Whenever I see Maria Kochetkova off-stage I am always surprised by how diminutive she is, so sparrow-boned and delicate that she could be a Dresden porcelain figurine. But on stage, especially in modern choreography, she is as sleek and athletic as anyone. With flawless technique she shifts between lightning swiftness and languorous adagio without batting an eye, and she possesses the kind of artistry that can project a panoply of emotions always appropriate to the role. So when we begin our interview it takes me a moment to remember that her looks are deceiving, and not unexpectedly, she proves to be as articulate in expressing her thoughts as she is in her dancing.
Aimée Ts’ao: How did you come to dance at SF Ballet?
Maria Kochetkova: I saw San Francisco Ballet perform in London when I was working there. I had seen a few performances and I really enjoyed the diversity of the repertoire and the works and the dancers I saw. I said to myself that if I will ever decide to change and go to another company, it would be SFB. It was first on my list. That’s exactly what happened – in a couple of years I sent my DVD and I was invited to come for an audition. Actually it didn’t happen so easy – I couldn’t get a visa to come to America because I have a Russian passport. I had kind of given up, but then Christopher Wheeldon saw me in class one day. I was in Moscow on holidays and taking class at the Bolshoi Theatre and he was choreographing his ballet on the company. We just started talking and San Francisco Ballet somehow came up. He said, “ You’ve got to go to this company. It’s going to be perfect for you.” In a way he really helped me with that, but when I finally got my visa it was really late and I was told all the contracts had been given away for the season. I decided to come anyway because I had never been to America before and I wanted to see how the classes are and how dancers work, and catch a few performances. But then I was offered a principal contract. To be honest, I didn’t expect it at all because I thought it was too late. It was really a magical moment for me. So I decided to stay, there was no question. In London I had been a soloist and it meant a lot that Helgi gave me a principal contract.
From ‘Masha, a portrait of ballerina Maria Kochetkova’ – a Kickstarter project
AT: What have been the highlights for you here at SFB?
MK: The diversity of the repertoire. When I was in London I really wanted to do more contemporary works, not just classical ballets. I wanted to use my body in different ways. I felt I had it in me, I really wanted to try it and that’s why I decided to come here. Also the number of works created for the company. How lucky I am, or all of us, we’re really spoiled getting to work with so many different choreographers. For a dancer to grow and to develop it’s important to have new works created on you. You make your own way of moving, you discover yourself. When I was at the English National Ballet I danced Romeo and Juliet, Cinderella, Swan Lake, mostly classical work. The few contemporary pieces weren’t new so I never had any ballets choreographed on me.
AT: Who are your favorite choreographers?
MK: Christopher Wheeldon. He picked me for the first ballet I had created on me for the 75th anniversary [New Works Festival]. That was Within the Golden Hour. I had no experience creating a new ballet, working with a choreographer in that way before, but I have worked with him on every single work he has done since I joined SFB.
And Yuri Possokhov – I love all his work and have been in all his new works since I started here. We have a really good connection, and it’s not our background, because we both come from the Bolshoi. The way we feel movement the same. I enjoy doing his choreography.
And I like working with Helgi [Tomasson] a lot because he helps me so much in the studio and he knows me so well. I really enjoy dancing his works.
AT: Did you have any difficulties when you first came?
MK: I don’t think I’ve had so many, in fact, it was a relief to come here. I felt the freedom to move my body in new ways. I had suffered inside from not having this kind of coaching. But my point is I actually felt so much freer in my dancing and movement. It felt so organic in my body working with the ballet masters in the way they wanted. The amount of work was much more than what I had before, but that was what I wanted.
I really like it here. Everyone is very friendly and more open, more California. I really miss London a lot because there is so much going on, so many performances, but you can’t have everything. I love dancing in the company, I’m happy working here.
AT: What are you favorite roles?
MK: I really had a lot of fun doing the full-length Don Quixote for the first time here in America. Onegin was a gift for all of us. It is one of the ballets every ballerina wants to do at some point in her career. And, of course, Giselle is one of my favorites. I like story ballets a lot, but I also enjoy ballets where I am just dancing.
AT: Could you talk about your partnership with Joan Boada?
MK: I love dancing with Joan. It’s so rare to have a partner like him. He feels exactly what I’m doing and he reacts immediately. I know I think how he thinks.
AT: How do you feel about touring, especially to London in September?
MK: It’s my first time coming back to dance in London since I left five years ago. I’m happy to go and show what I’ve done during my time here. I’m dancing in eight of the ten ballets and they are all very different and they were all choreographed for the company except for the Balanchine.
Hopefully, you will make an effort to catch this exceptional artist in the coming weeks. She’ll be dancing at least one ballet for most performances, but I urge you to see her as many times as you can squeeze in.