There is a Russian proverb “It is better to be born happy than pretty.” Bolshoi Prima Ballerina Anastasia Volochkova, 26, is lucky enough to be both. And young to boot.
But Volochkova dazzles you not only with her emerald green eyes or the story of her ballet career. Her flawless Russian speech is too a treasure: no slurs, no fillers, nothing … just an uninterrupted flow of perfect literary Russian.
The daughter of a St. Petersburg city guide and former European table tennis champion, Volochkova fell in love with ballet when she was five, after seeing “The Nutcracker” at the Mariinsky Theater. She graduated from the St. Petersburg Academy of Russian Ballet with Special Honors and was accepted into the Mariinsky Theater.
There is a naturalness to Volochkova’s talent. So it is not surprising that, from her first day at Mariinsky she was a solo dancer. During her three years at Mariinsky, she prepared over 15 solo ballets and danced all the parts of the classic repertoire, including “Swan Lake,” “Giselle,” “Don Quixote,” “Bayadere,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “The Firebird” and others.
Every time Volochkova has encountered difficulties in her professional life, a new door has opened. When she felt she could not stay at the Mariinsky, Moscow called: in 1998, Bolshoi Director Vladimir Vasiliev invited her to dance the main part in his version of “Swan Lake.” But a few years later she realized she “didn’t fit into the then Bolshoi realities … The Bolshoi ballet managers decided not to prolong their contract with me ... One door closed, yet another, English door, opened ...”
In 2000, she was invited to dance 12 concerts on the stage of London’s Royal Albert Hall with the English National Ballet. One of her brightest roles was as Karabos in “Sleeping Beauty,” which won her acclaim from the London public (earlier that year, in May, she received a coveted award as the Best New Ballerina in Europe). And while some British papers focused on gossip about her relationship with her benefactor and lawyer, British millionaire Anthony Kernan, Anastasiya called her relations with Kernan “friendly,” and nothing more.
After her year of absence from the Bolshoi, Volochkova thought that her contacts with Russia were “ruptured for good.” But then, in early 2001, Yuri Grigorovich, whom Volochkova called “the great choreographer of our century,” offered her the chance to dance at his premiere of “Swan Lake” at the Bolshoi. “The offer was so fantastic and hard to believe,” she said, “I am grateful to this great man for returning me to Russia.” In fact Grigorovich said that “Volochkova, that magic ballerina” was his “main condition even before beginning work” at the Bolshoi.
Russian ballet critic Nina Alovert, in an interview with St. Petersburg Vedomosti, raved about Volochkova’s Swan Lake performance. “Her Odette is marvelous. Nastya danced a truly charming girl of unearthly beauty. This ballerina has an amazingly musical body. One must see how she finalizes the musical phrase with a movement of her wrist!”
But then, the press is not always positive on Volochkova; many aver that she owes her success to her looks and not her ballet technique. Volochkova attributes such mixed reviews to her general “love-hate relationship” with the Russian press. Some ill-wishers have even called her “the Anna Kurnikova of Russian ballet,” and blame her for being entrepreneurial. “The press,” she said, “is mostly turning everything upside down, trying to show my qualities as my flaws, and vice-versa.”
Another explanation (i.e. jealousy) was suggested by Kommersant’s weekend edition: “With her vertiginous career, the Russian ballerina mixed up the cards of many of her colleagues in St. Petersburg and Moscow; very few succeeded in charming the world so fast ...”
Volochkova indeed seems to make the most of every minute, and admits she was for quite a while her “own director and manager,” with the help of her mother, who is now president of the Cultural Fund of Anastasia Volochkova.
“I just want to be a ballerina with my own name, with my talent, my soul, my own art...” she said. That was why, on top of her busy program with the Bolshoi, she staged a one-woman show in November at Moscow’s Novaya Opera. She danced as many as nine solo performances, combining classic and modern ballet. One of the pearls in this program was the “Carmen Suite,” written by composer Rodion Schedrin for his wife, Russian ballet legend Maya Plisetskaya. Volochkova was the first Russian ballerina to receive permission from Plisetskaya to dance this ballet .
And while Volochkova speaks about Plisetskaya with gratitude and deep respect (the latter danced at a quite advanced age by ballet standards), Volochkova said she cannot see herself dancing so long. She said she would like “to be remembered young and beautiful,” and opined that a ballerina can dance to the age of 40, but “it is even better to quit at 33.” So, in a worst-case scenario, we still have seven years left to enjoy watching Volochkova on stage.
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