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Ballet Dancers about Filming the TV Series "Ballet"

Published 29.08.2023, author Zidans

Some of our favourite ballet dancers that we often collaborate with took part in the "Ballet" series. Most of them are dancers from The Stanislavski and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Academic Music Theatre (MAMT). We interviewed the dancers who played in the series: Ksenia Shevtsova, who was initially brought on as a consultant and later went through the casting process, Daria Yurchenko, Polina Zayarnaya, and Georgi Smilevski Jr.

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Photo source: "Videoprokat Studio" by Sergey Bondarchuk and Alexey Kiselev

People often find it difficult to watch movies or series about their profession because everything looks unnatural. As Daria Yurchenko says, she agreed to participate in the project when she found out the director's name (Evgeny Sagandzhiev) because it was a "chance to take part in something truly worthwhile about ballet." According to Georgi, all previous films about ballet are not truthful, "but here, I was confident that the project would show what ballet is truly like."


Photo source: Ksenia Shevtsova's archive. Pictured: Director Evgeny Sangadzhiev and dancers from the MAMT troupe - Ksenia Shevtsova, Daria Yurchenko, and German Borsai.

The film allows the audience to peek behind the scenes of the theater and see what is usually hidden. We became interested in whether such complex relationships exist in the ballet world.

Ksenia jokingly exclaims, "Are relationships difficult in the ballet world? Relationships can be difficult even in line for a coffee!" Then she explains that although the film is not a documentary, all the situations depicted could happen in reality. "Nothing is surprising or extraordinary in the plot," says Ksenia, "it is all within the framework of an academic theater with its internal ballet rules." "Creative people are always complex," says Daria. "In addition, the series shows a fictional but still vivid image of the main theater of the country, and it is a massive machine where everything can’t be simple."

According to Daria, to show the working process of dancers, the creators of the series took the advice of performers and invited consultants. Ksenia explains that the scenes of rehearsals for classical performances are highly realistic: "There were real ballet dancers, teachers, accompanists, and fragments of dances from the classical repertoire. Everything was filmed on an actual stage, with sets and theatrical costumes." Georgi adds that in many movies, actors playing ballet dancers don't have any ballet experience and know nothing about it. "In Evgeny Sangadzhiev's film, the working process was portrayed as authentically as possible because we are all currently working ballet dancers."


Photo from Ksenia Shevtsova's archive. Pictured: choreographer Vladimir Varnava (who played the role of teacher Kirill in the film), Daria Yurchenko, Polina Zayarnaya, Elena Solomanko, and Ksenia Shevtsova.

Each character had their personality and preferences in clothing and appearance. We asked them to tell us about their characters and how closely the personalities of the characters resembled the actors.

Ksenia, talking about her character Olesya, said: "She no longer believes that she will ever make it out of the corps de ballet, unlike her friends Karina and Bogdan. Olesya is a good worker but it's like she's stuck because she stopped believing in herself.

In our profession, a lot depends on chance, and when an opportunity arises to perform a new role, you have to be ready for it. It's important to do your job honestly, and then it won't go unnoticed by the choreographer. Through the casting with Ruth, Olesya gradually gains confidence and unfolds as a dancer."

In the episode where Ruth's assistant Anya, who is not a dancer, joins the rehearsals, Olesya notices Anya's appearance and says, "Dress simpler next time." Ksenia explains why Olesya reacted this way: 

"Anya comes to rehearsal and looks ridiculous to professional performers. She wears a bra under her T-shirt, a skirt, and ballet shoes over leggings. Perhaps Anya was trying to imitate a ballet dancer but followed stereotypes. And any stereotypes related to ballet annoy ballet dancers. And personally, Olesya was just annoyed by Anya's presence at the rehearsal, she found something to criticize."

Olesya herself wore a lot of black and had a simple look. "During rehearsals with Ruth, she predominantly followed her own style, wearing black and oversized clothing." Gradually, Olesya goes through an internal transformation and "opens up, feels more confident and starts allowing herself to wear more revealing clothing, such as a leotard with translucent tights, or a top with underwear."

Daria found a similarity between her character Karina and herself in the early years of working in the theater. "A lot of ambition, not completely understanding how the theater works, constantly dissatisfied with something. But you still don't understand how to fix it." Daria succinctly describes Karina's appearance as "a punk in ballet."

"The director understood that we are not film actors," says Georgi, whose character was Mikhail Rokotov. "That's why in the script we were very similar to ourselves in life. I didn't have to deliberately immerse myself in my character - I behave similarly at work anyway. The way Evgeny managed to capture each of us was magical."

On the other hand, Polina says about her character Inna that they are only partially similar: "Inna is a perfectionist who finds it difficult to go against the system. In some ways, I am probably the same. But if you look at the character as a whole, I'm not very close to her, so being natural in my reactions was not always easy."

Costume designer Natalya Turovnikova created a unique image for each character, and the actors partially wore their own clothes for authenticity. Lilia Kosyreva, co-founder of Zidans, assisted Natalya Turovnikova in selecting costumes for the actors on set.


In the photo: Lilia Kosyreva

She explains how important it is to communicate with each actor. "Some of them wanted to wear their own clothes, and you would recommend adding or changing something. We had to have several outfits in case someone didn't want to wear something."

Georgi recalls that the costume designer and assistants gave him a choice of several costumes for rehearsal scenes, and he would decide what to wear.

The style of clothing in the film was heavily influenced by the fact that most actors were from the MAMT troupe. According to Daria, "every theater has its own fashion." Ksenia confirms her words: "In our MAMT troupe, there is a unique style of dancewear. Perhaps it's influenced by the fact that we often perform contemporary choreography. Because of this, it may seem like the clothing style in the series is too sporty, but for our troupe, it is normal. We used our personal clothes, mixing them with pieces selected by the costume designer's team."


In the photo: Elena Solomyanko


In the photo: Natalya Somova


In the photo: Polina Zayarnaya

"In cinematography, time is very valuable," says Lilia. "There is no time to sew on set, so you have to rely on what has been made and prepared in advance. Any questions that arise have to be resolved using what is already available."

Costume designers not only dress the actors but also carefully monitor how the clothing looks on screen. "You watch the screen together with the director to keep an eye on the costumes. You have to make sure they are not wrinkled or misaligned, and fix any issues when necessary."


Photo source: "Videoprokat Studio" by Sergey Bondarchuk and Alexey Kiselev

Shooting dance scenes for a film is much harder than performing them on stage.

Due to the need for numerous retakes, the same dance had to be repeated many times, giving your all. Georgi recalls that they shot the fully rehearsed final performance of the troupe in the last episode seven times!


Photo source:

It was also difficult because the shooting often took place at night. "It is extremely difficult to access the theater stage during the day," explains Polina.

The most challenging part was staying energized in such conditions.

According to Ksenia, "In every shot, you have to deliver the best result, and after 3-4 takes, it becomes very difficult and concentration is lost. Movements become blurred and imprecise. The gaze, energy, and presentation fade away."


Daria Yurchenko, German Borsai, and Ksenia Shevtsova on set.


Photo source: Personal archive of Ksenia Shevtsova

Once on set around 5-6 in the morning, Daria and her colleagues decided to find a way to recharge. "During a thirty-minute break in our dressing room, we tried a practice from tantric yoga with the girls. And when we were all called to the set, we rushed with energy! The others were shocked that we were so lively at six in the morning," Daria recalls.


Photo source: Personal archive of Ksenia Shevtsova

Georgi tells a story from the set that happened during the filming of a scene in episode 8, where he, or rather his character, is lying in the bathtub, eating pizza, drinking beer, and texting on the phone. "Evgeniy said I had to dive and surface. I dived, but when I resurfaced, I accidentally hit the pizza box, and it fell into the water. It was a complete mess - the pizza got wet, the beer fell, and I lost a contact lens!"

For some of the dancers, the experience of filming in the movie was new, while for others it was not. But all of them unanimously speak of this experience as one filled with emotions and forcing them to leave their comfort zone. The filming remains a unique experience for them, and for Daria, it is also an event akin to a family one. "I managed to get married during the project! We filmed the last scene of the series on the evening before my wedding, and I was afraid of being late for the train, which was quite stressful at the time. Now I remember it as a cool episode from a movie."

We thank Ksenia Shevtsova, Daria Yurchenko, Polina Zayarnaya, and Georgi Smilevski Jr., as well as Lilia Kosyreva, for their detailed answers. 


Photo source: Personal archive of Polina Zayarnaya

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