‘Ballet Helps to Build Character’

PHOTO by Vyacheslav Prokofyev / TASS
Russian ballerina tells all about ballet companies, touring and dancing as a career

Of course, the Bolshoi, Mariinsky, Mikhailovsky, Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko theatres uphold the quality of Russian ballet. However, even a little-known ballet company from Russia can attract sell-out crowds and get lots of applause almost anywhere in the world, from Canada to Qatar and from China to the UK. We've met with a touring Russian ballerina and spoke with her about her career.

In the summer of 2014, I was a dancer from the provinces without a higher education in choreography. I decided to find out what professional growth Moscow could allow for a mid-level dancer. If your town doesn't have a proper ballet school, you study at a dance school or in a studio. After that, you can dance in a mid-level company or at best in a musical theatre. The difference between graduating from a school and graduating from a dance studio is huge. I regretted many times that I didn't enter the Perm or Novosibirsk training schools when I was 12, although I had the opportunity. Now it doesn’t seem so bad. I have a degree in another field and once I was in Moscow, it became clear to me that it's difficult for me to make it into leading theatres but at the same time, if you try hard and work on yourself, you can be almost at the same level as graduates of ballet colleges.

Working Conditions in a Typical Ballet Company

As a rule, a troupe rents small rooms with ballet bars. There are no bars sometimes though and it's necessary in this case to hold on to walls or windowsills.

The floors in a ballet hall are like linoleum, although it isn't slippery. Male dancers always install and spread the linoleum - this is the beginning of their warm-up process.

As for our stages, they aren't comparable in size with the Kremlin Palace but most are wider than the dance halls. At rehearsals, it is necessary to limit the range of motion, to squeeze, adapt and go all out only during the actual performance. However, in towns in places like Italy, England and Germany, there are some small stages where you can't dance all the way. There are also stage decorations, which take up space and get occasionally hit by the artists.

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How it Works

A ballet company is often put together for specific performances. You learn from the company's website or through friends that rehearsals for “Cinderella” start in a week they will perform for two weeks in Spain, or there is a “Swan Lake” rehearsal and they will perform in China for two months. You check the terms and conditions and start to work. The most demanding bosses can keep everyone from morning to night, repeating scenes until progress is evident. The workflow in theatres is the same — dancers can spend the whole day without a break. But they have a job and are paid for keeping in shape and for daily rehearsals. Touring companies don't have fixed salaries; they only get fees for completed performances.

On Tours

Performances on tour are almost every day, sometimes even twice a day, with about one day off per week. During a two-hour show, you spend lots of energy and effort since you’re almost always in motion on stage. You go backstage to take a short break and to change. Sometimes you need to do it not once but four times, trying to do so in one or two minutes each time.

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It's natural that you want to rest after a performance, but it's unlikely that a few hours of sleep is enough for our bodies to recover. At best, you might have the chance to place your feet in a hot tub or rub in some ointments, which have virtually no effect. The worst is travelling at night and dragging along your suitcase, which deprives you of just about any chance to rest and relax.

On Relationships

If the tour lasts four to five months, it's unlikely that you can combine work and a relationship. There are lots of couples working in the same company, which is probably the best option: you dance, travel and live together. My boyfriend isn't from the ballet and it wasn't easy when I was away for three months. Now I try to go on tour for a month and a half at most.

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Payment doesn't depend on the country. Each company has a certain rate and it doesn't matter whether you're dancing in Mexico or in Italy. An ordinary corps-de-ballet dancer’s fee may be about 40 euros per performance. Leading soloists in a troupe can get up to 300 euros. Provided that the tour lasts three months and there may be about a hundred performances, it’s a decent amount of money, even considering that you may be rehearsing without pay for the next three months. However, you are paid less if you tour in Russia.

On the People in Ballet

From time to time, you have emotional breakdowns on tours from the continuous marathon of dancing and hanging out with the same social circle. Some just fall exhausted on a bed and try to run from reality while some brighten up evenings with drinking.

The percentage of girls in the ballet world obviously prevails over the number of boys, but don't think that boys only think about their appearance and muscles. I’ve mostly met very ordinary people, many of whom came from the provinces. Some of them are football fans, others who are older are engaged in teaching in between tours, and some have a small business transporting goods from abroad to Russia and vice versa.

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Speaking about girls, it's just entertainment for some, a kind of fitness to keep in shape. For example, you have a wealthy boyfriend and you don't aspire to earn money by dancing. Some regard ballet as just a way to make money (albeit not very successfully). They rehearse indifferently and go on stage every day. A small number of dancers are really fond of ballet and it's the purpose of their lives. They also have music from “The Nutcracker" as a ring tone.

I know for sure though that ballet helps to build character, and any of the above types are proof of this.