With her soulful presence and elegant manner onstage, Yulia Stepanova was touted as a major talent when she graduated from the Vaganova Ballet Academy in 2009. She joined the Mariinsky Ballet, where her sensitive phrasing as Odette/Odile confirmed her potential. Stuck for a promotion, however, she made a bold move to Moscow, and it paid off: Stepanova is now the Bolshoi's newest principal, and a rising star.
Company: Bolshoi Ballet
Hometown: Orenburg, Southern Russia
Training: Vaganova Ballet Academy, St. Petersburg
Accolades: 2014 Taglioni Award for "Best Young Ballerina"
Stepanova in La Bayadère. Photo by Damir Yusupov, Courtesy Bolshoi Ballet
Vaganova legacy: Stepanova's final teacher at the Vaganova Ballet Academy was Lyudmila Safronova, a former student of Agrippina Vaganova herself. "She developed my individuality," says Stepanova. "She always told me: Yulia, when you appear onstage, you're not the girl next door, you're a ballerina."
Bolshoi goals: While Stepanova danced leading roles in her five years with the Mariinsky, she remained a coryphée: "Gradually I realized that there wouldn't be much change." After spending six months with Moscow's Stanislavsky Ballet, Stepanova worked up the courage to request an audition at the Bolshoi in 2015. "I was afraid—I thought that if the Mariinsky didn't work, it would be even more complicated with the Bolshoi." After a monthlong wait, however, she was offered a soloist position by Sergei Filin, and joined with her dancer husband, Kamil Yangurazov.
"Yulia has huge potential. Just wait—she will be one of the best."
Right place, right time: Soon after Stepanova's arrival, Makhar Vaziev became artistic director of the Bolshoi, and immediately noticed her. A string of big roles followed, and last summer, Vaziev promoted her straight to principal, skipping two ranks.
Star turns: Stepanova's favorite Bolshoi role so far is Nikiya in La Bayadère. While she had previously performed Gamzatti, when she auditioned in the role for Vaziev, he asked her to prepare the lead role instead. "I immediately said, 'Yes, please,' " she laughs. For the future, her wish list includes Giselle and works by Alexei Ratmansky and Yuri Possokhov.
Stepanova as Myrtha in Giselle. Photo by Damir Yusupov, Courtesy Bolshoi Ballet
Between styles: Stepanova has had to adjust to the more extroverted style in Moscow. "The tempi are much faster here," she says, "and everything is done with more emotions. I feel much freer, and more confident."
Jewels girl: To relax in her free time, Stepanova taught herself jewelry-making and loves to create tiaras: "I haven't danced with them yet, but I hope to some day. I'm probably still too shy!"