Viacheslav Samodurov, from Russia to the Covent Garden
We meet Slava at the Stage door, he is coming out from the Saturday "optional" class, its nearly 2 PM. He smiles: "Hi, how are you? Have you already had lunch? I've got to eat something, because I have to work later in the afternoon. Can I take you to one of my favourite places? They have Caribbean and South American dishes: do you like it?" "Yes, of course!" The place is a nice small pub close to the Royal Opera House. The food is colourful and the atmosphere easy and relaxed and we order some of the extravagant mixed salads that we see on the other tables.
You like Latin American cooking, but you come from very far from there: you are from a Baltic state, like Baryshnikov…
Yes, he is from Latvia, but he didn't train in Riga: he trained in St Petersburg and danced there, so he is more a Kirov dancer then a Riga dancer.
He is from Latvia and you are from Estonia…
Yes, I was born in Estonia, but I'm Russian. My father is from Georgia and my mother from Tallin, but they are Russian; now they live in St Petersburg. I like to return home; they love me: you know, I'm the only child. I went to St Petersburg a few weeks ago and my mother cooked a lot for me. My mother doesn't really like to cook but she likes to cook for me! I call her by phone and say what I want to eat. I like Russian sweets, chocolate and pastries.
I consider myself from St Petersburg: I studied there and I joined the company. I really started my way in St Petersburg.
Why did you leave Russia to go to Holland?
By the time I left Russia, I'd been working there for 8 years with that company, the Kirov, and I wanted a change, to do some modern ballets. Just something different, because I was doing more or less always the same thing in the Kirov repertoire: I wanted to develop myself. I went to Dutch National Ballet, and then, three years later, I moved here. I like the repertoire in Covent Garden; they have a lot of ballets with great characters: it's so inspiring! I also like the approach here, the way of working: they work really seriously and at a high level.
Here the company dances a lot of MacMillan and Ashton: do you think that there is an English style?
I don't think that we can speak of an English style: each choreographer has a particular style, so we can speak of an Ashton or MacMillan style; I'm dancing quite a lot of Ashton and I danced a little of MacMillan, doing Romeo. I'm now looking forward to my debut as Lescaut, during the summer tour.
What about the differences in dancing the repertoire? Here in England there is always the intent to tell a story, even in Swan Lake, whilst in Russia there is maybe a different approach, a little bit more stereotyped.
I'm not sure about that, but in Russia it's a little bit more "school trained", whilst here in Covent Garden there is more room for everybody to have his own way to dance it, so we have very different performances; but also the Russian principals give their colour to the show so we cannot really talk of a Russian or an English way to do that. At the end of the day, the corps de ballet is more or less the same, but the principals dance it in a personal way, making the difference.
I danced Swan Lake for the first time during this season and it has been very emotional for me: I'm Russian and Swan Lake is a Russian ballet, the most classical one. The first night was great, the most important in the whole season for me: after the show I've not been able to talk, or eat, or drink, for a while. I also had a great partner, Sarah Lamb: she danced beautifully. It was an important night for her too and lot of her relatives attended the show: three or four generations of her family, probably! My parents were not able to come, but I called my mother very late in the night (and in St Petersburg it was even later!) and she was asleep waiting for me!
Have you danced all the roles of the academic-classical repertoire?
I've never danced Jean De Brienne, but I danced all the other major classical roles.
There are rumours that Paris Opera is thinking of not publishing the cast distribution, because they say that the work is more important than the dancers, so it doesn't matter who is dancing, but just what he is dancing…
I think that this is not correct! Also because the dancers are not the same, there is somebody you like and somebody you don't, and this independently from the quality, it can be just a matter of taste. And even if you like all of them but you want to see more than one performance, you need to know who is dancing.
Wow, my salad! It's look very nice!...mmmm… I didn't know I was hungry, but I was…
Do you like to travel?
Yes, I like it. I travel a lot for my job, but unfortunately, I haven't time to travel for pleasure… I'd like to travel in England and Great Britain, to know the country. I like Scotland, even if it's rainy and cold… well not as cold as St Petersburg can be! I do know the -40°C! I experienced it a couple of time: the ice on the river is so thick that you can drive a car across it!
You have a lot of ice… and a lot of great ice-skaters, there is a fantastic tradition both in St Petersburg and Moscow…
Yes, but of course in St Petersburg the skaters are absolutely better!!!
Well, my favourite were from Moscow… do you remember Katja Gordeeva and Sergej Grinkov? My sister was a huge fan of theirs and we had an entire wall in our bedroom covered by their pictures. The photos are still there…
Yes I remember them, they were absolutely great… anyway St Petersburg skaters are stronger! Think of Yagudin!!! Now we have Aleksej Yagudin, a great skater: he is from St Petersburg! Ah, ah! I really like ice skating… I started ice-skating in Moscow.
Well… ahem… Yes, in Moscow: my parents were living there in that period.
And why did you give up?
I wasn't good. It has been a sad decision, at that time. But soon my parents moved to St Petersburg and I started with ballet. I like ice-skating very much, even though I don't watch it anymore, but just because I don't have time now: I don't watch TV at all: I never spend my time sitting in front of it.
I also don't often attend ballet performances: they are nice but it's my job…
You are more than a ballet dancer: in Brescia, this winter, you danced your own choreography. Do you like to choreograph and to dance your own pieces?
I've done it just once before, in another gala. I made the choreography just for fun, for my pleasure, at the moment I'm not thinking of trying to become a choreographer.
The "Grande", the theatre in Brescia, was really nice: huge and very beautiful!!! Mara made a great job with that show: she organized it almost alone, by herself, and that's a huge work. I had something like the Brescia show: I did my own gala in Perm, in Russia, but I didn't organize it by myself as Mara did. To organize a show is very difficult.
What about Mara?
I hate her!!! (he laughs)... Nooo: Mara is really nice, very straightforward; she is an easy person to work with.
I was very happy to dance with her in Brescia. We had such a great time; it was a good period, at the beginning of our holidays, the mid-season break. There was a great atmosphere. I think she did a good thing with the charity gala: it doesn't happen often and Mara really loved to do it.
I like to work with her: the more you work together the more you understand each other. In the next season we will dance Giselle together: I've already done it, but it will be her debut… probably it's as important for her as Swan Lake was for me!
In Brescia a photographer took some pictures of you and the other dancers in the foyer and it seems that you became the idol of the young children taking part in the show: what did you do?
Ah, ah! I just showed off a little, you know…something like my character in Les Biches: it was funny! My show talent…
The whole thing in Brescia has been a great experience. We had many funny things… especially after the gala, when we returned to the hotel the restaurant was already closed and we had nothing to eat, so we ate the sandwiches prepared by Mara's mother for the lunch but there were just 3 remaining for 4 of us! We got some drinks in the minibar, crackers… not exactly an Italian dinner! The first day we were at Mara's home and her mother cooked for us: her ravioli were great! I like Italian food and also Italian coffee and the "vino rosso" …
Italian coffee? Do you have an Italian moka?
Yes, sure! Not a big one, just for 3 or 4 people.
Wow, so you are completely converted and devoted to Italian coffee!
Yes, but I'm not addicted, so far… sometimes I have an "Italian period", sometimes not… I like strong coffee very much, sometimes without sugar.
Does a Russian coffee exist?
No we drink American coffee or cappuccino. I need a South American coffee now… It's Saturday but I have to work this afternoon: I'm going to the gym… ohhh, I don't want to go!!!
Anna and Mauro