On the Mariinsky Ballet's tour to the U.S. last fall, audiences clamored to see long established stars like Ekaterina Kondaurova, Kimin Kim, Viktoria Tereshkina and Vladimir Shklyarov. But it was also an opportunity to catch an exciting group of young protégés being nurtured by acting director Yuri Fateev. Just a few years out of school, they are a tight-knit and social-media-savvy group oozing with potential. In between performances at the Kennedy Center, Pointe sat down with four of them—first soloist Maria Khoreva, second soloists May Nagahisa and Victor Caixeta, and corps de ballet member Daria Ionova—to talk about what it's been like to be thrust into the Mariinsky spotlight so soon.
Maria Khoreva, First Soloist
Joined Mariinsky: 2018
Utterly self-possessed onstage and intensely focused offstage, Maria Khoreva has been on the fast-track from the moment she joined the Mariinsky. She had already gained the world's attention on social media as a promising Vaganova Ballet Academy student, and within her first few months in the company she had starred in her first full-length (Paquita) and been promoted to first soloist. Yet she still feels awestruck dancing among the Mariinsky's principals and soloists. "It's like living your everyday life with the ballet gods," she says. "It's insane! I cherish their advice."
Khoreva trained at the Vaganova Academy for eight years, but as graduation approached, she admits she wasn't sure where she wanted to dance. That's when Fateev cast her as Terpsichore in Balanchine's Apollo alongside principal Xander Parish. (He tapped classmates Daria Ionova and Anastasia Nuikina, now a second soloist, to dance the two other muses.) "He said, 'You can see how the theater works and how we rehearse, I can see what you're capable of, and then you can decide,' " says Khoreva. "After one or two rehearsals I knew I wanted to be here—I loved the atmosphere, and I loved rehearsing with Yuri."
Khoreva has danced only principal and soloist roles since then; this season she adds Aurora and Raymonda to her repertoire. And while her dream roles include Odette/Odile, she is willing to be patient. "There's a special time for everything. I'm just looking forward to learning something new and telling new stories."
May Nagahisa, Second Soloist
Joined Mariinsky: 2017
May Nagahisa danced her first featured solo at the Mariinsky as a 15-year-old student. Initially trained in her native Japan, Nagahisa left for Monaco's Princess Grace Academy at age 12 after winning a scholarship at Youth America Grand Prix. Two years later, Fateev spotted her at a YAGP summer intensive in Los Angeles and offered to give her a private rehearsal. Soon afterwards, he invited Nagahisa to perform as a guest in the company's production of La Bayadère. "I danced the Manu variation with two small girls from the Vaganova Academy," says Nagahisa. "I cried afterwards because I was so excited to be on the Mariinsky stage."
She visited Russia three more times before officially joining the company as a trainee, and jumped straight to second soloist one year later. Nagahisa has since danced major principal roles, including Giselle, the Sylph and Princess Florine. "I'm happy to just be here, and then to dance lead roles on top of that? I have no words."
Victor Caixeta, Second Soloist
Joined Mariinsky: 2017
"I never imagined I would dance in Russia," says Victor Caixeta. Born in Brazil, he started ballet at age 12, training privately with Brazilian and Russian teachers. Naturally charismatic onstage, he won a scholarship at Youth America Grand Prix to attend the State Ballet School of Berlin. Dancing at the Mariinsky wasn't even on Caixeta's radar when he went to the Moscow International Ballet Competition at age 17. But after Caixeta's first solo, Fateev approached him backstage and offered him a trainee contract on the spot. "I couldn't believe it," says Caixeta. "I didn't know internationals could even dance here. From Moscow I went back to Berlin, got my luggage and moved to Russia."
By 18 he was making his first major debut as the Nutcracker Prince (May Nagahisa, then 17, was his Masha). Since then he's added Don Quixote's Basilio, La Sylphide's James and the lead in Balanchine's "Rubies" to his repertoire, and he was promoted to second soloist in September. "Even if I'd gone to another company in Europe, I would never have the opportunities I've had here."
Daria Ionova, Corps de Ballet
Joined Mariinsky: 2018
"I always wanted to dance with the Mariinsky, but for a long time I didn't believe I would get in," says Daria Ionova. Originally from Kaliningrad, she was twice rejected by the Vaganova Ballet Academy when she auditioned at ages 13 and 15. She thought about quitting. "But something told me to audition again, at 19," says Ionova. The school took her for its three-year graduate program on a probationary basis. But as her graduation approached, it was clear Fateev had plans for her. He cast her as Calliope in Apollo along with Khoreva, and a few months later showed off his "baby ballerina" cast at performances at New York City Center.
Though still a corps member, Ionova has already danced the lead pas de deux in "Emeralds," ("I love Balanchine," she gushes), as well as roles like Princess Florine, the Maiden in Le Spectre de la rose and one of Le Corsaire's three Odalisques. Balancing corps, soloist and principal roles means long hours. After class, she spends the first half of her day in corps rehearsals, with coaching sessions for any approaching soloist roles afterwards. "And then I perform, sometimes every night of the week. I get tired, but I just tell myself to stay strong."