Prima ballerina Daria Klimentová talks to Georgina Butler about pirates, perfect partners and pointe shoes ahead of English National Ballet’s return to Milton Keynes Theatre.
Daria Klimentová is English National Ballet’s senior principal dancer. She has been one of Britain’s best-loved ballerinas for two decades and her clean and pure technique makes her a joy to watch.
Daria was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic), and started gymnastics when she was 5 years old. At 10 she entered the Prague State Conservatoire of Music and Dance where she was placed into a training scheme for future principal dancers. Upon graduating she was immediately offered a soloist contract with the National Theatre Ballet Company in Prague. A move to the Capab/Kruik Ballet based in Cape Town, South Africa, preceded three years with Scottish Ballet.
In 1996, Daria was invited by the then Artistic Director of English National Ballet, Derek Deane, to join English National Ballet. Her repertoire includes all the major classical ballet roles and works by many contemporary choreographers.
In 2011 she was featured in two episodes of the BBC documentary series The Agony and the Ecstasy – a fascinating insight into English National Ballet. Viewers followed Daria and her regular dance partner (the young Russian principal Vadim Muntagirov) as they prepared for the famous “in the round” Swan Lake at the Royal Albert Hall in London. The pair have forged a remarkable partnership, which is frequently likened to the Fonteyn/Nureyev relationship. The documentary also showed the chaotic process of creating the Sugar Plum Fairy role for Wayne Eagling’s Nutcracker at the Coliseum Theatre, London.
Now in her forties, Daria continues to captivate audiences with her impeccable dancing. As well as being in great demand as a guest artist all over the world, this prima ballerina is also a talented photographer and highly respected director/teacher.
It is with excitement, then, that I learn I will have the opportunity to talk to Daria ahead of English National Ballet’s return to Milton Keynes Theatre for the premiere of Le Corsaire. The chance to interview a classical ballerina of such fame appeals to both my undying love of all things ballet and my ambition to educate the people of Milton Keynes about the wonders of dance. We should be honoured that English National Ballet premiered The Sleeping Beauty with Tamara Rojo here last year, and that Tamara has now chosen to premiere this latest work in the new city.
Before discussing Le Corsaire, I asked Daria about the tenacity, drive and preparation required to succeed when dancing – whether as a corps de ballet dancer or a principal. Laughing, she said:
Keep working, keep working, keep working! Daria Klimentová
Does she follow any rituals before a performance, to bolster all that hard work?
No, no, I used to when I was younger but it is much better to just get on with it. If it doesn’t work then you just need to work harder next time. You can only try your best. We work hard and we always try our best.
The most important thing is to prepare yourself thoroughly. To know that you have put all the work in before and have solid technique. Then you can just dance and know you can make the most of the performance. This is much better than having to do any silly superstitious things – they are just something else to worry about! Daria Klimentová
So, what is Daria’s pre-performance routine?
Class in the morning followed by a big lunch. I’ll then try to fit in a quick sleep – or at least take the chance to lie down and relax – before eating a good meal at about 4pm. I get to the theatre about two hours before the show, do my make-up and my hair and then warm up. Daria Klimentová
Fans will be disappointed to learn that Daria will not be warming up to take to the stage here in Milton Keynes due to recovering from an injury. She explained this in a sincerely apologetic – almost embarrassed – tone.
I am so sorry not to be dancing in the first shows on the tour at Milton Keynes. I actually start back in rehearsals on the first Thursday of performances. I will be at opening night though, taking pictures, and I am looking forward to dancing the role of Medora at the other theatres on our Le Corsaire tour. Daria Klimentová
Passion, Pirates and Pas de Deux:
An insight into Le Corsaire…
The latest thrilling production from English National Ballet sails into the new city next week and principal dancer Daria Klimentová promises audiences adventure, excitement and impressive dancing in a ballet she grew up admiring.
Following a sell-out season last year, the UK’s leading touring ballet company returns to Milton Keynes Theatre with the premiere of Le Corsaire (The Pirate) on Thursday 17 October. English National Ballet is the first UK company to perform the complete work (under the guidance of artistic director and principal dancer Tamara Rojo) and Daria is keen to stress that this is a swashbuckling ballet for everyone.
Having joined English National Ballet in 1996, Daria was awarded the title of Best Female Dancer of the Year for 2012 by the Dance Critics Circle last year and the talented prima ballerina is also a highly respected dance teacher/director and photographer.
I have seen changes at ENB over the years, of course, and with Tamara joining as artistic director comes exciting opportunities for new repertoire. The aim has always been, and still is, to bring ballet to everyone. Classical ballets – story ballets – will always be popular but it is very important to bring different stories to the public. Daria Klimentová
Le Corsaire is based on the poem ‘The Corsair’ written by Lord Byron and the tale transports the audience from Turkish bazaars to hidden caves, with plenty of love, betrayal, disguise and conspiracy along the way. Over 60 dancers will be accompanied by a live symphony orchestra for English National Ballet’s re-imagining of the 19th century classic, which culminates with the spectacle of a shipwreck. It is an epic story of love between Conrad, a dashing pirate, and Medora, the beautiful harem girl who is rescued from slavery by her sword-wielding lover.
Daria has danced all the mainstream major classical roles but until now she could only dream of dancing Medora.
I am thrilled that we are bringing Le Corsaire to towns and cities in the UK. Tamara wanted to bring something different and this ballet is still very classical – which I personally like best – but it is just not very well known. Still, there are only so many times you can see Sleeping Beauty.
I grew up watching Le Corsaire in Prague and have always loved it. The role of Medora is something I didn’t think I would be lucky enough to do at this point in my career. I am very privileged to be able to dance it with ENB.
Rehearsals have allowed me to discover Medora. She is very flirtatious and the audience will see that as soon as she is onstage. She has lots of variations and is quite classical, which is very me. I like Swan Lake and the other ‘tutu-ballets’ but she offers excitement as she flirts with all the men, even though her heart is for Conrad. Daria Klimentová
As noted earlier, unfortunately Daria is recovering from an injury and will not be dancing the role in Milton Keynes but her present dance partner Vadim Muntagirov will take to the stage as Conrad in the evening performance on Saturday 19th October.
The pas de deux from Le Corsaire was made famous by Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev and the ballet showcases some of the most bravura male dancing in the repertoire. Daria explains that for English National Ballet’s take on the ballet (based on the version by American Ballet Theatre) extra choreography has been added for the female dancers.
Normally the classics are very female focused but Le Corsaire gives the men lots of variations.
There are lots of somersaults and plenty of flying through the air. Daria Klimentová
While the male members of the company will demonstrate their athleticism with virtuoso turns, leaps and jumps, the female dancers will be on their toes, feet encased in pointe shoes, performing seemingly impossible feats of ballet technique. Daria wears Russian shoes and, although she orders ten pairs a month, she will generally get through five pairs each month, depending on the intensity of rehearsals.
The audience will enjoy the selection of variations for the male dancers, but we still have all the classical dancing en pointe and the beautiful pas de deux. Vadim is my Nureyev and I am inspired by him and the other dancers around me every day.
Le Corsaire is the perfect ballet to experience all the beauty of classical technique and see a different side to ballet. Our beautiful girls and hunky men bring the harem and pirate crew to life. Daria Klimentová
The magical world of pirates and sumptuous Turkish palaces will be translated to the stage with sets designed by legendary Hollywood film designer Bob Ringwood and a pirate ship will also grace the stage.
I still have not seen the ship as it is being built just in time for the first show in Milton Keynes but it will be a spectacular sight and the shipwreck is going to be very dramatic. All the family will enjoy the show. Everyone, but especially children – both boys and girls – will find the production exciting, as pirates fight onstage and the music and movement tells the story.
No one should be scared to watch something new, all you need to know is that it is about a handsome pirate and his love for his girl. Just come and watch and enjoy. Daria Klimentová
*Photography courtesy of English National Ballet.
English National Ballet’s Le Corsaire is at Milton Keynes Theatre from Thursday 17 to Saturday 19 October 2013.
Update 18 October 2013: Read my review of the world premiere of English National Ballet’s Le Corsaire.
Georgina Butler is an editor, a dance writer and a ballet teacher.