“To feel comfortable during a performance is very important. They are soft, flat and light; they fit your foot perfectly and they are not noisy. You can put on a new pair and go straight on stage. I don’t have to spend an hour preparing my shoes. Since I bought my first pair I have not been able to wear anything else.”
Elena Glurdjidze, a Senior Principal Dancer with the English National Ballet, brings a refined technique and a developed artistry to everything she dances. She has captivated audiences through her transformations into Kitri in Don Quixote, Swanilda in Coppelia, Princess Aurora and the Lilac Fairy in Sleeping Beauty, the dual role of Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, and the title roles inGiselle and Cinderella. Her repertory also includes Paquita, Mark Morris’ Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes, various George Balanchine ballets, Fokine’sChopiniana, Ashton’s Sylvia, Cranko’s Eugene Onegin, and others.
Elena was exposed to art, music, singing, and dance at an arts school in her hometown of Tbilisi, Georgia, where a teacher suggested she try ballet. After two years at the Tbilisi Choreographic School, Elena began the first of six years of training at a boarding school – none other than the Vaganova St. Petersburg Academy of Russian Ballet. The training there was “very difficult, but very interesting,” Elena says; “it was hard to be away from home in a boarding school for six years.”
As difficult as it was, however, it afforded Elena great opportunities for growth. Even as students, they went on tour often to various countries, such as Japan, Greece, and Israel, during a time when people in Russia could not travel very easily. Elena gained crucial performance experience on tour as well as back in St. Petersburg, both at the school’s theater and the world-renowned Mariinsky Theatre. She acquired valuable skills with intense training in numerous specialties including character dance, pas de deux, acting, music, makeup, sword fighting, breathing, and army training – all while fulfilling her academic requirements. Even the scheduled evening homework sessions after long days of lessons were often followed by late night rehearsals.
All of Elena’s discipline and dedication paid off, however. She was hired by The Russian Ballet Company at age 18, and by age 23 she was a Principal Dancer with the St. Petersburg State Academy Ballet Theatre. Two years later, she accepted a position with the St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre of Konstantin Tatchkin. She joined the English National Ballet in 2002, and became a Senior Principal Dancer in 2007. She has been wearing Gaynor Mindens since 2000.
She attributes some of her success to her artistry as well as technique. Elena explains that dancing solo roles “is a different life” from being in the corps. “You prepare for a role and you transform into your character. I research the role, read the stories. I try to see it from the character’s view, and always listen to the music written specially for the ballet, which tells you so much about the characters and their feelings.” These words to dance by were especially helpful in preparing for the lead role in her favorite ballet, Giselle: “I always say when I dance Giselle and open the door in Act 1, I instantly forget everything else and I become Giselle. It’s not me anymore, but her.”
Her artistry may be impeccable, but her determination also proved to be vital to her success – even helping her win competitions she didn’t enter! Having won the bronze medal at the Moscow Competition, and also having won the 8th Paris Competition of Soloists in 1998, Elena, always believing she needed to improve and work harder, attended the 7th Perm Open Competition in 2002. She went to assist her dance partner, who was competing, but managed to take home the Best Partner Award, all without entering the competition. These successes convinced Elena that she really was “good enough,” and that she did indeed have a chance to dance at the very highest level.
Elena does cross-train with Pilates, but now mainly uses her spare time doing things to relax, including getting some sleep during the afternoon before a performance. She loves spending time with her family – going to museums, parks, and traveling together – as well as growing exotic flowers and collecting pictures. Her advice to young dancers? “If you really believe and love ballet and work hard, you can achieve your goals.” Elena certainly has.
By Nicole Fish
Photo by Daria Klimentova