of music and tact, despite his controversial political reputation!

You mentioned Kiril Serebrinikov as one of your favorite choreographers, would you then say that you prefer modern choreography over the classical?

It depends, I enjoy dancing both classical and modern choreography. In the Bolshoi Theatre, we are currently trying to save the classical school of dance. Such choreographers as Alexei Rotmansky, for instance, are very traditional, staging performances similar to those of Anna Pavlova in the 1930s. Kiril Serebrinikov is much more modern, opening new horizons with modern choreography for the dancers and viewers of the Bolshoi Theatre, completely changing its perception by the public. I personally enjoy dancing both styles, however, modern choreography definitely allows me to explore the flexibility of my body on a much higher level.

As a leading soloist in Bolshoi Theatre, you perform more than 5 or 6 times a week on a regular basis. How many hours a day do you practice to stay in shape?

In the Bolshoi Theatre, we have rehearsals ranging from 4 to 8 hours a day. Of course, I train at home a couple of hours per day to stay in shape as well. Many times, I wake up at 6 am, start dancing at 8 am, and get home around midnight after my rehearsals, immediately falling asleep. So, it’s definitely a busy schedule!

It sounds very challenging, and yet we have heard that you are currently working on your own choreography project, can you please tell our readers about it in more detail?

Definitely! Well, before the situation with coronavirus, I was supposed to present a solo project: my personal ballet, Monaxia. Monaxia translates from Greek as loneliness, and I was very excited to perform this ballet in the Mariinsky Theatre of Saint Petersburg. It was written specifically for me by a great Russian choreographer—Dmitri Maslenikov. Dmitri and I met while being guest judges at a Russian TV dancing show, and immediately became good friends. As I shared with him that it was my greatest dream to perform in a ballet written specifically for my movements and body, he took the opportunity to create something truly beautiful that I’m very excited to share with the world. Of course, this situation with coronavirus definitely put everything a bit off balance, but I’m looking forward to performing Monaxia the moment quarantine is lifted!

It seems that quarantine has definitely affected your life in a big way. Would you mind elaborating to our readers, how did the quarantine change your everyday life and what do you miss the most?

Quarantine definitely put my life upside down. Before, I would spend all my free time in the theatre. I definitely miss performing and going to the theatre every day to dance on stage before hundreds of people. I never realized how important my work is for me and how much I should appreciate it, before this quarantine, and I felt quite depressed the first couple of weeks of staying inside. As it was hard to get most of the ballet equipment that we enjoy in Bolshoi Theatre to practice at home, I really started to worry about losing my shape, which is crucial for my profession. However, I slowly readjusted to this new reality and I really am trying to keep my spirits high! I started spending more time with my son, which is definitely the highlight of this quarantine! I even opened a food Instagram page, where I give advice on how to cook healthy and tasty meals, breaking the stereotype that ballerinas sustain themselves on pure air. So, I’m really trying to stay busy and enjoy things I previously did not have time for. But to be honest with you I really, really miss my friends!

So, what would you say inspires you the most and why?

Kristina: It might sound silly, but my newly acquired followers on Instagram definitely inspire me the most. As I started giving daily online ballet classes via my Instagram, their gratitude and progress was very rewarding to see! I think it’s also the feeling of community and of not being alone, which is very important during these crazy times! My followers are inspiring me to work more on myself and to try to give them more useful tips and advice in order to attain something seemingly unattainable, like learning how to dance ballet.

That’s a very beautiful observation! What would you like to wish our readers and your followers during these challenging times?

I definitely wish for all this madness to be over soon and for our lives to go back to normal. I also wish for everyone to try and stay healthy while doing what they enjoy. Appreciate what really is important in life, such as our loved ones, our mental health, and our passions, while trying to keep a positive attitude and faith in the future and in ourselves!

That was the end of the interview with the talented and beautiful Kristina Kretova, a truly inspiring person inside out. It was very interesting to see how Kristina deals with the challenges of quarantine in a very similar way to many of us, missing her friends, her community, yet trying to take the most out of these challenging times by constantly working on herself. All of us can sometimes feel sad, lonely, or insecure— however, those emotions do not define us, their purpose is to push us to explore our characters in a deeper way and to find our destination in life!

Editorial note: this article was published on the LinkedIn page of the IE Arts & Business Club (link). The featured image is a picture of Kristina Kretova by Peter Brenkus Photography.

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