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For those of you who follow ballet news closely, Laura Fernandez-Gromova should hardly need an introduction. In 2016, the eighteen-year-old Swiss took the Prix de Lausanne ballet competition by storm. Laura bagged three awards: a coveted Apprenticeship spot, Best Swiss Finalist award, and Contemporary Dance prize for her inspired rendition of a solo from “Rossini Cards”. Later that year, Laura graduated from Vaganova Ballet Academy, and was invited by Yuri Fateyev to join the Mariinsky corps de ballet.
Despite her busy schedule, Laura has kindly agreed to answer a few questions about her experience at the Prix, as well as her time at Vaganova Ballet Academy, and her new life with one of the best ballet companies in the world.
Follow Laura on instagram, and get a glimpse behind the scenes of the great Mariinsky Theatre.
Your name suggests that you have both Russian and Hispanic heritage. Could you talk a little about your background please?
My mum was born in Ukraine. She is, however, only half-Russian. My Father is “fully” Spanish, but he was born in Switzerland. I was born in Switzerland too, and I feel the heritage of my parents inside of me, with the Spanish temperament and the Russian emotionality.
When did you start dancing? When and why did you decide to become a professional dancer?
I started dancing when I was seven. By nine, I set my goal to become a professional dancer. The definite decision to become a professional and give up everything for ballet happened when I turned eleven. I started dancing at a professional ballet school (Zurich Dance Academy).
Honestly, it took me quite a long time to actually enjoy watching ballet, so I definitely didn’t get passionate about ballet by watching the performances. It was more the work and the research with my body that inspired me to become a professional dancer. It is fascinating how our body works. With the daily ballet classes I discovered new ways of using different muscles. This was the first thing that made me addicted to ballet. Later on, with the experiences on stage, I was amazed at all the new, different feelings and the sense of awareness that I suddenly had at the same time.
What is your favourite ballet?
My favourite ballet that touches me the most is “Giselle”. There is the contrast of the two different worlds: in Act I everything is played in reality, and in Act II it is a mysterious new world. In Act I the earthy tones bring the medieval village to life. Everyone is full of joy and happiness. Suddenly, the madness at the end of Act I is harrowing.
The contrast between the acts is fascinating. The ensemble work in Act II is flawless, the Willis swirling to fill the space of the stage, their movements well synchronised. Furthermore, all the different emotions you get throughout the whole ballet are breathtaking.
Who is your favourite dancer?
I don’t have a favourite. I have several ballerinas that inspire me and each of them has something that is fascinating. Natalia Osipova’s enthusiasm and the light jumps are very impressive; Sylvie Guillem has gorgeous extensions and lines; Olesya Novikova has breathtaking expressions, full of real emotions; Darcey Bussel’s technique is very precise and clean. They are all wonderful dancers, and every dancer has their own unique and special way of dancing.
What is your dream role?
I have two: Carmen and Giselle. In “Giselle”, you can show your technical skills and, furthermore, express all the different emotions: happiness, madness, sadness and suffering. It is a very interesting, enthusiastic and challenging role.
Carmen is a very passionate and powerful role. It gives me the feeling that I can interact with the audience, which is a lot of fun.
What advice would you give to a child who’s aspiring to be a professional ballet dancer?
Never give up. Stay focused on what you want to achieve. Challenge yourself in ballet classes, don’t stay in your comfort zone. Create your own rituals and helpful habits before your performances to stay calm and concentrated.
One year ago, you took Prix de Lausanne by storm. Looking back, what was that experience like?
It was the greatest moment of my life! I still remember the moment when I stood on that stage. I was full of happiness when I received the first prize. When I got called out a second and third time, I was incredibly amazed. After the prize ceremony we had an aperitif. I was really surprised, honoured and amazed when suddenly a lot of people wanted to take pictures of and with me. So the hard work had paid off. The whole week felt long and was very tough, however, we got a lot of support from the teachers and staff.
You also competed in the 2015 Prix de Lausanne. How was that experience different to the 2016 Prix?
I felt much more secure in 2016. I knew my mistakes from 2015, so I knew what I had to improve. I was very grateful to get a second chance to participate in the competition. Therefore, I wanted to use my chance wisely. So I really wanted to achieve higher results than the year before. I was very focused and concentrated throughout the competition.
In 2015, I also worked very hard during the competition, however, in 2016 I enjoyed the competition much more, and I communicated with others much more, and got to know several people.
I am still in awe of your contemporary performance. Why did you choose the solo from “Rossini Cards”? What was it like working on it?
I was amazed by this variation when I first saw it! It actually wasn’t as hard as the modern piece I had danced the year before. I had only spent ten days rehearsing with a teacher before the competition. Before the rehearsals, I would close my eyes and I could imagine this powerful and frightening creature that I would slowly transform into. I probably got a little inspiration from the scary movies where a person would turn into a monster through an injection.
You joined Vaganova Ballet Academy in 2015. Could you talk a little about your experience there? How was it different from Zurich Dance Academy?
At Vaganova, much more attention was placed on the use of the upper body and the connection and flow of the movements. We also had a lot of repertoire rehearsals throughout the year. That gave me the opportunity to improve in dancing out the movements. It was also very different in the way they gave class. Everything was so much faster; I was forced to start remembering the exercises much quicker in every class. That definitely helps me now, in the theatre. Moreover, at Vaganova we had different classes: we had acting and corps de ballet repertoire classes. These classes were very helpful and a very good preparation for the life in the theatre.
At Zurich Dance Academy, the focus was more on the placement, clear movements and legwork. The classes were built up slowly, and I had much more time to work on the quality of the steps. We had modern classes and body conditioning. Since we didn’t have body conditioning at Vaganova, I just did it by myself, following the program which I used to do in Zurich. However, I really missed the modern classes while at Vaganova.
Did you have a favourite teacher at Vaganova Ballet Academy? Could you say a few words about them please?
Definitely my classical teacher, Irina Sitnikova. She was very strict and tough. Outside of the class, however, she was the most caring and lovely person. She is very helpful and likes to care for her students. She also used to invite us to her dacha, and we had a lot of fun with her.
What was it like to receive a job offer from the Mariinsky? Did they approach you right after the Prix?
I was very surprised and, of course, really excited! I am very grateful for this huge miracle that I received with this great opportunity to join the Mariinsky.
No. The director, Yuri Fateyev, came and watched our ballet class before our final ballet exam at the Vaganova Academy, and discovered me.
What does your typical day look like at the Mariinsky Theatre?
We have a ballet class from 11am till 12pm. The rest of the day is always a little different. From 12pm to 3pm, there are usually corps de ballet rehearsals. If I am preparing a solo part, I would have a rehearsal for it in the afternoon. Moreover, there are about five performances a week.
What roles have you danced so far? Which one are you most proud of?
I had the great opportunity to dance the first Odalisque in the ballet “Le Corsaire”; One of the two Noblewomen and Bell in “The Fountain of Bakhchisarai”; the Fairy of Generosity in “Sleeping Beauty “; Nancy in “La Sylphide”; Precious Stones in “The Stone Flower”; one of the four Sylphs in “La Sylphide “; a Wili in “Giselle”; Snowflakes and Rose Waltz in “The Nutcracker”; Gold in “Legend of Love”.
I’m very surprised and proud of myself that I mastered the role of Bell. It was very challenging for me.
What’s next for you?
This Sunday, I will dance the duo in the opera “Ruslan and Ludmila”.
Photos by Irina Yakovleva, Viktor Vasiliev and Gregory Batardon. The videos were taken from Laura Fernandez-Gromova’s instagram.