• Standarddatei
  • Standarddatei
  • Standarddatei

Meet the most iconic ballerina of the 21st century

Interview with Polina Semionova

Polina Semionova was the youngest principal in the company's history when she joined the Berlin State Ballet at age 18. She is considered to be the most iconic prima ballerina of the 21st century. After a long lockdown period and the birth of her second child she is back on stage with a different feeling and view.

Interview by Conor Schilling, PHotos By Marcus Lieberenz/ bildbuehne.de, www.bildbuehne.de, Januar 1, 2022

Growing up in Moscow, Polina attended the Moscow State Academy of Choreography. In 2002, she joined the Berlin State Ballet as a principal after an invitation from its artistic director, Vladimir Malakhov. Ever since, she’s danced across the world, picking up many awards along the way. Polina is known for her performances of Swan Lake, the Nutcracker and a Midsummer Night's Dream, among many others. 

Following a period as the principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre in New York ending in 2016, Polina settled in Berlin. She started a family, having her second child in summer 2021, while continuing to dance at the very highest level. Following an end of 2021 disrupted by Covid-19, we caught up with Polina on New Year's Day to find out what's next in 2022 and her plans for the future. She details the challenges of returning to professional dancing after pregnancy, her favourite ballets to perform during a glittering career, and how the pandemic has impacted her outlook on life...

Q: How do you organise your life with two children and all your other responsibilities?

I feel like it has to be organised better! But maybe that’s the way everyone feels. It’s hard, you can organise your working schedule – but it’s difficult to organise the kids. For me and my husband, it’s very difficult to give our kids to someone else, like a nanny. We don’t have lots of family here in Berlin, but my brother is a big help. When you give a child to your family to look after, it’s different. We don’t have someone who takes care of the children all the time so that’s why it’s difficult. It’s a lot of running between work and kindergarten.

Q: How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your work?

The pandemic has had a big impact. First of all, we had lockdown and it’s not just the theatre lockdown, the kindergarten is also locked down so the kids are at home. It’s been an amazing time to spend together, that’s what the pandemic gave us. During lockdown, I tried to squeeze in ballet training to keep in shape – it was difficult. This time also brought me to the decision to go for a second child – it was great timing for us. I didn’t feel like it was lost time, it’s brought me such happiness to have a second baby so that’s why the pandemic has affected life a lot, change!

Being in the studio at rehearsal now and performing on stage – there are less shows than before, you don’t know if next week you’re even going to rehearse or not. That’s why I appreciate to be able to work, to train, to dance so much - it’s a different feeling now. Before, it was more of a routine, now I can’t even call it a routine. 
Every day is like ‘Ah, I‘m able to do it, it’s so nice!’ You never know what will happen tomorrow and with the pandemic it’s become more extreme, the feeling of freedom has changed. 

This time also brought me to the decision to go for a second child – it was a great timing for us.

Polina Seminova, Principal Guest Artist at Berlin State Ballet 

Q: What does your average working day look like?

We wake up in the morning, we take one child to kindergarten and then the second child to someone to look after him, usually my brother. Then I start rehearsals. Between training and rehearsals, I always try to see my little one to feed her, so she’s calm! Right now, it’s not a full day of rehearsals because there are not as many performances as usual. In the evening, I’m either free, have a rehearsal, or a performance - it depends on the schedule.

Q: What is your favourite ballet role?

I like a lot – I think most dancers do! I like dramatic ballads like Manon and Onegin, as well as Romeo and Juliet. I think it’s the combination of the music and the story. They have more freedom than a pure classical ballet, which I enjoy. Each time I learn something new about myself in these roles. More recently, I also took part in a David Dawson premiere. I enjoyed it so much because it was more physical. This type of neo-classical choreography has shades of ideas, but it doesn’t have an exact script. I really enjoy dancing it.

Q: You’ve danced in lots of different companies, is it difficult to work with lots of different partners?

It is a challenge. Often when there’s not enough time. If you’re always with the same partner, you don’t need too many rehearsals as you know each other. You know what you do – you have fewer rehearsals and then you go on stage.
If it’s a new company, then it’s also another version of the ballet. You learn this version, you rehearse with a partner – it’s a process, it takes more time. But to be honest, I love it. I like to dance with different partners and to work on slightly or completely different versions. 
Different partners have different personalities. I learn so much new about a role I’ve done many times when I dance with new partners.

Imagine always doing the same thing. It won’t be boring, as you’ll always find something new, but it’s interesting to do something different.

Q: Are you still able to travel and work as a guest dancer since you’ve had a family?

That was the reason why I couldn’t continue to work in New York. It was very sad for me, but it was a decision I had to make. The American Ballet Theatre asked me if I could continue to come for half a year – three months, two months, dancing and going back home – I said no I can’t do it with a pain in my heart. When you have a kid, it’s different. They need to have a home; they need their parents, kindergarten, and friends.

I still travel in Europe in Russia and Italy. We also travelled to Japan, it’s just not so often as before. I think it’s still possible to travel and work, it just takes more arrangement. Let’s see what the New Year brings us!

Q: How difficult was it after pregnancy to get back in shape and on stage? 

I can’t say it was so hard with the first kid. With the second, it has been very different because it’s been so on and off. With the first kid, there was no pandemic. It was hard to come back, but then things went up slowly and surely. With the second kid now, it’s like a wave – you get there and you think ‘oh yeah, I start to feel stronger’ and it’s actually the body remembering from the first pregnancy, but then comes a lockdown or quarantine. This is frustrating as you have a goal and you don’t know when you can make it there.

I like to work with different partners and to work on slightly or completely different versions.

Polina Seminova, Principal Guest Artist at Berlin State Ballet

Q: Do you continue exercising until the end of your pregnancy or did you take a break?

I did what I felt I could do – and what I could do, I did. I wasn’t just lying down, but I also wasn’t training every day – because we weren’t allowed.
Also, during maternity leave you’re not allowed to visit ballet training. So I exercised at home somehow - in the corridors! I tried to keep moving and did what was possible.

Q: You’ve travelled a lot and lived in different places, but where is home for you?

For more than half of my life I’ve lived in Berlin. It doesn’t feel like that, maybe because I was travelling a lot – it was probably half on a plane, and half somewhere else! Things have changed a lot since the kids were born, so yes Berlin feels like home.

Q: What are your favourite sports and hobbies apart from ballet?

Whenever it’s possible, we try to visit castles and parks. When you visit, you wonder about the history of the castle, park, or museum. I can’t say I spend enough time doing this so I can’t call it a hobby, but it’s something I really enjoy in my free time.

I grew up in a time when someone else would talk about you, you wouldn't talk about yourself.

Polina Seminova, Principal Guest Artist at Berlin State Ballet

Q: What has changed in ballet since you were 18? Is there more competition or pressure?

Now people are more self-assured, that’s the impression I have. Everyone has an Instagram account; you have to promote yourself in the moment. When I grew up, self-promotion wasn’t so common. I grew up in a time when someone else would talk about you, you wouldn’t talk about yourself. Now it’s so common and if you don’t do it, people won’t know about you. It’s changed the mentality a bit – you’re not ashamed to show what you do, what you love – maybe it’s just my impression, but it feels different than before.

What could this change? The stage is something very personal. In my opinion, the stage should be very true, it shouldn’t be acting, it should be you. I hope all this modern media won’t change that. I hope that our profession will keep this true sense. When I go to the theatre, I want to see honest performers and dancers on stage. Maybe in this direction things have changed. Let’s see, it might still be too early to understand it.

Q: What advice would you give to your younger self?

I think I would tell myself to appreciate each moment, even the difficulties we experience along the way. Very often, when something is difficult – every show is difficult, every show is important – you always think you want to speed things up and want it be over quickly. You say ‘it’s almost over, I’m almost there’. 

Now with the pandemic, and all the years that have gone by, I understand how fast it goes. You shouldn’t try to make it even faster in your head. Every moment, you should live it completely and 100% - don’t think of tomorrow because it goes so fast.

Q: What’s the biggest mistake/mishap (if there is one) that’s happened to you on stage?

There’s often something that didn’t go like I wanted, and I remember a few shows where I was always thinking something wasn’t working. It could be in one place, two places, three places, it’s OK but when in each scene you dance there’s some mistakes, then I’m like ‘OK, this show didn’t go well’.

I had these shows where you think ‘how could it be like that, that in each entrance there’s a mistake?’ I always feel very bad after such a show – to calm myself, I say ‘would it matter in five years, probably not?’ I always think about what I can learn from these shows. The next day, you come back and you work harder and I think that’s a positive.

Every moment, you should live it completely and 100% – don't think of tomorrow because it goes so fast.

Polina Seminova, Principal Guest Artist at Berlin State Ballet

Q: What would your job be if you weren’t a professional dancer?

The first before going to ballet school, I went going to ice skating school. I really liked it, so I was thinking I would be an ice skater. If I hadn’t gone to ballet school after, I would have been an ice skater. When I started ballet school, I was so focused I couldn’t even imagine anything else. I was thinking if something happened and I couldn’t dance what would I be? It was such a hard question for me to answer.

Then I thought I would try to go to acting school because it’s similar to dancing. It’s a theatre and that’s what I wanted. For me, it’s always interesting to perform on stage – I don’t talk about movies. I always wanted to be on stage because from being a little girl, I was addicted to it.

Q: What would you say if your children wanted to start a professional ballet career?

Yes, if they want to, but only if it’s their own wish and it’s a strong wish. If they want to dance but only as a hobby, I say why not? Whatever makes a person happy. I would never push them if I feel they don’t want it because that will never work. Being a professional is so difficult, so it won’t work without a big wish – even if there’s a big talent!

Q: What are your hope, dreams and goals for the future?

In the next few years, I want to dance! I’m asking myself how I see myself in five years, ten years. I don’t know when I’ll finish my career, but I want to get to the point where I say ‘OK, I‘ve danced enough’ and I leave the stage with a happy soul. So that’s my goal, to dance, to enjoy and to get enough!

I think much less about things now like worrying ‘how am I going to do this show? I just live it; I live it with pleasure because I know in some years it will be the last show.

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Manage Preferences:
Privacy Policy