Kovaleva soars in Swan Lake. Photo by M. Logvinov, Courtesy Bolshoi Ballet.

Meet Alena Kovaleva, the Teen Tackling Principal Roles at the Bolshoi Ballet

Whether etching the linear purity of Balanchine's "Diamonds" or slowly stretching her long arms as Odette, the Bolshoi's Alena Kovaleva is a promising young talent. Majestic port de bras and impeccable legs that draw into textbook-perfect arabesques make her an ideal choice for both classical and lyrical roles. She's already advancing at record pace and was promoted to soloist in just her second season.

Company: Bolshoi Ballet

Age: 19

Hometown: Saint Petersburg, Russia

Training: Vaganova Ballet Academy

Such great heights: After graduating from the Vaganova Academy, the nearly 5' 10" ballerina wasn't accepted into the affiliated Mariinsky Ballet. But height hasn't mattered in Moscow. "Height holds meaning in ballet, but talent is more important," says Makhar Vaziev, the Bolshoi's ballet director.

Kovaleva as Giselle. Photo by E. Fetisova, Courtesy Bolshoi Ballet

Breakout moment: The lead in "Diamonds" was Kovaleva's first principal role—Vaziev entrusted it to her just three weeks into her first season with the troupe, and cast her in it again for the company's New York City appearance at Lincoln Center last summer. "A lot of people said, 'Maybe it's too early to cast her. But it wasn't a risk. I cast her consciously," Vaziev says. "You have to be demanding of younger dancers, but trust them also."

"She's very bright, catches on fast. I absolutely believe in her." —Makhar Vaziev

Conquering dual roles: "It's always difficult to rehearse something new," Kovaleva says, mentioning Swan Lake. "It has different port de bras, different plastique, and you have to get used to that. You're portraying two characters, not just one."

Preparing for the stage: "Alena and I have a good mutual understanding," says her coach, former Kirov ballerina Olga Chenchikova. "And I'm never one to insist that she continue working when she's too tired." For Kovaleva though, there's never a time that she doesn't want to work. "It's never the case that I don't want to dance or go onstage," she says. "Going onstage is like a celebration. It's the culmination of all of your work. That's the greatest happiness for me."

What's on the horizon: With Nikiya, Odette/Odile, Myrtha and Queen of the Dryads already in her repertoire, it seems almost anything is possible. "I'd love to dance Mekhmene Banu and Carmen, but alongside classical ballets, I'd like to try modern roles, work with various choreographers, and guest with European or American theaters," says Kovaleva. "Working in a system that's different from yours helps you grow."

Kovaleva as Odile in Swan Lake. Photo by M. Logvinov, Courtesy Bolshoi Ballet

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July 2021