Prima bal­le­rina How moth­er­hood helped Vik­to­ria Tereshk­ina’s ca­reer

As she pre­pares to daz­zle Lon­don, bal­le­rina Vik­to­ria Tereshk­ina tells Mark Mon­a­han how moth­er­hood has helped her ca­reer

The Daily Telegraph - - Living & Features -

Ac­cord­ing to Mari­in­sky prin­ci­pal Vik­to­ria Tereshk­ina, she has a quirk of na­ture to thank for her suc­cess­ful ca­reer. “I’m a very lucky bal­le­rina,” she says. “Be­cause I get to per­form in a re­ally wide range of al­most all works. And this is thanks partly to my height. I’m not tall, I’m not small – so I fit in any­where.” The 5ft 7in dancer (which is, in fact, above av­er­age for a fe­male dancer) is be­ing ridicu­lously mod­est. If her stature plays any sort of part in her cast­ing, it’s a very mi­nor one. The over­rid­ing rea­son that the Mari­in­sky high com­mand puts Tereshk­ina on stage so of­ten is, quite sim­ply, that she is one of the most daz­zling dancers in the world.

A flaw­less (and flaw­lessly pro­por­tioned) tech­ni­cian and metic­u­lous ex­po­nent of the clas­si­cal pu­rity that is the St Petersburg troupe’s hall­mark, she is also an artist of ex­cep­tional breadth, depth and power. What’s more, she is blessed with that most elu­sive but in­valu­able qual­ity: glam­our. When the Mari­in­sky vis­ited Covent Gar­den in 2009, she per­fectly cap­tured Balan­chine’s grand neo­clas­si­cal style in Sym­phony in C. Dur­ing its most re­cent stay there, in 2014, her Juliet left not a dry eye in the house.

And when the com­pany re­turns to the Royal Opera House next week for a three-week so­journ, the 34-year-old is, again, go­ing to be very much to the fore; the slate in­cludes four full-length bal­lets – Don Quixote, Swan Lake, La Bayadère and Alexei Rat­man­sky’s 2011 Tol­stoy adap­ta­tion Anna Karen­ina – as well as one mixed pro­gramme, and Tereshk­ina has a lead role in ev­ery one.

What, I won­der, does it mean to her to be ar­guably the big­gest star in the revered Mari­in­sky, the com­pany that pro­duced such all-time greats as Mikhail Barysh­nikov, Ru­dolf Nureyev, Anna Pavlova and Ulyana Lopatk­ina. “When you first come to the Mari­in­sky The­atre,” she says, speak­ing through an in­ter­preter, “you dream of be­ing a star, and you go, step by step, to­wards that. And then, if you suc­ceed, it’s first and fore­most a great re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“Even if I don’t feel well and I know that it might hurt me slightly to do a per­for­mance, I al­ways try to do it be­cause I know the au­di­ence have bought their tick­ets, and these tick­ets can be ex­pen­sive. And some­times peo­ple buy tick­ets on my name, so it’s a re­spon­si­bil­ity, es­pe­cially to them.”

When I visit St Petersburg in May, Tereshk­ina has never looked bet­ter. Per­form­ing op­po­site Philipp Stepin in Balan­chine’s Tar­entella, she un­leashes a fusil­lade of clas­si­cal bril­liance. Her fou­et­tés are light­ning fast but also per­fectly etched, her jump high and ex­pan­sive, her con­trol and mu­si­cal­ity to­tal.

Tereshk­ina ad­mits that she owes much of her strength to her for­ma­tive years in Kras­no­yarsk, the pic­turesque Siberian city of her birth. “My father was a gym­nas­tics teacher,” she says, “and he had a very high rank in the pro­fes­sion – we call them ‘master of sports’. And my mother was in­volved in ‘artis­tic’ gym­nas­tics – so, from four un­til 10 years old, I too did rhyth­mic and rib­bon gym­nas­tics,” she says.

What made her want to quit gym­nas­tics for bal­let, es­pe­cially given that she was start­ing to win prizes in the for­mer? “I didn’t want to change any­thing,” she says, “but my par­ents said that, even com­pared with a bal­let dancer, the life of a gym­nast is short – nowa­days, they fin­ish at the age of 16, un­for­tu­nately. So we all thought, OK, so let’s try. And when I went to bal­let school [in Kras­no­yarsk], it turned out that ev­ery girl I knew who did gym­nas­tics had done the same thing, and made that move.”

Tak­ing part in a com­pe­ti­tion in St Petersburg at the age of 16, Tereshk­ina caught the eye of the distin­guished dancer-turned-teacher Igor Bel­sky. That led to a place first at the hal­lowed Vaganova acad­emy, and then, in 2001, in the Mari­in­sky corps. Four years later, she was pro­moted to soloist and, in 2009, she reached the top rank of prin­ci­pal.

Dur­ing her 16 years in the com­pany – now un­der the so-called “act­ing” di­rec­tor­ship of Yuri Fateyev (even though he has been there since 2008) – what changes, I won­der, has she no­ticed? She re­flects for a sec­ond. “With my generation,” she says, “when we were join­ing the Mari­in­sky the­atre, it was a dream for us, and we wouldn’t think about the ‘terms and con­di­tions’ of be­ing ac­cepted into the com­pany. But nowa­days, peo­ple are more prac­ti­cal and think more about the salary and ben­e­fits. When a tal­ented, promis­ing dancer is be­ing of­fered dif­fer­ent things from dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies, then there is this com­par­i­son – ‘Oh, I can get more from here than from there.’

“I un­der­stand that life is be­com­ing more ex­pen­sive than be­fore,” she con­tin­ues, “and it’s not that easy to buy an apart­ment. So, of course, if a dancer is be­ing of­fered such ben­e­fits, then this would be the cri­te­ria for choos­ing the com­pany. But it makes me sad, be­cause the spir­i­tual thing is lost.”

One thinks in­evitably back to the stel­lar young Bol­shoi cou­ple Ivan Vasiliev and Natalia Osipova, lured in 2011 away from that cel­e­brated Moscow com­pany – their ideal home, ar­tis­ti­cally speak­ing – to the sec­ond-tier Mikhailovsky in St Petersburg, with the re­ported prom­ise of greater pay and a wellap­pointed flat back in Moscow.

And, in fact, the Bol­shoi it­self has tried sev­eral times to pinch Tereshk­ina from the Mari­in­sky, never mind that the great Moscow com­pany’s call­ing card is a far big­ger, more flamboyant per­for­mance style than that of its fa­mously re­fined St Petersburg ri­val. The bal­le­rina ad­mits she was tempted, mainly be­cause her hus­band, Artem Sh­pilevsky, was a soloist with the Bol­shoi but, in the end, she de­cided that her heart was with the Mari­in­sky. Since then, Sh­pilevsky has quit bal­let and carved out a suc­cess­ful ca­reer in busi­ness, and the cou­ple have started a fam­ily.

Tereshk­ina says her daugh­ter, Mi­lada, aged four, has in­spired a new ease to her ap­proach to danc­ing. “It’s very im­por­tant not to be too ob­sessed with bal­let,” she says. “Be­fore Mi­lada was born I would even stop my­self from go­ing for a walk, think­ing my legs would be tired and tense and that this would af­fect my per­for­mance – I was con­cen­trat­ing too much on de­liv­er­ing the high­est pos­si­ble stan­dard. But when my daugh­ter was born, life be­came how it should be. Fam­ily was more im­por­tant, and life be­came more bal­anced.”

Does she think, then, that moth­er­hood has some­how made her a bet­ter artist? “It’s not up to me to judge the qual­ity of my danc­ing,” she says, “but, of course, I changed. I’m al­ways say­ing to the younger ladies in the com­pany, please, please have ba­bies! Don’t stop your­self from hav­ing a fam­ily. Be­cause if you have a baby, your mind will be re­ally re­laxed – you’ll just let things go. The girls are prone to think­ing, ‘Oh, be­fore a per­for­mance I shouldn’t leave my dress­ing room or lie on the bed in a cer­tain po­si­tion, oth­er­wise the per­for­mance will go wrong’. Have a baby, and you worry only about the im­por­tant, prac­ti­cal things.”

Bal­let dancers – know­ing first-hand just how tough their pro­fes­sion is

– can be am­biva­lent at best about their off­spring fol­low­ing in their foot­steps. What, I won­der, would Tereshk­ina’s re­ac­tion be if young Mi­lada begs her for a tutu? “She al­ready has one!” replies Tereshk­ina.

One should re­ally have guessed – but what, then, are Tereshk­ina Snr’s feel­ings about the bal­let line per­haps con­tin­u­ing? “First,” she says, “we will put her into gym­nas­tics” – aha! – “and we will try. She is in­ter­ested in it.” Mi­lada is, how­ever, pretty much the only bal­let fan on the planet to be less than bowled over by her il­lus­tri­ous mother. “To­day,” says Tereshk­ina, “she asked me, ‘Mum, lift up your leg.’ Then she looked crit­i­cally at me and said, ‘You’re do­ing it worse than me!’”

The Mari­in­sky Bal­let is at the Royal Opera House, Lon­don WC2, from July 24-Aug 12. De­tails and tick­ets: 020 7304 4000; roh.org.uk/mari­in­sky

‘I would stop my­self from go­ing for a walk, think­ing that this would af­fect my per­for­mance’

Strike a pose: Tereshk­ina’s per­for­mance in one of the ti­tle roles in Romeo and Juliet at Covent Gar­den in 2014 left not a dry eye in the house

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