Famous dancers share their secrets of success, reveal the difficulties of the profession and the details of self-improvementin the “Rules of Dancing” column. Moreover, they give valuable advice to future generations of ballet dancers. The first heroine of the issue is Iana Salenko, the principal dancer at the Berlin State Ballet and the guest prima ballerina of the Royal Ballet, the laureate of prestigious international contests, who amazes with her precise technique. Prior to her concert in Kyiv, Iana told Balletristic about the way she manages to find inspiration in usual parts, always be in great shape and constantly advance.
Every day in the dance class is a new day. Every morning I set a new challenge and strive to overcome it. Ballet is an unachievable goal. There is no limit to mastery, and this inspires me. Balance, turnout, arms: I do some things better, I do other things worse, and you always strive to make those worse things better.
I am my own teacher and artist. Every day I see myself in the mirror, note the flaws and understand what should be work on more.
Music means a lot to me. I try to feel like music instead of simply keeping up with it. The rhythm used to be important to me, but recently, about 3 years ago, I began to perceive other subtleties. They define the nature of the movements, images. It came with experience: when you dance the same repertoire, you start to work like a machine. It bores you, and you are looking for a new inspiration in usual things.
Aspiring dancers should have an iron discipline and strong base. You shouldn’t try to throw your leg as high as possible at once: it’s better to work the way your body is arrangedand pay attention to the body positioning — so that the shoulders are always above the hips and made a rectangle. When you have a basis like this, you can begin to study modern dance, in order to add more movement and colors to the dance.
Nowadays the ballet is moving towards gymnastics. My teacher, for example, has always been against high legs. But the drawback of the old school approach is that the movements seem to be shorter this way. I am constantly stretching, trying to lift my leg higher, as it addsdelicacy and lightness to the dance. When the movement is not restrained, you feel and look more relaxed.
Many people believe that I have a natural delicacy and lightness. But it seems to me that this comes with experience. When I was a child, my teacher told me –it will be easier after 10 years of classes. And now I’ve already been dancing for 20 years, but it isn’t getting easier. I keep working and wanting more constantly.
Before the class, I always take a 30-minute exercise on the floor according to Boris Knyazev’s system. It helps muscles get ready for work, improves turnout, softness of feet. Sometimes I go jogging, and my husband, for example, enjoys swimming (Iana’s husband is the principal dancer at the Berlin State Ballet, Marian Walter – editor’s note).
The main thing is to practise for 2 hours every day. I practise even on vacation, getting rusty is a nightmare for me. For example, I was very dissatisfied with myself after pregnancy, I even cried. But then I got a grip, and gradually things began to get better and better, the hope emerged again.
When I was 14, I had a back injury — a hernia, which still takes its toll. At that time, doctors forbade me to dance, but I was rehabilitated in 6 months. And it all happened just because I didn’t have a proper warm-up before stretching.
You should take care of your body, give it an opportunity to rest and treat it as soon as start to feel any pain. A callus occurred on my toe 3 years ago, I didn’t pay attention to it, I had no time to treat it. It was the reason I began to perform the movements improperly and, as a result, my Achilles started hurting. The pain in my Achilles tendon caused pain in the calf muscle. Eventually, when I jumped on the stage, my gastrocnemius muscle was torn. And it’s all because of the callus! So, you shouldn’t neglect anything. You should always warm up, this is the most important thing.
It’s very difficult to dance, if you do not feel the center in the body. But it’s rather easy to develop coordination and balance, in my opinion. The main thing is to make your brain work as a computer: all movements begin there at first. You need to concentrate and before you start moving, imagine the way you finish it. For example, I always know how to land and descendin a beautiful way before I jump. Coordination of the body can be controlled even in the air. But, of course, one must be in great shape to do this.
They say that the choreography by Nacho Duato (the artistic director at the Berlin State Ballet, working in neoclassic and modern genres) seems to be very complicated, on the verge of the impossible. And dancing is a great pleasure. It is very musical. In addition, this is a new challenge — to master the combination of modern and classics, to move on the pointes and give the amplitude to the whole body at the same time. There is always the risk of falling, and you are looking for ways to avoid it.
Modern dancereally helps the dancer open up. In the classics, movements and stances form a conditional square, but in this case everything must be elongated, you are moving from one angle to another. Modern dance develops individuality, plasticity and, as a result, it makesthe classical performance look more modern.
When I moved to Berlin, they did not try to retrain me at the theater. They just give a lot of information, and if you don’t get it – it’s your problem. But I really like learning new styles, ballets. Although there are dancers of the Russian school that resist: “I wasn’t taught this way, I won’t be retrained.” And I, on the contrary, want as much new information as possible, I want to excel.
In London (Iana is the guest prima ballerina in the Royal Ballet company – editor’s note), for example, everything is different, including: style, musicality, approach to work. I try to take the best and create my own individuality.
I really enjoy touring, it’s my life. I can dance every day in another part of the world, and it turns me on. I make the impossible possible. I rest on the plane, sometimes I make up in the car — and then I go right to the stage. It happens that sometimes I have only 5 minutes to concentrate and warm up before the performance. If the brain is properly tuned, the body can do anything and very quickly. It’s unique! I like working in extreme conditions, it’s even more interesting!
A warm bath helps to relax after work. If I’m so tired that I can’t walk, I alternate between very hot and very cold water. At weekends, I can go to the sauna or spa. But I hardly enjoy massages — I can’t put the body together after them. I’d better warm up properly before starting to work, it relieves muscle pain. However, some dancers go to massages almost every day.
If a young artist is offered to go to work abroad — why not trying? You can always come back, in any case. But you’ll have to fight. In Ukraine, much is given, if you are just a “good person”, and you are nobody in another country, and you need to gain respect. The requirements to professionals are completely different there. In Berlin, for example, 500 people are auditioned for 2 vacancies at the theater. The competition is huge, there are a lot of talented people and everyone wants to work. But they take only exclusive ones.
It was hard for me to come to terms with the move, I had no one in Berlin, except for my husband. I wanted to go back all the time. But then I began to persuade myself that I had to finish what had been begun. I began to communicate more, learn the language and gradually got used.
I would advise,even successful artists, to participate in competitions. This is an opportunity to show yourself from another side and present yourself to the directors of other companies. If they like you, then you can be invited to participate in performances, gala concerts. These contacts and friendship remain for life.
Competitions develop the dancer as a brand, and they chasten you as well. You think that you have already achieved everything, but in the conditions of competition you understand that you haven’t, in fact. Nowadays, there are a lot of talented artists, and if you want to stand out among them, you need to find your own unique sides and highlight them. I consider lightness and coordination to be my peculiar features. Besides, I’m very kind and attentive to my stage partners, I always try to help them. They don’t just lift me up and spin, it’s always teamwork.
We don’t dance that oftenwith my husband, and this is for the better. Thus, we don’t get bored with each other. Still, there must always be a feeling between the partners on the stage.
I like dramatic partsvery much–the ones in “Swan Lake”, “Giselle”, “Onegin”. Nevertheless, it is very difficult to act in ballet, everything is based on gestures, facial expressions. I watch a lot of performances of other artists on Youtube and note the way they convey feelings. Of course, I listen to the teacher, the choreographer. This process of studying is eternal.
I’m a big fan of Sylvie Guillem, I admire her technique and artistry. She is my role model and she is the one who inspired me to start a career. I was even lucky to meet her once. She is a very specific person: introverted, she lets almost no one get close to her. But I was with my son, and she began to play with him. I was astonished: “She’s talking to me! She’s playing with my child!” She stroked him, and I was like: “She touched him! I will not bathe him!” Meeting Sylvie Guillem was my dream! We haven’t metsince then, although sometimes she likes my posts on Facebook. And I’m so pleased!
I believe that it is important for dancers to develop their social media because the media doesn’t really cover ballet. And it’s a shamethat no one knows truly great artists. But they know some schoolgirl who can do 10 pirouettes, and she has a million subscribers. And Vladimir Malakhov, for example, has none.
Photo: Tasya Kudryk