For Russian ballerina Elisaveta S. Nebesnaya, the stage is the place where she lives another life – the one of the character that she plays. When the ballet theatre Talarium et Lux (Ballet and Light) presented Swan Lake with 3D animated graphics in Ha Noi last week, Nebesnaya – in the lead role of Odette/Odile, the white and black swan – amazed audiences with passionate, feathery dance moves. The principal dancer spoke with Thuy Hang about how ballet has become a major part of her life.
Inner Sanctum: How old were you when you took your first ballet class? Did you immediately feel passionate about it?
I was eight years old when I started my first ballet class. However, I think I did begin to make acquaintance with the art form much before I first tried on my ballet shoes - maybe since I was in my mother's womb. She used to visit my father at his ballet theatre, where he was a head dancer. I am sure that I fell in love with the art form before I knew and learnt it.
Inner Sanctum: Becoming a successful ballerina takes lots of hard work starting at a very early age. What qualities do you think are required to be in this industry?
There are many qualities that are needed for a ballet dancer. First of all, it is the physical element. Desirable physical characteristics for a ballet dancer include long arms and legs, a long neck, and a comparatively short torso. The ideal body for ballet is flexible, slim, and strong. He/she should also be a very hardworking person, who is required to adapt with intensive hard practice. A beautiful soul and a gifted talent are other important characteristics.
It's absolutely no exaggeration to say that practising ballet is the hardest form of labour. It is as if you have to carry with you a heavy stone at all times. It's very normal if the key dancer loses his/her weight 2-3kg whenever they practise for a new show.
Inner Sanctum: When were you given the first lead in a ballet? Did you feel an enormous amount of pressure? How did you put your anxiety aside and embrace the role?
I was 18-years-old when I was cast as the lead role in the Nutcracker. Since then, I have taken the lead in many other ballets. I was granted the Honoured Artist of Russia award in 2006 when I was 25-years-old.
Of course, I was under an enormous amount of pressure when I took the first lead role of my life. Like the first step of your life, the first lead role is a very important launching platform for your career. To prepare for that role, I practised at least eight hours every day. I recall that at that time I received a lot of support from my choreographer as well as my ballet teachers. I think I have a responsibility to repay them for their support by completing my role. I don't want to disappoint them. I don't have any other choice than to keep moving ahead.
Inner Sanctum: What was your reaction when you received negative comments on your role?
I'm very proud to say that ever since I started my career, I haven't received any critical comment from either the audiences or the art critics.
Inner Sanctum: Were there ever days you maybe didn't want to do ballet?
Alongside my performances, I've choreographed some ballets which have been staged abroad. I also have conducted master classes in many countries, including the US, Mexico and Germany.
As the head of the Talarium et Lux Theatre's dance crew, I always give them all my experience that I've accumulated over the past years.
With so many ballet-related works, I've never had any thought about stopping. Even when I'm 70 years old, if my health is good enough, I will still do ballet.
If there comes a day I am unable to do ballet, I'll continue to provide my knowledge about ballet to the next young generation. I've got an excellent bachelor degree on choreographic pedagogy from the Russian University of Theatre Arts.
Inner Sanctum: What's the difference between the performance on a stage with 3D animated graphics and on a classic ballet stage?
Actually, the 3D technique supports us effectively in presenting the ballet's content. Normally, to be able to enjoy the show completely, the audiences need to learn about its content before the show, but with 3D screens set up as the stage's background, they don't need to do that as the bright and true colour screens can help them catch up easily with the content, and they can enjoy the performance more.
The main purpose of the Talarium et Lux theatre is to introduce the quintessential Russian ballet to audiences all over the world. A good production and masterful choreography are no longer enough to draw young people and children to the ballet. That's why, since the theatre's foundation in 2012, we have realised that our most important task is to draw in even those who have never been interested in ballet, by producing new shows using multimedia technology.
For professional dancers like us, we don't see any big difference between those two stages. We just put in all our feelings, mind and body into our characters.
Inner Sanctum: What about the injuries you suffer in dance?
Once I stumbled and collapsed on the stage, I couldn't even stand up. The theatre's staff had to carry me off the stage and called an ambulance. The show was cancelled although it had reached midway.
Serious leg injury kept me off the stage for two years. During that tough time, many people, and even I myself, thought that I couldn't do ballet again. But, lucky me, I did come back with "the love of my life". — VNS