“From my heart, I’m really happy with these shoes.”
Glowing words from Anastasia Matvienko, Gaynor Minden Artist, Mariinsky First Soloist, and international gala star. Just twelve years after her first ballet class, Anastasia is making a splash in the dance world. Her “gorgeous line and polished technique” caught the attention of Los Angeles Times dance critic Lewis Segal, who also commented on her “serene partnership” with her husband Denis. The pair has been turning a lot of heads ever since. In 2005, both were Gold Medalists at the Tenth International Ballet Competition in Moscow. They’ve danced leading roles at the Kiev Ballet and the Mikhailovsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, and perform as guest artists all over the world. Both now dance at the Mariinsky Theatre (Kirov Ballet), she as a First Soloist and he as a Principal. When we asked her about her future goals, Anastasia was coy: “They are grandiose and mysterious.”
In her early years, Anastasia picked up the folk dances that all children learn in her native Sevastapol, Ukraine. Though her parents loved ballet, and her mother had dreamed of becoming a ballerina, Anastasia did not begin her serious dance training until the late age of 14. Once she had decided to dance, she committed herself completely. She left home to study at the Kiev State Ballet Academy. Five years later, she graduated and joined the Kiev Ballet.
Asked about her favorite roles, Anastasia reels off a list of coveted leads in the great classical ballets: Giselle, La Bayadère, Sleeping Beauty. Preparing the role of Giselle, she tackled the famous “Mad Scene” with so much devotion that she fell down and knocked herself unconscious — on the final rehearsal before the premiere. But as they say, a bad dress rehearsal ensures a great performance, and she performed a memorable Giselle, albeit with some extra make-up to cover her bruise!
It is this kind of devotion, along with her purity of technique and beautiful feet, that has allowed Anastasia to achieve success in such a short time. Though the growing demand for her performances can be exhausting to the dancer, switching to Gaynor Mindens has saved her a lot of valuable time — time she used to have to spend preparing shoes! She notes that she previously needed three pairs of pointe shoes for one performance as Aurora. Now, a single pair of Gaynor Mindens will long outlive a show. She also enjoys the convenience of using the same pair for jumping, fouettés, and adagio. “I love Gaynor Mindens because they always look so beautiful on stage and because they are so easy to use… they are very good for jumping, and what is most important, they are quiet,” she says. “The main thing is that thanks to Gaynor Mindens I can totally focus on my role before I come onstage, and not think if my shoes are going to break, if the straps are going to split, and if I will be comfortable during the performance.” Another benefit of wearing Gaynor Mindens? The couple travels lighter as they cross the globe, something Denis appreciates, too.
Anastasia admits the transition to different pointe shoes required some patience. After discovering Gaynor Mindens — astounded to hear about one woman whose shoes lasted an entire year — Anastasia decided she had to try them. First she had to obtain the shoes (in 2006, this was not an easy task in Russia). Fortunately, she was able to get her first pair from friends living in the US. Then she spent a few weeks getting used to them, and found that partnering, in particular, felt very different. Anastasia says that ultimately, they were well worth the wait: “After a brief period of adjustment, I now find I dance with greater confidence.” She also feels that partnering is even a bit better than before — good news for the ballerina of a stellar husband-and-wife team!
Photos by Gene Schiavone