St Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake: An Interview with Prima Ballerina Irina Kolesnikova and Founding Director Konstantin Tachkin
The St Petersburg Ballet Theatre is no stranger to Singapore, with sold out, well-received runs when they came in 2015 and 2016. In May this year, they’re returning for the third time to perform Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake at Mediacorp’s MES Theatre, and featuring not only their prima ballerina Irina Kolesnikova in the starring role of Odile/Odette, but also an entire company of 60, including a number of featured guest stars from the acclaimed Bolshoi Ballet.
Before their highly anticipated return however, Irina, along with husband and St Petersburg Ballet Theatre Founding Director Konstantin Tachkin and their four year old daughter Vasilisa, were already in town to promote the tour. Seated in a roomy suite at the Swissotel boasting glorious views of the Singapore skyline, we caught up with the ballet power couple on what makes their version of Swan Lake a must watch this season.
Russia is of course, renowned for its incredible dedication to art forms such as ballet, and after the fall of the Iron Curtain, revealed their true prowess to the world. But long before that moment, the craft has already been in existence and whittled to a pointe over the past 200 years. On what makes St Petersburg Ballet Theatre so unique, Irina explains that they remain faithful to the Russian classical ballet style, different in that there is an increased emphasis and arm and hand movements, as opposed to the ‘stiffer’ English style. Elaborating further, Irina says: “Although the repertoire has expanded over the years, we strictly maintain our style, and reflect that in the works we produce as well, using the original choreography, music and similar set to its first productions.”
Irina herself is a bit of a ballet prodigy, having trained at the prestigious Vaganova Academy under the tutelage of Elvira Korkorina for nine years before graduating in 1998. Joining the St Petersburg Ballet Theatre in December of that same year, she rose through the ranks and became prima ballerina in just three years at the age of 21, clinching coveted roles such as the eponymous Giselle in Giselle and Princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty. In person, Irina gives off an entirely regal aura, and the absolute portrait of a woman who has made it in life. But even so, Irina is determined to keep it up, saying: “As long as I am still physically and mentally able to, I want to keep dancing for as long as I can.”
On balancing her career commitments with her family and personal life, Irina explains: “You have to be mentally ready to commit to all three. It’s important to find a partner who understands what you do, and fortunately for me, my husband is in the same industry and perfectly understands the demands, allowing us to be of the same mind.”
Irina’s husband on the other hand, has a rather unique backstory. Konstantin Tachkin never hailed from a dance background, and was in fact, a Special Forces soldier and parachutist while in the military. Post military life, Tachkin joined the tourist industry, where he sold tickets to foreigners looking to catch St Petersburg’s local opera and ballet performances. It was to his great disappointment that he felt many of the local companies were not up to standard, and in 1994, decided to take action by setting up his own ballet company: the St Petersburg Ballet Theatre. On the rationale for creating quality theatre, Tachkin explains: “It’s so important for a show to have high production value and enthusiastic dancers and dazzle audiences, especially if it’s their first introduction to ballet. When you do something, there’s a responsibility to do it well, to make audiences fall in love with ballet, so that not only do they not regret buying tickets, they will come back again and again, and keep growing year on year when they bring their friends and family.”
Tachkin then reveals two of the most important factors the company looks for in a performance venue – the first is a good, firm stage that supports dancers’ muscles and movements, neither too hard nor too soft. The second, surprisingly enough, is the air-conditioning. Tachkin elaborates: “It’s not a matter of comfort but a matter of health. If you have only one central air conditioning, you switch it off and audiences start complaining. But dancers, they’re physically exerting themselves throughout the show and sweating. When they go into the wings, they fall sick because of how cold it is. Sometimes architects need to think about these things when designing a theatre.”
At this point, Irina quickly explains their love for performing in Singapore, praising the big stage and calibre of audiences. She says: “I feel the audience here understands what they’re watching and because of that, the audience understands what I am doing and appreciates my movements.”
Much like how Swan Lake has proven itself a timeless classic, the St Petersburg Ballet Theatre are in the same vein – proven to be a hit, and determined to come back time and time again to bring the magic of Swan Lake to audiences both repeated and new. Come catch Irina in this signature role this May, and discover for yourself the quality of St Petersburg Ballet Theatre’s performances that makes them irreplaceable mainstays of the ballet world, now and forever.
We’re giving away one pair of tickets to catch Irina Kolesnikova in action in Swan Lake on 11th May! All you have to do is:
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Winners will be informed via Facebook.
Swan Lake plays at the MES Theatre from 8th – 13th May 2018. Tickets available from SISTIC