Photo by Nathan Sayers

Q&A: The Bolshoi's Olga Smirnova On Dancing On Balanchine's Stage

New York City is getting an embarrassment of riches this week—riches of the Emerald, Diamonds and Rubies variety. The Bolshoi Ballet, Paris Opéra Ballet and New York City Ballet will be sharing the stage at Lincoln Center to present George Balanchine's Jewels in celebration of the iconic ballet's 50th anniversary.

One of the many stars we're excited to see is Olga Smirnova, our June 2014 cover girl, who will be performing the lead in "Diamonds" as well as the role of Bianca in Jean-Christophe Maillot's Taming of the Shrew next week.

We caught up with her before the performances started to find out about these roles and how it feels to perform on Balanchine's home stage.

What was it like working with Jean-Christophe Maillot, and having him create the role of Bianca on you?

It was such a blessing. Jean-Christophe Maillot creates something especially for you using all of your features—physical and psychological. The role of Bianca fit me like a suit perfectly tailored to my measurements.

Does dancing Taming of the Shrew feel different to you now, after coming back from time off due to injury?

Injury gave me time to think. It was a period of some reboot, to comprehend the huge amount of information that fell on me after graduating from the Ballet Academy.

Do you feel extra pressure performing "Diamonds" for a New York audience on Balanchine's stage?

Of course, I feel responsibility and excitement, not only because I will dance in the homeland of Jewels, but also because of the scale of the event. To be a part of a grandiose project, with the participation of three leading ballet theaters, to see the embodiment of the choreographer's idea in a combination of three different styles in one evening, it is breathtaking.

People often consider "Diamonds" to be the Russian section of Jewels—do you see it that way?

For me, "Diamonds" is an embodiment, a symbol of the St. Petersburg classical ballet, where the center and the top of everything is the ballerina, in whose cold radiance beauty and perfection must be seen. Her favor is what her partner is trying to achieve, and he tries to solve her puzzle;. I see in this majesty and nobility, inaccessibility on the one hand, and at the same time the mystery of feminine nature, its appeal and spirituality. All this embodies the ideal of a woman that exists only in dreams. Not without reason, Suzanne Farrell—the first performer of "Diamonds"—and then Merrill Ashley were the muses.

How has life at the Bolshoi changed under new director Makhar Vaziev?

The atmosphere in the theater depends heavily on the artistic director because his artistic taste determines the repertoire and direction of the company. I think Makhar Vaziev strives first of all for quality, especially for classical ballets. He very much looks after the purity of performance, impeccable classical form and positions, and he can often be found in the studios, in both solo and corps de ballet rehearsals, and he is always present at the performances. I like that he gives a chance to anyone who wants to prepare a role and periodically arranges showings.

Who do you see as the most inspiring dancers in the Bolshoi right now?

I often go to the theater performances, even if I'm not in them, because I think that you can learn a lot. I also like to watch from the side, because I often see then more clearly how I would like to perform a ballet. But my idol and the example of an intellectual ballerina, a great artist, has always been and remains Diana Vishneva, with whose performances I grew up.

Do you have any plans for your time off while you're in New York?

Tours are expected to be busy, so there will not be much free time. But I have plans to see friends, and to visit the Guggenheim Museum, where I was invited to a modern exhibition that combines dance and light technology.

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Studio shots by Alinne Volpato

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Something magical happens when Jovani Furlan smiles at another dancer onstage. Whether it's a warm acknowledgment between sections of Jerome Robbins' Dances at a Gathering or an infectious grin delivered in the midst of a puzzle box of a sequence in Justin Peck's Everywhere We Go, whoever is on the receiving end brightens.

"I could stare at him forever," says New York City Ballet principal Megan Fairchild. "He's just that kind of open spirit. He's not judging anything. It's like he's looking at you with his arms wide open and a big smile—even if he's not smiling, that's the energy he's giving you."