Beyond tutus: Svetlana Zakharova on ballet in Putin’s Russia

Since the age of 10, Svetlana Zakharova has devoted her life to ballet. Originally from Ukraine, her extraordinary talent catapulted her to world fame as the prima ballerina of Russia’s renowned Bolshoi Ballet.

Considered one of the greatest ballerinas of her generation, Zakharova is often compared with Russia’s iconic male ballet dancers, Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

But her success has come at a price.

“At the age of 10, my childhood was over and I started a new grown-up life,” she told Al Jazeera.

Zakharova gave up her childhood to practise the art form she says she was physically designed for, despite ballet being “unnatural for a human body. The stretching, the turnouts and the training load.” 

Russia has always been strong in culture. In my opinion, if there’s money to pay attention to the arts, all the other spheres are more or less in a good state.

Svetlana Zakharova, prima ballerina, Bolshoi Ballet

“You get used to living with pain,” she said. “I sometimes ask myself if I made any sacrifices. But I don’t know any other way of life … I have no regrets. Even when I’m exhausted and tired, when I want to hide from everyone and everything, I never think about quitting.”

In 2006, Zakharova became a member of Russia’s Presidential Council for Culture and Art, and in 2008, she was elected to a term in the Russian parliament.

“I did not just join the parliament to do something I didn’t know,” she said. “I was in the Culture Committee, which was my territory. So I worked there for some time. But I did not come back after my convocation because, first of all, I gave birth to my daughter and I understood that it’s impossible to be a ballerina, a parliamentarian and a mother at once.”

“Russia has always been strong in culture,” she said. “In my opinion, if there’s money to pay attention to the arts, all the other spheres are more or less in a good state.”

Asked about relations between her native Ukraine and Russia, Zakharova said: “Now, I am not related to Ukraine in any way … I believe that our politicians will do what’s right. I’m just really sad that our nations, that used to be as close as sisters, have such a wrong relationship now.”

Given her previous support for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Al Jazeera asked Zakharova about Russia’s current trajectory.

“The most important thing for me is that everyone, not only the Russian president, but all the world leaders talk to each other and avoid war,” she replied. “It’s the most important thing, so that there are no dead children, no separated families, because nothing can be worse. But I’m not the person to answer this question. I live in my own closed world.”

President Vladimir Putin speaks with ballet dancers Svetlana Zakharova, left, and Nikolai Tsiskaridze during his tour of Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater in 2005. [AP Photo/ITAR-TASS, Presidential Press Service]

Source: Al Jazeera

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