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: Have you ever danced Slaughter on Tenth Avenue?
Irina Dvorovenko:
No. I was learning it yesterday for the first time. First, you need to click with the partner; you need to feel. You need to learn the steps, the musicality, and on top of it, you need to really add the sensuality and sexuality. And make it look like you do nothing. It should look like there are no movements. I see some videos, and it looks like poses. But no—it’s like tap dancers like Fred Astaire; in the tap world, they say to figure out who the great tap dancers are, it’s the position of the arms. The arms are where you sometimes see tension, but the arms should almost do nothing, and that’s amazing. So here in Slaughter, I feel a little bit similar. I need to work on it to make it look like I’m just playing and seducing and just doing nothing instead of doing some poses, which look ridiculous. It’s really hard.

Time Out New York: Have you taken jazz classes before?
Irina Dvorovenko:
Never! Today we have Slaughter and tomorrow, I’m going to have all day with ABT rehearsing Onegin. On Thursday I’m going to start working with Warren Carlyle—he’s going to choreograph a new pas de deux for me and Joaquín [De Luz, who plays Vera’s lover], and he also needs to choreograph a new scene now with Shonn [Wiley who plays Junior]. When I’m seducing him. [Laughs] It’s a similar case; the choreography happens and in between you need to talk so it’s also very new for me.

Time Out New York: You haven’t spoken onstage before, have you?
Irina Dvorovenko:
No! I’m crazy and excited inside. I guess we’re going to do baby steps. If something happens, they’re going to stop me and correct me. I’m a quick learner. I’m observing. I’m going to do my best.

Time Out New York: What are the other challenges in Balanchine’s choreography so far?
Irina Dvorovenko:
Like Susie [Pilarre] was explaining yesterday that especially in Slaughter, Balanchine was very particular to maintain a relaxed upper body so when there is a partnering—a waltz or something—not to grab the partner, but to be more like the sun kissing your cheek. Do with me whatever you want! So you don’t see the tension. In ballroom, the position of how you hold your partner is very elegant—it’s almost with one finger. It’s not clutching. That’s very important as well. Natasha wore a white wig; I don’t know if they’re going to keep my hair or if they’ll put me in a white wig. Max adores Marilyn Monroe. He said, “I finally will see my Marilyn Monroe!” I really trust him. Max has the eye like nobody. He is like an X-ray. 

Time Out New York: And you have always had that working trust with him?
Irina Dvorovenko:
Yes. Since I met him, and actually this November is going to be 20 years since we married.

Time Out New York: Wow. Didn’t you meet him when you were 10?
Irina Dvorovenko:
Yes, I was 10, and he was 11. He remembers when I was 13, 14 years old running on the stairs between the classes—what kind of skirt I had on, what kind of sweater, the flowers in my hair. He has a photographic memory. When he sees the beautiful look or beautiful shoes in a window, he says, “You must get this.” He has the picture vision. He makes me look like me because that’s what inspires him, that’s how he likes to see a woman. So I am his fantasy, which is very nice. It’s nice to be the fantasy of your husband. [Laughs] Sometimes he’s tough; sometimes I say, “Leave me alone!” He says, “Listen to me. I am never wrong!” I like my hair back, and he likes hair down. “Go put extension, do this, do that—it’s sexy!” [She scowls.] I usually follow his advice, but sometimes when I’m so tired I say, “I’m going to shave my head and you’re not going to bother me!” We joke. So far our relationship is working. The rule is that you must respect each other and never be rude. All our lives, we pretty much never have fights. If it’s coming to the tense moment, it’s immediately a joke to break it. We just stop before it starts growing. From a very early stage, we decided to never waste energy on something stupid. Some people from broken couples—if they lose a $500 scarf, it’s going to be a one-month lecture. “How could you lose this, do you know how much…?” We never do that. Once it’s done, it’s done. If it’s not fixable, it’s not fixable. Yes, you’re upset, but it’s fine. But you don’t waste energy and you don’t make each other miserable or yell at each other because it doesn’t change anything in the end, right?

Time Out New York: That’s great advice.
Irina Dvorovenko:
We have such a funny story. It was our tenth wedding anniversary, and Maxim and my parents asked me, “What do you want?” I said I wanted a diamond tennis bracelet, so they got me a five-carat tennis bracelet and the first time I was wearing it, there was horrible snow in New York. And ABT, the next morning, was supposed to leave for Washington D.C. Of course, the buses were stopped; nothing was working. The evening before we were invited to the ambassador’s home for some event, and that’s the first time I was wearing this bracelet. By the time I arrived to the East Side, I lost the bracelet. I basically had my heart here [Clutches her throat], and I couldn’t breathe. I was in shock. I usually let go of everything easily; that was just a bad sign for me. It’s ten years of a wedding anniversary, and it’s a gift from people that love me. My parents and Maxim. I barely hold myself [together] for the whole evening, and then we get back and start to look in the snow, because basically we went one block and then we took a taxi. I couldn’t find it anywhere. It was just really bad. The next morning, we went to Washington D.C. with ABT for two weeks. We came back to New York; of course, the refrigerator’s empty, so first thing we went to Time Warner, and it was a Sunday. It was some holiday, and they didn’t have a delivery. We had six bags to carry and Maxim said, [Dramatically] “Must I do this on my day off?” He was so pessimistic. I thought, I’ll just let him talk. I’ll listen and walk. “I’m tired and instead of having a massage…how the hell they couldn’t have a delivery?” And we were walking a couple of blocks and I say, “Max?” And he says, “Whaaat?” [She gasps repeatedly.] On the street entrance of the stage Met garage on the side in the dirty snow is my diamond bracelet! Can you believe it? I said, “It’s a sign from God.” I couldn’t talk. It was sideways lying down in the dirty snow. How is it possible? Two weeks, five-carat diamond bracelet? In New York? It was a miracle. Things happen for a reason, and that was the biggest for me. You just follow with your heart.

Time Out New York: Is that what you’re doing right now? Because you’re still going to dance after ABT, right?
Irina Dvorovenko:
Yes. We are trying to find a good choreographer with some interesting pieces that we can perform at some galas. We are very much concentrated on putting a summer intensive together that we are doing in New York at the Baryshnikov Arts Center from August 5 to 16. We have a huge line of students already. Everybody knows how much knowledge and experience we have and even just a couple of rehearsals make such a difference with the students. Before YAGP [Youth America Grand Prix], we had a world of people coming to us, and parents were sitting with an open mouth like, “Oh my God, we never heard this—she can do this.” It’s a balance between cleaning the steps and developing the artistry and for the kids, I say, “You’re doing beautifully. You have gorgeous legs. You have no problem with the technique whatsoever, but if I see 200 variations and everybody’s beautiful, how are we going to separate you from the others? I need to see your personal touch, your personality, your timing, your different look, your eyes—sometimes one look or gesture can make it something special.” I’m teaching a little bit; Maxim is on the Ballet Academy East staff; tomorrow, they asked him to teach at ABT. Many dancers ask. There are always some problems financially. For a couple of years, Maxim is backstage or in the wings—he helps Cory, he helps [Daniil] Simkin, Vadim [Muntagirov]. Now David Hallberg asked him, as a favor, to help him, so he was helping David every day, and David looked in his eyes and said, “Maxim, you’re telling me the alphabet. Nobody is telling me this.” David was very open and accepted everything, but change is usually harder than learning something new. And it requires much more time—and sometimes years—to change muscle memory. But whatever he did, David was so amazed by seeing himself in the mirror. So far, they asked him for a couple of weeks at one hour a day to help David a little bit; I don’t know how far it’s going to go, but that’s what dancers need: baby steps. Not just 5, 6, 7, 8. The walk in Onegin is not just a walk; you should walk as Onegin who has lost his life, who sees the big corridor with thoughts, with ideas, who is bored and doesn’t know what to do with his life. In this walk, we need to read it as the audience; I see David’s beautiful feet. It’s the same thing with everybody; it’s the same thing with me. I walk, and [Maxim] says, “No, I don’t feel it, I don’t trust you.” Sometimes very little details are harder than doing 32 fouettés. The links between are the hardest thing and what make you an artist: how you sit, how you breathe, the gesture of the hands. So sometimes very little detail makes it complete. I’m keeping fingers crossed, because Maxim is very passionate to work with people and he has a lot of secrets, a lot of things you could never read in a book, and you never could see yourself.

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