Principal dancer Natalia Romanova, who joined the company in 1998, talks about her career and how the dancers prepare for a big production.
Why did you decide to become a professional ballerina?
I have wanted to be a dancer ever since I can remember. Dance, particularly ballet, is a huge part of our culture, dating back to the 17th century, so we all learn about it in school and it's a big part of our lives.
How difficult is it to be accepted by Saint Petersburg Classic Ballet?
Competition is fierce with all ballet companies but Saint Petersburg Classic Ballet is more like a family, a team. Compared with some of the companies in Russia we're a new, young and fresh ballet company, formed in 1996 by Marina Medvetskaya, Prima Ballerina of the Tbilisi State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre. With her experience and reputation she expects a lot from us but we have all graduated from excellent dance schools and want to be the best we can be.
How long do dancers prepare for a big production like Swan Lake?
We are constantly training, performing and fine-tuning our dancing and acting skills throughout the year. We tour all over the world so it's not like we have to prepare for a one-off production, it is just a way of life. Each time we dance Swan Lake or another ballet we just try and make it that little bit better for the audience. On a performance day we have dance class all morning and afternoon, then the performance. It's important to be warmed up properly. It's certainly way of life rather than a 9 to 5 job.
Do dancers have to adhere to a strict diet while touring?
Yes, but again it's not just on tour. When you're a dancer you have to be careful what you eat. Obviously nutrition is very important as dancing is physically demanding but as a dancer remaining a constant weight for the lifts is important. It's a balance and we have people within the company to help keep us healthy and advise on diets.
While on tour, what is a typical day like?
If it's not a travel day we usually stay in a local hotel, we have a light breakfast and then head to the theatre for warm up class with the dance mistress, usually starting at 10am. A break for lunch, and sometimes meet local school children for photo calls. Then it's back to warm up class, usually on the barres in the afternoon. We don't tend to do dress rehearsals unless something has changed dramatically as we know the performance well. So, break for tea, and then get hair and make-up ready for showtime. If we don't have a matinee shows start at 7.30pm and finish at 11-ish, so change and sleep!
What do most of the dancers do to relax? What do they do in their spare time?
If on tour we try and take in a bit of the city we're staying in but usually we don't get much time. At home, any free time is a great opportunity to catch up with family and friends, go to the cinema and, yes, even go and watch a ballet. I still try to train every day, though.
In movies like Black Swan, we see dancers under extreme pressure. Is this type of pressure typical in real life?
Not at the companies I have worked for. You hear stories about the competitive nature of the business and fighting for roles but I'm not sure. I think it's down to the individual dancers and artistic director and how they want that particular part to be performed.
What is your favourite thing about being a ballerina?
Performing to audiences all over the world. The live orchestra always adds a special buzz to the performance and it's magical to take people on a story-telling journey with you.