Code Share Principals: A Chat With Svetlana Zakharova

A recent trend among top dancers, accumulating guesting contracts with companies around the world is becoming increasingly popular as ballet becomes more globalised. Initially championed by ABT, these types of contracts allow big stars to add “guest principal” titles to their resumes. But while this brings them certain perks, the deal also comes with a heap of added stress in what is already a fast lived profession.

The upside is that more people get to see these stars live and the Bavarian State Ballet was lucky enough to count the Tsarine de la Danse, Svetlana Zakharova, as a Guest Principal for their recent production of La Bayadère. During her time in Munich, we chatted about the ups and downs of being a “code-share Principal”.

Svetlana Zakharova as Nikiya and Zuzana Zahradnikova as Gamzatti

Svetlana Zakharova as Nikiya and Zuzana Zahradnikova as Gamzatti. Photo: © Wilfried Hoesl / Bayerisches Staatsballett

Zakharova has just finished an hour long stage rehearsal with Bavarian State Ballet Principal Marlon Dino, who is to dance Solor opposite her Nikiya in the following evening’s performance of La Bayadère. We start by talking about Oktoberfest in Munich, that time of the year when tourists mix with natives. Dressed up in dirndls and Lederhosen, they take over town for two weeks: “I didn’t actually get to go myself, but I love the atmosphere, the festive vibe and the traditional attire.” Usually, she says, she is on a very tight schedule when guesting abroad – which means no time whatsoever for sightseeing or sitting by the lake, let alone dancing on wooden benches in a beer tent at the Theresienwiese. “Most of my impressions, I get from driving to and from places in the taxi.“

When it comes to the stress of jumping continents, Zakharova says sleep is essential: “I have no tips for how to beat jetlag, I struggle with that, just like everyone!” After hours of rehearsals, learning and adapting repertoire to fit the local versions, stage time and costume fittings, all she wants is to sleep and relax at the hotel. But sleep doesn’t always come easily abroad “It depends of course on the country: In Europe, everything is quite similar, but the U.S. and Asia are very different. I need to give 100% percent all the time, so getting enough rest in order to focus is very important.” From Munich, her packed performance schedule takes her right to the Stars of the 21st Century Gala to New York, back to Moscow, to Berlin, Kiev and Paris. “I gain a lot of experience through these travels in a very short period of time – dancing in different companies, with different partners. I have to focus fast and constantly think on my feet.”

Marlon Dino as Solor and Svetlana Zakharova as Nikiya

Svetlana Zakharova as Nikiya and Marlon Dino as Solor. Photo: © Wilfried Hoesl / Bayerisches Staatsballett

Of the temple dancer Nikiya, Zakharova says: “Nikiya is very womanly, yet incredibly strong. Over the course of the performance, she goes through a cycle of experiences. I go through all emotions of life with her, from happily in love, to great disappointment, to ultimate betrayal – we all know these emotions. And Bayadère has different styles: from the character dancing in Act I to the purely classical “Kingdom of Shades”, two distinct styles – which add to the overall difficulty for the dancer.”

Touching upon another subject that is rapidly becoming a popular trend, cinema relays, (most recently, Zakharova danced Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty with another famous ABT-Bolshoi code share principal, David Hallberg) she doesn’t think long and laughs: “You’re not allowed to make any mistake at all; it’s frightening. Definitely a different feeling than performing only to an audience that sits in front of you. On the other hand, it is amazing to have the opportunity to reach so many people. It’s a great thing, really wonderful.”

Svetlana Zakharova and Marlon Dino in La Bayadère

Svetlana Zakharova as Nikiya and Marlon Dino as Solor in La Bayadère - Photo: © Wilfried Hoesl / Bayerisches Staatsballett

Speaking of wonderful: her performance the following night truly was that and a jumbo-sized bag of chips! The minute she stepped foot on stage at the Nationaltheater as temple dancer Nikiya, Miss Z left no doubt that she’s part of the global reigning court of classical ballet, and rightfully in high demand by audiences and company directors around the world. How lucky that thanks to cinema relays, live streams and code share principal arrangements, we are able to witness an outstanding dancer from a faraway land here “at home”. Besides stellar technique, it was the very emotional journey of the character she has described earlier, that left no one in the sold-out house unmoved. It was the warmth, effervescence, desolation, transcendentalism and divinity that she portrayed over the course of two hours, which was almost of superhuman quality.

The interview was held in German and Russian with the kind help of Maria Babanina (répétiteur at the Bavarian State Ballet).

About the Author:

Wiebke Schuster currently lives in Munich. She completed her Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Dance Theatre and studied Arts Administration at the Limón Dance Company in New York. She is a regular contributor to the Bavarian State Ballet Blog. Follow her on Twitter @wiebela

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