Ballerina Irina Dvorovenko talks about American Ballet Theatre and On Your Toes

Ballerina Irina Dvorovenko talks about starring in Encores! On Your Toes and her career at American Ballet Theatre

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Time Out New York: How is that?
Irina Dvorovenko:
When I danced ABT’s Sleeping Beauty two years ago, I thought I was going to die. There was a moment when I thought, I feel so miserable I just want to leave the stage. And it was a scary moment. That’s awful. When your legs give up and you feel miserable, that’s the beginning of the end. And then in the same month, I received an invitation to do two Sleeping Beauties—and two in a row, an evening and matinee. This was in California on a cement floor. I said, “I’m going to die, I’m not going to do it,” and Maxim said, “No, we will do it.” I agreed and it ended up as one of the most pleasant performances, and I started to think, Why? I was more welcomed, people were very warm and nobody pushed me; I didn’t have pressure, I didn’t have tension, the costume was mine, and it fit very well. I was so relaxed. And I had beautiful moments onstage. I was living the music onstage. I saw the pictures—I’ve never seen more beautiful pictures. There was nothing that was bothering me. Physically, Sleeping Beauty is one of the hardest, but at the same time it felt all right. I didn’t feel bad or miserable and technically everything worked well. And then I started to receive the e-mails: three Sleeping Beauties in Argentina; four in Greece, in Mexico…I thought, Oh, it must stop. [Laughs]

Time Out New York: That’s neat.
Irina Dvorovenko:
Overall, atmosphere and surroundings matter a lot. You know that this is your rehearsal time—you’re responsible. When you have two hours there and then a one-hour break, the body gets cold; then you need to warm up again for the next hour, and then you have an hour or a half-hour [rehearsal] and your body gets two, three inches shorter. You need to force and force, and by forcing it, the body’s not lasting that long. It is quite intense to work at ABT; it is not like we used to work in Russia—one or two hours a day and you’re done. And you have one performance a month. So the longevity of your life is, of course, longer. Here, if you do four or five ballets in a day, your body will just not survive. And having had some injuries over the years, it’s also difficult to manage it. I know my body, and I know how much pain I can go through and what I can do, but it’s a total control on your brain as well. You need to listen to what your body is telling you. We did like seven Black Swan galas in Italy; it was inhuman conditions. I don’t know how it’s possible to survive with the traveling from Sicily to Lake Como in the car, plane, boat, taxi and right to the performance and a raked stage like this. [She tilts her hand drastically.] How am I going to climb this? [Laughs] It turned out to be the best performance ever. And then the same day we fly back—the same trip: car, plane boat, car, again to the performance and somehow we survive. So how is this possible? It’s atmosphere.

Time Out New York: You have to be in the right state of mind.
Irina Dvorovenko:
And when you know that people are helping you, and that they care about you, you have more strength and security in yourself. In the company [ABT], there are a lot of principals and the big problem that the majority of the dancers [face] is that they feel nobody cares about them. They care about the performance and to push them, go, but artists are very sensitive. Every person needs nourishment. You cannot be pushed constantly, constantly, constantly. At 20 years old, they see a psychiatrist three times a week. It’s not normal. We want to be nourished, cared for; even I sometimes see some person down at the ballet who has a role of soloist. I can talk and explain and [say], “Calm down.” You want to be hugged a little bit and feel that somebody cares about you. Then you feel you are important. Just very sensitive moments. The problem is that they throw you somewhere and then ask you to survive, but without help it’s really difficult.

Time Out New York: You need that nourishment.
Irina Dvorovenko:
Yes. In Russia, each ballet dancer was attached to a coach, and it was like having a mother in the ballet pretty much. So you need something more personal. Here, you cannot be attached, because everyone is running from one studio to another. So it’s a different structure. I cannot blame it, because the theater functions in this way. But that’s what people want—everyone from the dance world. Gillian [Murphy] arrived from New Zealand, and she went to take class with [ABT], and then we saw her at class at Steps and we said, “Well, how was it?” And she said, “What’s the matter with ABT? Everybody’s so depressed, everybody’s crying. What’s happening?” So it’s not only me. Everybody’s noticing that. Something strange is going on with this bunch of guest artists who take performances from the dancers who work hard. And nobody develops our dancers. The dancers who come from out [of the company], they have been already nourished by somebody and molded so they have experience to share, but our dancers also need this experience and they cannot, because no one is helping them. And also everybody is working so hard in the studios, but the amount of time is so compressed. It’s hard for everyone.

Time Out New York: Is Max still dancing?
Irina Dvorovenko:
He’s not going to dance with ABT anymore. He decided not to come [back] this season. Last year, he did his Apollo, and he said, “That’s my full circle.” He started his ABT career with Apollo in Las Vegas—a very funny story. It was his first Balanchine role, and he never danced Balanchine; he was first onstage in Las Vegas, and the light was full. He was standing half-naked in that beautiful pose, and then when he turned and was walking back, somebody screamed from the audience, “Nice ass!”

Time Out New York: Welcome to America.
Irina Dvorovenko:
[ABT directors] ran to him after the performance and said, “Were you discouraged?” He said, “No, I accept it as a compliment. It was fine.” He said it was a full circle for him to perform Apollo. Misha Baryshnikov came to see the performance—and Edward Villella, so it was a lot of people, and it was very special for him. He said, “I have my standards.” He said that full-lengths are really hard; Maxim is already 41. He’s going to be 42 in January. He said, “I feel confident enough to deliver the best when I can. If I don’t, I can’t push myself.” So same for me. I said, “I will not do Swan Lake again.” Kevin [McKenzie, ABT’s artistic director] asked me, and I said, “I don’t think it’s going to be right for me.” Although I could do it somewhere else. I want to feel also very confident and comfortable in what I’m doing. I cannot pretend. I cannot fake. If I’m out, I’m fully out, and if something is bothering me, nobody can notice this, but I cannot live with it if I can’t do it the way I have it in my head and also manage everything the way I want to. It’s harder, and with this routine it’s almost impossible for me.

Time Out New York: Onegin’s a good choice for your final ballet at ABT. 
Irina Dvorovenko:
Onegin is really good. I love dramatic ballets because I always live a person’s life onstage. I never just dance; I transform. Music is fulfilling me a lot and even in rehearsals I quite often get very sensitive emotions, so I cry. In Lady of the Camellias, there is the moment in the third act where they meet on the Champs-Élysées, and it’s a silent moment. The music comes and you stay—I don’t know—two minutes. Your whole life goes by. You don’t move. But my tears keep pouring and pouring, and I cannot stop. Because my heart is here. [She touches her throat.] I get attached with my partners, because I fall in love with the character I’m dancing with. I don’t care if it’s Marcelo [Gomes] or Cory [Stearns] or Julio [Bocca], when I danced with him. I just love the personage that I’m dancing with; the majority of the ballets are love stories. Maxim said, “Okay now, how come in two months I’m going to lose my wife forever? She’ll be in love with one man, flirting with another man—I won’t see her for two months!” [Laughs] He knows me. He’s like, “Are you talking to yourself? Okay, you’re gone!” That’s me—I don’t know. It gets me closer to parts to do the role that I’m doing, and it’s a wonderful experience to go through the life. Sometimes in real life we don’t have this opportunity to have that much emotion, or we reserve ourselves, but in the ballet—through the music and through the body language—you can express a lot and feel betrayed and miserable and in pain and fight and everything. It is just very special to me to have this opportunity to experience the life of a different person. That’s one of the greatest special moments in our career.

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