Friday, 27 February 2015

Zenaida Yanowsky in Conversation

Zenaida Yanowsky in Conversation, Clore Studio @ ROH - 23rd February

Zenaida Yanowsky in
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Photo: Johan Persson / ROH
Born in Lyon and brought up in Spain, Zenaida Yanowsky was spotted at the Varna International Ballet Competition at the age of 16, after which she successfully auditioned for the Paris Opera Ballet. She joined the Royal Ballet as first artist 18 months later, and was promoted to principal in 2001. 

In an illustrious career with the company spanning more than 20 years, Yanowsky has created roles in ballets including The Seven Deadly Sins, Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland and The Winter’s Tale. She shared her thoughts on singing, tutus and bakeries at the recent In Conversation with Zenaida Yanowsky evening.

On childhood: “My parents were both classically-trained dancers. I grew up in the theatre. We [Yanowsky and her brother, who is also a dancer] would watch rehearsals and sit in the dressing room, copying mum and putting make-up on. Then we would watch the show from the company box. My parents were so in love with what they did – it was contagious.”

On dancing as a child: “My brother would choreograph on me when I was very young. I could never remember what I was doing. My parents told me later that when they watched me dance, they though ‘she’ll never make it’! I started training properly when my mum set up a school in the Canaries. I also painted and did singing lessons. I wanted to be a singer but shyness took over when I had to perform. I was never too shy to dance, so I decided that dancing would be the career for me.”

On dancing with the Paris Opera Ballet: “The company suited my physique [tall and long-limbed] and there were amazing ballerinas like Sylvie Guillem. But I didn’t really fit in or see a future. The dancers are very serious – you never know what they think or if they like you.”

On joining the Royal Ballet: “I thought I was too tall to join the Royal Ballet, but I came to do class on my way to visit companies in Amsterdam. Anthony Dowell asked me to stay and watch rehearsals of Ashton’s La Valse. It was so exhilarating. There were brilliant ballerinas in the company like Darcey Bussell, Viviana Durante and Leanne Benjamin. The Royal Ballet is a great fit for me. I can be true to myself and my art here.”

On classical ballet and contemporary dance: “As a teenager I hated classical dance. Sleeping Beauty and Giselle seemed so two dimensional and boring beyond belief. Classical ballet is always a battle for me. Contemporary is like having a cup of tea on my sofa.”

On performing onstage: “It’s like being a magician, directing the audience in where to look. I’m an illusionist.”

On Frederick Ashton: “His work is like a diamond. I like trying to work out mathematically what makes it so beautiful. Sylvia is so hard stamina-wise – it’s like a triathlon.”

On Kenneth MacMillan: “He gives you the space to be creative within the confines of the choreography. Manon is a role that makes me go ‘wow’. I imaging it’s like an actor doing Hamlet. It was my dream role.”

Zenaida Yanowsky and Nehemiah Kish in Swan Lake
Photo: Bill Cooper / ROH
On Swan Lake: “It’s the most challenging ballet for me. Swan Lake is so pure and classical, and it’s very technically difficult. I want the audience to see a bird swimming on a lake and not just steps. I feel so exposed in a tutu where everyone sees the minimum fidget of my leg. I want to do it justice, but it’s hard to be perfect for three hours. Other ballets are more forgiving if you go slightly wrong.”

On life after dance: “I’d like to give back to the dance world. There is so much ‘shopping in my trolley’! But another side of me would like to try something new. For such a long time, I have only lived for dancing. I’d like to know what it feels like to risk myself offstage. We’re wonderfully protected here with shoes, Pilates, what to wear… I might just open up a bakery – you never know!”

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