First Soloist, The Bolshoi Ballet.
Moscow – October 2013.
Dressed in a black lace bodysuit and pointe shoes undone, Anastasia Meskova heats up the pages of a recent Russian GQ magazine. She is a first soloist of the Bolshoi ballet. You can’t take your eyes off her, and she won’t let you either. With her smile and energetic presence, she easily caught my attention amongst the large troupe of dancers in the rehearsal of the Marco Spada ballet. She is also an actress on film and television, and mother to a seven year old son.
While lining up for coffee in the artists’ cafeteria, Meskova eagerly showed me the complicated footwork to Pierre Lacotte’s Marco Spada ballet, premiering at the Bolshoi in two weeks. “I thought I knew it after watching the others rehearse,” she explained, “but it is so different when you are actually doing it.” Indeed, the footwork was very French, full of quick directional and weight changes.
She’s extremely bubbly and expressive, barely able to contain herself within her four limbs, and for me, a welcome relief from the Moscovian poker-face. Tucking her legs up on the couch where we sat in the atrium of the Artists’ Building, she showed with her upper body the smooth, seductive movements she loved so much in Angelin Preljocaj’s contemporary choreography. She spoke excitedly about her collaboration with his company in 2010. “It was really scary to move differently like that,” she gushed, “but it changed me as an artist, and it made me think about how I dance classical works.” She added, “With classical training, I can adapt to the contemporary style, but not the other way around.” Alexei Ratmansky pushed her even further in his piece Lost Illusions, having her do 32 fouettés on top of a table. She pressed both her hands on her head and tugged at her hair. “Can you believe it?” She exclaimed, “I was getting white hairs from that part! But in the end I did it, and I loved it.” Today, more than ever before, Bolshoi dancers have the chance to work with international classical and contemporary choreographers, expanding their artistry beyond strictly the Vaganova technique.
Even so, Meskova said that Russia can be a stifling environment for artists, who need to be able to think and express themselves freely. “In Russia,” she explained, “you don’t question, you don’t go against the system, otherwise the situation could be worse for you. In the Bolshoi, it is no different.” Above dancing well, Meskova advised that “you need to voice that you want certain roles. But, in the end, it is up to the directors.” Being on good terms with choreographers certainly helps.
With over 200 dancers working so closely together, there is surely as much conflict as there is camaraderie, and together they share in the challenges and many funny moments. Meskova recalled her role as Juliet; when Romeo dies, she runs her hands over him to express her anguish. “He was ticklish and would start to laugh, but I had to keep a sad expression!” She laughed and continued, “some Romeos were very sweet, they used mouth spray so they would be pleasant to kiss. But sometimes, even if they’ve shaved in the morning, stubble appears by evening and with the sweat it can be unpleasant.” Meskova laughed again, “yes, lots of funny things happen.”
At 28 years old, Meskova said that her body is feeling some inevitable pains, but she will continue to dance as long as she can. She is savvy and actively pursues opportunities to hone her artistry. I’m sure there will always be a stage or a camera for this natural performer.