For Irina Dvorovenko, Ballet Wasn't a Profession, But a Lifestyle
Some people take this profession as just a chapter of their life. They feel like dance is a job—a fun job, but a job. Other people live their life through dance. I never considered being a ballerina a profession. It's a lifestyle.
If I don't have a performance, I feel like a tiger trapped in a cage. I have so many emotions, I feel I need to give them to somebody, to exhaust myself—I need to cry or laugh, or else it's suffocating. Other people might scream or throw bottles into the wall. We dancers scream onstage through our movement. For me, it's like sweeping off the dust in my soul.
Dvorovenko with Yazbeck in The Beast in the Jungle. Photo by Carol Rosegg, Courtesy Sam Rudy Media Relations.
Through the characters you dance, you get to explore all the sides of being human. You experience their breakups, their betrayal—even if it's never happened in your life. I discovered myself through dance. It taught me how to be me as a person.
I'm 45, so I need to be smart about what my body can handle. If I have an opportunity to dance, and I can do it, I'll try. But now I'm also transferring what I've learned into acting—the body language, the coordination and musicality. I always transformed myself to get into the skin of the characters I danced; now, instead of just talking through the story inside my head, I open my mouth. Whether it's in theater, like Susan Stroman's The Beast in the Jungle, or TV shows, like "Flesh and Bone" or "The Americans," acting gives me another chance to express myself.
Irina Dvorovenko with Yazbeck in The Beast in the Jungle. Photo by Carol Rosegg, Courtesy Sam Rudy Media Relations.
Every dancer knows you have to be super-disciplined: Half of your brain has to work like you're in the military. And the second half has to be very artistic and creative. My husband, Maxim, and I still take Nancy Bielski's class at Steps on Broadway pretty much every day. It's like the Bible for us. Some days you're so tired and sore and hurt, you feel like you can't stand up, but you know you need to go to class.
All my life, I wanted to be the prima ballerina. I wanted to be an ambassador for beauty. Of course, there are struggles, and many injuries, but for me, the theater still feels like a church. Inside, I get the feeling that I am protected, like the guardian angels are watching me.
Alicia has died. I walked around my apartment feeling her spirit, but knowing something had changed utterly.
My father, the late conductor Benjamin Steinberg, was the first music director of the Ballet de Cuba, as it was called then. I grew up in Vedado on la Calle 1ra y doce in a building called Vista al Mar. My family lived there from 1959 to 1963. My days were filled with watching Alicia teach class, rehearse and dance. She was everything: hilarious, serious, dramatic, passionate and elegiac. You lost yourself and found yourself when you loved her.
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.
It's Nutcracker time again: the season of sweet delights and a sparkling good time—if we're able to ignore the sour taste left behind by the outdated racial stereotypes so often portrayed in the second act.
In 2017, as a result of a growing list of letters from audience members, to New York City Ballet's ballet master in chief Peter Martins reached out to us asking for assistance on how to modify the elements of Chinese caricature in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker. Following that conversation, we founded the Final Bow for Yellowface pledge that states, "I love ballet as an art form, and acknowledge that to achieve a diversity amongst our artists, audiences, donors, students, volunteers, and staff, I am committed to eliminating outdated and offensive stereotypes of Asians (Yellowface) on our stages."
An audience member once emailed Dallas choreographer Joshua L. Peugh, claiming his work was vulgar. It complained that he shouldn't be pushing his agenda. As the artistic director of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, Peugh's recent choreography largely deals with LGBTQ issues.
"I got angry when I saw that email, wrote my angry response, deleted it, and then went back and explained to him that that's exactly why I should be making those works," says Peugh.
With the current political climate as polarized as it is, many artists today feel compelled to use their work to speak out on issues they care deeply about. But touring with a message is not for the faint of heart. From considerations about how to market the work to concerns about safety, touring to cities where, in general, that message may not be so welcome, requires companies to figure out how they'll respond to opposition.