Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake is the most iconic ballet and to perform it day after day is something that needs immense passion and discipline. Prima Ballerina Irina Kolesnikova (38), who plays both Odette and Odile (white and black swan), has done thousands of shows, but every time she is on stage, her enthusiasm doesn’t falter. “If you really want to get to the top and be a prima, then you have to forgo, give up a lot of things,” she told India Se Media during her recent visit to Singapore. Brought by the St Petersburg Ballet Theatre, a ballet company owned by her husband, Konstantin Tachkin this limited edition show also featured guest stars from the internationally renowned Bolshoi Ballet. Tachkin, who comes from a military background, set up the company in 1994 in order to promote Russian ballet in its purest form.
Here are excerpts of an exclusive interview with the couple as their four-year-old daughter Vasilisa hung around.
India Se: Tell us did you get into ballet?
Irina Kolesnikova: When I was nine years old, I went to the Vaganova Ballet Academy where I studied for 10 years. When I was 18, I graduated and became a professional ballerina. Six months after I graduated, I started dancing solo roles and a year after that I started dancing principal roles, the main roles. So, I had a fairly fast track.
India Se: It was fairly early?
Irina Kolesnikova: Every dancer is different, some dancers move quickly through the ranks, others take longer, but there is a movement to bring people faster these days.
India Se: What was your first big solo performance?
Irina Kolesnikova: This was one of my first major roles, it’s always been the most important ballet in my career, I also find it the most interesting role I dance, because in the one performance I am able to dance two roles – the white swan , the black swan and back to the white swan, so they are very different emotions.
India Se: You have to go through a very different regime, do you also do yoga and meditation to help you?
Irina Kolesnikova: The two typical things I do are ballet training and massage after a performance. Massage also helps me relax.
India Se: Do you also follow a diet? Are you a vegetarian?
Irina Kolesnikova: I eat healthy food, very little red meat and very, very rarely and very little sweet (declines a bar of chocolate).
India Se: How do you feel each time you go up to the stage to play the your favourite role?
Irina Kolesnikova: For me it’s a huge good fortune, to be able to go on stage. For anybody to find a profession they love is truly a good fortune, and I did.
India Se: What do you think of Asian ballerinas?
Irina Kolesnikova: Asian ballerinas are technically very strong. We haven’t seen many. We saw a Japanese girl dancing at the World Ballet in London, and thought it was a wonderful performance.
India Se: What is left unsaid is that they are not emotionally/ dramatically strong?
Konstantin Tachkin: We’ve heard it said, but the Japanese girl we saw in London, she had both tecqniue and emotion. So, it’s a myth. I think you could also see ballerinas from other countries, who are technically strong, but have no emotions.
India Se: You are known for your emotions – the pain, joy or suffering that you emote when you are on stage. You have been doing this hundreds of times, and yet you feel them each time. How do you get that feeling every time?
Irina Kolesnikova: I do a lot of rehearsals and by the time I go on stage, I am completely confident of my physical abilities, and my technique and all I need to work on when I am on stage is my emotional input into the performance.
India Se: Does your day-to-day emotional state of mind come to play when you are on stage?
Irina Kolesnikova: Yes, it can sometimes give a different colour to my performance, whether I’ve had a good day or a bad day, it will probably reflect in what I bring to the character.
India Se: How long do you think, she could be a principal dancer?
Konstantin Tachkin: I can’t tell you how long, but I hope at least 10 more years. I don’t know how I can live without seeing her dancing. I have had the privilege of seeing her perform without paying for the tickets. (laughs). I am not joking, it is indeed a privilege.
India Se: Do you think your little girl will also take up dancing? Is that an ambition that you have for her? Konstantin Tachkin: She is dancing every day.
Irina Kolesnikova: I hope she won’t be, but I think she will, because it is a very difficult profession.
India Se: How have you managed to run this company for so many years?
Konstantin Tachkin: I don’t know how I did it, but I know the reason why. It is the opportunity to meet this lady.