“We’re in class—not onstage,” Elisabeth Platel warns a group of uniform-clad students at the Paris Opéra Ballet School. It’s not often you’ll hear this sentence in a dance studio, but for the POB School director, the goal is no-frills academic perfection. When one girl pushes to complete three turns and stumbles, Platel claps her hands to stop the pianist. “I want quality. Can you be active in two pirouettes, with a higher leg in passé? Do it with less force, but with precision.” The student blushes, but her next attempt is both cleaner and more technically sound.
Interview of Evgenia Obraztsova, by Laura Cappelle via Pointe Magazine. Photo by S. Postoenko.
You danced John Cranko’s Onegin for the first time last year. How did you find your inner Tatiana? Eugene Onegin is my favorite book. As a child, I wanted to become an opera singer. I performed in the opera as one of the little kids onstage. I knew Tatiana’s part by heart; I would sing it all the time. It was easy to translate her into ballet.
You’re engaged to a sculptor, Andrei Korobtsev. When will we see the first sculpture of you? It’s almost ready. It’s a bust of me, and the plaster cast is done, but the final sculpture will be in marble. He’s also working on a commission for the Paveletsky train station in Moscow, a couple saying good-bye as the man leaves for war. I’ll be the woman.
What do you do to stay injury-free? I have a doctor I completely trust in St. Petersburg. She comes to see me in Moscow, and I also call her for advice. She practices cupping therapy—it’s not for everyone, but it really helps me. Of which accomplishment are you most proud? I can’t say I take pride in anything I did, because in the Orthodox tradition you don’t achieve things by yourself: It’s God who gives it all to you. What advice do you have for students wanting to be professional dancers? Explore other forms of art, and absorb as much as you can—it will always find its way onto the stage. Sometimes I discover new things in me, and I realize it comes from films or performances I’ve seen, even if they didn’t strike me at the time.
Who is your toughest critic? My mother. She lives in St. Petersburg but travels to see my performances. She was a ballerina herself, and I trust her opinion. She wouldn’t say it was a good job simply because she is my mother. She is always honest.
What’s the toughest part of being a dancer? Denying yourself things and trying to achieve your goals no matter what. Ballet is not just hard work, it’s unusually hard work, and a lot of talented ballerinas fail because they can’t face all the hardship that comes their way. Sometimes everything goes against you, and you still have to keep fighting.
[End of interview].
She is so humble, and has such incredible inner strength! I admire her fighting spirit, even when it seemed her talent was not being recognized as it should she kept going. Also, she talks about seeking inspiration from outside of the ballet world. This is advice I notice all great artists give - not living in a bubble. Yes, I adore Genia… <3
I’ve typed out most of the article, except for a part I couldn’t read (at this point I only have pictures of the magazine pages from a friend, until I get my hands on my own copy. Enjoy!)
“Since joining the Bolshoi as an outsider from the Vaganova Academy three short seasons ago, [Olga] Smirnova has had critics and audiences alternately abuzz and awestruck. At just 22, she is fast making her mark at the crossroads of the St Petersburg and Moscow traditions, her pristine clarity of movement melding seamlessly with the dramatic emphasis Moscow has long cultivated. Her ‘Diamonds’ revealed an expansive, spellbinding young queen; her gift for tragedy, meanwhile, has found telling vehicles in Onegin and Lady of the Camellias.
To get to this point, an unlikely number of stars had to align. Deemed the "physically perfect instrument of her art form” by English critic Luke Jennings, the revelatory harmony of Smirnova’s lines speaks to the ruthless Vaganova training. Ballet in Russia is also a mental game, however. Self-possessed beyond her years, Smirnova ahs reaped the rewards of what she deems the most difficult decision of her life: refusing the Mariinsky and entrusting her career to the Bolshoi director Sergei Filin.
The Mariinsky was always a logical step for Smirnova, a native of St Petersburg Her music-loving family had no connection to ballet: Her mother was an engineer, but when she noticed that Smirnova showed potential in dance, she decided to take her to the Vaganova Academy.
Smirnova was accepted immediately, at age 10, and her talent didn’t go unnoticed. Singled out as a leader for her age group early on, she found herself front and center in class, as is the Vaganova tradition, and faced with the burden of expectations. “It’s huge psychological pressure for a kid,” she explains matter-of-factly. “Others were allowed to make mistakes, but if I did the teacher would ask me: How could you? As they say, it’s not easy to get to the top, but it’s much harder to stay there.” Less flexible than her classmates, she took extra weekend gymnastics classes to achieve the sky-high extensions now standard in Russia.
By the time she completed her training in 2011, Smirnova’s reputation as a prodigy preceded her. Bolshoi director Sergei Filin made the trip to St Petersburg to see her graduation performance, and soon the young dancer found herself with competing offers of a soloist position from the rival St Petersburg and Moscow companies.
Joining the Bolshoi wasn’t her initial choice, Smirnova says. Instead, she tentatively started to work at the Mariinsky without signing her contract, but found the atmosphere uninviting. “I felt the artistic director and the teachers weren’t interested in nurturing new, young ballerinas. But Filin came up with a very logical plan. He wanted to involve me in the Bolshoi repertoire step by step, starting with variations, Queen of the Dryads, Myrtha - very important roles to prepare you.”
Filin kept his word, and Smirnova’s move reasserted the changing balance of power in Russian ballet… Loneliness was inevitably a challenge for the young dancer, but the repertoire kept her fulfilled. Variations soon gave way to carefully chosen principal parts; in addition to debuts in La Bayadere and The Pharaoh’s Daughter, she was cast by The Balanchine Trust in the Bolshoi premiere of 'Diamonds’ in her first season.
Absorbing the Bolshoi style proved Smirnova’s most pressing challenge. While a growing number of Vaganova-trained dancers work in the company, clear differences remain. Smirnova praises the purity of the Vaganova technique, but says Moscow has helped her develop endurance and strength under the tutelage of her coach, Marina Kondratieva.
The bold acting tradition was another challenge. Her hunger for new experiences and love of theater have helped her fit in, but Smirnova is still fine-tuning her approach. She reviews videos of her performances with her coach, critiquing and revising her choices. “When I first came here, everybody said: Here is another ballerina from St. Petersburg who will be cold and unemotional,” she remembers. “I didn’t understand what they meant - should you be crazy onstage? What is the limit? It’s still an open question for me.”
Despite her doubts, she was quickly become the face of the repertoire brought in by Filin. A feature of his directorship has been narrative ballets no Russian company had previously taken on, including Cranko’s ’Onegin’ and Neumeier’s ’Lady of the Camellias’, and his young protégée has run with the opportunity. When we met, a few days after her second Lady, she is visibly spent. “These ballets take a piece of your soul,” she explains. “It’s similar to the feelings you have after finishing a huge book. You live with the characters, and you feel an emptiness after them.”
Smirnova’s onstage maturity is mirrored by her levelheaded response to the pressure cooker she has found herself in. At the trial following Filin’s acid attack, in an attempt to smear him, the defendants accused him of having an affair with Smirnova, an episode she has learned to laugh off.
The attack aside, Smirnova deems the atmosphere of intense competition at the Bolshoi the continuation of what she experienced at the Vaganova Academy. “You just have to prove that you’re dancing a role because you’re the best at that point. It’s good, because it keeps you on your toes.” Cliché or not, she is her own biggest critic, believing that she danced Odette/Odile too early, describing her interpretation as “too raw. I still don’t truly, fully understand the role.”
Lately, she has found new roots in Moscow: Last summer she married the son of Filin’s former adviser, Dilyara Timergazina, in an Orthodox ceremony. Her husband, who works in finance, is her support system. “He completely understands that my life is in the theater now, and he gives me the strength to perform.”
There is an uncanny purpose about Smirnova, but it would be a mistake to take her for a diva. “You can see that she doesn’t position herself according to a title, a status,” says Maillot. “She just asks: Can I do that, how can I do it, what can I learn?” She is on track to be one of the defining dancers of her generation, but her path may prove slightly different from other Russian superstars who have forged their own international brand away from the company ties. “Everything I have done was given to me by the theater,” she muses. “The Bolshoi is my home now, and for an artist, it’s very important to have a home.”
Written by Laura Cappelle.
Hope you all enjoy this insight into Olga’s life. :)