Interview by Martina Kubaniova
For London based Czech Magazine.
From a little fool to a Famous Ballerina

Daria Klimentova may have recently celebrated her 33rd birthday, but appearance wise she is reminiscent of a 12 year old girl, and after an hour in her presence, you truly believe that you have met some sort of crazy being, that knows how to deal with success and deals with problems as they come. Maybe these predispositions have helped this Czech ballerina to become one of the worlds most famous. Daria Klimentova has been one of the five primaballerinas in the English National Ballet for nine years now


The English National Ballet prepared Tchaikovsky's classic Swan Lake for June where you played the famous two part role, the good, white swan Odetta and her opposite, black Odilia. You've probably played this role many a time, what was different about this productions choreography?
I first danced in Swan Lake 12 years ago in the Scottish National Ballet and then on many occasions after, but this was a truly special production to study. A normal ballet will have 65 dancers, we used 120. Usually the second scene will have 24 swans, in our production there were 70, all on stage at once. We performed at the Royal Albert Hall where the stage is circular and open to the audience on all sides except the entrance; this enabled us to dance from all sides. It is an arena that will accommodate 5000 people. It was one of the most demanding of productions and we had about five weeks to rehearse. It isn't a long time, in Prague they rehearse for about three months, but in London everything happens much quicker.

How does a Czech primaballerina become a primaballerina from one of the world's most famous ballet companies- The English National Ballet?
The secret behind it is a lot of hard work and luck. I've been very lucky throughout my career. At school I entered various ballet competitions and always managed to leave with some sort of prize. At a competition to join the National Ballet in Prague, I was extremely fortunate to try out for Vlastimil Harapes who had become the new director and wanted to seriously change things. He gave me a chance. People in the company were shocked; it was unheard of that a 19-year-old girl would receive the position of principal ballerina. Since then, I have only played main roles. There is a slightly different hierarchy in Prague; they have the company and the soloists that act as the principal dancers as well. In London you have the company, the soloists and the principal dancers.

Later you were invited to Africa, Scotland and then London, where you have spent nine years now. What were your first thoughts and experiences in the beautiful world of ballet?
More competition and harder work in London. I really had to pull my socks up, which was difficult because I was used to having everything my own way. Everything was me, me, me. It was so simple; there was no one better than I. Then I came here, and all of a sudden there were equally good, if not better dancers than myself, it was a real wake up call.

Most young girls dream of being ballet dancers when they grow up,
was it your wish as well?

No. I didn't know what I wanted to be. I was a very slow and quiet child. I always had to be pushed. I started out in gymnastics, but I wouldn't do the moves unless I was ordered to. One week after class, my teacher informed my mother that I had talent and that ballet dancers had a much better future than competitive gymnasts, whose careers finish at 20. When they asked me whether I wanted to dance ballet, which I had never seen before, I simply asked whether you had to kick your feet a lot, I liked that. I wasn't bothered. I was a phlegmatic child. Wherever you left me, you would find me there hours later. A little foolish you could say (laughter).

How does a listless child become one of the world's most famous ballerinas?
I don't understand it either (laughter). Of course I changed. I woke up in London, maybe even a little in Prague. At school is was helped by the pedagogues, without them I would never have become a ballerina. I was always in a corner somewhere. At every stage they pushed to teach me, even at the National where it started to annoy me. I felt like an idiot, belittled by the fact that I couldn't achieve anything. When the opportunity came up to go to South Africa, I had to take it. Others laughed, but I needed to find my independence and prove to myself that I could do it on my own. I believe that I have achieved all that I set out to do. It's an incredible feeling.

Do you still make appearances in Prague?
Very rarely, not since Vlastimil Harapes left, he used to invite me.


Do ballet dancers always have to wait for an invite to perform,
or can you sign yourself up?

Yes of course you can, but I don't want to. They don't have a particularly interesting repertoire in Prague. They produce mainly modern ballet, where as I am a classically trained dancer. I enjoy the neo-classical, always on your toes. The technique comes from classical ballet, it is looser however, and not entirely modern.

What does the English National Ballet prioritise?
Most importantly, we are a touring company; the choices are made so that we survive. If Swan Lake sells, we'll perform. I enjoy performing Swan Lake, it's my favourite classical ballet, but I'd rather perform more expressive and scenic ballets such as Lady of the Camellias, Hamlet…. Our company doesn't perform them very often. Everyone wants the classical stuff; they all want to see the ballerinas.

Do you have a fan club?
All ballerinas have their fans. If they are patient and wait, we sometimes come down from the stage to meet them. Sometimes they just want signatures, others invite us to dinner and send presents. It is mostly aging, rich men that like to send jewellery. I have so many earrings at home, but I haven't had my ears pierced (laughter). My mother never had mine pierced because she was afraid it would hurt.

You also have a hobby in which you are quite successful. How are the preparations for your second photographic exhibition working out?

It will be held at the Prague National Theatre in December 2004. The pictures are from the world of dance and portraiture. Apart from that I've published two calendars of the English National Ballet, and I'm working on a third. I've also photographed a catalogue for ballet clothes.

What about your collection of photographs of naked, jumping bodies? How did you come up with the idea?
At the first photographic competition I entered, I was inspired by a picture of a naked child jumping on a bed. I decided to start collecting photographs of different types of figures jumping, fat. Thin, tall etc. A lot of people refuse to have their picture taken, but dancers pose for me willingly. They are all exhibitionists. I want to document normal people as well, but I'm not in a rush. Once my collection is a certain size, I'll paste them into one great photograph.

You're also known for having a child at the height of your career. Sabina is three years old now, and you've still held your position as principal dancer at the English National Ballet. How did you manage it?
It is quite rare that a ballet dancer will have a child during her career. I told myself that I wanted two children and I needed to fit them in somehow, one had to come sooner than later. It was demanding but I survived. I was still performing at four months pregnant. Although I was scared. I continued dancing parts without a partner to avoid the lifts and someone squeezing my tummy. I practiced until the birth. When I received an epidural to numb my back, I was terrified that I would no longer be able to carry out the arabesque, a back leg lift that I was famous for. The next day I was practicing the move. It is tense but I can still do it. I was slightly unfortunate, during the pregnancy I broke my meniscus, three months after the operation however I was playing the main role Giselle again, alas further problems occurred. The area between my Achilles heal and the bone inflamed. I foolishly danced with the inflammation for over a year, it hurt but I got through it. We're all a little crazy here, we dance till we drop. That's the last time I do that however. I damaged the heal terribly. I couldn't dance for over a year, it still hurts and I can't bend it properly. It was a real shock; I have been in training my whole life.

I imagine it was then that you started thinking about what you would do when your career as a professional ballet dancer finishes….
Of course. I was depressed at the time, but thanks to my interests, I managed to look at a bad situation positively. I spent my time with photography and organising the International Ballet Masterclasses in Prague, which are becoming a tradition, I also had more time to dedicate to Sabina.

When do ballerinas retire?
It's very individual. Some retire at thirty, others at thirty-five, some at forty. It depends upon your body, how it copes and what injuries it has suffered. Your physical and mental dispositions. I've told myself that I'll hold out till I'm thirty-five. That's two years from now and I don't really feel like it. Time flies. Physically I feel fine, but in two years time I may have had enough.

What will you do when you stop dancing professionally?

I'd like to take up photography. Teach ballet. Not in a school, but as a coach. Maybe I'll open my own school. I just don't want to have a boss. I have always had to work beneath someone, without being able to make certain decisions, for instance which choreographer I would like to work with (laughter). I'll definitely continue staging the International Ballet Mastercla sses in Prague. Maybe there will be time for another child. Ballet dancers do receive a pension, but it is minimal. Ballet dancers have to do something else. English companies do offer a special benefit that safeguards dancers that have worked for over eight years. In some cases they are willing to pay for your retraining. So if you decide to become a lawyer, they will pay for the student fees, help towards your rent, buy you a computer and give you the minimum to survive on. I'll probably go on to study photography.