The Soul of a Star
Posted on November 15, 2011
by Elizabeth Kendall

This is the Kirov’s youngest ballerina, she of the phenomenal extensions that float up from ground to ear, of the showmanship that looks both bravura and smooth. At 26, Somova has danced all the major roles. She has beauty, stamina, elegant line. Yet reviewers still can’t decide if she’s a technical wonder with no soul, or a young artist with a soul that’s just not always visible onstage. “Dancer or circus pony?” went a 2009 headline in the London Telegraph. Writer Ismene Brown concluded she was both, but growing in the right direction.



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One would expect, given such controversy, somebody either defensive or remote. Somova is anything but. At her Pointe photo shoot, she sweetly puts on the suggested leotard, tights and chiffon skirt, then stands under lights on a white paper square, blond hair loose. The photographer instructs; the makeup guy darts in and out. She strikes a pose on pointe, then another and another. Each position gets a fresh smile for the click. In between she stands in that somehow endearing pointe-shoe-heels-on-floor stance—ready to hear what’s wanted next. There’s an unspoiled girl inside the goddess wrapping.


When she was small, Somova went to a regular St. Petersburg school, then a special math school at her mother’s insistence. Her mother wanted her to excel at sports too, especially her mother’s favorite, skiing. But skiing wasn’t easy in Russia in the 1990s, with the country in the midst of a political and economic transition. “So Mama took me, with baby sister in her arms—and I wasn’t much bigger—to the ‘dance krushok,’ ” a dance “circle” for children. The teachers recognized her physical gifts. When it came time to choose math or ballet, “there was no choice,” Somova says. The dance teachers insisted. She did a pre-curriculum year at St. Petersburg’s renowned Vaganova Academy, then the regular eight-year course. Those teachers pushed too. The last one, Ludmilla Safronova, cooked Somova food at home before dance exams—“meat, for strength,” Somova says. Makhar Vaziev, then Kirov Ballet head, all but promised her a place in the company if she worked on her feet.


Of course, the child had to love what she was doing—and Somova did. Even the drudgery of first-year pliés didn’t spoil her love of dancing. Nor did the grueling commute. The family lived far from the centrally located Vaganova school, on the Vyborg side of St. Petersburg. The little girl had to get up at 6 am for an hour tram ride (if she could catch it), or else a mix of subways and buses, then repeat it all in the other direction. “There were awful crowds—baboulichikis [grandmother types] who never gave you a place. I had to stand—with a backpack bigger than me!”


Somova also admits to a competitive streak. “I always wanted to be best,” she says almost happily. “I had to stand in the center. I liked corrections! If somebody was better, it was a tragedy for me. It was the Kirov or nothing.”

ソーモワはまた、競争心のことも打ち明ける。「私はいつでも一番でいたかった」と半ば嬉しそうに話す。「中央に立たなければなりませんでした。直されるのが好きでした! 誰かの方が上手だったら、私にとって悲劇でした。キーロフバレエ団にどうしても入りたかった」

2000 Vaganova 5th Year Class Jumps Alina Somova / 2000年5年生
Рената Халимова
Published on 31 May 2013

Once she was in, the red carpet was rolled out for the long limbs and proud bearing. She was cast as Odette/Odile in her first year. “It was crazy for a girl new to the theater to get Swan Lake, when so many wait for it for years,” she says a little ruefully. The next year, 2004, she became a soloist. She was helped by a caring coach, ex-ballerina Olga Chenchikova, who ran a mini-academy for her young charges, giving them floor barres and extra conditioning. “Chenchikova turned an ugly duckling into a ballerina,” Somova says. When Chenchikova left the Kirov with her husband, Vaziev (he took the dance post at La Scala), Somova got another top-notch coach, ex-ballerina powerhouse Tatiana Terekhova. They chose each other, in fact, after working together in rehearsals of Balanchine’s Symphony in C (Terekhova was in charge). “She has the pure Leningrad style, the style of Kolpakova,” says Somova of Terekhova, comparing her to Irina Kolpakova, now a ballet master with American Ballet Theatre. “And she doesn’t try to break me, like some other coaches try to do; she doesn’t want to see a copy of herself. She leaves me my ‘I.’”




Alina Somova
The Russian ballerina takes on Manhattan.
By Gia Kourlas Thu Jun 30 2011

What is your relationship with Maya Plisetskaya? How did you meet?

I first met Maya Plisetskaya in Spain where there was a gala in her honor with dancers from all over the world, and I was there too. I went to her dressing room before the performance with the book I, Maya Plisetskaya. My mum gave it to me for my 14th birthday. I loved that book and read it many, many times; I took it to Maya Mikhailovna to get her to autograph it. I told her how much I admired her, that it was always lying on my desk when I was studying, and that I could never have dreamed of actually meeting her and talking with her. Maya Mikhailovna signed it for me. And what surprised me more than anything was that I had never imagined she would know who I was—I was just another dancer. But Maya Mikhailovna wrote, “To Alinochka with my admiration.” It both touched and amazed me that she knew my name. That meeting took place two years before the premiere of The Little Humpbacked Horse.




The next time was at the Mariinsky Theatre after the orchestral rehearsal of The Little Humpbacked Horse, which was attended by Maya Mikhailovna and [her husband,] Rodion Konstantinovich Shchedrin. My partner, Leonid Sarafanov, and I approached them to convey our thanks and gratitude. Maya Mikhailovna encouraged us, wished us success and said that we were wonderful, that she liked the production and that the audience would too. And after the premiere she came backstage. I don’t remember anything of what was said; after the premiere I was so full of emotions, I was on cloud nine, in a state of euphoria, and my head was buzzing. Maya Mikhailovna kissed me, hugged me, and I saw her taking off her earrings and giving them to me. And no words were needed.


Спасибо, Майя Михайловна!

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You performed Swan Lake at the very beginning of your career. What was the preparation process like? Also, how has your Odette-Odile developed over time?

I well remember that my premiere in Swan Lake took place on May 13 during my first year at the theater. That was eight years ago. Gradually I became familiar with the role, and I started to learn the variations with my teacher at the time, Olga Ivanovna Chenchikova, immediately after joining the Mariinsky Ballet in the summer. In class, we studied the text of the role, and then I asked to rehearse with different partners and try things out; sometimes we were even rehearsing Swan Lake on trains. Probably the work took over six months. For me, Swan Lake was and still is the highest achievement any ballerina can attain. It is the quintessence of the beauty of classical ballet. Both psychologically and physically, it was a tremendous strain as it was my first role in a ballet with several acts. And, of course, some things have changed since then. Today, I can say that the greatest difficulty for me lies in the “white” part of the ballet. But back then I think that I found it very hard to dance as Odile, as the “black” act is much more technically demanding.



How do you deal with jealousy or competitiveness?

I really try not to react to such things. For me, the important thing is not to get emotionally involved in rivalry or competitiveness. That kind of emotion absorbs a lot of energy and strength. And often people or situations can make you flare up emotionally. I always try never to react, not to get involved, not to be jealous and to keep a distance.


How was it that you were promoted to the rank of principal dancer?

I don’t know; everything was decided without me and I learned about it on the Internet.


Seriously? In a newspaper article? How did that make you feel?

That story is absolutely true. I found out that I had been made a prima ballerina on the Mariinsky Theatre website. Or rather my sister found out. She was looking at the theater’s website to see the repertoire and she clicked on the page of the ballet company and saw that I was listed as a prima ballerina. She told me. Honestly, I didn’t actually believe it, I thought it must be a mistake or misprint. And then, a little while later, it was confirmed by the director of the ballet company that I had been made a prima ballerina.