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