This story originally appeared in the June/July 2015 issue of Pointe.
It may be a dancer's dream to hit the headlines, but Angelina Vorontsova would rather forget the moment she did. Soon after the acid attack on Bolshoi Ballet director Sergei Filin, in January 2013, the young dancer, then just 21, found herself caught up in the storm. As suspect Pavel Dmitrichenko's then girlfriend and a protégée of Nikolai Tsiskaridze, who claimed Filin faked his injuries, she was suddenly a person of interest, with some speculating Dmitrichenko had been angered by her lack of advancement.
“It was a huge tragedy," is all Vorontsova will say, wearily. The events overshadowed her promising career, but two years on, she is finally hitting her stride away from Moscow. A few months after the attack, she accepted an invitation to join St. Petersburg's Mikhailovsky Ballet as one of its youngest principals; she has since taken over the company's repertoire with a new sense of maturity.
Born in Voronezh, Russia, Vorontsova got her start in rhythmic gymnastics. Discouraged by the early retirement age of Russian Olympic gymnasts, she decided to try ballet instead. She caught up quickly and, at age 16, won a gold medal at the Arabesque Ballet Competition in Perm. Marina Leonova, dean of the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, heard about the dancer and suggested she finish her training with one year at BBA. Around the same time, Filin, then director of Moscow's Stanislavsky Ballet, started showing an interest.
Vorontsova in rehearsal with Zhanna Ayupova. Photo Courtesy Vorontosva.
After graduation, however, she chose the Bolshoi, a move that was said to be a factor in her lack of opportunities when Filin took over two years later. “It wasn't as serious of a decision as it was made out to be," Vorontsova says. A major draw was Ekaterina Maximova, who had offered to be her coach at the Bolshoi, though she died just before the dancer joined. “The repertoire was also much bigger, with more opportunities."
Vorontsova joined as a coryphée, and worked mostly on her own with her new coach, Tsiskaridze. She was soon given variations and her first leading roles, but struggled to find her place. “At school your teacher is like your brain," she says. “In the theater you're given back your brain and told to go and become an artist. It was difficult, because there are so many people at the Bolshoi."
Vorontsova in "The Sleeping Beauty." Photo by Nikolai Krusser, Courtesy Vorontsova.
In the aftermath of the acid attack, Vorontsova threw all her energies into dance. By the end of the season, however, she felt compelled to leave: Tsiskaridze had been let go, and her future at the Bolshoi seemed bleak. “A lot of dancers also had mixed emotions about my presence," she says.
A number of companies expressed interest, but the Mikhailovsky made her an offer she couldn't refuse: The month she joined, in July 2013, she danced two principal roles in director Mikhail Messerer's new Flames of Paris. When she burst on stage as revolutionary leader Jeanne, it was with a sense of vindication.
In the two seasons since, she has quietly made her debut in many leading roles, from Don Quixote to Swan Lake, and dipped successfully into the Mikhailovsky's Nacho Duato repertoire. Last fall, she was first cast in every ballet on the company's newest triple bill. Vorontsova has also found the coaching arrangements a good fit: Instead of having one coach for each soloist, teachers rehearse the roles they know best.
And the smaller Mikhailovsky may be just the right company to nurture her. With her feminine curves and smooth, creamy phrasing, Vorontsova doesn't fit the tall, thin ballerina mold currently favored in Russia. Onstage, however, she is an effervescent powerhouse with a sense of old-fashioned, innocent charm, and is growing in confidence with every role. “I'm very happy here," she says. “I'm focused on doing what I love, rehearsing and dancing. It's what I was longing for."