BWW Interview: Irina Kolesnikova in Her Name Was Carmen, St Petersburg Ballet

The celebrated St Petersburg Ballet Theatre returns to the London Coliseum to present the world premiere of Her Name Was Carmen starring Irina Kolesnikova later this month. I caught up with Irina before the production begins to talk about this brand new ballet, which has been created for her.

You enjoyed a glittering London season in 2015. How do you feel to be returning to the UK?

For me it is a special season. There is a difference between coming to London with ballets you have already danced many times such as Swan Lake or La Bayadere and dancing at a premiere. At the moment I spend a few hours at a time in a studio. The process of creating new choreography requires that. I am really looking forward to the premiere, although, of course, I am really nervous.

Her Name Was Carmen differs from Mérimée's traditional story in many ways

The most important differences are Carmen's character and, of course, the setting in which our amazing story takes place. In our production the audience can see how Carmen, a daughter of a rich European businessman, is brought by fate to a refugee camp, where from a spoilt and selfish person she becomes someone who is able to sacrifice her own life for others. The person who is able to change the world. This is probably the most significant difference. In our story Carmen is shown the way she could be, had she ended up in this situation.

Do you feel a connection with Carmen?

In the first part of the ballet, there are hardly any similarities between me and Carmen. Trying to escape from Garcia - the ex-boss of her rich father's security team, who became a Mafioso and killed her entire family - Carmen ends up in a refugee camp. Despite the difficult situation she is in, she is arrogant and proud, and she does not evoke my sympathy.

But gradually she re-evaluates her values. She understands that life does not only consist of parties and careless leisure, that there is another world far different from her world full of glamour, and that the people from this world deserve attention and respect. Suddenly Carmen discovers that she has qualities she did not even suspect she had. From this point on, she is very close to me.

How did your recent visit to Balkan refugee camps influence your portrayal of Carmen?

Talking to the refugees and volunteers, I understood that there are two problems: parentless children and separated families. We have highlighted both in the performance.

I was also very touched by one girl, who put her flower-shaped plastic ring on my finger. I did not take it off for a long time, and I promised I would dance with it on in London. This story is also featured in our ballet and this girl is a character who has a whole role. She also gives Carmen a ring, and in the performance this episode is of major importance.

It is this very action of the girl in our story that helps Carmen to re-evaluate her values and look at the world around her in a totally different way. I don't want to reveal all secrets now. This story is incredible.

What about the real girl from the refugee camp? She disappeared a few days after my visit, and no one can tell me where she is now. Unfortunately, things like that happen very often to children in the refugee camps.

Is it important for an audience to hear this story right now?

This time is very appropriate for the premiere. News about refugees became routine long ago. Our performance will remind people that the problem still persists, and that it is important that every person makes their small contribution to achieve progress and solve this problem.

Our Carmen sets an example and shows that nothing is impossible.We also use her as an example to show that each of us, regardless of their social status, can become a refugee, and that refugees are people like us, who found themselves in an extremely difficult situation.

Do you think that the arts have a responsibility to address current political and social issues?

Yes, I do. It is with the power of art that we can try if not to change the world than at least to draw attention. Why do we need the arts otherwise? In fact, sometimes this attention is enough to start the process of solving the problem. So the world, as a result, changes for the better.

How do you maintain your drive and commitment to dance?

Dance is my life. It is like the air I cannot live without. That is why I do not need any extra motivation. I get a lot of pleasure from dancing. At the moment I spend a few hours a day in the studio and I am mastering the new choreography with inspiration. I really like the process of creating a new ballet. What can you expect next? I don't know... but I hope to be a part of as many premiere ballets staged just for me as possible.

Her Name Was Carmen is at the London Coliseum 23-28 August

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From This Author Emma Cann

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