Talking Theatre: Ekaterina Bulgutova from the Russian State Ballet of Siberia
St David’s Hall’s prestigious Russian State Ballet & Orchestra of Siberia series starts in style next week when the world’s favourite rags to riches fairy-tale, Cinderella takes to the stage from Tuesday December 19 to Wednesday December 20.
Audiences will then be swept off to a mysterious place where nothing is quite as it seems in the festive favourite, The Nutcracker from Thursday December 21 until Sunday December 24. The series climaxes with the greatest romantic ballet of all time, Swan Lake from Wednesday December 27 until Sunday December 31 featuring Tchaikovsky’s haunting score.
This year’s ballet season also features a sprinkling of special effects with an atmospheric and ever-changing digital backdrop to make all the stage action even more magical!
Neil Collins chats to Ekaterina Bulgutova from the Russian State Ballet of Siberia about this year’s season.
The Russian State Ballet & Orchestra of Siberia comes to St David’s Hall each December for the final two weeks of the year. Is there something extra magical for both cast and audiences with performances at Christmas time?
Christmas is magical for children and adults. We do our utmost to take our audience to a fairy-tale world where dreams come true like when a young girl falls in love with a prince, who protects her from evil. Dreams help us to live a happy life, and without them life would be dull and empty.
It must be hard being away from your friends and family at this time of year, but how will you celebrate Christmas this year?
It’s a little bit hard being away from home and family at this time of year especially on the New Year’s Eve. However, the Russian Christmas Day is actually on 7th January. When the Russian government moved from the Julian calendar – which was two weeks behind the rest of the world – to the Gregorian calendar in 1918, the Russian Orthodox Church refused to change their calendar and still lives by the Julian calendar. That is why Russian religious holidays most of the time do not coincide with the Western holiday, and we celebrate the New Year by the Gregorian calendar on 1st January and Christmas by the Julian calendar on the 7th January. We also celebrate what we call the ‘Old New Year’ on 14th January by the Julian calendar; unofficially of course.
This is an amazing time though around the New Year and Christmas festivities to meet with friends and family. We actually keep our Christmas tree lights on at home from the end of the year until 14th January. This year, as always, the dancers and musicians of the Company will get together on 25th and 26th December when we have no shows and celebrate Christmas. There’s no way around it when Britain celebrates it, but then we get together again in Oxford on 7th January and celebrate our Russian Christmas!
Tell us about your ballet background up until now. What other ballets have you appeared in? And how did you first become part of the Russian State Ballet of Siberia?
I was born in Krasnoyarsk and graduated from the Krasnoyarsk State Choreographic College, as most dancers of our Company did. Then in 2005, I joined the Krasnoyarsk State Ballet or the Russian State Ballet of Siberia as we are known on tours abroad.
I dance leading roles in The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, The Snow Maiden, Giselle, Don Quixote, La Fille mal gardée, Coppélia, La Bayadère, Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella and La Sylphide.
The life of a ballet dancer must require incredible levels of fitness especially when you are performing as well as rehearsing. How many hours a week do you train? And what is involved in your typical daily training regime? I imagine it’s an early start to the day!
For an outsider, our morning exercises of just stretching and taking ballet positions at the barre may seem easy. Yet, by the end of that hour we sweat like people do after a hard work-out at the gym.
A professional ballet dancer can miss one or two days of exercise in class or onstage, but even then we do simple routines at home or at the hotel.
It is hard work, but you don’t complain once you’ve chosen your profession and want to achieve the most in it. We usually start at 10am, have an hour at the barre and then another hour rehearsing with your partner. Then we have a break before the performance.
Performing the leading role in any ballet production demands a lot of you physical, psychological and emotional output. Usually soloists perform just one performance a day, but if my colleague becomes unwell I am needed to step in and substitute her in the second performance that same day. You can’t show your tiredness and lack of energy to the audience though. They came to watch and get that energy and joy from you, and you can’t fail them.
At this time of year, it must be so tempting to eat and drink loads! What is your usual diet as a dancer? Will you be able to indulge at all over Christmas? And have you got any tips for detox in the New Year?
Believe it or not, but ballet dancers eat well and don’t adhere to the diet for the sake of physical form. Most of us love meat as we need lots of energy onstage, and burn all calories in rehearsals and performances. I will certainly indulge over Christmas, but then I may have a harder exercise at the barre on 27th December! The best detox is exercise and plenty of water.
Do you still get nervous before performances? Are there any superstitions or last-minute practices you have to complete to give you luck?
I don’t get nervous before performances, but I focus all my attention of what is ahead. There are no superstitious rituals I need to complete, but I don’t enter into conversations with colleague’s backstage. Instead I save all my energy and concentration for the performance.
Of the three ballets – Cinderella, The Nutcracker and Swan Lake – which is your favourite to watch and to perform in?
All three ballets are good, but my favourite is The Nutcracker. Everything is in harmony in this ballet – the storyline, music and choreography. The entire production is quintessentially Christmas.
This year’s ballet season comes “sprinkled with magical effects”, which is an atmospheric digital backdrop that changes with each scene. Does this make it an extra special experience for audiences this year?
This year, the audience will be surprised to see more magic transformations on stage beyond the dancing. The exciting digital images accompany the story and give more imagination and better interpretation to what is happening onstage.
For instance, the Christmas tree will grow, whilst Moor and Columbine dolls will literally jump from Drosselemeyer’s box of surprises on the backdrop to dance onstage. It’s incredible and we are all excited with the new settings. The productions with digital sets had enormous success in our home city of Krasnoyarsk earlier this year.
The ballets are an essential part of the festive programme at St David’s Hall and they are now more popular than ever for people of all ages. What is it about the Russian State Ballet of Siberia productions that makes families come back year on year?
We are very happy that your audience likes our productions. We certainly love your audience, and can’t wait to meet them every year. Cardiff is always the first city on our tour, and coming directly from Siberia we find ourselves in a warm environment in all senses of the word.
- Tuesday 19 December, 7pm
- Wednesday 20 December, 2pm
- Wednesday 20 December, 5.30pm
- Thursday 21 December, 2pm & 7pm
- Friday 22 December, 2pm & 5.30pm
- Saturday 23 December, 2pm & 5.30pm
- Sunday 24 December, 2pm
- Wednesday 27 December, 2pm & 7pm
- Thursday 28 December, 2pm & 7pm
- Friday 29 December, 2pm & 7pm
- Saturday 30 December, 2pm & 5.30pm
- Sunday 31 December, 2pm
To book seats, please visit www.stdavidshallcardiff.co.uk or call the Box Office on 029 2087 8444.