Meet Polina Semionova and Leonid Sarafanov, the stars from Mikhailovsky Ballet

Company will perform Nacho Duato’s lavish production of The Sleeping Beauty to close this year’s Hong Kong Arts Festival

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 March, 2016, 11:32am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 March, 2016, 11:32am

St Petersburg’s Mikhailovsky Ballet, which has made a big impact at home and abroad in recent years, closes this year’s Hong Kong Arts Festival with a lavish production of The Sleeping Beauty by Nacho Duato.

The cast for the performance on March 19 is led by two of ballet’s biggest international stars. Polina Semionova, the ex prima ballerina of Berlin Ballet who delighted Hong Kong audiences two years ago with the American Ballet Theatre, dances the title role. Leonid Sarafanov, who shot to fame as a principal with the Mariinsky Ballet before joining the Mikhailovsky in 2011, is her prince. We sat down with them ahead of the performance.

Have you danced The Sleeping Beauty together before?

Sarafanov: No, this is the first time.

Semionova: We’ve only danced together before in La Bayadere.

Is it difficult to dance with different partners in such a short space of time and with so little rehearsal?

Sarafanov: No, it’s not difficult to switch to another great ballerina. Right away, maybe, there’s some confused moments, but one day’s rehearsal is enough.

Semionova: [laughing] That’s because it’s you. Some other guys would say yes, it is difficult!

What’s special about Nacho Duato’s version of the ballet?

Sarafanov: It’s short. Usually The Sleeping Beauty is so long, so boring [everyone laughs]. The old version at the Mariinsky has three intermissions. Nacho has kept all the story but cut out the parts that aren’t necessary. The choreography is different, although Nacho has kept certain moments as a kind of bow to (19th century ballet dancer, teacher and choreographer) Marcus Petipa.

Semionova: In this production the role of Aurora has much more freedom, much more air. She’s not in a frame the way she is in the original production.

What made you want to join the Mikhailovsky Ballet? What is the company like?

Semionova: For me, first of all it was Russia. And St Petersburg, a city I love. Then the repertoire, with classical ballets and also, very important for me, ballets by Nacho. Another part is that I realised the atmosphere is very unusual for a Russian company, you feel more freedom.

Sarafanov: It’s not a big company, there are no heavy traditions. It’s like a family, it’s homey.

Semionova: Yes, it’s not big. You feel good there. I don’t want to say anything bad about big Russian companies, though.

Sarafanov: For me also, Nacho was a big reason to join the company. I didn’t know what the repertoire would be like, I just wanted to work with him.

What has made the Mikhailovsky so successful in the past few years?

Sarafanov: There’s a very intelligent marketing strategy. We also have great principal dancers like Polina, Ivan Vasiliev or Natalia Osipova who attract a lot of attention.

Below: watch Leonid Sarafanov (in orange T-shirt) do 11 double tours

Your wife Olesya Novikova is still a principal at the Mariinsky. Does it make life easier or harder not being in the same company? Do you ever get to dance together?

Sarafanov: This may sound strange, but it’s easier. Actually it’s very stressful dancing with my wife because I worry about her so much, more than I do with other partners.

Semionova: It’s the same for me when I dance with my brother. Usually while my partner does his solo I just sit on the floor and relax, but when I dance with my brother I’m watching him from the wings, I’m much more worried for him than about my next variation.

Sarafanov: Anyway, there hasn’t been much chance to dance with my wife these past few years – she’s just had our third child, who’s three months old. Always pregnant!

Do you have a ballet bucket list? Any things you haven’t yet done and particularly want to do?

Sarafanov: A lot! The list would be very long.

Semionova: I don’t like to look too far ahead. One thing leads to another, when it happens, then I think of the next one. My next big wish which is coming up is dancing Duato’s White Darkness. As soon as I saw it, I wanted to dance it.

Sarafanov: It’s very beautiful, a masterpiece.

What’s next for you after Hong Kong?

Sarafanov: Back to St Petersburg, then to Moscow to guest with the Stanislavsky Ballet in Frederick Ashton’s Rhapsody.

Semionova: To Berlin, where I’m performing in John Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet. I dance Juliet in versions of the ballet by Cranko, Kenneth MacMillan, Duato and Leonid Lavrovsky.

Do you ever get confused?

Semionova: Sometimes, yes! It’s a little confusing when you hear the same music and then comes different choreography. I have to always change the cassette inside my head.