Q&A with Prima Ballerina, Olga Kifyak, Russian Grand Ballet

Russian Grand Ballet Presents Swan Lake
Tuesday, November 2 @ 7:30pm
$62.00, $42.00, $25.00
Marin Veterans' Memorial Auditorium, San Rafael

For ONE NIGHT ONLY, Marin will be graced with the breathtaking performance of Swan Lake by the Russian Grand Ballet on Tuesday, November 2nd. I gathered a group of local professional dancers for an exclusive interview with Prima Ballerina, Olga Kifyak, performing in the dual roles of Odette (the White Swan) and her rival Odile (the Black Swan.) 

Huge thank you to:

Ms Kifyak, when did you begin training as a dancer? 

I started to dance at 12. It is a very late age to begin in ballet world. Usually children start at 5 or 6 years old. It was always my dream to dance. My parents supported me and believed my dream will come true. They helped me in my self-realization as a ballet dancer. And I am very thankful to them for it. 

During my childhood, after mid school classes I would run to ballet school and train until 8, or 9PM. Often I was so exhausted that I cried and thought that I would never dance like my idols. But next day would come, I would forget all about my sadness and run to the ballet class.

You know, I’ve never even wanted to play with my peers on the street, because I always had this dream in my life - to dance.

What inspired you to dance ballet?

I had idols at that time and looking at them I wanted to dance as beautifully and professionally as they did. My parents enjoy telling a story how intensively I was watching Maya Plisetskaya on TV without even blinking. I collected magazines and newspapers’ articles with information about Plisetskaya, Galina Ulanova and Galina Mezentseva. I was getting older and my idols were replaced by others, but my passion for ballet did not disappear anywhere. I continued to walk towards my dream. 

What will you be dancing in Swan Lake? Is there a piece in the ballet you enjoy most?

Swan Lake is a very difficult ballet to dance. I dance two roles, opponent to each other. In act one you see gentle Odette - the purity, modesty, perfection. So, the dance has to look light and effortless, but that takes a lot - the lighter it looks, more substantial power it takes. And then in Act 3 - Odile comes into picture. She is a mean character - insidious, sarcastic, reaching for her goal.

The quick change between the two is very fast, too.

You are playing both Odette and Odile! What an incredible feat! Many companies have two different dancers playing Odette/Odile. What is the biggest challenge in portraying both roles? Physical? Artistic?

That’s true - almost all theatres have two different dancers playing Odette/Odile. I like dancing both of these roles. It is very interesting to have an opportunity to be two completely different characters. It is very important to play the acting part, to make all necessary stresses correctly are  biggest challenges for me. The most important thing is the audience must believe you and there is no doubt in any movement, mimics, facial expressions.

Please share with our audience some of the work that goes in to physically and emotionally preparing for these roles. What is your training regime like?

Actually, physical part of these roles is easier to rehearse than the acting. For technics you must work on the cleaniness of movement every day, but acting part is your inner experiences. You can’t rehearse it by the barre. I start rehearsing these roles every day two months before the tour. When the tour starts I will continue to rehearse every day two hours before the shows.

Between Odette/Odile, do you have a favorite? Why?

I don’t know which role is closer to me: Odette or Odile. I like dancing both. I think my favorite depends on my day going, what is in my mood at that moment. Sometimes I think that my favorite - Odette, the other day - Odile. 

What moments in the choreography really embody Odette/Odile? Odile's Coda is the big fireworks show! Is there another favorite moment when you really get to let her personality shine through?

Odette is represented by very smooth movements, arabesques, attitudes. Choreography is very fluent and gentle. Odile is personified by very sharp movements. Indeed I have some favorite moments. I really like to dance Pas De Deux in Act 3. This is an explosion of emotions for me.

What are some of the other roles you've danced? What is your absolute favorite role? 

I’ve danced The Sleeping Beauty, Karmen, Bayadere, Scheherazade, Snow White, Viennese Waltz, Master and Margarita, Wedding of Figaro, Forest Song, Giselle. I do not have any loved ones or favorites. I love all these roles.  Every performance is a fairytale where you want to invite the audience to.

What are some of the special challenges of performing on the road in a touring show? 

The biggest challenge for me in a tour is travelling every day. It looks like almost all day you are “on wheels”: flights, cars, buses. Sometimes we don't get to see more than a theatre we perform in. But sometimes we get and hour, or two and we don't take it for granted. We manage to see some of sightseeings, or just walk around to feel the energy of a city we are to perform. I love coming to places where I haven't been before. It is so amazing to see something new for yourself. Every city lives its own life.

How do keep up your strength and stamina during a tour such as this?

It is very simple, actually. Because we have performances almost every day. With such a schedule, you will not get out of shape for sure. There are trainings and rehearsals every day before the show. They are important part of the show, you can't go on stage without it, because you have to check everything, every move, every body part and be sure that you can make it. I am preparing for the show for 2 hours - hair, make-up and a warm-up.

I am told you will be dancing with Evgeniy Svetlitsa, how is he as a dance partner? 

Yes, my partner is Evgeny Svetlitsa. He is a very professional ballet dancer, ballet's premier. It is extremely important for ballerina to be confident in her partner and I am 100% sure in him. 

What do you feel the two of you do best at when performing together?

Our strongest part is that we understand each other from the half of the word, it is often that no words are needed. We feel each other. In ballet circles it is called dance-togetherness. 

What is it like to be a Prima? Does it mean to be the first in everything?

Prima definitely aims to be the best at everything. To get this Prima status you have to be hardworking, patient, persistent and always move forward, no matter what. If something is not working out - try again many times. It will work out eventually: you try it 100 times - 101 time it will work. I think that being a Prima ballerina doesn’t affect my other aspects of life, because you still have to stay human. In ballet you have to be tough. You should be tough in life, too of course, but not as much as you need it in ballet.

Swan Lake is a timeless ballet. What do you enjoy about it? What do you hope the audience takes away from the performance? 

It is true that it is timeless. I enjoy having two roles in it. It is challenging and enjoyable at the same time. What we do, being ballet dancers, is consequential - every member of the audience comes to the show with their problems in their heads. The show is a fairytale. And it is important for the spectator to immerse themselves into this fairytale and to live it through with us - if one manages to do it, one distracts from one's worries. This is the most important part for me -  to have the audience leave the theatre at the end of the show in a great mood. I consider myself a happy person. The most important thing is that it is my favorite thing to do - bring joy to other people. It is my passion, my hobby, my life - everything.

You were trained at the Ukrainian Academy of Dance in Kiev; and danced with the Ukrainian National Opera Ballet, the Moscow Ballet, and the Czech Opera Ballet?

Yes, I danced at the Ukrainian Academy of Dance in Kiev and at the Ukrainian National Opera and Ballet Theatre, as well as the Czech Opera Ballet Theatre. I also danced in Moscow Theatres. I had a very interesting experience performing Karmen at Saransk Theatre (Russia). I also danced a lot with Svetlana Zakharova in different ballet projects (Zakharova - prima ballerina of Bolshoi Theatre and La Skala)

What was your experience like as a student of the Ukrainian Academy of Dance? Most of our audience doesn't understand the demands of a conservatory dance education. 

I am happy that I studied at the Ukrainian Academy of Dance. My day started with usual school classes: I went to Math, Literature, Russian and English languages, etc. After that I went to the ballet classes. We usually had four classes: ballet class, gymnastics, acting and characteristic dance. I didn’t have any days off. I spent all my free time with a barre. Although we did not have any diets at that time, because children bodies at that age are in growing and developing process.

How many seasons have you been dancing with the Russian Grand Ballet?

I’ve danced with Russian Grand Ballet 5 seasons. As a Principal Dancer I toured in Japan, Australia, Mexico, South America, Poland, Russia, Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, China, USA. There were a lot of beautiful theatres in each country where I have performed. I’ve seen many brightest eyes of the audience who came to our shows. All those people were united by the love of art. And when you are tired after show and want to sleep more than anything in the world, you just remember how people were happy to see your performance and all traces of sleep disappear - I want to dance and dance for them more and more. I liked our previous USA tours a lot. Last year we came with two productions: Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty. I’ve played Odette and Odile in Swan Lake, and Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty.  

Did you begin in the corps or were you brought in as a soloist?

I was invited as a Prima Ballerina but when I was just beginning to dance I started in corps de ballet.

How long after you graduated from the Ukrainian Academy of Dance was it before you landed a demi- solo or soloist role? 

I can’t even count how many months have passed. It seemed forever. I remember how I danced in corps de ballet and dreamed of getting a soloist role at that time. I think it didn’t take not much time at all, to be honest, when I finally had opportunity to work on solo parts.

The Russian Grand Ballet is pleased to present one of the world's most famous ballets - Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake on Thursday, November 2nd at 7:30pm at the Marin Veterans' Memorial Auditorium, 10 Avenue of the Flags, San Rafael, CA. This full-length classical production features the rarely seen Waltz of the Black Swans, and marks the first time The Russian Grand Ballet has ever performed in Marin County. The Marin Center show is part of their 2017 US Tour.

Additional Bay Area performances:

Saturday, November 4, 7:30PM
San Mateo Performing Arts Center - 600 N Delaware St, San Mateo, CA 94401
Tickets available at all Ticketmaster outlets, online at www.ticketmaster.com, or by phone at 800-745-3000.
Ticket prices are $25-$75 

Sunday, November 5, 4:00pm
Flint Center for the Performing Arts - 21250 Stevens Creek Blvd, Cupertino, CA 95014
Tickets available online at www.ticketmaster.com, by phone at 800-745-3000, or in person at the Flint Center Box Office. 
Ticket prices are $35-$75


Grace Kraaijvanger,   Founder of The Hivery and former professional ballet and modern dancer

Grace Kraaijvanger, Founder of The Hivery and former professional ballet and modern dancer

Bidalia E. Albanese   is an award winning Bay Area director, choreographer, performer, and teaching artist of 23 Elephants

Bidalia E. Albanese is an award winning Bay Area director, choreographer, performer, and teaching artist of 23 Elephants

Annie Thistle  , Owner & Artistic Director, Performing Arts Academy of Marin

Annie Thistle, Owner & Artistic Director, Performing Arts Academy of Marin

Genevieve Custer Weeks  , CEO, Tutu School Franchises

Genevieve Custer Weeks, CEO, Tutu School Franchises