"I was a very boisterous, frisky child,” recalled twenty-two year old Maria Alexandrova.
Lucky for her. To channel Maria’s energies, her mother enrolled her in the well-known Kalinka dancing ensemble when she was five. This led, at age ten, to the prestigious Moscow State Academy of Choreography, where she was taught by the renowned Sofia Golovkina.
Ballet was not exactly an expected path for Maria. “My dad comes from a military dynasty,” Alexandrova said. “He just loved me so much and told me that, as long as I love something, I should keep doing it. And whenever he saw that I was going through some hard times at choreography school, he would say: ‘OK, if you don’t like it, then quit.’ And every time he said that, I realized, ‘I just can’t quit, because I love ballet so much.’”
Alexandrova’s father was actually a retired officer by the time her schooling was getting intense. So he started a second career, crafting handmade book bindings, to help keep Alexandrova in ballet shoes and leotards. The family always subscribed to two magazines, Alexandrova recalled, Armed Forces and Soviet Ballet, and her father was the source of one of her most treasured possessions—the Ballet Encyclopedia he himself bound in splendid, rose-colored leather.
Unfortunately, two weeks before Alexandrova participated in the VIIIth International Ballet Contest in Moscow (which she won), her father unexpectedly passed away. “When I won the gold medal, I can’t say I had any joy or satisfaction,” she said. “But there was no way back. I couldn’t simply renounce the contest, so I participated in it with just one thought in my mind: my father wanted me to win the gold.”
Prior to her father’s passing, Alexandrova said she saw the world through rose-colored glasses. “I didn’t know anything, I didn’t know where money comes from or what it is. Now I realized that it is very important. Especially in our times, and all the more so in our profession.”
In 1997 Alexandrova joined the Bolshoi troupe, then managed by director general and dancing legend Vladimir Vasiliev. “I didn’t dance too long in the corps de ballet because I arrived at the Bolshoi with a gold medal,” she said. “But still, I came to the Bolshoi with the idea that I am like everyone else, without thinking of past merits. I realized I had to start from scratch.”
For the next couple of years, she climbed the ballet ladder, slowly taking on bigger roles. Her first solo ballet was in Russian Hamlet, choreographed by Boris Eifman (February, 2000), where she danced the lead female role: Catherine the Great.
Alexandrova speculated that the Bolshoi’s lead dancers may have turned down roles in this ballet because, in such a classic theater “people with merits” tend to avoid experiments. “Actually, no one asked me whether I wanted to dance it or not,” she said. “I wasn’t a leading ballerina at that time, nor was I a prima, so they are not supposed to ask me. They just put my name in the second composition. I can’t say whether I was happy or not. I had no clue, because I had in my head the idea that I am a classic ballerina who must dance Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty ... But when I realized that I had no choice, then I thought, ‘It’s my chance.’ So I invested myself in this role, and they said it worked well.”
Well indeed. From there Alexandrova has only climbed further upward. In June 2000 she danced her second Bolshoi lead, as Kitri in Don Quixote. “I had to fight a long time for the role of Kitri,” she said. “I had to prove that I can dance it.” She joined the Bolshoi on tour in the US where, she shyly admits, the press fawned over her.
Alicia Mosier, of dance insider, wrote that “her grand jete is impeccably Russian — the front leg goes up, then up just a little further, and it’s that second push that gets you ... she is noble and charming and straightforward … her personality is singing out from every inch of her body.” Russia’s Kommersant called her “splendid” and said she possesses “a fantastic jump and a dazzling clear technique.” The Financial Times reviewer called her “a treasure to nurture.”
But Alexandrova says she does not dance “for the sake of seeing good reviews. I go out on stage because I like it there. I anticipate this moment. I am not scared. I just have normal healthy jitters, but it is not fear. I adore these feelings.”
Alexandrova dismisses the idea of moving abroad. While it is possible to earn more money outside Russia, she says, it is not the same. “On no other stage in the world did I have these emotions like I have on the stage of the Bolshoi. You will not feel the same trepidation on any other stage in the world. When we were in New York, I danced Balanchine’s ballet at Lincoln Center. It was great, but something was missing. That’s why everybody wants so much to return to the Bolshoi. Just go out on stage here once, and you feel on a whole different level.”
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