Tetyana Martyanova joined Russian Pointe Dance Boutique in July, 2008, and has enriched the staff with her unique approach to life, dance and art. After training at the Odessa Ballet Academy in Ukraine, at age 16 she was invited to compete at the Youth America Grand Prix in New York. She received second place in the Senior Classical Category and was awarded a scholarship to the Harid Conservatory in Florida, where she studied for the next two years. In 2004, she and her friend Kateryna Derechyna were the subject of the Dance Magazine article "From Ukraine with Love."
Since graduation from Harid, she has danced for Columbia Classical Ballet, Carolina Ballet Theater and other companies. Since her move to Chicago two years ago, when she joined Elements Contemporary Ballet, she has also guested with Alma Classical Ballet Company and Hedwig Dances, and performed Tino Sehgal's choreography at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Tetyana has been a model and is a visual artist, creating drawings, costume designs, paintings and fashion, including the two-piece set above and the crocheted dress, orange shirt and blue and brown costume below. (Click on any photo in this article to see a beautiful gallery of Tetyana's artwork, plus additional dance and modeling photos.)
Russian Pointe Tell us about your life as a ballet student in Ukraine.
I started dancing at age six, but it was just folk dancing, not serious classes. When I was eight my grandmother took me and my twin sister Toma to the Odessa Ballet Academy for the exam. She promised us a pound of bananas, which I absolutely loved, if we got into the Academy. Bananas were very expensive and pretty hard to get at that time. So I tried very hard, partly because of the banana promise and partly because I really wanted to succeed. The judges looked at us one by one, asking us to point our feet, checking the flexibility of our hips and judging our musicality by having us jump to music. Once we got in, we were expected to be in class five days a week, and we weren't allowed to talk for [periods of] an hour and a half. All of the tiny girls were so serious. I remember liking the feeling of going into myself in ballet class. I felt as if by pulling up my knees and turning out my hips I was constructing myself, and I liked the fact that there were a lot of rules and structure for each step. I got used to running home from [academic] school to quickly eat lunch and jump on the bus to go almost an hour away downtown with my grandmother and Toma. Later, when I was older and my sister
had quit, I went to ballet school on my own. I would have to use a payphone to call home every night, for my father or grandmother to meet me at the bus stop, because it was already dark outside. I would come home, eat dinner and move on to piano homework; we had to take piano lessons along with music and dance history classes. Every night there would be an hour when the electricity would go off because the government was trying to save energy, so I usually played piano in candlelight.
RP What was it like coming to the U.S.?
TM In 2000 Olga Kresina, an Odessa Academy graduate who had moved to the United States and formed a ballet school in Philadelphia, came to Odessa to visit her mother. She asked my teacher, Elvira Karavaeva, if she could observe class, and then she watched us rehearse the variations that Elvira had taken extra time to teach us. Olga asked if she could videotape me and my friend Kateryna for the Youth America Grand Prix Competition. I had never even thought about coming to America, but I got very excited and happy because I love spontaneous things. We were invited to New York for the finals. The plane tickets were so expensive that my parents had to borrow money, but we were able to stay and eat for free with Olga's students. I had never been on a plane before! The time difference was 12 hours, so we felt like it was the middle of the night during the awards. I remember being amazed because it was April and everything was blooming, including the cherry trees out my window, and then it started snowing.
RP What has been your greatest challenge since then?
TM Getting my green card! When I was on a student visa, I could go home every year, but on a work permit I couldn't; it's been four and a half years since I saw my family. When I finally received my green card approval on June 7, 2008, I took the envelope out of my mailbox and just sat in the lobby [without opening it]. I just kept saying "please, please, please." When I opened it and saw "approval" on the letter I started crying and laughing at the same time. I was the happiest person! Now I'm free to work anywhere, travel and go home to see my beautiful family. So many doors have opened, and I am so grateful for that.
RP Is contemporary your favorite type of ballet choreography?
TM I like it when dance corresponds to life, and I think this happens a lot with contemporary choreography. I really appreciate it when choreography is inspired by something in everyday life, not just cool steps to music. Onstage, you can find correlation in the steps to something you have experienced in life, and I think that the audience can see that - not just in the steps you're performing but by the look in your eyes.
RP What are your goals as a dancer?
I want to travel and meet as many genius artists as possible, and to work with strongly opinionated choreographers. I want to be challenged, which I believe will bring me to a higher level as an artist. I see myself working in a smaller contemporary company, not joining the corps of a large company where dancers usually worry about how they look or act. Just recently I was watching a video about a large company in Russia; one of the principal dancers was saying that she feels like she has to hide her emotions. I agree that people should control their emotions, but not to the point where you feel that you can only express yourself through dance. I think it is so important to let dancers make decisions, or to give them a bit of freedom, maybe not in the steps but in the meaning behind them.
RP Do you enjoy teaching?
TM When I was dancing with Columbia Classical Ballet, the director asked me to teach in the school, and then sometimes take over company classes. It was really natural for me, and now I teach at a new ballet school in Chicago called Intrigue Dance and Performing Arts Center. I love working with young dancers, such as one group of three-year-olds I have now. They are so pure, and I just try to give them as much as I can.
RP What inspires you to create your visual art and fashion, and will you ever do it professionally?
TM I am always inspired to create something new and very expressive. I learned to sew because my mother and grandmother sewed; a lot of women made their own clothes in the Soviet Union. We always had piles of material at home and I knew if I wanted to look different I would have to make something myself. Now, I make most of my own clothes. I am most inspired by nature, and the way I feel about certain things. My friends say that I should sell my fashion designs, and I do plan to study fashion at the university level in the near future; when I can't dance anymore I plan to be very involved in the fashion industry.
RP How did you learn to fit pointe shoes at the Boutique?
TM I started work in the summer, when it was very busy because of all the summer dance programs. There were so many fittings, one after another, and I observed them. I was also fit myself, discussed Russian Pointes with other staff and studied the Fitting Guide. Growing up, we had no choice about our pointe shoes because it was so hard to get them; if they fit lengthwise we had to wear them. So, we had to come up with adjustments on our own: sometimes we would cut them, pad them or add pieces of fabric or elastic to make them work. With Russian Pointe, I learned how all the specifications are connected, how they work together to make the shoe work correctly. I learned about how the different models are shaped to give support at the metatarsals. Before, I thought that if a shoe had the right length and width, it was the right shoe! Russian Pointe has so many options and it is a very pleasant feeling to be able to find the right shoe for a dancer and see her face light up with excitement.
What matters most to you?
What matters most to me is uniqueness and the beauty of life. Openness and honesty. Taking inspiration from the seen beauty [of nature] and creating another, different version of it. Remembering how immensely strong we are as human beings and that the human will is unlimited and our abilities are endless. Being open to changing with every new day and new experience. Not fearing failure or what others think. And of course my friends and my family. I believe that it's most important to be true to yourself, and to others.
Photos, top to bottom: Bridget Cicenia; Curtis Williams; Curtis Williams; Curtis Williams; courtesy of Tetyana Martyanova; Bridget Cicenia; courtesy of Tetyana Martyanova; courtesy of Tetyana Martyanova