Ballerina Zenaida Yanowsky on performing the Dying Swan

Ballet is coming to Sadler’s Wells Sampled festival on 2 & 3 February with the beautiful ballerina Zenaida Yanowsky performing the Dying Swan, a role that was created for Anna Pavlova who danced it more than 4,000 times during her career.

Sadler’s Wells Sampled gives audiences a taste of different types of dance, from classical ballet to hip hop, contemporary and flamenco, through shows and workshops.

The Wonderful World of Dance asked the former Royal Ballet principal dancer about this ultimate classical role, her career highlights, and what the future holds for this incredible artist.

What inspired you to take part in Sadler’s Wells Sampled?

I can’t imagine anything more rewarding than introducing my art form to a discovering audience. And that is what Sampled is all about – an introduction taster towards new experiences.

You’re performing Fokine’s Dying Swan that was created for Anna Pavlova, how have you prepared for the role and your performance at Sadler’s Wells?

My preparation is the same as for any other role and performance – study the piece, rehearse it til it feels like second skin, so you can enjoy the stage experience.

Throughout your career you have performed the other swan role of Odette/Odile, what does the role mean to you?

I felt I had achieved one of the pinnacle of my career. It’s a difficult role where you have to overcome fiendishly technical hurdles, making the characters feel effortless and in control. A choreographic masterpiece intertwines with a musical masterpiece. Every ballerina’s dream I would think…

You retired from The Royal Ballet last year after 23 years, looking back over your incredible career, what are you most proud of?

This is a difficult question as 23 years at The Royal ballet is packed with incredible moments, on and off the stage. I guess there are a few things I’m proud of, and one of them is having the emotional luxury of coming back to work after having my kids. Every emotion was suddenly magnified, and time at home and at work became eccentrically precious.

Zenaida Yanowsky. Photo by Rob Moore.
Zenaida Yanowsky. Photo by Rob Moore.

What have been your greatest challenges in your career and how have you overcome these?

My height has always been my handicap… Nevertheless, I grew up believing no-one in the arts should be boxed in by the looks or measurements…and I still think that!! If you can do the work to a high standard and transmit the message, then you are worth the chance. That’s what I have always tried to achieve.

Can you tell us about some of the projects your currently working on or have planned for the future?

Since my retirement from The Royal Ballet, I’ve given myself over a year to do independent work with people I find interesting, and also slow degrees in work. I’m also interested in passing on the knowledge I’ve gathered over the years to this wonderful new generation of dancers.

You’ve been able to combine a professional career with being a parent, what can the dance industry do to better support parents?

I’m pleased you are asking this question, because I feel very strongly about allowing the dancers (especially women) to be able to freely make the choice of starting a family at any time in their career, without the fear of some kind of punishment.

Times are changing and organisations are growing in awareness. I know this is a steady process, but I would love to see a future where a classical dancer can combine the ability to have a family and still grow as an artist.

Many women in my world are scared of starting a family early, because they fear their career will be stumped, unable to get promoted by stopping all new challenges. It’ll be interesting to see a little re-organisation to help those parents.

Do you have any aspirations to choreograph or to become involved in the management of a dance company, perhaps an artistic director?

No… but then, life sometimes takes you to places you never thought you would go to.

Sampled aims to introduce new audiences to a range of dance, including ballet, how do you feel we can encourage people to come to the ballet for the first time?

Dance is part of any human being from the day they are born, and so is music and language. Why suppress something that is in our nature?

What are you looking forward to the most over the coming year?

A holiday trip on the campervan with my family.

What advice would you give to other dancers who aim to emulate your career?

Don’t ever try to recreate anybody’s career, but use it as a template or a stepping stone to propel yours.