Alyona Kovalyova:

«There is always energy to dance»

Alyona Kovalyova:

«There is always energy to dance»

The first soloist of the Bolshoi Theater Alyona Kovalyova was born in St. Petersburg and graduated from the Vaganova Academy. Of the three sisters, only the elder Alyona chose ballet and eventually settled in the capital. Recently, the middle sister entered the Moscow Art Theater School, and this year the younger one also moved to Moscow: "We have a gang here," Alyona smiles, "now we definitely have more fun." Kovalyova (20) has already performed several leading roles in the main ballets of the Russian classics - and does not intend to stop there. We met with Alyona to talk about her professional life and what she likes to do in her free time.
by Ekaterina Baeva
The first soloist of the Bolshoi Theater Alyona Kovalyova was born in St. Petersburg and graduated from the Vaganova Academy. Of the three sisters, only the elder Alyona chose ballet and eventually settled in the capital. Recently, the middle sister entered the Moscow Art Theater School, and this year the younger one also moved to Moscow: "We have a gang here," Alyona smiles, "now we definitely have more fun." Kovalyova (20) has already performed several leading roles in the main ballets of the Russian classics - and does not intend to stop there. We met with Alyona to talk about her professional life and what she likes to do in her free time.
by Ekaterina Baeva
Alyona the Ballerina
As a child, Alyona, as well as many ballet dancers, was exposed to the strict professional learning process that required serious physical and emotional costs from the young ballerina. Alyona admits that there were moments when she seriously considered quitting. "However, the first thing I thought of was "what would my teachers say?". I've always had a really strong sense of responsibility. I imagined myself looking into their eyes and saying that I was going to give up. They had invested so much in me, how would I leave it all behind?" Alyona says very warmly that she has always been very lucky with the teachers; moreover, she still has good relationship with every one of them. She says they meet quite often and she always welcomes them to her performances.
In graduation classes, many students are already more or less aware of their choreographic preferences and professional skills, making a choice between classical and modern dance. The story Alyona joining the Bolshoi is a kind of a fairytale by itself. "I came to realize that they would hardly invite me to the Mariinsky Theater. The most important thing for me was to find my own place – not in terms of a particular theater, rather than a theater that would be interested in me. A place where I will be given an opportunity to grow. I had gone to different theaters, some of them abroad, and then I auditioned for the Bolshoi Theater. I spoke with Makhar Khasanovich [Vaziev; the ballet director of the Bolshoi]. He did not promise me anything, but he said that everything would depend on me and on my ability to work hard." As it turned out, the Bolshoi welcomed the young Petersburg ballerina warmly. Mr. Vaziev believed in her and, indeed, gave Alyona all the possibilities to thrive. There are juicy legends about the innate rivalry between the main Moscow and St. Petersburg theaters; it is believed that in Moscow dancers from the northern capital are treated with jealousy and wariness. Alyona assures all this is a kind of obsolete stereotype: "When I arrived in Moscow, I was surprised to find friendly and sympathetic people there," she laughs reassuringly. "At the theater, we don't even have a special cluster of Petersburg graduates, as one would have thought. I think we all have assimilated nicely, without turmoil." Some feared that it would be hard for the exceptionally tall Kovalyova (178 cm) to find a partner for the stage – well, the Bolshoi has managed to provide both partners and leading roles for the unusually long-legged ballerina.
One of the first significant roles at the Bolshoi was Odette-Odile in Swan Lake. Despite having cleared that bar so early in her career, Alyona says she does not plan to be content with what has been achieved. "This is a role that you want to perfect throughout all your professional life. Having danced it once, you realize that there is still a lot of work to be done, perhaps even much more than you've already done before. For me, the more you dance, the more you want to dance. There is, you know, a sort of stage-addiction, and when there are no performances for a long time, you almost jump up with impatience – when will there be the next show, at last? However, on the day of a performance, even if it is a matinee, I always wake up early and come to the theater much in advance so that I can prepare for the performance without haste and fuss." After a summer injury and a forced two-month rest, Alyona's first performance was La Bayadere on tour in Milan, and she recalls that her "legs were shaking with impatience," and from the very morning, she "wanted to go on stage as soon as possible".
Early in the season 2018/2019, there was another important debut for Alyona – in the title role of Raymonda. The story behind this role is quite intricate. Alyona Kovalyova and her teacher Olga Chenchikova began to rehearse Raymonda bit by bit right after Alyona's debut in Diamonds, during Kovalyova's first season at the Bolshoi. No wonder, because there are a lot of solo variations and duets with different partners in this ballet. In building the part, of course, the teacher plays a big role. Olga Chenchikova closely monitors her student's choreographic and dramatic achievements. Some nuances - the position of the arms, the emotional component - are found together, during an intensive creative process. "Olga Ivanovna [Chenchikova] is a brilliant teacher. She has her own special system. When she tells you to do something, at first you think - this won't work, I can't do it. However, when you eventually do as you were told, the most difficult movement doesn't seem so difficult anymore. I love our rehearsals. I am very grateful to be working with her." Alyona remembers how, before the premiere of Diamonds, Olga Ivanovna presented her with a pair of earrings as a "lucky gift". The pair has since then been considered Alyona's lucky charm and a sure guarantee
of a successful performance.
Slowly but steady, while working on other roles, Kovalyova was getting ready for
Raymonda, and finally, at the end of her second season at the theater she received this part officially. The debut had already been advertised and fit into the season schedule, when quite out of the blue Kovalyova got injured. The silly injury aggravated during the orchestral run, and so she couldn't help but let the show go without her. "Everything had been rehearsed. All partners ready, all costumes ready, and I never actually went the stage. I felt terribly bitter! It must have been one of the most distressed nights of my life," Alyona can now recall with a smile. "I cried my eyes out, but there was nothing I could do. I guess it may have been for the best. Perhaps it was necessary for this ballet to grow on me."
In any case, it is quite rare that a young dancer should be given this responsible and complex role so early. In Raymonda, it is not enough for the ballerina to demonstrate deft technique because her role is largely built on her ability for characterization. Raymonda is one of the classic ballets with rather unusual relationships of the characters. The audience is drawn not only to the traditional couple of the main characters, Raymonda and the knight Jean de Brienne. It is also quite intriguing to observe the interaction of the heroine with the mysterious Saracen king, Abderakhman.
Alyona says that while mastering the part of Raymonda it was important to understand her character's attitude to both gentlemen in love with her. "At first, Abderakhman frightens her, it goes without saying. When he appears in flesh, Raymond is still alert and timid, but his passion and his intense admiration cannot but touch her heart. It seems to me that in their last dance, when they in turn reach for each other, it is clear that something still draws her to this mesmerizing Saracen, as if there's an invisible thread. Had Jean de Brienne not appeared quite so timely, who knows how this story would have ended," Alyona winks.
Alyona the girl next door
Offstage Alyona resembles Cinderella: she is dreamy, romantic, hard-working, easy to deal with. She is positive and quick-tempered character, she says she hates quarrels and conflicts. Despite her rapid career growth, she is not affected by stardom. She's even asked her friends in the theater "to punch" her, should she ever become big-headed. She says she often indulges in dreams and makes various plans in her imagination that "sometimes come true, sometimes they don't", and she wouldn't separate her creative life from the everyday one: "Creativity is what gives me strength and emotions for my routine." On the other hand, Alyona says that inspiration for her intensive and time-consuming professional life comes from communication.
"I might as well enjoy both a quiet dinner in a small company, and a big noisy party, if only there were at least a few really close people. I love new acquaintances, both ballet and non-ballet related, because new people give me a sort of nudge. I also like to dance - somewhere informally, at a party, for example, or at home with my sister. Sometimes, even after the performance, when you seem to be exhausted, suddenly you want to dance some more! I really don't know where the energy comes from. I guess, it is just easier to dance with no turnout so there's always energy for that!"
Alyone does make an impression of a kind and cheerful person. She is a sweet young lady with a deep voice who is not alien to "worldly", not ballet pleasures: she likes beautiful dresses (although no heels, she doesn't really need them, does she), popular songs, good movies. "I like to laugh – watching a good comedy, remembering some funny moments from the past. Sometimes I sing in the shower, for example, themed holiday songs are currently on my repertoire – Last Christmas, Frank Sinatra...". During New Year's holidays she always watches "Love Actually", and in sad moments, there's no one better than Bridget Jones to cheer her up.
Alyone does make an impression of a kind and cheerful person. She is a sweet young lady with a deep voice who is not alien to "worldly", not ballet pleasures: she likes beautiful dresses (although no heels, she doesn't really need them, does she), popular songs, good movies. "I like to laugh – watching a good comedy, remembering some funny moments from the past. Sometimes I sing in the shower, for example, themed holiday songs are currently on my repertoire – Last Christmas, Frank Sinatra...". During New Year's holidays she always watches "Love Actually", and in sad moments, there's no one better than Bridget Jones to cheer her up.
A lot of funny things happen on stage, as well. "In Grigorovich's The Nutcracker, when the Waltz of the Flowers starts, the screen rises, and all the dancers are arranged beautifully on a hill. The girls are in the front, the boys at the back. The boys are to take some paper snow in their hands in advance and to throw it up, so that it would fall down in a very romantic fashion. However, since they do it really quickly, the snow falls in big lump. There was a performance when someone right behind me was really enjoying this snow-throwing process and engaged in it very actively. All the snow landed right on me and stuck to my big fake eyelashes, and I could see nothing at all. I was posing on the stage and, still smiling, surreptitiously trying to blow snowflakes away from my eyelashes. After the performance, it takes a lot of time to shake all that snow out of your dress."
"I like to spend holidays with my family. We used to go skiing, somewhere in the "winter fairy tale." Even if afterwards we would go and celebrate with other people, when the clock strikes twelve on the New Year's Day we must be at home, all together. We always make a wish, as goes the Russian tradition. Oh, there was this incredibly funny story! I was writing my wish on a piece of paper, very fast, because, you know, you have to burn the paper, throw it into a glass of champagne and drink up while the clock is chiming. Suddenly I saw a weird bright light on my side. It turned out that a part of my hair had accidentally touched the candle flame and started to burn! Of course, there was no time to extinguish the flame because the clock was chiming fast. I did finish writing my wish and managed to perform all the necessary ritual! This incident – me on fire, with a singed hairdo – really shocked my mom. As for me, between the transient beauty of my hair and happiness for the whole next year, the choice was obvious! :) "