Bolshoi Ballet Star Olga Smirnova on Training in Isolation, and the Mysterious Alchemy of Success
Like most theaters, the Bolshoi was shut down due to the coronavirus. What are your strategies for coping mentally in self-isolation?
It didn’t occur to me that it would take this long. In a way, it has been a unique chance to try new things. Each day, I can take a ballet class online from a different company. I have tried English National Ballet, The Royal Ballet, Hamburg Ballet and French technique classes with Yannick Boquin.
What have you missed out on as a result of the pandemic?
I was to appear in May in an anniversary performance of Natalia Makarova’s La Bayadère at American Ballet Theatre. This was very important to me: Working with her on this ballet back in 2014 was one of the most profound experiences of my life. I dream to work with her on her version of Giselle someday.
Smirnova with Artemy Belyakov in Giselle by Damir Yusupov
Damir Yusupov, Courtesy Bolshoi Ballet
How different is it to perform on your home stage versus elsewhere?
Because the Bolshoi stage is bigger than elsewhere, I dance differently when I am at home. You need to manage your stamina better because you cover more distance, and to step up the intensity of your emotions so people can see them from further away.
When you perform in St. Petersburg these days, are you perceived as a St. Petersburg–style ballerina, a Moscow-style one, or a mix of both?
I feel it is important to show my St. Petersburg roots when I am dancing there, so I focus on dancing in a pure Vaganova style and always work with my Vaganova teacher, Lyudmila Kovaleva. I let the audience judge how completely I’m able to accomplish that.
What do you enjoy more: performing or being in the studio?
As a famous Russian general said: “If the training is hard—the battle is easy.”
E. Fetisova, Courtesy Bolshoi Ballet
In reaching the top, how much is talent and how much is sweat?
You forgot to mention luck. It is one of the biggest mysteries, isn’t it? I have seen a lot more talented people who didn’t live up to their potential than hard-working dancers whose work didn’t pay off.
If you could have coffee with one famous dancer, alive or dead, who would it be?
I would like to meet with Anna Pavlova and ask her to show me the original version of The Dying Swan, because today some fragments have been forgotten.
How nervous are you before a performance?
Almost as nervous as I am before an interview.
What inspires you at the moment?
Dreams of coming back to the stage.