She lives the life that most little girls dream of: Anna Tsygankova is a professional ballerina at Het Nationale Ballet. Dancing in pretty costumes with handsome princes, getting to play a different role almost every night. She learned how to plié, pas de bourrée and grand jeté at one of the greatest ballet companies in the world: the Bolshoi. But what’s it really like, a day in the life of a true ballerina?
What’s the morning routine of a ballerina?
Anna: “After a show, I go to bed at three ‘o clock in the morning. Daily class starts at eleven, which means I need to be in the studio at ten-thirty to warm up. A steaming hot shower with near-boiling water helps me wake up my muscles and save some precious time. Class is usually with everybody else in the company, but when I feel overly tired, I train by myself.”
Why did you ever start ballet?
Anna: “As a child I couldn’t sit still, so I started taking ballet classes. The physical movement was a necessary thing. I still feel deep satisfaction when I’m physically exhausted. It’s an aspect of my profession I adore.”
What makes dancing so special?
Anna: “You’re living a thousand lives in one. Once your body is in top shape and can do the technical things ballet requires (which is a lot!), it gets interesting. That’s when you’re actually able to transform. And you know what’s the special part? The common ground for each character you play is always you. You approach each character with your own story.”
Any big addictions?
Anna: “Nutella! During the busy periods in between shows and rehearsals, I eat really little because I cannot perform on a full stomach. So to survive, my only option is sweets. I’m a big Nutella-fan: I start my day with a cup of coffee and a spoon and end my day the same way.”
How does ballet turn into a profession?
Anna: “After my graduation, I was the first ballerina in nine years that didn’t attend the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, but still got invited to join the Bolshoi theatre. That’s a pretty big deal. I started out as a corps de ballet member, but already got promoted in my second year. Things moved quickly.
What’s the difference between dancing in Russia and dancing here?
Anna: “This is what I love about the west: you’re judged by your uniqueness and talent, instead of just by your looks. In Russia, they work a lot more with stereotypes – I would not be cast to dance in the Sleeping Beauty, for example. Abroad you have a lot more artistic freedom. If you’re capable of doing something, you get the chance to do it.”
What do you think of the exposure ballet gets on social media?
Anna: “I think it’s a good way to reach out to people. You can only truly appreciate something if you understand it. So if people learn more about ballet through this, I’m all for it! I thought it was a great idea to have World Ballet Day; a ballet marathon that gives a peak in the daily routine of five different theatres. I was sick that day so in a way I was lucky: I got to see it all!”
What helps you grow as a dancer?
Anna: “The biggest tool I have is my understanding of music. I was born into a musician’s family – everyone in my family plays piano professionally – so I’ve heard a huge amount of music. Ballet is a speechless art, so I try to get my message across with the help of every muscle in my body and the expressions of my face. I use all of my knowledge of history, culture, literature and music. Everything has to come together in order to capture an audience.”
As a ballerina, you have to be extremely disciplined. How do you deal with that strict regime?
Anna: “For me, it was never that tough. It almost felt like I was on a mission, doing all that hard work for a purpose. Even as a kid, I was organized. I always knew I was going to dance professionally, so it was a very natural choice for me to go to ballet school. There was a good balance between everything, I never felt restricted and I was happy.”
Fashion and ballet have a big overlap. What do you wear on your day off?
Anna: “I do love shopping and I always wear heels: I even bike in them. If I describe my style, I would say that it’s classic and chic.”
Do you have a role model, ballerina’s you look up to?
Anna: “When I joined the Bolshoi ballet, I saw so many wonderful dancers at their best. During my school years, Galina Ulanova and Maya Plisetskaya in particular are two incredible ballerina’s I looked up to. And Natalia Makarova rehearsed me on La Bayadère. Later in my career I was lucky to work with choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, he opened up a whole new world in ballet for me. Oh, and let’s not forget Rudolf Nureyev. He’s ours, ha!”
Most magical moment on stage?
Anna: “Oh, thank god, there were many! As my career progressed, those magical moments became more and more common. That’s what I love about my job. You accumulate experiences and translate those into a single moment on stage. That ability is what separates the master from the student.”
Psssst…. Want to read more career stories of inspiring women? CHAPTER FRIDAY previously chatted with GLAMOUR editor Stephanie Broek, PR-woman Simone Sassmannshausen and NSMBL owner (and supergirl) Anna Nooshin.
Photos by Emma Peijnenburg
Text by Marijn Baar