Russian prima ballerina Ekaterina Kondaurova is a force to be reckoned with. A critically-acclaimed, award-winning ballet dancer, she has stolen the heart of Russian ballet with her strong character and distinctive style. Born in Moscow and trained in St Petersburg, Ekaterina dances with the Mariinsky Ballet, where you’ll often catch her playing leading roles in world-famous productions. We sat down with Ekaterina, fresh off the stage of Swan Lake, to talk about her love of Russian ballet and her home, St Petersburg.
How did your passion for the beautiful art of ballet first come about?
I don’t remember the moment when I felt the passion. I remember that I had gone to study dance for my general development and I really liked it. The time came when I had to choose between piano and dance. I thought ballet was easier as you’re not just sitting in the same place. That’s how it developed and there was no stopping me.
Did you find growing up in Russia aided you as an aspiring dancer?
Yes, of course. For me, the Russian ballet school is at the very top. It suits my taste. And, of course, you take on board the things you are surrounded by, whatever environment you are brought up and educated in. I was raised on Russian ballet; I went to Russian theatre and saw what our performers do. That also proved to be an influence.
Were there any Russian ballerinas who inspired you as a child?
I have always been inspired by someone but there was no one ballerina that I wanted to be like. When I was young, Ekaterina Maximova seemed incredible to me in ballet films. In my childhood, when I lived in Moscow, I often went to the Stanislavsky Theatre to watch Svetlana Tsoi dance. Now, I am often inspired by unexpected people who perform their roles in such a way that I want to be like them.
You’ve been performing with the Mariinsky Ballet since 2001. Why is the company so important to you?
The fact that the company is special for me is beyond question. I was born in Moscow and for the first years I trained there, but ever since I moved to St Petersburg to study at the Vaganova Academy, there has been no other theatre for me than the Mariinsky. My entire life was built towards my dream of coming to this theatre. It is undoubtedly special, a home-from-home, and for me, the greatest theatre in the world.
You’ve just performed in Swan Lake – one of the most beautiful and well-known ballet productions in the world. What is it that makes this ballet so special?
Firstly, Tchaikovsky’s music makes it special. It is brilliantly laid out and forms a masterpiece together with the choreography. Secondly, it’s a ballet in which the ballerina can show different facets. The two acts are completely different and the heroines are like two sides of the same coin – good and evil, which exists in everyone. And how can you not like a story about love? There is a fairy-tale, there is a miracle, and it all draws you in.
Your work enables you to visit stunning places the world over, but St Petersburg is your home. What do you love most about the city?
I can’t say why I love this city. I just really, really love it. How did it so bewitch me? I don’t know, probably in every aspect. With its unusual stylishness, its beauty and, at the same time, its greyness. This balance creates magic. Often tourists come here just for the White Nights – a time when it is very hard not to fall in love with the city. But it’s also wonderful in every season – I love it even when it’s grey and gloomy.
What are the must-see attractions everyone should visit in St Petersburg?
There is a huge amount to see in St Petersburg. The State Hermitage Museum must be seen, and a week wouldn’t be enough to scrape the surface. Also, go to the royal palaces of Pavlovsk and Pushkin – they’re well worth the journey. For me, to understand the essence of the city and its spirit, you should spend a great deal of time walking. It doesn’t matter in what direction or where you are going, just walk along the streets, the canals and along the Fontanka Embankment – that’s when you discover the city for yourself.
Are there any secret spots that only locals know?
Along the paths and streets that are a little further from the main sights there’s often a secret place to discover, such as the Golitsyn Loft. It’s hard to find, there are no signs or a main entrance – you pass under an archway and inside you discover different cafes, little restaurants and Russian designers’ shops. I think visitors would find that interesting.
Where can visitors find the best restaurants or bars?
Many restaurants are opening here now, especially on Rubinstein Street. For me, my favourites are two gastro-pubs – Tar-tar and Duo. For friends who know anything about food, I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending them and I know visitors won’t be disappointed.
What would you recommend to those who wish to experience the real Russia?
You can really only do that with those involved in traditions and culture, meaning speaking to Russians to understand Russia. Reading about it and studying books won’t lead to a proper result or a real understanding. The more Russian friends and acquaintances you have the better you will understand Russia.