When international star Maria Kochetkova embarked on a freelance career three years ago, she never envisioned how a global pandemic would affect it. In 2018, the Russian-born ballerina left the security of San Francisco Ballet, a company she called home for more than a decade, for the globe-trotting life of a guest star. Before the pandemic, Kochetkova managed her own performing schedule and was busier than ever, enjoying artistic freedom and expanding her creative horizons. This all changed in March 2020, when she saw her booming career—and her jet-setting lifestyle—change almost overnight.
After months of uncertainty, Kochetkova landed at Finnish National Ballet, where she is a principal dancer for the 2020–21 season. Pointe spoke with her about her time during the quarantine and what helped her to get through it, her new life in Helsinki, and what keeps her busy and motivated these days.
What was it like when COVID-19 put an abrupt stop to your freelance career?
When the pandemic hit, all my scheduled performances were canceled: Every week I would get a new email with a cancellation. It was heartbreaking. I knew that there were certain risks of being a freelance artist and I was prepared for those risks, but I could not have imagined that something like this could happen in the world.
The hardest part was not knowing when I would be able to get back onstage and not having any income. I had never been in a situation like this before and I didn't know what to expect. I felt helpless. Had I known back in March that I would have the job with the Finnish National Ballet I think I would have been more relaxed.
Where did you stay during the quarantine and how did you spend your time?
I stayed in Copenhagen. Sebastien [Kloborg] and I changed our living room into a studio space and bought a special floor and a ballet barre. I am a very disciplined dancer and, as hard as it was, I just kept working. I took Zoom ballet classes taught by Natalia Ledovskaya, who was one of my teachers in Moscow. I kept in touch with my close friends, mentors and teachers. I knew that I was not the only one who was struggling.
You and Sebastian starred in a dance film, where you reimagined Closer, a duet choreographed by Benjamin Millepied in 2006. Tell us about this project.
When quarantine happened, I still wanted to work and be creative. Benjamin's Closer was the first piece that came to mind, because even before the pandemic we wanted to make a film out of it. The video was filmed by Tom McKenzie in April in a freezing Copenhagen. We planned which location to shoot to achieve the right lighting effect and followed all the pandemic regulations as set by the Danish government. This project brought into my life very talented and inspiring people outside of dance, from whom I learned a lot.
How did the offer to join Finnish National Ballet come about?
I realized that I cannot continue as a freelance artist any longer. So, when Madeleine Onne's offer came through a mutual contact, I gladly accepted it.
What does it feel to join a new company and be back in the studio?
I was very lucky to get a job during the pandemic and to have access to the theater and the ballet studio. Before that, I was really locked in the apartment for five months. It's so nice to have job security and to be able to interact with people and be part of a team. Everyone here has been so welcoming and friendly; I felt very excited to be able to dance again.
Kochetkova, Michal Krčmář and Alfio Drago in "Le Corsaire" at Finnish National Ballet
Roosa Oksaharju, Courtesy Finnish National Ballet
Your first performance with FNB was in September, in Le Corsaire. Was it hard to get back onstage after such a long hiatus?
I was grateful that it was a classical work which I danced many times before. I think the best way to get back in shape is to rehearse a classical ballet. During the quarantine I worked hard, doing challenging ballet classes, and managed to stay in good enough form.
The theater had limited occupancy because of the restrictions, but it didn't feel half empty. The audience was very appreciative, and it helped. It was very special to be onstage again after such a long break, but I also appreciated it in a new kind of way. I wasn't taking it for granted.
What are your favorite things to do in Helsinki? What do you like best about this city?
I love Helsinki. It's a fascinating and interesting city. It reminds me a little bit of Russia, a little bit of Germany, a little bit of Scandinavia—Helsinki has a fun mix of all these countries. The city has great food and a lot of interesting museums, exhibitions and architecture. The city is perfect for walking and I love to walk. And I really like the trams. We used to have them back in Moscow, and they really bring back my childhood memories. So far, it's been the longest winter I can remember, and I'm looking forward to a bit of sunshine.
Finnish National Ballet is preparing a new production of Swan Lake, by David McAllister, which has now been rescheduled for next season. Tell us about the rehearsals.
For me, the highlight is to be able to rehearse here with my coach Tatiana Rastorgueva, who used to dance with the Bolshoi Theatre. I have performed Swan Lake many times and in many different versions, working with Irina Kolpakova and Natalia Makarova, among others. With Tatiana, we are trying to find some new colors and new accents in the Odette/Odile role. In my previous performances, there was always something that I was not happy with. And now, for the first time in my life, I have the luxury of having enough time to prepare for the role. Even if it's a very familiar part for me, we need the time to be able to dig deep into it and to make changes. I enjoy the flavor of the Bolshoi coaching, since Tatiana is a former student of Marina Semyonova. It was the school where I was trained, and we speak the same language in terms of movement. I may not get to perform in this ballet because I will not be staying with the company next season. But the amount of knowledge and inspiration I get from my coach every day makes up for it.