Daria Klimentova: look at her now!

Daria Klimentova’s autobiography is not so subtly subtitled Agony and Ecstasy: My Life in Dance.

The Agony + Ecstasy addendum refers to the warts and all documentary, first screened by BBC4 in 2011, called Agony and Ecstasy, A Year with English National Ballet.

One of the heroines of that documentary was ENB principal, Klimentova while the role of the villain was played by Derek Deane, the former artistic director of the company.

In one episode of that three-part documentary, Deane shuddered in melodramatic horror as he watched a rehearsal of Swan Lake danced in an arena production at the Royal Albert Hall with Klimentova as Odette/Odile and Vadim Muntagirov as Siegfried.

“God almighty, look at her!”, Deane splutters.

“Absolutely dreadful! It wastes my time talking to her”.

Just as the audience was encouraged to boo at Victorian music hall melodramas, that moment in Agony and Ecstasy was a cue to cringe as the audience watched the attempted destruction of a dancer’s ego, and the way in which Deane put himself centrestage rather than the performer.

Deane is also the villain of Klimentova’s autobiography, in which she and her collaborator, freelance writer, Graham Watts, have fun reliving those Agony moments.

Klimentova was 40 years old and replacing a more famous and younger ballerina when she danced as Odette/Odile in Deane’s arena production. It was a role she had already performed in Australia when the English National Ballet toured in the late 1990s.

In her book, she writes how “Derek’s bullying stole the show…I’m sure that Derek knew from the outset that playing the villain would make great television and put him at the epicentre of the documentary so he really played up being the bad guy”.

Deane went further than that in his derogatory comments when he referred in the documentary to the then corps de ballet member, Adeline Kaiser, as “the operation girl”, due to her medical procedures necessary from her ongoing injuries.

Klimentova and Watts reveal more Deane attacks when they write of the way he made her feel “very uncomfortable as if he was looking at a piece of shit on the floor” when she auditioned for ENB in 1996.

Nevertheless, he offered Klimentova a contract as a principal at ENB where she never worked as hard in her life as a dancer.

It “felt like being in army camp, with highly disciplined military routines and constant pressure to do things all the time”.

Deane seemed to be at ENB “for every day’s 24 hours, and he was invariably strict with everyone”.

Klimentova maintains that Deane destroyed the confidence of the Romanian dancer, Laurentiu Guinea, whom he found “never good enough…at every rehearsal he would bully him relentlessly, and I saw it all…he was so destroyed by Derek’s treatment of him that he left dancing altogether after after his time as a principal with ENB, even though he was still comparatively young at the time…”

But “without the aggressive side of Derek perhaps I wouldn’t have achieved so much…but I will never forget that every single day I worked with him, I went to the studio with a lump in my stomach”.

Klimentova and Watts also document the time in 2001 when Deane was accused of harassing Daniel Jones, a handsome junior soloist in the company.

After the Mail on Sunday broke the story, “Deane went on long term sick leave…”

Although Klimentova, now 42, has danced in Australia twice, in South Africa and other countries, she is not as well known internationally as she should be, however her dance partnership with the young Russian, Vadim Muntagirov, almost half her age, helped extend her career and create a media flutter that elevated her to a starry status.

The autobiography, published earlier this year, follows the style of “as told to” ballet memoirs such as Holding Onto the Air, the story of Suzanne Farrell “with” Toni Bentley, Darcey Bussell, Life in Dance, “with” Judith Mackrell and The Shape of Love, by Gelsey Kirkland and Greg Lawrence.

The Klimentova book is chattier than those previous memoirs.

It follows her life from her birth in a village on the outskirts of Prague, to her early training as an elite gymnast, auditioning for the Prague State Conservatoire of Music and Dance, where she was accepted and trained in the Vaganova system for eight years, joining the Czech National Ballet and taking leave of absence to dance for a year at Cape Town with the CAPAB Ballet Company (Cape Performing Arts Board).

In 1993, Klimentova was offered a contract by the Australian Ballet’s then artistic director, Maina Gielgud, but visa problems apparently prevented her joining the company.

She moved to the Scottish Ballet instead, but after three years in the rainy, cloudy city of Glasgow, she moved to London.

The Royal Ballet was prepared to offer only a soloist contract so instead, she took the only other London alternative, joining the English National Ballet as principal.

Klimentova was initialing horrified by the suggestion of the then ENB artistic director, Wayne Eagling, that she dance the role of Giselle with Muntagirov as Albrecht when he was only 19 and a recent graduate of the Royal Ballet School.

She describes her reaction as a “panic attack” followed by tears as she pleaded with Eagling to change his mind – “but he was adamant”.

But after a bad start (Muntagirov was shy, offhand and frightened) the dance partnership flourished.

Klimentova realises, of course, that her time as a dancer is now limited and hopes that eventually she may become the artistic director of the Czech National Ballet.

The book has an interesting 37-page list of statistics, outlining her debuts, partners and performances but unfortunately, it lacks an index.

Indexes mean added costs to publishers and authors but their omission, so frequent in the last decade or so, seems like a false economy.

Daria Klimentova: Agony and Ecstasy: My Life in Dance, is published by Metro Publishing

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Daria Klimentova’s autobiography, front cover photo © Arnaud Stephenson

Daria Klimentova and Junor Souza, Nutcracker, English National Ballet, photo © Patrick Baldwin