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Maria Khoreva hardly needs an introduction. From her earliest days at Vaganova Ballet Academy, she emerged as the heir apparent to the title of the great institution’s next big star. Maria graduated in July, having trained under Professor Lyudmila Kovaleva, and she is now poised to follow in the footsteps of the esteemed pedagogue’s other famous graduates: Diana Vishneva, Olga Smirnova, Olga Esina and Kristina Shapran. Maria reflects on her first few months with the company in an interview with La Personne’s Alisa Aslanova.
Your first season with the Mariinsky has begun. How are you feeling?
It’s an entirely different kind of life, a world away from the academy’s daily routine. It is for now, anyway… At the moment I am immersed in my beloved craft one hundred per cent. There are no distractions, and I am free to completely lose myself in the process.
Yuri Fateyev initially offered me an opportunity to start rehearsing back when I was still a student. I was very scared when I first arrived at the theatre; I felt so dreadful, awkward and very anxious. I had no idea what to do with myself.
Did you start attending company classes while you were still a student?
I went to a couple of classes during the winter break. Our teacher recommended that we attend company class at the theatre so, luckily, I had an opportunity to ease myself into [company life].
You must have had offers from other companies… Why did you choose the Mariinsky?
The Mariinsky is my home. I am from St Petersburg, my family lives here, I have been dancing on this stage for so many years now, and I know the theatre so well… Even though, on the other hand, I hardly know it at all. Nonetheless, it feels like home. By the end of my senior year at the academy I had somehow ended up with no fewer than eight job offers from different companies. I did not waver though. I had to go to the Mariinsky, and once I started rehearsing, I immediately realised that I belong here. I enjoy the repertoire – [Mariinsky] is the cradle of Russia’s ballet traditions.
Who is your company coach?
It’s Elvira Tarasova. I am delighted that I have been given an opportunity to work with her. After only a few rehearsals, it became clear that this person has incredible energy. I hope that our collaboration will be a fruitful one.
How does working in the theatre differ from studying at the academy? Have you felt the difference?
Yes, of course, I have. At the academy, you get spoon-fed. Everything is spelt out for you, and a lion share of the responsibility lies with the teacher. Here, the dancer is the one held accountable. This is what I have taken away from this experience so far. It’s different, but at the moment I struggle to define the particulars.
Does the rehearsal process take longer here than it did at the academy?
No, I feel like everything is happening a lot quicker now. Even though at the academy we sometimes had to prepare a role in a single week, the process felt a lot slower than it does in the theatre, because here we have a greater number of rehearsals.
Your debut with the company took place during a performance of “Apollo”, in a very complex role [of Terpsichore]. How did you manage to handle this immense responsibility?
I tried not to think about it. We rehearsed with Yuri Vasilievich [Fateyev] himself, and working with him was so exciting that all of my anxieties somehow faded away. I was concentrating on making this first performance a great one because the audiences’ first impression of me as a dancer depended on it. On the other hand, it’s such a beautiful ballet, with such splendid choreography…
Not the easiest of choreographies…
I was just about to say that I adore it. The music, the choreography, and the character as a whole. Balanchine is, without a doubt, a genius.
How long did it take you to prepare the part?
Around two months. We began rehearsing in May, taking a break during the exam period and the graduation performances.
Things must have been made a little easier since you were debuting alongside two of your classmates, so it wasn’t a complete culture shock?
Xander Parish made things a lot easier by helping us along. He is the kind of person who can defuse any situation. I was the first one to start rehearsals, and I had no idea that he was going to be there. At first, when he walked in, I got very anxious and felt awkward, but Xander treated me as his equal. He made me see him not as a ballet star, but as a partner and a person who can help me. Rehearsals were a breeze thanks to his support. And it was great to debut alongside the girls. It turned out to be a very “familial” performance.
How many of your fellow graduates ended up at the Mariinsky?
Around eight girls – I don’t know for sure, but it was quite a few – and five or six boys.
That’s a big intake.
Yes, there hasn’t been one like this in a long while; they took quite a few of us. Even senior artists are saying: “How on earth are we all going to fit in class?”. There isn’t that much space, and the entire company can’t fit into the morning classes. That’s alright though, we will figure something out. It’s so wonderful that so many of us were hired.
Right now, you are a dancer in the making. What are your methods and your principals? Do you try to imitate your colleagues or do you pay little attention to others’ rehearsals?
I don’t think that it would be right to copy others. For examples, I watched Kristina Shapran – an undoubtedly beautiful ballerina – rehearse “Apollo”. Your breath gets caught in your chest when you watch her. How can one possibly replicate that effect?… One must cultivate it, nurture it. Of course, I keep my eyes peeled [in rehearsals], but as far as copying someone, no, I don’t think I do.
That is the first sign of your individuality.
I don’t know about that. Naturally, we start building a role from the ground up – the fingers, the hand, the foot, the pose, and then we bring in our own internal interpretation of the music, the choreography, the choreographer’s intention, and our emotional state. That is why I try to fill my every movement and every step with meaning. That is my approach at the moment.
When we were interviewing Professor Lyudmila Kovaleva, she said: “Masha is brilliant. She goes to museums and she reads books.” She spoke very warmly of you as a person. Tell us a little about yourself. You are very young, but you come across as very determined. Did your family have an influence on your personality?
My family has definitely had an influence on me. I can’t thank them enough, and I don’t know if I will ever fully appreciate the extent of the gratitude I owe them. My family always keeps my thoughts and my reasonings on the right course. I constantly lose my way and require guidance; for someone to tune my clockwork, so to speak.
What do you mean by that? Do you fall victim to uncertainty?
It varies but, yes, I sometimes grow uncertain, selfish. I lose my centre, my priorities get flipped. [My family] always open my eyes. They lift the veil, as it were.
Your age must have something to do with that too. You are going through enormous changes…
Yes, I guess my age does play a role, and everything is constantly changing, something new is always happening. I haven’t settled down yet, either psychologically, emotionally or otherwise. That is why I am very grateful for the stability [my family] provides.
You spoke of selfishness. Doesn’t selfishness inevitably go hand-in-hand with an artistic career? How can you strike the right balance?
I don’t know. You must do your best to love the art – the choreography, the music, the movement – rather than yourself. Give yourself to the art, let it come through you, and simply strive to be genuine.