Spotlight...Larissa Ponomarenko of Boston Ballet
Perfectly embodying the balletic ideal of gracious elegance, Boston Ballet principal dancer Larissa Ponomarenko is exquisitely expressive on stage. In person, she is strikingly warm, articulate and passionate.
Born in Odessa, Ukraine, she trained at the Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg (both part of the Soviet Union at that time). She was a soloist dancing principal roles with Ukraine's Donetsk Ballet when the company toured to the United States in 1990. She and her husband, dancer and choreographer Viktor Plotnikov, took jobs with Ballet Mississippi; three years later, they began careers as principal dancers with Boston Ballet.
Russian Pointe Can you tell us a bit more about your move from Ukraine?
Larissa Ponomarenko Thanks to perestroika, we were able to sign a one-year contract in the U.S. and get work visas. It was a big challenge moving to a new continent when I was 19 years old, leaving my family in Ukraine. And it was just after the Cold War, [and] I was told negative things about moving here. That was another challenge to overcome.
RP How have you found life and dance in the U.S.?
LP People here accept you as you are, they accept your differences. You can be yourself, make mistakes and learn from them. And when Viktor and I came to Boston, we found that the repertoire and coaching were great. I felt that I was learning constantly, which is all that I could wish for. I love my colleagues [at Boston Ballet], whether dancers or pianists, artistic staff or stage management. Working with all of them shoulder to shoulder every day is a pleasure.
RP Do you visit Ukraine frequently?
LP My mom and dad, sister and nephew are all there, and we visit once a year. I miss them, but since I was ten I've never seen them for longer than about two months at a time, because I was at school in St. Petersburg.
RP Is Russian dance training very different from American training?
LP The attitude toward the profession is different. I went to a government school, where they molded students into professionals. It was a whole process of training to be a professional, and you had to make a decision about your career at age ten, not after high school! I gained a lot of independence, and I've always made my own decisions.
RP Do you think it is necessary to start professional training at such a young age?
LP The body is your tool, and it cannot wait. Some dancers can start later than ten, depending on the individual, if they have softness in their muscles and joints, and musicality. Often a person has either an incredible body or artistic intelligence, but not both. But when someone has a good brain and musicality, they can work on the physical part.
RP Do you still get chances to work with your husband Viktor [a former partner]?
LP He is choreographing for Boston Ballet's gala in October and I'm very excited about the piece - a pas de deux for me and Yuri Yanowsky to a cello concerto by Chopin. I love to see his imagination come to life when we are working together in the studio. He likes me to be creative too, and takes my input. We understand each other very well, we have similar tastes and training, and it's easier to fulfill what he imagines. Feeling the music together - that is the best time! It's very fulfilling to work with someone I love, to share and feel him energetically and spiritually. I do miss dancing with him [in performance] - my dream is to learn ballroom dancing with him, but so far there isn't any time because he is so busy traveling and choreographing. [Photo: with James Whiteside in Viktor Plotnikov's Tension and Beauty]
What impresses you most about other dancers?LP
I love watching beautiful dancing. I like to be inspired, whether it is bold and fearless or elegant and graceful. I get truly inspired when I see the honest, genuine projection of the soul. And when that projection is all about love, when I am in the audience I get enlightened! I get that inspiration mostly from mature dancers, probably because they are simply at a farther point in their life journey - farther in their development as human beings. RP
What is your biggest challenge at this point in your career?
LP Keeping my body in shape as I get older! I am at the stage of my life and profession when I enjoy dancing more than I ever did. I don't plan my retirement - I will take it year by year, day by day, performance by performance. Like any other dancer, I try to take good care of my body.
Do you care for your body in special ways?
LP Through many years of work, some injuries and the help of many therapists, I have developed a routine of stretches, exercises and treatment - it takes self-discipline to follow but it holds me together. You can get to know your body and make up your own exercises. So much depends on your spirit, and everyone is different. I am also a member of a health club for at least six months of the year, where I use the swimming pool, Jacuzzi and sauna to help detoxify and relax my body, to release tension and stuck energy. I put my feet in icy water to take down inflammation, and take hot baths with Epsom salts (and some candles of course!). I get massage and acupuncture a few times a month. And of course my body needs more time to warm up before rehearsals and classes than it did when I was 19.
Let's talk about pointe shoes! What do you wear, and how do you prepare your shoes?
LP I wear Entradas, with the sides cut so that they dip down. I am also going to get a cushion added to the back of the platform to make them quieter. I take out the binding around the heel and raise it up, making the heel very high. I glue a piece of suede to the tip and then darn the edge to enlarge the platform slightly and give me a ridge around it. I use only ribbons, no elastics, but the high heel makes me feel more secure.
Photos, top to bottom:
*Sugar Plum Fairy in Nutcracker, photo by Tanya Schmidt, courtesy of Central Florida Ballet and Larissa Ponomarenko
*With Roman Rykine in Midsummer Night's Dream, courtesy of Boston Ballet and Larissa Ponomarenko
*Larissa in Ukraine, courtesy of Larissa Ponomarenko
*With James Whiteside in Tension and Beauty, performed at the World Ballet Competition gala in Orlando, photo by Virginia Trudeau
*With Roman Rykine in Cinderella, courtesy of Boston Ballet and Larissa Ponomarenko
*With Roman Rykine in Nutcracker, photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy of Boston Ballet
*Larissa's pointe shoe, Russian Pointe photo