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"I Don't Regret Anything": An Exclusive Interview with Iconic Ballerina Svetlana Zakharova

Svetlana Zakharova in Swan Lake. Photo by Damir Yusupov, Courtesy Bolshoi Theatre.

If you know ballet, you know the name Svetlana Zakharova. She's ballet royalty. Zakharova's incredible natural facility, paired with her technical precision and emotive finesse, have stunned audiences for more than two decades. She's danced with many of the world's most prestigious ballet companies, including the Mariinsky and the Bolshoi, where she's currently a principal.

We interviewed the iconic ballerina to find out who's influenced her dancing—and what advice she'd give her teenage self.

You're known as being one of the best technical dancers of a generation. How do you balance your technicality with your artistry?

During the performance everything has to be controlled technique and emotions, so I work endlessly on technique and artistry during my rehearsals. I'm trying to get my technique to a level so that it won't be an obstacle for me during the performance, and then I can direct my focus on the artistry. I want the technique to come automatically, so that I can be in full character during a performance.


You frequently perform on-camera for the Ballet in Cinema program. How do your dancing and acting change when you're trying to reach audiences in movie theaters as well as the live audience?

Ballet is not a film, so when there's a live broadcast I feel unusual emotions. On the one hand, I understand that it should just be a regular performance and I should dance it the way I have before. On the other hand, I become aware of the fact that at any moment, the camera could be doing either a close-up on my face or a wide shot. It's a strange feeling that I don't have control over. That's why each broadcast is a huge challenge and a true trial. But I won't lie: It's also a great feeling to receive so many letters from excited people who were watching me dance in cinemas all over the world, feeling as though they were sitting right there in the audience at Bolshoi Theatre.

What's been your favorite role to dance on camera? Why?

The part of Marguerite Gautier in The Lady of the Camellias. This production was staged for a smaller space, and sometimes the audience in the Bolshoi auditorium is not able to see all the emotions that I express during my performance, because of the distance between the audience and the stage. Thanks to the camera, it is possible for the audience to truly see my emotions.

Photo by Damir Yusupov, courtesy Bolshoi Theatre

Who's had the biggest effect on you as a dancer?

My professors and a number of great ballerinas. I watched them and I learned.

What advice would you give to your teenage self?

To pay more attention.

Would you do anything in your career differently?

No. I don't regret anything. All that has happened in my life was beneficial to me. I wouldn't change a thing in my creative career.


Watch Svetlana Zakharova at a theater near you during the 2018-2019 Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Series by Fathom Events, which begins June 10th.

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Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB

Your teacher at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Marcia Dale Weary, recently passed away. What impact did she have on you?

I feel deeply indebted to her. She shaped my life's course, and I know that were it not for her, I would not be living out my dream today. She led by example through her remarkable commitment to her work, as well as her genuine kindness and generosity.

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It was an exposure to different schools of thought. We were mostly in the full-lengths, and watching run-throughs of Sleeping Beauty and Don Quixote was revolutionary for me. But I was young and far away from home. That transition was hard. My body started changing. It wanted to be fleshy. Biology is cruel in that way. I desperately wanted to fit in, but it wasn't meant to be.

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