Earlier this year, Alèna Grivnina graduated with honours from the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. She is now dancing with the Mariinsky theatre’s Primorsky company in Vladivostok. In June, Alèna, along with other Bolshoi Ballet Academy students, was interviewed by a major online publication for an issue covering the brightest stars of the Academy’s graduating class. The Academy’s management blocked the publication of the interview without giving a reason for Grivnina being singled out in this manner. Here is an English translation of the interview in question.
How did you get into ballet?
I was born into a quintessential ballet family, but it’s not like I had no choice when it came to my future. Naturally, I attended performances from an early age, but I also took piano and singing lessons and went to museums, planetariums and the conservatory. I have always had a choice, and I made it, despite five long years of sitting at the piano, in favour of ballet. My parents tried to dissuade me, not wishing such a tough life upon their child, so this was one hundred percent my own decision. Maybe that is why I’m still here.
What is ballet to you? Why do you love it? What attracts you to this profession?
Within itself, ballet merges dance, music, acting, art and many other things. What can be more beautiful than this wonderful synergy? I also adore acting out a role in front of an audience, and I’m happy that we managed to pass our acting exams before the pandemic forced us into an indefinite holiday. My academic career culminated in Mehmene Banu’s monologue even though, as I learned straight after the exam, this piece was banned from being performed at the Academy… Going back to the question, I love this profession because it allows me to live out different lives by doing what I know and love most of all – dancing.
What are you afraid of?
I’m afraid I will break as I did a year ago (I suffered a metatarsal stress fracture). I can and am willing to work around the clock, I love it when there is lots of work to do, but sometimes you need to listen to your body. It’s better to rest for a couple of days and return to the studio with renewed strengths, then to be forced into taking a much longer “break”, complete with a cast and expensive injections. I’m also afraid of running late to a performance, forgetting my costume or the steps… This has not happened to me yet, but I often have job-related nightmares.
How did you get into the Bolshoi Ballet Academy? What is it like to study at one of the best academies in the world?
I got into the Academy with a mediocre score; I was somewhere around the 20th place on the list. My mom took me to several schools for auditions because she doubted that I would get in at all. I, on the other hand, was extraordinarily confident. I think being accepted into the Bolshoi Ballet Academy was a rare gift of fate. This is a prestigious place, and training here was tough and came with a sense of responsibility. The student turnover rate in my class was wild: only two girls, including myself, and four boys made it all the way through, from the first year to graduation. The rest joined later, taking the vacated spots. They told us from the get-go, back in the first grade: “Only a handful of you will make it to graduation. Perhaps, none of you will”. Despite a bumpy start – I had “Cs” in all core disciplines – I was convinced that I would be the one to make it just as I was convinced that I would be accepted into the Academy.
What is the most important thing you time at the Academy gave you?
They say that whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. Eight years at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy have hardened me. I entered the Academy a weak and naive girl and emerged as a completely different person. Nothing came easy to me. Behind every victory, there are hours of hard work, blood and tears. There are times when you do absolutely everything you can to achieve your goal, and you still fail because so many things are just not up to you, and that’s very discouraging. Those are my own, personal life lessons I’ve learned. I think everyone will get something different out of the experience. I can confidently say that I have no regrets. Thanks to the Academy, I became who I am today. Nothing was in vain.
What role has your family played in your development as a ballerina? After all, so much depends on the atmosphere at home. Which family members help and support you?
A ballet family instils discipline. I have never had the threat of “shaming the family name” hanging over my head, but I have, nonetheless, always subconsciously compared myself to my relatives. My father and my aunt had both studied at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. My aunt, Nika Sergeeva, now teaches modern dance there. She would come to my end-of-year exams practically every year, and I had always felt encouraged by her presence. My mom graduated from the Vaganova Ballet Academy. She had danced with the Kirov and the Stanislavsky Music Theatre and is now a coach at “Gzhel”. I shudder to think what would have happened to me without her help and organisational skills! No mistake escapes her keen, professional eye. Mom helps me with rehearsals, learning new choreography, with costumes, my hair. She has turned her room into a ballet studio so I could continue training during the pandemic… Sometimes, her corrections may seem harsh – she switches off the “mom mode” when we rehearse – but it’s hard to argue with what she’s saying. After all, everything she does serves to make me a better dancer. In any case, no matter what she says in the confines of a ballet studio, my mom always applauds the loudest at my performances, and she always has my back if, God forbid, someone hurts me.
What does your day in self-isolation look like?
I usually train 3-4 hours a day. I do floor exercises first and then move on to a classical lesson. I now have an opportunity to work on the issues I haven’t had time to address before. I recorded myself on video and am currently working on fixing my mistakes. After lunch, I take my dog for a walk in the park. Thanks to Lucky, I was able to walk outside even during the period of hard lockdown. He also has a fun way of “helping” me train: he lays down next to me and gets very surprised when I start to wave my legs around. He often gets in the frame of the videos I shoot for my teacher, Elena Nikolayevna, much to her delight! My evenings are free: I do embroidery, I sometimes draw, and I’m attempting to learn Japanese… (idle hands are the devil’s playthings, as they say).
(Note: since the 17th of June, I’ve been working at the Mariinsky theatre’s Primorsky company).
How has the pandemic affected you? How do you view your future? What are your dreams?
Right now, we are all held hostage by our circumstances, so I dream of freedom. I feel like I’m trapped in a cage, unable to go where, do what, and live how I want. But I still have a right to make a choice. I think the time will come when I will need to seize my chance and not sit around, waiting for the distant future to yield something. I dream of working with a company that will allow me to prove myself and where I wouldn’t be reproached for my short stature. I used to dream of finding my place in this world, but I’ve learned that finding “one’s place” can take a disastrously long time. I will now endeavour to make any place life takes me my OWN.
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