Interview with Kateryna Kukhar

January 18 marks the birthday of Kateryna Kukhar, prima ballerina of the Taras Shevchenko National Opera and Ballet Theatre of Ukraine, an Honored Artist of Ukraine, and “Black Swan” of the show Dancing with the Stars. This famed dancer began studying ballet at the age of 5 and has devoted her life to the art ever since. Among her many roles, Kateryna has performed Juliet in the tragedy Romeo and Juliet, Mashenka from the Nutcracker, and both Carmen and Scheherezade. We asked Kateryna about her career, her sources of inspiration, and what character traits she feels have contributed to her success.

1Kateryna, you’re a world-famous ballet dancer. No doubt you have received lots of opportunities to work abroad. Why have you decided to stay in Ukraine?

I‘m not the kind of person who believes “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” The most important thing is to find people who breathe with you in unison. I love my country, I adore Kiev, and, as much as I would like New York or Paris, I do not plan to move anywhere.

2It is obvious that one of the most important places for you in Kiev is Taras Shevchenko National Opera and Ballet Theatre of Ukraine, where you dance. What other places or streets in the city are special for you?

Obolon Quay, where I enjoy walking with my children and friends; Kiev Passage in the city center; and Andriyivsky Descent.

What better way to spend some leisure time than at the opera house, where you are surrounded by wonderful things: inspiring music, skilled performers, new ideas, rich emotions, and luxurious surroundings — marble staircases, velvet chairs, excellent architecture, a glass of champagne during the intermission. Kateryna Kukhar
3You often go on tours abroad. To your mind, is Ukraine a truly European country? If not, what must be done to become so?

IIt seems to me that people have created a stereotype that Europe is a kind of ideal world without problems, and that it’s filled with happy pensioners who travel all year round, and that every European citizen has a successful career. However, there are many variations within Europe. Many Latvians, for example, emigrate to more prosperous England. France has big problems with immigrants (who have not been fully welcomed into French society). It is safe to walk along the central streets of Paris, but if you find yourself in some other districts, you will become acquainted with an unknown world filled with refugees, where you cannot feel as protected. Everywhere there are advantages and disadvantages. But that’s what we really need to learn from European people — an ability to respect traditions, culture, and architecture. We need to learn how to cherish and appreciate what we already have. It’s also an art.

4Nowadays, it is not that easy to get into the National Opera of Ukraine to watch a performance if you didn’t buy tickets in advance. Why has the demand for arts recently increased?

People need a source of strength and positive emotions. The theater gives audiences an opportunity to escape from everyday life. What better way to spend some leisure time than at the opera house, where you are surrounded by wonderful things: inspiring music, skilled performers, new ideas, rich emotions, and luxurious surroundings — marble staircases, velvet chairs, excellent architecture, a glass of champagne during the intermission. No doubt, people who experience it find that enjoying this atmosphere for a few hours offers a positive energy that sticks with them for a long time to come.

As we’ve seen on broadcasts of the show Dancing with the Stars, you aren’t afraid to express sincere opinions and defend your point of view. Do you ever worry that this will have an effect on your authority or relationship with the participants? Do you have favorite dancers on the show?

The participants understand that this is a show first of all, and we all need to work for the delight of the audience! My task is to motivate the celebrities with comments and assessments so that they dance better and better, and the audience gets the maximum pleasure from the beautiful dancing of our stars. You’ll never be able to please everyone; there can only be one winner, and that should be the most worthy dancer.

I associate the word “ballerina” with something airy, flying; but at the same time, it’s a very hard work. Have you ever felt you wanted to quit and start doing something else in life?

Ballet is my LIFE, with all its joys and complexities. So I’ve never contemplated quitting, even when life played some tricks on me and I had to leave the stage for some time.

Were the tricks pleasant?

Both pleasant and unpleasant.

Can you explain what unpleasant surprises forced you to take a break from dancing?

When I came to the theater for the first time, I started preparing for the premiere of The Capella. Once, when my father was driving me home from rehearsal, I was tired and forgot to buckle up. When our car got into an accident, I was seriously injured. At that time, I couldn’t dance for almost half a year. The crash occurred right next to the National Opera of Ukraine. After this incident, road signs were changed at this intersection.

9The pleasant surprises are the births of two children, aren’t they?

Yes, the birth of my son Timur, who is now 8 years old, and daughter Nastenka, who will be 3 years old in November.

Was it difficult to recover after the pregnancy?

It was really difficult. Pregnancy and childbirth not only means a maternity leave and an inability to perform but also carries the risk that you won’t be able to return to your previous physical form. No one can say with certainty how your body will react to motherhood and how quickly you will be able to recover. If not, your career may be at an end. It was difficult for me, physically and in terms of morale. Looking at my reflection in the mirror was upsetting. At first, my body and muscles categorically refused to obey and return to their usual form. During the first pregnancy, I gained 13 kilograms. What can be worse for a ballerina than to get completely out of shape and not be able to get into your costumes? However, I had concerts and contracts already signed. In that situation, I couldn’t say, “I cannot.” It was just “I have to.” I returned to the stage three months after the birth of my first and second child.

Which heroine of the ballet is the closest to you in nature? Have there been any roles in your repertoire that somehow influenced your life?

In fact, I have some similarities to all my heroines. Throughout the day, I can be completely different. The role that seemed destined for me and really influenced my personal life and career was Mashenka. Abroad, it’s the role of Clara in The Nutcracker. Speaking of my personal life, at the theater I was paired with Alexander Stoyanov in this performance, and since then we have been together in life and on stage. In terms of my career, before I met Sasha, I had made my debut as Mashenka while still a student, at one of the best venues in Japan.

What inspires you, and how do you recharge after a hard work week, month, season?

Healthy sleep, rest, change of activities, and completely staying off the Internet can easily recharge me. I am inspired by my husband, children, ballet, shopping, and driving around with the windows open listening to loud music.

I understand that it’s all very individual, but which of your performances would you most want our readers to see?

It all depends on what emotions the viewer wants to “get” from the performance. If it’s an explosion of passion, then I highly recommend the Carmen Suite or Scheherazade; if you want something classic, I’d advise you to watch The Nutcracker or Sleeping Beauty. If the soul requires something modern, then Master and Margarita — but before this performance, it is better to read Bulgakov. By the way, there are also sometimes weekend performances for children, such as Cipollino and Snow White, performed at noon. Personally, I do not dance in these productions, but children love them very much. They watch with great interest, especially when their parents have explained the plot in advance. Additionally, I would like to invite all readers to visit the premiere of Children of the Night performance that is supposed to be on March 18.

This year you have received the “Pride of Ukraine” award, and in 2012 you became the Honored Artist of Ukraine. What factor or trait do you believe has contributed to your success?

Ever since my early childhood, my grandmother, who devoted all her time to my development and my future, would tell me: “Your destiny is your character.” She was a great example of this. She woke up at 6 a.m. to cook breakfast, was as busy as a bee during the day, and was always the last member of the family to go to bed. Ballet taught me to follow rules of strict discipline and diligence, and helped me understand the importance of never feeling sorry for yourself.