Diminutive Dynamo: Staatsballett Berlin's Iana Salenko on Guestings, Salsa Music and Her Knack for Design

November 21, 2016

Staatsballett Berlin’s Iana Salenko on guestings, salsa music and her knack for design.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I’m a tiny dancer, so to dance roles for tall ballerinas I would never have dreamed about, like Swan Lake—I’m very proud that I managed to get them.

What’s the hardest thing about guesting with other companies, like The Royal Ballet?

Being attentive and learning what they want. I try to do everything they ask, including learning different choreography. People expect you to be amazing as a guest, and I feel this pressure sometimes. With The Royal Ballet, it was very difficult to learn the Ashton style; it was a lot of counting and different coordination.

Salenko in Balanchine’s “Rubies.” Photo by Carlos Quezada, Courtesy Staatsballett Berlin.

What do you listen to when you’re warming up?

Salsa. Sometimes I warm up and start dancing a little salsa in the studio, just to laugh—it gives me energy.

What’s your best memory onstage?

The Nutcracker
at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin. The audience was screaming as if it was a stadium. I felt such warmth that I almost cried. I’ll never forget it.

How do you prepare your pointe shoes for performance?

I prepare maybe five pairs of shoes a week before the show: I harden them with a lot of shellac, wear them in class to make them softer, then add more shellac. I also darn the tips to make them more stable. It takes three hours of work for each.

Do you have any must-have items when you travel?

I’m always with a book. I try to read in English these days, because I’ve had problems in London. I couldn’t speak English so well, so I’m trying to get better.

If you weren’t a dancer, what would you be?

I would probably be a designer. I like to make my own costumes. I try to make them work for my proportions. I love the smaller American tutus, so I started making smaller ones to make my legs look longer.