The many displays of audience appreciation for the last Bolshoi performances in London included a flower throw for two of the company’s most gifted leading soloists, Andrei Merkuriev and Ekaterina Krysanova. Having just captivated us with their chemistry as Basilio and Kitri, they acknowledged the sunflowers that poured from the Royal Opera House’s upper slips with a mix of gratitude and surprise. Days before, we had been sitting backstage with Ekaterina (or Katya, as she is known in the company) discussing the enthusiastic response from audiences and critics for her performance – again with Merkuriev – in Alexei Ratmansky’s Russian Seasons:
“Was there a reaction? Really?” Katya seems genuinely puzzled. We tell her the arts pages acclaimed Russian Seasons as a modern masterpiece but she is still incredulous “Oh thank you! I didn’t really know that… we are not aware of the reviews. Unfortunately that information doesn’t reach us, since nobody translates to us how people react.” We touch upon the challenges and adventures of touring and Katya says she likes to be in London even though she has very little free time, as the performance schedule is so demanding. It is not her first time here and although she feels comfortable she also admits “It can be difficult to dance when people don’t know you, as they are less engaged. They might also look at you and evaluate you, and if they don’t know you they don’t forget your mistakes!”
Constantly being evaluated is very much part of the package in a dancer’s career. Katya works with one of the toughest coaches at the Bolshoi, Svetlana Adyrkhaeva, a highly regarded ex-Bolshoi ballerina and, in her dancing days, a pupil of Bolshoi legends Marina Semyonova and Galina Ulanova. “Of course I look up to her, but I try not to imitate her because I’m different and have other qualities.” We are curious as to how they came to work together so Krysanova explains “I wanted to try to work with Adyrkhaeva. I knew her from before because when we were at the Bolshoi Academy, we used to go to the theatre to do some classes and we had her as a teacher in some of them. Her classes were very difficult but I enjoyed those immensely. I think it is in my character that when I face something very difficult, I want to fight and challenge myself to overcome it. At class she would always give a lot of corrections and criticism to her students and was a rather strict teacher.”
A typical day for Katya involves class in the morning and then rehearsals all day and performances in the evening. However, if she is dancing the lead on a three-act ballet she is given the day off. One needs to reserve strength and emotions for the evening performance, she points out. “I like to sleep in a bit on the day of an important show, to wake up naturally… since everybody knows that it is completely different to wake up with your alarm clock than to wake up just by yourself…”
When she has any free time she does “Everything! I lie on my sofa, I go to the cinema, read… I do what every normal person does. That’s why it is important to do different things. Pleasant or unpleasant experiences can always help an artist and when I am dancing, I can recall those emotions and try to recreate them on stage.” She likes to watch old Soviet films like “Moscow doesn’t believe in tears”, a drama or the comedy “Where is the Nafilet?” whose original title in Russian plays with the word “Telephone”.
At the Bolshoi Katya has danced most of the classical and neoclassical roles. She was one of the young dancers who caught the eye of Alexei Ratmansky during his tenure as AD and his choreography, she says, is a good fit for her. Always looking to expand her repertoire, she is now involved in a new project. Set to premiere in 2011 “Reflections” will feature selected young dancers trained at the Bolshoi Academy performing works by contemporary choreographers. Participants include Polina Seminova and Maria Kochetkova. Katya will be starting to work on it soon after the London tour “It is my holiday time, but you see, we always have to sacrifice something doing ballet. We will be dancing a work by Nacho Duato and some other younger choreographers that are not as famous, and they will be creating solo pieces for us. I think it is going to be a very interesting project and very helpful for me as an artist.”
For all that, Katya’s heart seems closer to works with a strong dramatic aspect – or in her own words – ballets where “there is something to play and there is something to say.” For instance, in preparing for Juliet in Grigorovich’s Romeo & Juliet, she read the play, watched the Zeffirelli movie but also tried to bring some of her own elements into the role “There might be lovely weather and I might go out for a walk so my mood changes, and all those experiences can be used when performing. I try to think about how she would behave and I become Juliet at the time of the performance. In the rehearsal room I try to perfect everything so when I’m on stage I don’t have to think at all and just concentrate on becoming the role. When I’m performing, I become the role and stop being Katya.”
In her own words
Of her coach Svetlana Adyrkhaeva:
I would say it is difficult to learn from her, but easy at the same time. For once, she is very strict and demands a lot from you but on the other hand she makes everything occur so smoothly, because she is always giving me corrections and that is wonderful.
Of Alexei Ratmansky:
When he first came to the theatre I was very young, we were very young, and it was a great thing to have him around, it was a big push for us. Personally, it was very interesting to work with him, understanding his type of movement. Even now, I love his choreography and I feel very comfortable on it, well-suited…I feel like a fish in the water on his works.
On becoming a dancer:
It’s not possible to say that I really wanted to be come a ballerina, when you are so young you can’t say “I want to be a ballerina”, consciously you can’t really make that decision. But at the age of 15, when you are in ballet school, you realize that you like it and you want to continue doing ballet throughout your life and dedicate yourself to it. That’s what happened to me.
On inspirations & aspirations:
I don’t remember who was my favourite dancer when I was a child or if it was someone in particular. But my parents used to take me to the theatre at a very young age and I saw lots of dancers and I used to love them all. When we are little we don’t know such names as Ulanova, Plisetskaya, etc. and you are not thinking of such things, but I remember being seven years old and being mesmerised by their performances. I am from Moscow so visits to the Bolshoi were frequent.
I can’t say there is one ballerina I like, or even two, because everyone has strong and weak points about them; a particular dancer who might excel in Don Q might not be able to bring the same qualities to Swan Lake, and others might be perfect as Swan Queens. I do admire my teachers because I’ve been very lucky to have them.
I never put myself goals since it seems to me that is the wrong approach. There is though, one goal in our profession, which is to grow continuously, and never stop. As soon as you stop, listening to criticism and the observations that your teacher makes then you can consider, that you’ve stop growing and it is over. We usually say it is THE END.
Of Dream Roles:
I’ve danced many of the roles in the Bolshoi’s repertoire, but I haven’t danced Giselle and I would love to dance it. I would also like to perform Nikiya in La Bayadère. I’ve done Gamzatti, but this in particular was a bit strange for me, and to this day I still don’t know why I was chosen for the role as it’s totally against my character, but I found it very interesting.
There are very few ballet dancers that do two roles in a ballet, but I have a couple of ballets where I do two different roles which have different personalities, so I hope I get Nikiya…and also Swanilda in Coppélia.
In her Ballet Bag:
I don’t carry a lot of stuff…. Pointe shoes, ballet slippers, rosin, theraband, everything for toes like plasters, pads, etc. I usually leave my phone at home when I go to rehearsals since I don’t live far away from the theatre.
With our thanks to Alice Lagnado, Elena Murchikova and Спасибо/Spasibo to Katya Krysanova