If you think Black Swan showed you all you need to know about ballet, you are sorely mistaken. Hunger TV brings together two emerging UK ballet dancers from two contrasting disciplines: Ksenia Ovsyanick from English National Ballet who has just performed at the Royal Albert Hall in Derek Deane’s Swan Lake, and solo contemporary dancer Indianna Beverley Lewis.
Here, both dancers go head to head as they ask each other about their similarities and differences, inspiring choreographers and the need to defy criticism and be fearless.
HOW DID YOU DISCOVER BALLET?
Indianna: I don’t mind going first. I discovered ballet through my mum, it was a childhood after school activity that all of us used to do, just so that mum could give us some extra after activities to keep us entertained.
Ksenia: It’s probably again thanks to my mum. As a kid she would take me to see different performances, theatre, ballet, concerts and from the first time I saw ballet I felt like it was my calling. And I was only about three at the time.
YOU’VE BOTH TRAVELLED WITH BALLET, WHAT HAS SURPRISED YOU ABOUT DANCE IN OTHER COUNTRIES?
Indiana: The first place I travelled to was in America, to The Dance Theatre in Harlem, and it was a huge eye opener for me. It was quite shocking because I was young, 16 at the time, and I realised that dance was very competitive which I hadn’t seen beyond the walls of Great Britain. I think for me, I realised I was behind most dancers my age and I had to work extra hard if I wanted to become a dancer professionally. But there were certain things that differed from country to country, for example, here in the UK whilst growing up in ballet schools, the approach was that it wasn’t good if you did gymnastics, horse riding and ballet together, you would have to choose because of the way the muscles would develop and grow as a child. I used to do horse riding and ballet, so I had to drop out of the horse riding to stick with the ballet ad I wanted to do gymnastics, but my ballet teacher wouldn’t allow me due to the way the muscles would grow. When I went to the States I found that one of the rules for the kids was that they had to do ballet and gymnastics together, so they were a lot more flexible in their approach, which lead to stronger dancers.
Ksenia: I had the opposite experience in a way, I travelled at the same age, I came from Russia when I was 16, and in Russia everybody did gymnastics and ballet, and I was shocked by the different approach here in England. But it’s more about personality here. You can be your own person when you’re dancing. I saw more of the dance and more of the individuality, which wasn’t so much appreciated in Russia.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST INSPIRING EXPERIENCE FOR YOU SO FAR?
Indiana: I’d say what’s inspiring to me is getting the opportunity to travel to different countries and see how people do things in the world of dance It’s like Ksenia said earlier, you pick up the best of both worlds. I’d say it’s an experience that inspires you to keep reaching out.
Ksenia: I’d say individual experiences. Sometimes when I’m on stage I have this amazing control of my body, I’m in control of what I’m doing and in the character and have this incredible connection with the audience. It’s inspiring when you get to that side. Every time it happens it inspires me to work for it again.
DANCE IS OF COURSE ABOUT COMMUNICATING EMOTION THROUGH MOVEMENT. BUT WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE IN APPROACH BETWEEN DANCING A CLASSICAL PIECE AND A MODERN PIECE?
Indiana: I feel that dancing a classical piece is quite rigid, in terms of the movement. I can’t communicate much through classical ballet, although I love the discipline of it. But I feel that that with modern dance you can express yourself more freely, it allows me to express emotions and my movements with fewer restrictions on where exactly to place my body.
Ksenia: Yes I would agree with that. I find that with ballet it’s the shape or the position that comes first, then you try to put feeling on top of it, but the priority is what the shape of the body is. Where as in contemporary, it comes more from the way you feel, that creates the shape, which gives you much less restrictions in terms of how you express yourself. I feel I relate more to contemporary dance and I do try to achieve that through ballet but it’s much more challenging.
WHAT ARE THE DISCIPLINES AND SIMILARITIES BETWEEN COLLABORATING WITH PARTNERS FROM DIFFERENT BALLET DISCIPLINES?
Indiana: I think it can be really interesting because it really does depend on the person you’re dancing with or the people that you’re collaborating with. For example, I have a dance partner and together we do a lot of joint independent dance projects and he comes from a very contemporary non ballet background and my techniques are from ballet so we differ in terms of technicality but we share this similarity to express our emotions through the movements. And this is what enables you to collaborate successfully. Normally, I’d say, that the similarities are based on technique .
Ksenia: Yes I agree with that, the best experiences with a partner are when you communicate with each other and when you have an understanding. It depends more on the personality rather than a dance world they’re coming from. So it can go either way, when you’re collaborating with a different partner. You have to connect on a more personal level.
Indiana: Personality is definitely a big thing because if you don’t click, it’s very difficult to harmonise together.
HOW DO YOU FIND WAYS TO BE FEARLESS AS AN ARTIST?
Indiana: It varies, but I think to be fearless as a dancer I think about family issues, struggles my mother has gone through for instance, it makes me stand up to the challenge. I feel I can pretty much do most things when I have the comfort of my issues in the back of my mind.
Ksenia: For me I strongly believe that you have to be fearless to be able to do ballet. I believe that anybody can do anything, that you can do as much as you believe you can. So whenever I do experience fear or anything like that, I just try to convince myself that if somebody else can do it, you can do it. Or that the only thing in the way is my fear, rather than anything else.
WHAT ARE THE THINGS YOU BELIEVE YOU SHOULD BE FEARLESS AND UNAPOLOGETIC AS AS AN ARTIST?
Indiana: I think you shouldn’t fear criticism, because people say all kinds of things and everyone is entitled to have their own view and opinion. You have to learn to get over this, to be fearless about dance, because it’s more than enough to stop anyone’s career.
Ksenia: I have to agree, it would be criticism, because it can make you doubt yourself or believe in yourself. It’s somebody else’s opinion and it’s really subjective so one shouldn’t doubt anything because of someone’s opinion.
HOW HAS YOUR BODY DEVELOPED OVER THE YEARS AS A DANCER, HAS THERE BEEN A LOT OF STRAIN?
Ksenia: It definitely does add strain, it changes your shape depending on what ballet you’re doing. It definitely does put pressure especially on the back, I think for different people it would be different areas, but for me it affected my back. I have to be careful about doing certain rotations on a regular basis.
WHO WOULD YOU BOTH LIKE TO WORK WITH?
Indiana: Kat Wildish. She danced for the American Ballet Theatre. She’s amazing and the work she performs and the way she trains her dancers is incredible. It would be a dream to dance with her and to do a piece with her it would be unbelievable.
Ksenia: First of all it’s actually quite a hard question because I’m very keen to work with different dancers and choreographers as much as possible. I like to explore and try new things but to pick a person I would say William Forsythe. I did a very short piece not so long ago and I really enjoyed dancing it, but I found it quite challenging so I’d love to do some work with him on it.
WHAT ARE YOUR UPCOMING PROJECTS?
Indiana: My goal right now is to get back on top of things, I’ve turned down performances so that I can get organised again, so I’m open to projects. I take classes with Ballet Black so in the future I may audition with Ballet Black .
Ksenia: I work full time with the English National Ballet, so at the moment we are finishing Swan Lake at The Royal Albert Hall. It’s a reworked expanded version choreographed by Derek Deane. After that we are preparing a triple bill of a new production which will be at the end of July at The London Coliseum. After that there’s four weeks holiday and then the new season starts all over again…