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Vadim Muntagirov: ‘I'm a mixture of Russian blood and the English school’

The Royal Ballet’s newest Principal on training in Perm, the challenges of moving to London as a teenager and why he’s looking forward to flexing his acting muscles.

By Emma Baker (ROH Magazine Editor)

28 July 2014 at 4.32pm | 2 Comments

You come from a ballet family – did this inspire you?

My mum and dad were both principal dancers in Chelyabinsk, where I grew up – sometimes they even danced together. Now they have retired and are teaching. But my sister is a ballerina and still dancing in Chelyabinsk. When I was small it just seemed natural I should dance too. It also seemed natural I should go to the Perm State Choreographic College, as both my parents had studied there and my sister was already there, in her graduation year.

You went when you were nine – that’s very young.

I was very little and happy to go but didn’t know it was going to be so hard. I went on the overnight train because at the time we couldn’t afford the plane and I still remember the view as the train moved off – watching my parents waving goodbye to me, and I was crying. The first nights in the dormitory at school were difficult too. You couldn’t show you were crying and missing your mum. You had to hide it. But it got easier later and technology became better so I got a mobile phone and could reach my parents that way. I remember when I entered the arabesque competition. My dad had promised me a laptop computer if I won a prize – and I did, I got the silver medal. I was the first boy at school with a laptop. Suddenly there was a queue of boys all wanting to try it out.

How did you come to study at The Royal Ballet School? Was this your preferred choice or were there other schools in the frame?

After six years at Perm I entered the Prix de Lausanne competition and won a study scholarship – I had lots of schools to choose from, including the Vaganova Academy in St Petersburg, and The Royal Ballet School. To be honest I chose The Royal Ballet School mainly because it was in London. I was a teenager and fed up of Russia and thought it would be amazing to live in a great city in Europe. It was very difficult at first because I didn’t speak any English. I shared a room with Benjamin Ella, who is a dancer with The Royal Ballet now, and a good friend, and we created a hybrid language of English and Russian to get by. I actually didn’t expect to stay longer than a year, but after my first year Gailene Stock [the former Director of the Royal Ballet School] asked me if I wanted to continue and graduate, so I stayed. After graduation I was offered a contract with English National Ballet right away.

Tell us about your dream partnership at English National Ballet with Czech prima ballerina Daria Klimentová.

We get on so well together. We match each other in physique and she is Czech and the Czech and Russian culture is a bit similar. And our sense of humour is also the same. When you are really relaxed in rehearsals it gives you the confidence to explore new things. We can make jokes, or be really honest and say what’s on our mind, then just let it go. If you’re dancing with someone you don’t feel so comfortable with you can feel scared and shy, which might mean you don’t give your best.

Daria retired in May this year and has been quoted as saying she waited 20 years to find a dance partner like you.

That’s lovely. At first I don’t think either of us thought we were a particularly amazing partnership. We were just working on dancing together as well as we could and enjoying it. We weren’t trying to push it and create something special, it just came naturally and it was up to the audience to decide whether we were good together or not.

And now you have joined The Royal Ballet. What are you most looking forward to?

It is a really exciting time because every role I will dance with The Royal Ballet will be a debut for me. There is Manon with Lauren Cuthbertson and also Don QuixoteOnegin and Swan Lake. I’ve already danced The Sleeping Beauty and The Winter’s Tale with the Company. The Winter’s Tale was particularly interesting for me to do because I’d never really done this style of choreography before, so it was a big challenge, and when you are young it is good to always challenge yourself.

What other highlights are you looking forward to?

I’m looking forward to all the different classes I will take part in – particularly to work with the Russian teacher, Alexander Agadzhanov. What I also love about The Royal Ballet is that, unlike other companies, you have your own dressing room inside the Royal Opera House itself and sometimes before you rehearse there are operas going on – it makes you feel closer and more connected to the stage. I think I will enjoy this aspect a lot. I hope to guest for other companies sometimes too. It improves you a lot as a dancer because you go to a new company and the production and the ballerina you dance with are both new, so you have to push yourself. It’s a pressure, but a good one that makes you stronger. Then when you come back ‘home’ it makes you feel more special.

Tell us about dancing the role of Lensky in John Cranko’s Onegin for The Royal Ballet.

I am really looking forward to this – it’s a great story, a Russian classic, of course. A few years ago I was only thinking about cabrioles and pirouettes and how to jump high. Now I realize there are lots of amazing ballets where I can be an actor as well as a ballet dancer.

Do you enjoy the challenge of acting through dance?

Yes I do, especially when you know a ballet well enough, as then it seems to come naturally. Once you have mastered the steps and they are in your body and muscles, you can start to let go. That is when the acting comes in. But I don’t like to force it as it is sometimes hard to push the acting in the rehearsal studio – the best time for me is on stage when I have danced two acts already. By that time I am so tired I don’t think about the steps at all, they become automatic and that’s usually the best moment when I can let go and really go for it.

You are a product of both Russian and English schools of ballet – have you developed an individual style?

I think I have. I can’t say I am 100% Russian now, because I have worked at The Royal Ballet School for three years, and with English National Ballet for four and a half years. So I am a mixture of my Russian blood and training and the English school, which have very different styles. I don’t want to change that though – it is good to have a bit of everything.

This article first appeared in the Royal Opera House Magazine, which is sent quarterly to the Friends of Covent Garden. Find out more about becoming a Friend.

The Sleeping Beauty runs 21 December – 14 March 2016. Tickets are still available.

This article has 2 comments

  1. Helen responded on 29 July 2014 at 8:00pm Reply

    Really looking forward to seeing more of Vadim at the Royal Ballet. He's an amazing dancer and a great acquisition for the company. Hopefully he will form a good partnership with Lauren as well.

  2. Jochen (Germany) responded on 26 August 2014 at 10:41pm Reply

    I was very much attracted by Vadim, partnering M. Nunez in SB. His elegant, pure line is fascinating! Do you think he could get a chance to dance with Natalia Osipova as well? I belief they must match very well.

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