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: What has he worked on with you that was memorable?
Irina Dvorovenko:
For the last Romeo [and Juliet], he was rehearsing with me on only one scene—the poison scene. It’s, like, three minutes. We spent two hours going over every step, every gesture. It’s not step and step and walk and walk. He said, “I want to read what you’re thinking by you stepping it.” He is very theatrical; he said, “When you step, I need to see first your eyes because you are afraid of your own shadow and the plan that you are creating in your head. You need to be panicking inside, and we need to feel this panic—what are you doing?” That was the strongest scene. The last Swan Lake that I did with Vadim, the fourth act nobody rehearses much. Maxim was very invested in the rehearsals because he was already finished with his performances. He worked a lot particularly on the details in the fourth act and the gesture that says, “You broke my heart,” and she leaves. He was very picky on how to do it. I did it and for the first time in my life, I enjoyed the fourth act more than [the rest of] Swan Lake. I was so drained and felt so lost and betrayed; it was one of the most exciting moments for me to be in a particular place. And the funniest thing was that after it I started to receive letters from people on my website about the fourth act. Maxim said, “What did I tell you?”

Time Out New York: Have you started rehearsing with Joaquín?
Irina Dvorovenko:
No. He’s a good partner. He’s strong. And I usually help partners a lot. Equal partnership. I never hang on partners like a dead weight. Sometimes I’m doing too much. Max said, “Don’t drive the car!” I say, “I don’t have a driver’s license.” But I was taught that way; I cannot just hang on and have my partner die behind me. I always jump when my partner picks me up, so it’s easier for him. They have a difficult job. In order to make us beautiful, they are physically working very hard, and we want emotional attachment and energy from them: I just love my men. I appreciate and always try to be nice and a safe partner. I am never brutal to them, and if I know that Cory has seven hours of rehearsal, I say to him, “Please skip this lift—save yourself.” That’s me probably. Some people are like, “Lift me again, lift me again.” Even if I watch in the mirror, I feel like, Oh my God, I’m so sorry. I relate to the person. It’s very hard for me.

Time Out New York: Have you ever played a stripper in any ballet?
Irina Dvorovenko:
Stripper, no. But before I joined ABT, Valentina Kozlova invited me to her company and Margo Sappington choreographed a ballet where I was playing a very jazzy, very sexy character in fishnets. It was on pointe. In the character shoes here [for On Your Toes]…[Laughs] I am very shy in a certain way.

Time Out New York: What are you shy about in this case?
Irina Dvorovenko:
[Laughs] I don’t know. I like to look sexy and confident, but at the same time I am not pushy in a slutty way. As my mom taught me all the time, when you’re flirting with a man, never lift your skirt fully up; just show the pinkie toe, just a little bit to make the man more interested. So I’m kind of reserved. It’s like a fish: Just put a little bit, but don’t feed them. [Laughs] That’s how I feel. When it comes to more revealing or more sexy, I need to take time to not see anybody—to just be in my world, so then I feel more confident with the partner when I need to do something erotic or sexy.

Time Out New York: Have you seen videos of Suzanne Farrell in Slaughter?
Irina Dvorovenko:
I’ve seen a couple of [other] ballets. She was one of the incredible ballerinas who was breathing onstage. She was a very strong personality and in that generation, all of them were a different character: They didn’t look alike. Each of them had their own story to tell and that’s what makes it more attractive and interesting, because everybody is doing the same steps and wearing the same costume and everything is quite predictable, but when you see the personality onstage, you’re drawn to it. You are a different person. You just have to have very strong energy to share it with the audience. The moment you’re onstage, you need to be like a magnet and attract everybody’s eyes. Even when you turn around, you need to feel that they are staring at you. I think that generation was really incredible. George Balanchine was a wise and genius man. He was using each talent, each personality individually. He was changing a little bit for each ballerina: adjusting the step a little bit, changing the choreography because he wanted to make each ballerina individual. Not copies. I think it’s very important to be you onstage. Partnership is also very important; you need to feel the partner and listen. When I’m dancing with Maxim, for example, I know the capacity of his emotions—so I could throw myself. That’s why sometimes we were emotionally more exhausted and more drained; it’s not only physical, but emotional—it’s 200 percent we’re asking from each other. During the wedding scene from Romeo when we were kneeling and Freddie [Franklin] was blessing us, I couldn’t stop crying. When I saw Max’s eyes, I don’t know. I got so drawn to him. And this music. [She tears up.]

Time Out New York: Is it strange not to be dancing with Max for your last ABT performance?
Irina Dvorovenko:
We had wonderful moments together. I don’t want him to feel miserable, because after [his] injury and this and that, there were so many frustrations. It was just a nightmare for him to go through and to get back even for his last performances. I just feel his pain. I said, “It’s better for you to stop.” He was hesitating and pushing to go back, but he is very helpful for me with every other partner. It’s funny that he’s my husband, but he teaches the other guys how to hold me, how to kiss me. He wants to be touched as well in special moments. I’m very high emotionally, so when I’m dancing with a partner who cannot deliver that much, I need to turn myself down a little bit. I cannot express myself—like have an orgasm fully. You constantly have to suppress yourself a little bit. With a man, when I dance, I need to feel the person. First, it’s a basic touch: I usually need a couple of days just to feel where to hold, how high up—just technically. But then I need something else from the partner. I need to fall in love. With Marcelo or Roberto [Bolle]—I can’t remember—but I came home and Maxim said, “What’s up?” I said, “I don’t know. I don’t feel the person. Everything is perfect technically, but I cannot fall in love. It’s like a wall. Something is not right.” That is a problem that bothers me. I can forget physical things; I can cover them up, but if I don’t feel personally, I am like a tiger in a cage. I need to get in his body, I need to feel that energy. Eventually, we get there. With Marcelo, it’s full ecstasy. Roberto opens fully onstage and gives more than you could expect. With Cory, I still feel that he’s not using his full capacity. He’s more reserved I think, and I don’t have very much time with him to work and ask, but I still feel he does have it inside. It takes time to pull it out. It’s experience as well. He’s learning, and he’s getting better and better.

Time Out New York: When did you dance with Julio Bocca?
Irina Dvorovenko:
I think Susan Jaffe was out and Alessandra Ferri couldn’t dance, and Julio asked me. I had never danced with Julio, and I am much taller than Julio. It was The Merry Widow, and we had one rehearsal and then a performance, and it was amazing. From such a short time of being together, Julio made me feel so good. I was drooling onstage. When he was waltzing me, I was like, Take me here, take me now. That feeling—can you believe it? [Laughs] He was with me from every inch of my body. He was just a man onstage. It was a fantastic feeling, and you cannot wish for more. He took me as a woman. I was the one, the most desirable. It was in his look, his eye, how he was breathing. I still cherish this memory. For me, it’s a very sensitive moment to be bonded with the people who you’re dancing with. So I’m in a new environment, with new people: My sensors are open. I’m just picking up the tunes from everybody so I know what to do and how to behave.

Time Out New York: It’s going to be great.
Irina Dvorovenko:
Keep the fingers crossed and don’t judge me too hard because I’m a newcomer. But I do my best.

Irina Dvorovenko performs On Your Toes May 8–12 at City Center; she performs Onegin with American Ballet Theatre May 15 and 18 at the Metropolitan Opera House (at Lincoln Center).

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