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By Rosalie O'Connor
Roman Zavarov showed unusual aplomb in his debut last May as Apollo in Ballet Arizona’s production of the Balanchine classic. As a money-saving measure, BAZ decided to use taped music. When Zavarov assumed his opening position, it started—on the wrong track. “That was the scariest moment for me!” Zavarov recalls. “I decided to do my choreography, and I just kept playing that lute. When I heard the right music I started over.”
While his unwavering composure earned him applause, his interpretation made an even stronger impression. Coached by artistic director Ib Andersen, himself a celebrated interpreter of the role, Zavarov’s Apollo developed with commanding presence from birth to maturity. Zavarov would stand out even without his impressive stage presence, thanks to his impeccable proportions, jet-black hair, and expressive face.
“I’ve staged Apollo many places,” says Andersen. “Many times you say, ‘It should be this and you should convey that,’ and then the dancer does something that is an approximation, or they might understand it but cannot physically convey it. With Roman he took in what I said, digested it, and made it his own. That’s a gift.”
Now in his third season with BAZ, Zavarov has danced ever more challenging roles in the last year. Beginning with Puck, where critics praised his effortless jumps in a new Andersen staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, to Mercutio in Andersen’s Romeo and Juliet, and as Apollo, Zavarov has steadily gained momentum. “That body can do things—beautiful,” says Andersen. “He’s like a cat and a cat never looks bad.”
Born in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Zavarov started training at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow when he was 10. His parents, both professional dancers, felt he had a good body for ballet. He left Russia at 16 to attend the Pennsylvania Ballet summer program and then studied at the Boston Ballet School for two years. In Boston, he worked with Franco De Vita, who now heads American Ballet Theatre’s JKO School. “Roman is endowed with a perfect physique and amazing insteps,” says De Vita. “He was an excellent student, fully committed. Artistically, he took corrections to heart.”
Zavarov joined Boston Ballet II and then ABT’s Studio Company. He returned to Boston and spent a year in the corps of the main company. Seeking to expand his training in more dance styles and be closer to his future wife, Gina (whom he met while taking class at the Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet), he applied to The University of the Arts in Philadelphia. He won a scholarship and spent a year studying acting as well as dance. He then auditioned for Ballet Arizona and received an offer.
Andersen notes that Zavarov thrives onstage, where he projects his roles with an intensity beyond what he conveys in rehearsal. He enjoys acting enormously. However, he himself admits he needs to develop greater strength in several areas, particularly partnering. Fellow BAZ dancer and frequent partner Paola Hartley suggested when they began rehearsing Robbins’ In the Night that he try taking partnering classes. He took her advice. “The fact that he’s going,” she notes, “says a lot about him. He’s so willing to do everything he can to become a better dancer.”
Zavarov hopes to continue the momentum last season brought him. His dream roles include Balanchine’s Prodigal Son, which BAZ will stage later this season and which he hopes to learn. He has watched the video of Baryshnikov, his main inspiration as a dancer, many times already.
Andersen sees Zavarov’s potential and is ready to help him grow. “Next for Roman is going to be the prince in Sleeping Beauty,” he says. “What I’ve learned is you just have to keep pushing him. The more you give him, the better he gets.” Asked about what makes Zavarov stand out, Andersen doesn’t hesitate. “The remarkable thing about Roman is the honesty in his dancing. The audience connects to him instantly. That honesty shines through. Bodies can’t lie.”
Rosalie O' Connor is a freelance photographer based in NYC.
Pictured: Roman Zavarov in Apollo. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor.