She conquered the stages of Europe, the USA, Canada, Japan, China, and Korea. Ballet public from all over the world loves and admires her. The Honored Artist of Ukraine, prime-ballerina of the National Opera of Ukraine – Ekaterina Kukhar – tells about her life, her mission, grateful spectators, ballet duet with her husband Alexander Stoyanov and her children.
Why did you decide to dedicate yourself to dancing?
It was written in my fate. Even in childhood as soon as I heard the sounds of music, I started dancing. Nothing could stop me.
When did you understand that ballet was your mission?
Perhaps, I have always known that. I felt it especially sharply when I was in maternity leave.
Did your parents influence your choice?
My mother and grandmother have always supported my eagerness to do ballet. My grandmother even quitted the managerial position in order to take me to ballet lessons. Physical workouts in college were enormous: I fell asleep very often absolutely exhausted as soon as I came home, and my granny finished my homework for me. Generally speaking, she was studying with me. And I am so much grateful to her for everything. She put her dream into reality and helped me to become prime-ballerina.
What was your way to fame?
When I was studying in college, I read the book called “The Thorn Birds”. It’s the legend of a bird that sings only once in its lifetime, but there is nothing more beautiful in the world than her song. Once this bird leaves it's nestle and flies away in search of a thorn bush. Amongst thorny branches it starts singing its song and throws itself onto the longest and sharpest thorn. It dies, soaring over unbelievable torture and sings so beautifully that a lark or a nightingale would envy. It's the only and inimitable song that costs life. Still the whole world stops and swoons to listen to it, and even the God smiles in heaven. The best things can only be gained through great suffering.
What did you sacrifice devoting your life to ballet?
Everything... And, thanks God, nothing.
You and your husband Alexander Stoyanov are called the most beautiful dancing couple of Europe. How is it for you to work together?
We feel each other really fastidiously. This is the biggest advantage of an experienced couple. Getting onto the stage with Alexander, I don't think about the technical part of the duet dance. I dive into feelings and emotions of the dance. I give my all and the spectator feels it.
However, there are certain peculiarities. Sasha, for example, can refuse me to rehearse adagio if we had an argument the day before. Adagio on the stage is a hymn to love. Alexander says: “I don't want to rehearse adagio with you. I have some different emotions to you today”. This is how he punishes me (laughs).
What performance is the most difficult for you?
All the plays are difficult in their own way. In the “Sleeping Beauty” it is, for instance, very hard for a ballerina to endure the first act. In our staging of “Nutcracker” there is a very difficult and technically intense pas-de-de. “Sulfida” is built on jumps; meanwhile “Gizelle” apart from jumps is based on the deepest soul experience. But, perhaps, the most difficult performance for me was in Latin America where I was dancing after a strong poisoning with high temperature of 38°С.
You perform the lead roles in various ballets. Is there anything else you would like to dance?
Yes, I'd love to dance in “Anna Karenina” by Boris Eifman, but to my regret they do not stage it here.
You have performed in so many places: Paris, Geneva, Madrid, Rome, Berlin, Shanghai... Which stage was the most unusual?
I would like to mention Latin America again. We were dancing nearly in the sky – as high as 5000 meters, where it was difficult even to breathe not saying a word of dancing. When we came onto the stage and saw balloons with oxygen, we were slightly shocked. But after the first dance we understood that they were essential.
I was dancing as well in the oldest castle of Spain located in the mountains. One of the royal bedrooms served us as a make-up room.
Does the audience differ from country to country?
Certainly. The population of every country has its own temperament, own rules, own perception. I adore the Italians. They are emotional, fun loving, they percept the artists in the same way – openly, positively, gratefully. Our audience is also the most adorable and really close to me – they know when to applaud and when to hold the breath. Meanwhile in the Emirates there was dead silence during the whole performance. It was unclear whether they liked what was going on there on the stage or not. But at the end the hall burst into a storm of applause.
Recently we have come back from Mexico where we were dancing the “Sleeping Beauty”, and I was stunned by the reaction of the audience. This performance is normally taken well but without any particular emotion: dances and music there are pretty light, calm, provoking, no particular bursts. But we were taken as if we danced sirtaki from “Greek Zorba” for them. The people from south – they get fun from everything!
What is the attitude to Ukraine and our dancers in the world?
Ballet is an inseparable part of our culture. It is also the face of Ukraine abroad. We see that our dancers and our school are admired and appreciated everywhere. Ukrainian ballet is at a very high level. That is why we are basically invited to perform classical repertoire. Our theatre nurtures the heritage of classical ballet.
What does the foreign mass media write about you personally?
I'm always perceived as “insider” in Italy and Spain. Italian ballet audience often compares me with their favorite national ballerina Carla Fracci. It flatters me because this prime is a really outstanding ballerina. Apart from that, she is well-known as a dramatic actress of theatre, cinema, and TV.
For a ballerina to have a baby is a significant step. You have become a mother twice. Has your life changed with the births of your children?
Of course it has changed! It became brighter, funnier and... more difficult. The children are flowers of our lives.
Who takes care of your children when you work abroad?
Leaving on long tours I miss a lot my sweet “pumpkins”. The only thing that calms me down is that there are loving people who take care of them. It is our irreplaceable and native nanny Natasha who can manage two kids at once. These are my parents, and my beloved ex-mother-in-law. I am really lucky. Our good relations with her are a real exception to the rules.
Would you like your children to dedicate their lives to ballet too?
My daughter – perhaps, if she has a strong desire and necessary skills. For girls ballet is always wonderful. As for my son – definitely not. This profession is too difficult and prone to trauma, and it is not appreciated in our country.
You were seen among the guests of 39th Ukrainian Fashion Week. Which of the shows do you remember most?
I was impressed by the show of new Ukrainian trademark Couture de Fleur. Their colorful silks and light chiffon were up to my liking.
What do you like to wear in your everyday life?
I prefer comfortable sportswear. But if there is an occasion to go out, I adore dressing up like Cinderella to a fandango.
At the end of our conversation I can't but ask you about your goals you set for yourself?
The main one is to develop Ukrainian ballet culture. It is our heritage, knowledge. It is what Ukraine is respected in the world for. Ballet is an entire world, it is special atmosphere of holiday. But if you want the holiday to be at the notable level, it needs financing. That is why it is necessary to draw attention of the Government to ballet and support the talents.
Just right before our interview I received a message on Facebook from a woman, aged 32, who came to theatre to see a ballet performance for the first time in her life. It was our “Figaro”. Now she dreams to enjoy this art at least once a quarter. She shared with me that she never guessed about emotions and inspiration that could be evoked by a single performance. I, in my turn, feel really grateful to her for such a feedback.
Interviewed by Tatiana Suvak
Photo: Ignis Terram, Nina Tarashkievich, Vladimir Lybensky, producer: Julia Petrenko, make up: Antonina Podvarskaya, accsessories: Zhukova Natalia