The luminous Olga Smirnova, the Bolshoi’s new star

When the veteran dance critic, Clement Crisp, writes that he is “dazzled” by a dancer’s presence and describes her manner as “uniquely lovely”, I want to know more.

Crisp has been dance critic of The Financial Times since 1970 and his knowledge of Russian ballet in particular is impressive.

The dancer is Olga Smirnova, a first soloist of the Bolshoi Ballet, who graduated from St. Petersburg’s Vaganova school and immediately went to Moscow to join the Bolshoi. Her time in the corps de ballet was very brief. This year, she has been dancing soloist and principal roles in La Bayadère, in Balanchine’s final section of Jewels – Diamonds – and in Pharaoh’s Daughter.

After Crisp saw Smirnova dance in Diamonds in Moscow this year he wrote:

“It was the American ballerina Merrill Ashley who told me about Olga Smirnova. A superb Balanchine dancer, Ashley had been in Moscow with the Bolshoi Ballet in June, setting Diamonds, the final part of Jewels…”

Ashley told Crisp: “You must see my ballerina in Diamonds. She’s prodigious… She has the most exquisite upper-body, and a magical presence”.

Crisp fell under Smirnova’s spell. She was, he thought, ideally schooled, and “with an indefinable authority…

“Smirnova, with unaffected grace, offers something that is entirely natural: the simplest position or the grandest action seems marvellously to flower as she states it…

“Smirnova’s radiance, the unaffected nobility of her manner and the charm of her means make the role [in Diamonds] hers. She creates something magical and it touches the spirit. Not since the earliest performances by Altynai Asylmuratova have I seen so luminous a debut. We have much to hope for”.

Smirnova is in her early 20s (her age is given as either 20 or 22 in the few articles published so far). In an interview with Jim Lewis of The New York Times, she said one of her idols is Diana Vishneva, now 36, who also graduated from the Vaganova school (in 1995) and only one year later was promoted to the rank of principal with the Mariinsky Ballet.

It will be interesting to see if Smirnova will follow in the footsteps of both Vishneva and Natalia Osipova, the latter a star of the Bolshoi until she and her partner, Ivan Vasiliev, joined Mikhailovsky Ballet late in 2011.

Vishneva and Osipova are now clients of Ardani Artists, the New York based agency founded by the Russians, Sergei and Gaiane Danilian.

As guest artists, dancers managed by Ardani can earn much more than dancers attached to just one company. Although Osipova’s home is the Mikhailovsky Theatre, she is guesting next year with La Scala in February, the Australian Ballet in March (Melbourne only, on March 16 and 18), with American Ballet Theatre from April to June, with La Scala again in July, and the Royal Ballet in London in October.

Vishneva divides her time between New York and St Petersburg as she is a principal of both American Ballet Theatre and the Mariinsky Ballet.

For any outstanding dancer, such as Smirnova, the temptation must be strong to become a regular on the guest circuit.

Let’s hope Smirnova can stay a few more years with the Bolshoi and refine her artistry even further, if that is possible.

As you can see from the video, she is already an exceptional artist.

One Comment