Earthly charm of Alexandra Chizhik
[b]Dreams will soon come true for Alexandra Chizhik — a young soloist with the National Academic Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theatre of Belarus, as the laureate of an international competition will dance the part of Odette-Odile in ‘Swan Lake’: in Gomel and in tour across Germany[/b]Sasha has long dreamed of the role, as have all ballerinas, although, on entering the ballet college in Minsk, she thought little about beautiful tutus, feathers and pointes. Unlike other girls, she was not in awe of the appearance of prima ballerinas; rather, she simply wanted to dance. Even in her first audition for the school, her talents were praised. This elegant girl from Mozyr showed flexibility in her spine, moved with fluidity, jumped strongly and displayed every other natural disposition required.
Sasha has long dreamed of the role, as have all ballerinas, although, on entering the ballet college in Minsk, she thought little about beautiful tutus, feathers and pointes. Unlike other girls, she was not in awe of the appearance of prima ballerinas; rather, she simply wanted to dance. Even in her first audition for the school, her talents were praised. This elegant girl from Mozyr showed flexibility in her spine, moved with fluidity, jumped strongly and displayed every other natural disposition required.
During the second round, physicians confirmed her good health. In the musical and dancing round, experts checked her hearing and co-ordination of movement, becoming convinced of her suitability. Sasha recalls taking offence at a well-known actor not allowing her to perform in the third round, dancing Arlekino to Alla Pugacheva’s song. Probably, like other members of the committee, he saw at once that Sasha Chizhik was good.
Her natural spirituality and internal passion, born from true desire, played their role and Sasha was soon enrolled. Each morning, for nine years, she had regular lessons, dancing after lunch. One year after joining the National Academic Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theatre, she was given the part of Zarema in ‘The Fountain of Bakhchisaray’.
I’ve seen Sasha in several performances, being particularly entranced by her Jadwiga, at the new national ballet. She is one of a kind, although many beautiful and talented ballerinas are worthy of admiration. When Sasha dances, we feel her sensual yet ephemeral presence to be strongly connected with her soul. She dances as if her soul is guiding her body, an integral part of her flesh. As she soars, we can almost picture it within her. It’s hard to say which dominates: her soul or her body. The beauty of her dancing is obvious, compelling us to watch her every move. Her individuality as Queen Yadwiga is passionately ‘Earth-bound’, showing her love for Jogaila. In ‘Scheherazade’, she dances her part as Shakhriar’s wife Zobeida also with great passion; her character is bored and takes a fancy to a golden slave.
Outside of the theatre, Sasha walks with such elegance that her ballet background is undeniable. Here, the budding star tells us, with an open heart, of her motivations, dreams
Alexander Vertinsky’s song I Am a Small Ballerina tells a simple tale of the heroine feeling like a tired toy. What life do you live after the curtain falls and the ovation ends, the lights being turned off? How does it feel after opening night, and later, when the applause dies away and your bouquets of flowers have faded?
Actually, I don’t know this song but it’s not how I feel. I’m always filled with emotions after opening night and may fear that my performance could have been better. I think about what people may say and, of course, I sometimes feel physically tired on taking off my pointes and costume. Then, I sit back and somebody takes down my hair. They may chat and congratulate me but my thoughts are still on stage. It was like this recently, after the opening night of ‘Scheherazade’. I felt very nervous since only People’s Artistes and famous dancers have played Zobeida previously. I’m making my debut, and lack great experience. I couldn’t sleep after the opening night — but that’s usual for me. I tend to spend hours analysing every small detail of my performance: whether I feel that I’ve danced well or otherwise. The next day, my teachers gave me their opinions, mentioning those places where I could improve, so that I could take them into account
for the next time.
Do you see Zobeida as a bored favourite of the shah, tired of the monotony of her life? What motivations do you bring to the role?
Zobeida loves herself, while her love for her husband revolves around gifts and jewellery. Naturally, she seeks new impressions and, probably, is bored. She begins to lust after the golden slave, waiting until her husband is away to make her rendezvous. I’ve tried to show her passion for the golden slave.
I think you’ve been successful, especially in your portrayal of the scene where Zobeida kills herself with a sword.
That recollection makes me laugh, as I was supposed to use a dagger. In a moment of confusion, I snatched a sword from the belt of Shakhriar, who stood nearby. Those backstage were nearly rolling in the aisle!
What inspired your passionate portrayal of Polish princess Jadwiga, who becomes wife to Jogaila in Vytautas?
Certainly, love. My dancing shows her love for Jogaila. She is very young but this doesn’t prevent her from being a clever queen. She was born in a palace, where she was trained to be a princess. Of course, the royal court is a place of intrigue and surprises. Jadwiga is passionately in love with Jogaila, and, like every woman in love, desires love and attention from her chosen one. Jadwiga, like Jogaila, is tired of all the intrigue surrounding the crown, so encourages her husband to transfer the kingdom to Vytautas.
What role is next for you?
I’m rehearsing for our ‘Swan Lake’ premiere, playing Odette-Odile, as well as for ‘The Nutcracker’, playing Masha. We’ll be performing in Gomel and then in Germany.
What’s your dream role?
I’ll probably write memoirs about it. I often dream of dancing: new roles and old. Such dreams are bright, colourful and memorable.
Do you ever feel that you want to dance without a reason, improvising in the open air or at home?
Yes. I like ballroom dancing and would love to try but lack the time. When I do have a moment, I make up my own movements, especially if I hear Latin-American music — like the Rumba. I have a feeling for those rhythms.
Would you like to dance Carmen?
Oh, yes. I also covet Kitri in ‘Don Quixote’. When I was in college, I danced this part. Of course, Odette in ‘Swan Lake’ is my most cherished dream. I hope that, after our tour, I’ll dance it in Minsk. I’d like to dance leading parts in other performances: Phyrgia in ‘Spartacus’, Aurora in ‘Sleeping Beauty’, Nikiya in ‘La Bayadиre’ and the lead in ‘Giselle’.
You rarely have a break of more than two hours from the theatre, due to your tight schedule. Can you describe your day?
From 10-11am, I practise at the bar, repeating the exercises in the centre of the room: the midst. Then, we perfect our jumps. After this class, I go to rehearsals, which depend on our repertoire. If I’m playing a role in the evening, that’s the one I’ll rehearse foremost, followed by those for the next three days. There may be an hour’s break before I start again, rehearsing with the full company. If I’m not engaged in a performance, I may be free at 3pm but still go to the theatre in the evening, as ‘stand by’ for the other ballerina dancing my part. If something unforeseen happens, I can step in.
What mood do you tend to be in on stage at the Bolshoi Theatre and how many years have you worked there?
This is my fourth season and I tend to be in a good mood. This is very important, as it gives me strength, helping me achieve all I desire.
How do you feel about healthy competition between soloists? How old were you when you became aware of it and what do you think of situations where rivalry becomes unhealthy?
I feel fine about healthy competition, as it inspires us to progress. We are all seeking individuality: to be distinctive from others. Interestingly, I feel as if I’m in competition with myself rather than with others, wanting to ever improve on my own performance. I dislike it when rivalry becomes obsessive. I don’t indulge in it myself and speak out against it in others. I arrived at the Bolshoi Theatre as a young girl, with open eyes and an open heart: I loved and trusted everyone. Some people are different, as I came to understand; openness is not always then appropriate, and my love is not always welcomed. Awareness of my dignity has helped me to understand this.
Do you think the success of your partner depends on you and does this inspire you to be supportive? Also, do you ever feel envious of the other ballerina sharing your role?
I’m currently in a situation when my personal success depends on those who are more experienced and who can help me. I’m grateful to them all and, in due course, when I’m more experienced, I’ll be sympathetic to those arriving fresh from college. Even now, I understand them and, of course, I admire those who dance well.
Which of your senior colleagues has helped you most so far at the Bolshoi Theatre?
After college, I began at the Bolshoi with Igor Onoshko; we were full of hope for success and advancement. However, Igor was partnered with other experienced soloists. Our ‘pairing’ disappeared, which upset me; I even wondered if someone had acted against my best interests. Later, I realised that it was probably necessary, so that I could become stronger. In this profession, we need to be independent. After time, I felt the support of our teachers.
How would you assess yourself at present? Your jumping is powerful. What does Troyan say?
I really couldn’t begin to say, as I’m too young: just 22. As for jumping, he says nothing at all. He gives advice and pays attention to specific movements. I’ll gradually gain experience, as I really want to become a leading ballerina: not for the sake of ambition or status, but for the sake of dance itself. I know what it means to dance, giving your soul to the audience and living with your own feelings. It’s a tremendous feeling.
What do you find easy and what difficult?
It’s never easy: everything is difficult yet, also, delightful. Each performance is individual, with its own flavour, although the canons are the same. It’s difficult to master every technique but experience comes with each performance.
Do you fear anything about performing?
Fortunately not; even dancing my first leading part of Zarema, in ‘The Fountain of Bakhchisaray’ during my second year at the Theatre, I was unafraid. Even in college, I didn’t have stage-fright. When I danced my second major role — Myrtha in ‘Giselle’ — I admit, I felt nervous, as Myrtha is a vindictive woman from the world of the dead (probably, like Giselle, betrayed by her beloved). Her character is cold and harsh, so I had to keep my face without any warm expression throughout the second act.
Was it your parents who encouraged your ballet in childhood?
I was born in Mozyr and my parents say that I was dancing from a very young age. They decided eventually that dance was my best path, so they sent me to ballroom dancing classes. Then, I attended music school, where I continued dance classes. Our teacher, Inna Viktorovna Sirotina, told me about the college in Minsk, so I decided to study there. I stayed nine years and I admit that I was not in raptures, like the other girls, about tutus and pointes. They daydreamed continuously about becoming a ballerina, while I knew little about ballet. My father, Yevgeny Chizhik, who composes and sings military songs as his hobby, wrote this song about ballet:
Mum and dad
brought their daughter
Sending her to master ballet.
Suffer and jump…
It is better to sing, they said.
I’ve jumped, like a ball,
Making fouettйs and pas de trois,
Like a grey hare.
I will reveal a secret to you:
It is pleasant, I will not conceal,
When people give me a bouquet
And when they shout:
The soul blossoms
Directly, as if in spring.
And from my forehead,
I brush away, Salty sweat.
Which dance do you prefer: classical or modern? It’s no secret that modern dance requires good physical training. Did you do gymnastics?
I like everything connected with dancing. I didn’t do gymnastics, but I understand the nature of good physical training. As for modern dance, I tried it for the first time in ‘Six Dances’ by Jiri Kylian. I admit that it was difficult; the muscles of my hands were aching.
What sort of person will your future husband be?
First of all, he must be loving; love is the most important thing.
I know it’s rather a dull question, but is it true that you have to maintain a strict diet, dreaming of a big piece of your favourite pie, baked by your mother?
It’s a pertinent question for me, as I am not the thinnest ballerina in the troupe. I do have to follow a diet but I eat according to the advice of my grandmother: everything in small portions. She says that we should listen to our bodies, which tell us what they need. I don’t dream about a big piece of pie — cooked by my mother or grandmother. However, when I come to Mozyr, I do eat a slice of grandmother’s honey pie or mum’s apple pie.
By Valentina Zhdanovich