Dance Europe Interview
By Donnaachadh McCarthy,
Donnachadh McCarthy meets ENB's Czech
principal dancer with a flair for photography

What was it like growing up in Communist Czechoslovakia?
It was not as bad as Russia, but even basics like toilet paper were unavailable. When I went to International competitions in Lausanne and in Germany, I could not believe my eyes when I saw what was available in the shops. I thought, "My God, what do they do with it all?" It was then I realised that Communism had misled us. I felt I had been blind up to then. The West is better. You are allowed to be different. We were not even allowed to buy a flat.

Is Klimentova a Russian name?
No, all female Czech names end in -ova. But I speak Russian as we had to learn it in school. I did not want to learn it, but now I use it very often, as there are a lot of Russian dancers in English National Ballet. I have also been partnered by a Russian, Dimitri Gruzdyev, but although he speaks Russian to me and I only speak English to him. Sometimes we disagree on things-, which is natural; we are two strong personalities with strong opinions- which are not always the same!

Who were your teachers?
Most were Czech but we had guest teachers from Russia. I particularly liked Boris Bregvadze from the Vaganova school. Jaroslav Slavicky and Katerina Slavicka were principal dancers with the National Theatre who also taught in the ballet school. They basically made me a ballet dancer. They prepared me to become a principal rather than a corps de ballet dancer. I had been a gymnast before I started ballet at ten and they adopted me as a dancer from the age of thirteen. They said class was my daily breakfast and it is true that you need class everyday, not every other day. You can always improve and you should not be happy with what you have got. The older you get, you have to do class even more, not that I'm saying I am old.

Do you like being with ENB?
I feel at home here as the people are very friendly. I did not like all the touring at the beginning, but now I am used to it. My husband Ian Comer- but I cal him Muppet- although he has his own scenery-making company called Dovetail, comes on tour with me. He works as a technician with the company whilst on tour. This makes it easier for me. I used to take my daughter Sabina on tour with me as well. It was hard. I would come home home after performing and she would cry all night. Nearly every principal dancer in the company has a child. Sabina is now going to nursery school, so I do not take her with me on tour any more. My mother helps look after her. We could not have managed without her. When I come home from rehearsals I cannot lie around doing nothing like I used to. I need to take Sabina out to the park or feed her or do all those other things that need doing when you have a child. She makes me happy and I could not be without her. I love having both her and ballet in my life. I could not bear to be simply a stay at home mother. I feel I am now a better dancer as I am more confident as a person. Dance is now more in proportion. I am not happy anymore just doing ballet, ballet, ballet. I have to have something else. I like to go home and talk about something else other than just Swan Lake.

Dance partners?
Everybody asks this question but it is very difficult to answer, as you have to work with a range of partners. So I try to be very diplomatic. But if I had my choice of partner with whom I have not worked yet then I would love to partner Carlos (Acosta). He is gorgeous, tall and a good dancer.

Where would you like your career to go from here?
I would like our company to have a wider repertoire. Unfortunately it is currently getting worse as the company is financially challenged in this regard at present. I was very excited to be cast in the lead in Les Liaisons Dangereuses but now it is not happening. I would like to do more neo-classical work by choreographers like William Forsythe, Jiri Kylian and Glen Tetley. I have done Tetley's Voluntaries and Sphinx, which I just loved. I would love it if Kylian could choreograph a ballet for me! But we are stuck doing a lot of Swan Lakes. Whilst it is one of my favourite ballets, I do not need to do it for half a year! I have nine performances as principal, but the corps de ballet has nearly nine weeks of continuous performances. As principal, I do not have to be here all day long. If I feel bad we can re-arrange the rehearsal, whereas the corps de ballet have to be here nearly all the time. It is hard for them.

I was injured for the whole of last season. Sometimes I am a bit fanatical about my work. I was tired but as I was preparing for a gala, I thought I could not miss one day of class, which was stupid. Something pinched in my foot but I insisted on going ahead with the gala. The injury developed into a huge bursa, but I kept going for a year. I was a stupid dancer. Eventually I had to have it surgically removed. If I had missed one gala and given it a weeks rest I would have been fine. Instead I lost all of last season, with many more galas and performances lost. I did not know if I would ever dance again. Jackie Pelly was amazing. She would come with me every day to the swimming pool, massaging and bending my leg. I did Pilates also. I cried a lot and was very depressed. Thankfully I am now back dancing. It is about 95 per cent better. I have lost some of my plie and so I have had to learn to work with a little less, which is a challenge but it is going well. This was much harder than giving birth. With that I was in class right up to the day before I gave birth and was back in class a week later.

What recent performances have you enjoyed?
I like Alina Cojocaru in everything. She is very talented. I also like Tamara Rojo who is very expressive and is very interesting to watch, as she is different from everyone else. That makes her a star. Outside of dance I loved The Full Monty, I took my mum also. It was really good fun. I also liked the shoe The Vagina Monologues. I was amazed these people could be so frank. It was shocking but really memorable.

Tell us about your Masterclasses in Prague?
It was originally my husband's idea. Prague is a beautiful romantic city and through my contacts, we are able to use the stunning studios of the National Theatre Ballet Company in the city centre as they are on holidays during the summer. We hope to make these Masterclasses a tradition every summer. They are open to international students over sixteen and to working professionals. Last year we had over 50 dancers attending from 16 to over 30 years of age. The unique point of the course is that we use teachers who are still dancers, so that our students can work with people currently at the top of their profession. Every day we have a question and answer session with a star dancer or choreographers like Mark Baldwin or Christopher Hampson. This they do not get elsewhere and they love it.

I understand that you are also into photography?
I love photography! Ian bought me my first camera over six years ago and I started taking photos of my fellow dancers. Matz Skoog was very supportive and gave me permission to take photos of the company. I would like to be a photographer, I would like to teach ballet, and I would love to have another child but there are only so many hours in a day. There is so much to do in life but it is so short. The company buys a lot of pictures from me and a dance clothing company used my pictures for their brochure. I produced a calendar for the company with the dancers, which has been very popular. It would be fun to produce a calendar of naked dancers like the French rugby team calendar. One day I want to produce a book of my photography but I need a sponsor for this.

Any views on teaching dance?
When I teach I try to make the dancers feel good about themselves and then I apply the corrections because only then are they fully open to taking them in. Dancers cannot truly progress if they feel bad about themselves. If a teacher makes me feel bad I curl up inside myself and I just want to go away. A lot of frustrated dancers unhappy with their careers can turn into such teachers. Directors of schools should avoid such teachers.

And the future?
I just want to be happy with my life. I lost my brother a year and a half ago. He was 35 and died in a tragic drowning accident. I am still sad about this. At about the same time my foot injury happened and it was a tough year. My dad also died six years ago from lung cancer, which was awful. But this is life and there is nothing you can do about it. I am happy now but I think that it is important if you are to avoid injury or if you are to heal faster that you are happy and clear in your emotions.