Maria Alexandrova
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Maria Alexandrova
Bolshoi Ballet Principal

by Bruce Marriott

Great thanks to Natasha Dissanayake for translating.


That's the word that immediately springs to mind having spent time with Maria Alexandrova, the recently-promoted Bolshoi ballet principal and much-applauded star of the company's London season. That's 'sorted' as in a sorted person, a 'grounded' person you could say — somebody who knows themselves and which way is up. It's not a word you'd necessarily attach to many in dance but if this isn't a person who's rather sorted in life I don't know what is:

"I am realistic about myself and about the life situation because I learned to decide clearly 'Is this good' or 'Is this bad'. Can the bad be changed? If it can be changed then I will do it. If not, then I will be realistic — sometimes compromises are necessary." What is it they say about old heads and young shoulders?

We've been talking about her career at the Bolshoi and it's not exactly been straightforward for somebody so technically strong and with such audience-winning on-stage exuberance. At school she was noticed, and she never even thought how difficult any of it was because she just loved danceing so much, and that has never really left her. Joining the company in 1997, she steadily got more roles, danced them well, pleased the audience and was often mentioned by critics both in Moscow and on tour. Then everything just kind of stopped for two years — no new roles. "I began thinking whether I'm doing the right thing — if I'm in the right profession because I didn't get much from dance. So I was questioning myself: Why am I not moving forward, if the audience like me in roles, I don't get noticed. So it was a difficult time and while questioning myself I came to the conclusion that I love my job very, very, much!! I had to stay and continue."

Maria Alexandrova in Pharaoh's Daughter
Photo by John Ross

Her own understanding of what's important has belatedly been matched by the Bolshoi and more roles have been coming her way, not to mention her clearly-rightful elevation to principal under new director Ratmansky.

Alexei Ratmansky is the 4th director she's had in her 7 seasons at the Bolshoi: "I just hope this one will last longer", said without any malice or sarcasm, must sum up many thoughts after all the changes and uncertainty. And with luck she will now get more of the roles she craves and needs to fulfil her potential; but that 'sorted' view is still there... "We have to realise that everyone who is in the theatre has one aim — to be on stage be it as an extra, in the corps de ballet or as soloist — they all want to be on stage. We have to share so there is no point to have war, to fight. We have to find some means of coexistence because war is destructive." Such balance, such understanding and poise.

  "I don't think that I danced Juliet — this is an acting role."
Maria Alexandrova

Alexandrova's name is much associated with the most controversial ballet currently in the Bolshoi's repertoire — the new Romeo and Juliet. It's the creation of theatrical director Declan Donnellan, who knows little about ballet-making, and the young Moldovan choreographer, Radu Poklitaru. It's a modern work, without pointe shoes, and when I casually observe how wonderful it must be to dance Juliet I'm immediately, if gently, corrected: "I don't think that I danced Juliet — this is an acting role."

So radical is the production, by Bolshoi norms, that Maria didn't immediately jump at the offer of Juliet: "I had two days to decide whether I accept this role. Actually it was a torment because I was torn between the decision to do new work and the decision that it would be such different work. I was tormented for two days. The decisive factor in reaching my decision — I thought I would never forgive myself if I didn't try this! Because in later life you can think 'Oh I had a chance and I didn't use it', and you will bitterly regret."

Maria Alexandrova in Declan Donnellan's Romeo and Juliet
Photo by I. Zakharkin

In London at least, the new Romeo and Juliet has attracted not inconsiderable criticism from writers but it was notable that Alexandrova (and Dennis Savin, her Romeo) often got very positive words for the strength and depth of their work in the piece. Alexandrova well knows the Shakespeare — a favourite author from school days, she admits — however "Of course I have the book but I realise I don't need it because there was a choreographer and a director and everything was already decided beforehand — how Juliet shall behave and I just knew I had to follow their concept. So I have to realise I have to take off the pointe shows, I had to take of the tights and my hair shall be shaggy. So I have to become different and to follow what they do — which is not exactly as Shakespeare described."

  "When I'm on stage — whatever I do — I have to be maximum honest"
Maria Alexandrova

So what is R&J like from her perspective? "It's a highly dramatic production — from the beginning it involves you in what is happening. You are surrounded by the dramatic situation. At the time I didn't feel that I had enough choreography — I would have preferred to have more choreography there. But where the dramatic side is concerned there is quite enough. I feel that when I am on stage in this production I am like a piece of candle and by the end I have to burn myself out. When I'm on stage — whatever I do — I have to be maximum honest".

While this Juliet may be centred on drama, Alexandrova has actually tasted a dancing Juliet: "I was lucky that I had a chance to dance the balcony scene from the {original} Lavrovsky Romeo with Sergei Filin in Japan and if I'm lucky in the future I want to dance Juliet in Lavrovsky because there is so much good dance there."

Maria Alexandrova in Don Quixote
Photo by I. Zakharkin

With her recent promotion and the clamoring of audiences to see her dance she will inevitably be more than busy for years to come (she has just turned 26) but she does conceive of doing other things in life — sorted people think about such stuff! "But I wouldn't do choreography because I can't invent even two steps! But perhaps teacher, but no — I think I want to learn something else — I feel I would like to study something. I definitely know that I will find something, but haven't discovered it yet." She will too — her eyes are too determined and anyway fate would not dare disappoint her.

Alexandrova is a delight on stage and off — a hard worker, thinker, quietly determined but refreshingly realistic in a mad ballet world. As we've seen in London she has wonderful gifts but most wonderful of all is that she loves ballet more than anything and knows, for good or bad, it can be no other way for her. That's sorted then.

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