Maria Kochetkova in Elo's Double Evi (© Erik Tomasson)
Maria Kochetkova joined San Francisco Ballet as a principal dancer in 2007. She trained at the Bolshoi School in Moscow and danced with The Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, and the Russian State Ballet as a guest artist before joining the Company. During the 2008 Repertory Season she performed many principal roles in works such as Tomasson's Giselle, Tomasson's Nutcracker, and Tomasson's 2008 world premiere, On a Theme of Paganini. The many honors Ms. Kochetkova has received include a gold medal at the International Ballet Competition in Seoul, Korea, in 2005 and a gold medal at the International Ballet Competition of Luxembourg, 2003, and she was a winner of the Prix de Lausanne, 2002. Here she talks about the transition to San Francisco and how her background shaped the dancer she is today.
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Backstage: You danced in Russia and England before coming to San Francisco Ballet. Tell me some contrasts in the dancing styles at the three places.
They're all very different, and I trained at the Bolshoi school, and it was probably my hardest time in my small career; it was really hard. But it was an amazing opportunity to be there. The most things I have and I use now I got at this school, so you know, it's all for the best. And then when I moved to London, it was really different—suddenly everything I'm doing is not the way they want me to do it, so it was difficult. So then after some time I just decided I didn't want to just leave my Russian training and forget about it because, you know, I was trained like that—it's comfortable for me to dance with, you know, it's my base; that's how I dance. So I decided to keep what I had there and just try to understand what people wanted from me there, and just to communicate and work because it's really hard; you can't just leave completely something you've worked for eight years. So it was difficult, but in the end, people, when they see me, they don't really know what school I am. You look English, some people say, some people say, you look Russian. But it's not as difficult coming here after London, like coming to London after Moscow, so I understand it better. But it's also different. The tempos are different, the coordination in some movements is different, but you know, I'm learning, and I'm really open to this, and I think it's interesting.
Backstage: Do you like San Francisco?
Ah yes, I like San Francisco. It's a really unusual city—it's very interesting, it has a lot of different sides of it, so yes.
Backstage: Do you think joining San Francisco Ballet during the 75th Anniversary Season, with a total of 12 company premieres being learned, made your transition in the Company easier, or maybe more difficult?
Oh, well, I don't know how it would be if it wasn't the 75th anniversary. But it was difficult enough. You know, I can tell this for sure. I don't know, maybe because it was my first season, maybe because you know there were a lot of new things that I've never done before, but I like it; that's why I came here. I prefer it this way, when it's a lot of different, new things, rather than something you used to do year after year, again and again.
Backstage: After completing your first repertory season, what are some of your thoughts about the company?
I enjoy being here, and I'm really happy that I moved to San Francisco and I made this change; it was difficult for me, how I wasn't sure what I'm doing, but once I decided I'm coming here, you know, here I am, but in general I can tell I am happy that I came here.
Backstage: Even among dancers, you're very petite. What challenges and advantages do you think that has afforded you in your career?
I never have problems with partnering, this is for sure. You know, nobody's complained [about my weight]. But it doesn't bother me so much here in San Francisco and in London because I can do everything, almost every single role. It was a bit more difficult in Russia to prove to people that with my height I can do everything and it doesn't matter what my height [is]; here, it's how you make a role look, and how you make people feel. It's not if you look like a model or you don't. It's about different things. And unfortunately it's really hard to try to push through the role and prove to people that it's all about dancing, it's not about if you're 5 centimeters taller. I think that was probably the main reason I left Russia, because I would have more opportunities as a dancer, and I can dance more and different kinds of roles.
Backstage: Are you looking forward to the American tour this fall, and is there any city you're particularly excited to perform in?
Yes, I am, I'm looking forward to it, and, because I haven't traveled around America much, so I think every single city will be interesting for me, so I'm looking forward to it.
Backstage: What are you most excited about in the 2009 Repertory Season?
Well, obviously all the things I haven't done before; I think the most exciting thing for me is the new Ratmansky ballet because I know him from before, and he's Russian. I think he's a really interesting personality and he ballets I've seen—his ballets—they were really interesting.
Backstage: I read that you started out doing gymnastics and ice skating. How is ballet different from both of those pursuits, and how is it the same?
I started with ice skating and then had to leave ice and start doing gymnastics, and then my parents decided that I had to do ballet because it's a bit better for me and I was like, "No no no no, hate ballet, I don't want to do ballet, it's horrible." I don't know—I just had this strange view of ballet, and I really didn't want to. But you know, once I was in class and I realized it's not how I see it, it's not, you know, what kind of crazy idea I had—I got really into this. You know, it was good my parents [had] me do it.
Backstage: And how do you think that training has informed your dancing?
It definitely gave me more coordination because I started doing all these crazy things, gymnastics, when I didn't have a clue how to do it. I just felt what it feels like, rather than you come to ballet school and you have to stand in first position for four hours and then with your leg out for another hour, and I kind of had it in my body and it never left me. Once you know how to cycle, it will never leave you, you know, you can't forget it. It was really good for me. It kind of opened me, [a] different side of movements.
Backstage: Do you ever, just for fun now, fool around with any of your old gymnastics moves? Do you do handstands to stretch, or do flips when you're excited?
Sometimes in rehearsal, when I stand there for three hours, for two hours, suddenly just something clicks and I do this like, flip, and I'm like ok, I feel better now. And then, I don't know—it's hard to explain, just something inside goes like, ok, I have to do something now.
Backstage: I've also heard that you're really into technology, that you use your iPhone a lot and you maintain a web page with information about your performances. What got you interested in that sort of thing, and what's your favorite gadget?
Well I don't know if I'm that good, into technology, but I think it's really important for a dancer's career, I find, to be able to understand internet things, and you know, people want to know where I dance and what I dance, and they're interested, and they come to look at things, and it's just something I have to do. And I don't mind doing it because I find it's very interesting. You know, when you see that more people saw me on YouTube than in normal life, it's amazing, you know, how people can see you dance without actually seeing you live, because not everybody can come to San Francisco to see me dance. Same with traveling, I think, and doing galas. It's just you know a chance for other people to see you, because you know, life is too short, and you have to manage so many things. That's why I need to have a website, I need to travel—it's just part of a dancer's career and job, I think.
Backstage: You just came back from about six weeks of vacation; what did you do during that time?
Well I did a few guest performances. I danced in Belarus, did Sleeping Beauty, and I danced in Spain, and I'm just about to go out to Frankfurt with my partner and we're going to Kazakhstan to do a gala and some dances from Paris Opera. And my mom is flying over there to watch, so it's very exciting. She doesn't get to see me much, but she's always there with me. So it's nice.
Backstage: Do you take any time just to relax and not have to work?
I had one week off. I mean I don't feel tired, you know, it's not that somebody's forcing me to dance every night. I do it because it's interesting and it's different kinds of things, and I don't take it as really hard work. I don't always take dancing that kind of way—that I've got to do it. It's just something I enjoy doing—meeting different dancers, different people, going to different places, and if you can stay in shape, then it's great. I mean, you know, of course, it's hard, too, but ... in general it's good.