Interview with principal dancer of Dutch National Ballet
Dear Maia, welcome to my website. I was hoping that I’ll meet you in person before the premiere of ballet Le Corsaire but unfortunately the rehearsals and the premiere were canceled. How and where did you get the news?
Dear Barbara, it’s nice to meet you from afar, but I hope we will also meet in person soon. The news wasn’t exactly a surprise because just a month before coming to Ljubljana, I was in Rome, getting ready to debut in José Martines’s Le Corsaire. Two days before my performance, the government announced a cancellation of all gatherings, theater performances, events and so on. The situation with the Coronavirus was slowly building up and it was getting more and more easily spread within the EU. Of course, I was hoping and looking forward to debuting in the beautiful Opera House in Ljubljana, but I also knew that you might be in the same situation as the Het National, Rome and the rest of Italy. For me, the performances were not canceled; only postponed to another date. I heard this from Petar himself when he informed me about the situation. We have to wait till everything goes back to normal, but regardless, I cannot wait to perform in Ljubljana. Hopefully, sooner than later.
This period is very uncomfortable both for a ballerina and all dancers. But as I see on Instagram, you quickly start training at home. So your home became a rehearsal room or even a stage. Describe your day and what is most important to you?
Yes, this is a challenging time, especially for ballet artists because we cannot work from home. Well, the most important is to do everything possible to remain in shape and stay in top condition through the daily routine. Of course, the conditions are not optimal in the house, but I manage. Maybe, I can even say that it is not my first time training at home. As a guest ballerina, you often need to be responsible for yourself. At the moment, I’m doing everything possible to stay in shape by being active. In the morning, I do one hour of floor barre, and one hour of ballet lessons combined with stretching. One of my hobbies is Bikram yoga, and I do it from time to time as it doesn’t require much space, and it’s very good for the mind, body, internal organs. Jumping rope is also a good cardio exercise and one of the best exercises for condition coordination. It also affects more than one muscle at a time.
We all hope this period passes quickly and we get back on track. But do you think things will be as before or will everything be different?
After COVID-19, the world will never be the same again, and I hope it’s for the best. It will make people more caring for one another and more aware of life. I think this was a message from the universe that something had to change, and I do hope that it will only change for the best. Right now, the situation is frightening and it’s painful to witness so many people not being able to say the last goodbye to their loved ones.
I started this interview in the present but tell us anyway who or what made you become a ballerina. Was is a logical next step since both of your parents, your grandfather, and your brother are dancers? What’s your memory of your ballet beginnings?
This may sound crazy, but I had no way out of this profession. I always say it’s genetics. I was born in a family surrounded by art, starting with my grandparents and of course my parents and brother. I grew up watching them dance on stage and my brother was my biggest role model and inspiration. I spent a lot of my days in the theater with my parents sitting under the barre next to my mom and giving her corrections. The decision was mine; I wanted to become a world-famous ballerina and my family did everything possible to make it happen for me, even if it meant moving to another continent. I consider myself lucky, grateful, and thankful for this gift.
You come from Tbilisi, where you trained ballet at the Cabukiana Choreographic Institute, moving from Georgia to the United States at fifteen. How big of a challenge was it?
It was a very difficult time in Georgia, and it was very difficult to build a career there. My family decided to move for me to be able to continue persuading my dreams and have a career. Of course, it was difficult leaving my family and my best friends, but I was ready to face any challenges because I knew it was only for the best. After one competition, I was offered a contract with the Colorado ballet director (Martin Freedman) as a junior member, and of course, I accepted it. It was the best thing that could happen for a debuting ballerina or any dancer. It was the best way to gain experience and have the time on stage. I think starting this early was a wonderful thing because the careers of dancers are very short, so any time given on the stage is a gift.
You moved to Europe in 2007 and started dancing at the Het, becoming the prima ballerina three years later. It’s a brilliant career that demands complete dedication. How much do you have to deny yourself and how much excitement do you get in return in the world of ballet?
The Het Nationale became my home and I am so happy to have been able to find a place where it feels like that. This profession is very demanding, and that’s why it’s so beautiful. I would say it all starts at a very young age when you learn to make sacrifices. But now, I feel I am at the peak of my career, and that I am enjoying the fruits of my childhood sacrifices. The more work I have, the more I want. It’s like an addiction, dancing, traveling the world. Dancing on so many different stages is worth all difficulties and challenging times I had in my career. I had the opportunity to work with all the great choreographers, getting all the great roles.
Here’s a classic question: what was most exciting and what the future holds for you?
One of my most memorable periods is my recent debut in John Neumeier’s Lady of the Camelias. I was thrilled to work with him as he is such an inspiring figure and has so much to give, so much knowledge to share. He’s a true artist. I don’t like to talk about the future because it’s always very unpredictable, but there are lots of exciting things planned for the near future and I am looking forward to them.
How do you prepare for a role? Not just in a technical sense.
When I prepare for a role I try to study and understand the character and the personality of the person I am portraying. That means a lot of close observation in any possible way, reading a book that describes the personality, so you can start to relate to that person. It’s a really interesting process and I love being able to portray all those different characters; all the feelings and emotions they would go through. I try to feel what they would feel and relate that to my personal life experience and apply it to any role I prepare for.
How do you unite the modern and classical ballet? Where do you find yourself the most?
The Het Nationale is known for its wide range of works: modern, new classical, classical … We often have ballets like Balanchine and Forsythe at the same time, so we work on modern and classical very often. It’s not particularly easy, but I am used to it. I find that I can benefit from both classical and modern. I generally like storytelling ballets and it doesn’t matter whether they are classical or modern. But my roots are in the classical ballet, so it feels like home.
You also have experience with competitions. Are they still relevant to the evolution of a dancer?
To be honest, I didn’t take part in many competitions, but the ones I did were very helpful. You can see where you stand, you learn from other dancers, and expose yourself. It’s something amazing to see as a young talent. My focus wasn’t only on winning, but I wanted to show myself and test my abilities. In fact, I got my first contract with the Colorado Ballet after a competition. I think competitions are beneficial to young talents, as long as there is the right approach. The focus shouldn’t only be on doing the most pirouettes and showing the gymnastics. Ballet is a beautiful art form and it should remain that.
What’s the most important thing in the life of a dancer?
It’s hard to point out just one thing that matters. Dancer’s career is not an ordinary career; it’s a lifestyle, so everything matters, starting from simple self-care, lots of dedication and patience.
Not much has been written about your personal life. Would you share a couple of secrets?
Secrets aren’t for everyone to know – that’s why they are called secrets”.
What’s your favorite food, drink, and a chef?
My favorite food … I love nuts in general, and coffee is by far my favorite drink. Italian cuisine is one of my favorites, but I also love traditional Georgian food as it’s very tasty but pretty heavy, and I am not used to it anymore.
Which book is on your bedside table?
I wish I had more time to read, but I would like to re-read the Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov.
You also cooperate with the Gaynor Minden brand for ballet pointe shoes. Why are they so special, and why would you recommend them? How many shoes do you go through each year?
I have been using Gaynor Minden for over 10 years now and I love them. They give me the ability not to think about my shoes on stage, about destroying them during the show or having to change them in between the acts or even for the variation. They last longer than the normal shoes, and it’s a luxury for a dancing mom not to have to worry about preparing shoes every day. To be honest, I don’t know how many shoes I go through. It depends on the repertoire, the number of performances, and the kind of the stage. It varies, but less than any other, normal ballet pointe shoes.
Are you a person who plans, or do you just go with the flow?
I usually go with the flow with lots of things, but having a busy career and parenting requires planning. I already have performances planned until 2021 … Of course, the plans change and that’s fine, but I have to have an agenda and be organized to do my best.
You are also a wife and a mother. How do you balance motherhood and career?
By being organized and planning things. I am lucky to have my mother help me out a lot because I travel abroad and most of the time I don’t take Luka with me, unless it’s during the vacation period, and I’m away for a long period.
I can’t remember, so please refresh my memory: did you ever dance with your husband Artur Shesterikov? What was the ballet relationship like?
Yes, it’s true, we danced together a lot before we had Luka. Now, we sometimes dance together, but not often, as it’s easier when one of us can stay at home. Working in the studio can sometimes be challenging. I’m a perfectionist and it can be troublesome, but on the stage, everything is different; we can rely on each other and we know what to expect, so it’s easy and carefree.
Do you think your child will continue the ballet tradition and become a dancer?
This is a difficult question. We will let him choose his own profession and if he wants to become a dancer, we’ll support him. If it was my choice, I would not let him, because I know how hard it is, and how good you have to be. Time will tell.
I sincerely hope I’ll see you on stage in Ljubljana soon. Will this be your first appearance in Slovenia?
Yes, it will be my first time dancing in Slovenia, and I am looking forward to it.
It won’t be your first time collaborating with the choreographer Jose Martinez since you performed the Corsaire in Rome. What is it like to work with him and what are your expectations for Ljubljana?
Working with Jose has been amazing as he has so much to give, he is so positive, and makes the working process interesting, and most importantly, enjoyable and inspiring. I can’t wait to work with him again soon. I don’t have any expectations; I like to be surprised. I am sure everything will be wonderful.
The last question, a simple one. What does dance mean to you?
Dancing has become a big part of me, it identifies me. When I dance, I can forget everyday problems; it takes me to another world that allows me to express all my emotions through dance.