Moscow City Ballet: Their personal desire to dance

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For dancers at the Moscow City Ballet, excellence on stage comes one stretch, one spin and one jump at a time. Four hours of daily rehearsal means precision and ultimately perfection because in Russia, that is the standard in ballet because it is viewed by many as the best in the world. This company, which was founded in 1988, features dancers who have been at it since they were children.

"I saw Baryshnikov dancing when I was very small. It was impressive. Some people came to my school in Kazakhstan and actually chose me out of many to become a dancer," said 34-year-old Talgat Kozhabaev who has been dancing since he was 9 years old. He joined the Moscow City Ballet and has leading roles in Swan Lake, Giselle, Sleeping Beauty, Don Quixote, Cinderella and Romeo & Juliet.

Ballet in Russia is not just performance. It is a deep feeling.

"Ballet is deep in our souls. You have to be really ill with ballet.  If you're not ill, it's better not to do it at all.  This must be deep in you. Otherwise, it's better not to start it," said Kozhabaev. "When you're dancing, you feel the character that you're dancing. And, it's important to feel the music. Sometimes music is heroic. Sometimes it's slow and tender. You can show it in your dancing."

The company's premiere soloist admits being a perfectionist as a ballet dancer.

"You have to be very critical of yourself. You have to work hard. You should not rest. You should be very responsible. To show this lightness on the stage, you must be working day and night," said Kozhabaev. 

"I think ballet is very emotional. It's very close to Russia's soul. Russian people are capable to show the emotions in dancing," said 17-year-old Ekaterina Odarenko, who was born in Ukraine.   

"I was inclined to be a dancer in my childhood. I was dancing and jumping and my parents decided to send me to a dancing school," said Odarenko who joined the Moscow City Ballet in 2013 and has had leading roles in "Swan Lake" and "Don Quixote."

When the curtain goes up and the performance begins there is ecstasy.

"I feel happiness. It's the biggest dream of my life," said Odarenko. 

But, for this company's artistic director, Ludmila Nerubashenko, there is a different emotion. It is an emotion that fuels her desire to teach.

"What I'm teaching my students is not to be technical or perfect. Instead, to show their soul, to touch all the people in the hall. To reach every heart," said Nerubashenko.

Yet, her own heart is broken. Her husband, Victor Smirnov-Golovanov, is no longer here. The distinguished Russian choreographer, who became a soloist with the Bolshoi Ballet for more than 20 years died April 22. His death fell on the 25th anniversary of the group.

"He was the love of my life. We lived 34 years together. He taught me everything I know," said Nerubashenko.

The loss is profound. Nerubashenko lost her love. This ballet company lost its creator and the man who staged the "Nutcracker," "Swan Lake" and "Romeo & Juliet."

"It is still very fresh and very hard to say anything about him. For 20 years, he was giving his heart to the group," said Nerubashenko.

Now, they dance in his honor, listening to the words of his widow, who is a former ballerina herself.

"I remember at a certain time he said I should choose between being a good dancer or a good teacher. At that time, I made my choice to be a teacher," said Nerubashenko. "You must put it into the heads of children and pupils that they must be ill with ballet. To take it deep into their hearts."

It seems as though the Moscow City Ballet is responding to their new leader who is watching with pride, knowing she was not alone in providing the teaching or the inspiration.

"I'm crying of happiness. I'm present at all the performances. This year, we have 102 performances. I will be watching each of them," said Nerubashenko. "He would be proud."