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Alexandra Khiteeva, the soon-to-be graduate of Vaganova Ballet Academy and former student of Kazan Ballet Academy, came to St Petersburg from her native Kazan four years ago. Last September, she received First Prize at VaganovaPRIX competition, she spent the following winter touring Japan with her fellow students, and will next week take part in the “Russian Ballet” Competition at the Bolshoi, where she will perform variations from “Suite en Blanc” and “Le Réveil de Flore”.
When did you first come to St Petersburg to pursue your training?
Four years ago. I had always dreamed of training at Vaganova Ballet Academy and had decided to try my luck by auditioning for Level I (6th grade) intake, though, to be perfectly honest, I didn’t think I would make it. The examination was tough. Back in Kazan, I had heard stories of girls getting weeded out before they even had the chance to finish a movement. It sounded like nothing more than horror stories [designed to scare potential candidates], but it all turned out to be true. I was so happy to have gotten through it successfully, even though I was asked to repeat the 5th grade.
Was it tough settling down in a new city?
Very much so. As soon as all the nuances of my transfer to the Academy got sorted out, I was overwhelmed with panic. I remember sitting in the courtyard of the Academy’s boarding house with my mother, crying because I wanted to go back to Kazan. I’m a homebody, and I was terrified of living on my own for the first time. For the first month, my mom lived with me; we rented a flat pretty far away from the Academy. Eventually, though, I bounced back. Things had settled down and [my life] ran like clockwork.
How did you get along with your classmates?
They accepted me straight away, which was nice. I followed the girls around like a lost puppy, and they helped me out a great deal. During the first class I, naturally, stood at the side barre and was gradually moved closer to the centre. I’m not much of a fighter; I prefer to get results with work. Sometimes I even get told that this particular character trait may hinder my progress once I join the company, but I can’t do things differently.
You initially joined Elena Georgievna Zabalkanskaya’s class, before progressing to Irina Aleksandrovna Sitnikova’s group in Level I of the undergraduate course. When you’re so far away from home, the relationship you have with your teacher becomes especially important.
I was very fortunate with my teachers. Elena Georgievna gave me the push I needed at the time, both in the physical sense and in terms of morale. I’m glad that my journey began in her class. Irina Alexandrovna is as incredibly tough in class as she is kind and caring outside of it. Two years ago, when I ended up in the hospital, she visited me every day and brought me fruit. We also take frequent trips to her dacha, which brings us all together even more (smiles).
Your workload at the Academy is intense. Do you have time for anything other than classes and rehearsals?
All of the academic staff are very understanding of our situation and try not to pressure us, though I enjoy English and the History of Dance classes. To be honest, on weekends I just want to lay around, do nothing, and read books like “Tell me about the sea” by Elchin Safarli and “Brooklyn” by Colm Tóibín. I have to say, though, that Nikolai Maximovich (Tsiskaridze) is very involved in our after-school activities, especially when it comes to the kids who board at the academy. We visit the Russian Museum, the Hermitage and, sometimes, we even manage a quick outing to the movies.
You are currently in the middle of preparations for the graduation exams and performances. Do you remember your first performance on the Mariinsky stage?
Of course! I danced the part of the Porcelain Doll in “The Fairy Doll”. The word “terrified” doesn’t begin to describe how I felt. First of all, the stage in the Kazan theatre is level, while the one in St Petersburg is raked. Secondly, back home we had only ever danced to recorded music, while here we have a live orchestra. Thirdly, the whole experience is entirely different. In Kazan, going on stage was a breeze. I don’t think I appreciated the full weight of the responsibility that was placed on me back then, whereas now I am always thinking about every move I make, every look I give, and every breathe I take. There is no room for thoughtlessness.
You started out as the Porcelain Doll, and now you are Masha in “The Nutcracker”, performing in the Christmas shows opposite your classmate, Marko Juusela. How long ago did he become your partner?
We have been partners for almost three years now. I have to say that I understand him without words; a single word or a gesture is enough. I feel very comfortable with him. Marko is Nikolai Maximovich’s student, and he [Tsiskaridze] often rehearses with us, sharing incredible nuances of technique and performance, while, at the same time, explaining things clearly and in great detail. He even demonstrates how to correctly give your hand to your partner.
You are on the cusp of a professional career. Do you have a role model?
There is no one I idolise, but there are certain individuals I would like to emulate, like Svetlana Zakharova. Last year, the Academy performed at the Bolshoi, and she danced “Paquita” with us, demonstrating perfect technique, incredible lines, clean performance and crystal clear emotions. It is [my] dream to be a professional of this calibre. This is something one should aspire to.
Interview OLGA UGAROVA
Photography IRA YAKOVLEVA
Style DIANA KLOCHKO
Make up and hair MARIA BYSTROVA
Total Look ATELIER BISER
Syle Assistant TAISIA RUDAKOVA