Maria Kochetkova's first season as a freelancer has been a whirlwind! A year after leaving San Francisco Ballet, she's already guested in Oslo, Berlin and London. Now, she's got something exciting in the works: From July 16-20, New York City's Joyce Theater will present her first solo program, Maria Kochetkova: Catch Her If You Can. Mounting such a production took a lot of time, self-development and courage, she says—but she's up for the challenge. Between rehearsals in Berlin, Kochetkova talked to Pointe about her favorite moments from the past year, her plans for the Joyce performances, and the ups and downs of life as a rogue ballerina.
Why did you decide to leave San Francisco Ballet?
I had a great career at SFB, but it was time for a change. I'd done most of SFB's repertoire, and I wanted to be closer to my family in Moscow. I also wanted to have more freedom, and new chances. I think change is important, but it's such a big risk, and such an important decision. Who wants to leave a perfect place for the unknown when you're loved and get to dance everything? It takes a certain courage, and it's good to take that plunge. At the end of the day, you want to learn and discover new things.
Your first season as a freelancer has been packed! Can you describe some highlights?
I didn't have anything planned when I first left SFB, but many interesting things came my way. It's been busy, but I've tried to take one thing at a time and trust my experience. I got to perform many of my dream roles this season! I always wanted to do Manon, and I got to do that in Oslo with the Norwegian National Ballet. I've dreamed of doing La Sylphide for years, and I finally danced the Sylph with Staatsballett Berlin. I also got to perform Christopher Wheeldon's Cinderella with English National Ballet, a role he created for me in San Francisco. And I did the Kingdom of the Shades scene from Natalia Makarova's La Bayadère in Oslo.
How did the idea to do a solo production at the Joyce arise?
I'd been thinking about putting together my own show for a really long time. The pivotal point was three or four years ago, when I told William Forsythe the idea while we were at the airport together. He said I should go for it. I think that his trust in me gave me the confidence to try. A project like this takes time. I started by approaching a bunch of theaters, and the Joyce jumped at the idea.
Can you describe the program and who the other performers will be?
I think the program reflects my personality really well. I'll dance pas de deux with Sebastian Kloborg by David Dawson and William Forsythe, a solo choreographed by Marcos Morau, a duet with Royal Ballet of Flanders principal Drew Jacoby that she choreographed, and a new work by Jérôme Bel. Drew will dance a solo by Marco Goecke, and my former SFB colleagues Sofiane Sylve and Carlo Di Lanno will perform the White Swan pas de deux from David Dawson's Swan Lake. Sofiane and Drew are two dancers that I think the New York audience misses, so I'm really looking forward to sharing the stage with them. Finally, Carlo will dance a solo by Myles Thatcher.
What do you think draws you to collaborate with certain choreographers?
I like people who push me, and who think that I can do better. A lot of times, teachers are satisfied. There are little things here and there, but that's it. And then there are people who push you to a new level, who really believe in you. It's really rewarding, because you end up doing things you wouldn't normally expect.
Annabel Mehran, Courtesy the Joyce Theater.
How did you get to know David Dawson?
I've known him since I was in the corps at ENB in my early 20s. He picked me for two principal parts when I hadn't had much experience with that sort of contemporary movement yet. I felt so free and liberated. I'd heard stories about him being demanding and hard to work with, but he's helped me so much over the years. He made At the End of the Day for me when I received a Benois de la Danse award in 2018. I can't wait to perform it again in New York.
What about working with Forsythe?
I met Bill later, after I'd already performed a lot of his work. When he re-choreographed Pas/Parts in San Francisco, I got to work with him first-hand. It's always different to dance a choreographer's existing work than to create something new—and with someone who's such a genius. He's taught me so much, not just as a dancer but as a human. He always treats people with respect. And the precision of his musicality is amazing—he makes you hear differently than you did before.
Originally, we'd talked about doing something new, but there was no time. New Suite was first created for dancers in Dresden, but it's been changed so much that it's wound up being practically a new work anyway.
The Joyce performances will feature your first collaboration with Jérôme Bel. What has that been like?
His work blew my mind when I saw Véronique Doisneau for the Paris Opéra Ballet in 2013. His work is hard to explain. It's honest, simple, touching, and really beautiful. It's not really about the dancing, and this won't be a dancing piece. I'll be alone onstage, and there's a lot of myself in it. I don't want to give it away…
Can you talk about working with your frequent dance partner, former Royal Danish Ballet soloist Sebastian Kloborg?
We started with Benjamin Millepied's Closer in 2016 for a gala in Belgium the following March. In the two years since, we've commissioned some work and performed a lot together. We know each other so well, and even though we're very different, the partnership works. It's hard to find a partner that you feel really good with, where you don't need so many words. I'm lucky that we can collaborate.
What are your plans after the Joyce?
I'll take a few days off to rest, and later this summer I'll be performing at the Vail Dance Festival. Companies start back in August, so there won't be much chance for a vacation.
Will you continue to guest next season?
I'll continue to guest, but hopefully not to such an extreme. This fall, I'll perform Natalia Makarova's La Bayadère in Oslo in September, and I'll appear with Dresden Semperoper Ballett for the first time in David Dawson's Giselle in October. It's nice to have the freedom to tick the boxes of your dreams, but it would also be nice to have a home.