Category: Nikolai Tsiskaridze



Nikolai Tsiskaridze and Svetlana Zakharova in “La Bayadere” at the Bolshoi. Photos by Dmitry Kulikov and Mikhail Logvinov, respectively.



Nikolai Tsiskaridze as Kasyan Goleyzovsky’s “Narcissus” at the 2010 Dance Open. Photo by Mark Olich.



Continuing on the topic of meeting dancers at the staff door, here’s a pic of a seemingly very happy Nikolai Tsiskaridze meeting fans after a The Nutcracker performance on January, 7th, 2012. I remember seeing this pic for the first time years ago and laughing out loud, ‘cause THE FURCOAT. Nikolai looks like an early 19th century Russian landowner / esquire.



Nikolai Tsiskaridze on holiday in Kislovodsk, Russia. 1979 vs 2018. He has barely changed, if you ask me. 

Ask Responses: Vaganova


What is Zhanna Ayupova’s role at VBA? I know she’s a coach at Mikhailovsky, so how does she have time to do both?

Ayupova is the academy’s Artistic Director – the position previously occupied by Altynai Asylmuratova – and Tsiskaridze’s second-in-command. I don’t know how she has time to do both. I don’t understand how either she or Tsiskaridze function, to be honest. They get more done in a day than I do in a week.

Why did no boys get the red diploma/honours this year?

I suppose they didn’t do well enough to earn one. My understanding is that one must be a straight-A student (this includes academic classes) for three consecutive years – 5th to 8th grade – in order to receive a red diploma. Which is quite a feat. Few students manage it.

The dancer in the front and center of your banner photo is Ludmila Komissarova – ask won’t let me include a link, but you can google Jewels of Mariinsky and her name

That’s interesting. Every Russian source I’ve ever come across identifies the girl as Irina Gensler. Thank you for the tip though, that page provides a great deal of information about Komissarova!

If you could interview any of the recent VBA grads (say 2016-2018) who you haven’t done an interview for, or a translation for, who would you interview?

Anastasia Lukina (class of 2015). I wish there were more (or any) interviews with her out there. She is a remarkable person and a beautiful dancer. She has the qualities which many of Kovaleva’s students share: maturity, wisdom, poise, intense focus, intelligence, culture… She appears to function on a higher plane of existence.

I am curious as to why so many of this year’s VBA grads are entering Mariinsky instead of the Bolshoi? To clarify, I’m very glad that they are because they are what the Mariinsky deserves, but considering their quality I’m sure Bolshoi Theater has made offers as well. So what, in you opinion, turned them to the Mariinsky?

Only the grads can answer that. For the past few years grads who wished to work at the Bolshoi had to attend auditions. This was the case for Alena Kovaleva and, more recently, Eleonora Sevenard, Egor Gerashchenko and Oscar Frame. Presumably some of this year’s grads travelled to Moscow to audition – several sources reported that Khoreva was there – but were either unsuccessful or turned down the offer in favour of Mariinsky (I find the latter option hard to believe). 

d i s c l a i m e r 

Concerning Grigorovich. I’ve heard that …

Concerning Grigorovich. I’ve heard that he and Plissetskaya did not get along, but I’ve been unable to find reliable information on the matter… Also, he was director of the Bolshoi in 2008, after Ratmansky ? How was it then ? If I’m correct Ratmansky was genuinely disliked by the dancers, and Filin, well… We know what happened.


Many legends surround the conflict between Yuri Grigorovich and Maya Plisetskaya. Grigorovich was never known for being a gentle person, but neither was Maya. According to her brother, Plisetskaya could be incredibly cruel and abrasive even to her own family, to say nothing of her friends and colleagues. She had burned a lot of bridges during her life, often for trivial reasons. I would also add that, from what I have observed over the years, ballet folk tend to be emotional, which can exacerbate an already stressful situation.

From what I have read – and I am basing my answer mainly on the information available in the book recently published by Maya’s younger brother, Azari Plisetsky – the animosity between Plisetskaya and Grigorovich primarily stemmed from two facts:

  • Grigorovich frequently cast Natalia Bessmertnova over Maya and generally favoured his beloved wife over Plisetskaya;
  • In 1988 Grigorovich forcibly retired Plisetskaya, Vasiliev, Maximova, Bessmertnova, Lavrovsky and Timofeeva.

            I can see how favouritism on Grigorovich’s part would infuriate Plisetskaya, especially since she played a significant role in Grigorovich’s relocation from the Mariinsky to the Bolshoi.

            On the other hand, I find that Grigorovich’s controversial move to retire the brightest stars of their generation from the Bolshoi actually made a lot of sense. At the time of this momentous historical event, Maximova and Vasiliev were both forty, Timofeeva was fifty-three, and Plisetskaya was sixty-three. These great dancers were way past their prime, and their continual presence in the company actually prevented younger dancers from advancing further in their careers. Furthermore, Grigorovich didn’t spare his wife from the cut.

            So there you have it.


            Grigorovich served as the Bolshoi’s artistic director from 1964 to 1995. He didn’t exactly depart from the company of his own free will either. In fact, few of the Bolshoi’s A.D.s ever escaped their position unscathed*. He returned to the Bolshoi in 2009 as the company’s ballet master, and Yury Burlaka succeeded Ratmansky as the Bolshoi’s Artistic Director that same year. I think Maria Alexandrova summed up Ratmansky’s tenure pretty well when she said that Alexei struggled in the role because he is a creative and all he ever really wanted to do was to stage ballets; he wasn’t that interested in managing the company.

            In 2011, after Burlaka left the post of Artistic Director, Gennady Yanin emerged as the frontrunner for the position, only to be removed from the race in the most brutal fashion. It’s unclear who was responsible for the vile smear campaign against Yanin, but the person who, as we know, ended up benefiting from it the most was Sergei Filin.

            *Grigorovich did manage (against all the odds) to secure the future of a young dancer called Nikolai Tsiskaridze shortly before he was forced out. So we have him to thank for setting that ‘lil bit of ballet history in motion.

            d i s c l a i m e r 

            tsiskaridze: From a recent interview: I was to…


            From a recent interview: I was told that you take your students to the Hermitage. 

             Nikolai Tsiskaridze:

            I do, I take them everywhere I can, and I always talk to them. None of them have ever seen a Soviet film before. I’m forcing my class to watch them. I email them video links to operas and films. For example, if they’re reading Tolstoy’s “Resurrection” I ask them to watch Shveitser’s movie adaptation. The directing is ingenious. One must see it, be nurtured by it. They would never watch the film otherwise – it’s far too long. Their lives have a different rhythm. They write back “thx” instead of “Thank you”. And one must make peace with that.

            tsiskaridze: When you were appointed rector, a…


            When you were appointed rector, a lot of people were convinced that you wouldn’t last long. But that prognosis proved to be false pretty quickly.

            Nikolai Tsiskaridze: That’s because I was given carte blanche. At the time, a great number of naysayers insisted: “Just give him free rein and you will immediately see what kind of a bastard he really is!” Meanwhile, others were saying: “Give him a chance to prove himself”. After the first year, there wasn’t a single complaint from either the teachers or the parents. It’s been five years now.

            Ask Responses: Vaganova


            This might be a strange question, but I wonder if there are any restrictions as to where a child is from that will prevent them from being accepted into Vaganova? So, would a child from areas around Chernobyl for example be allowed to audition or would they be immediately turned away?

            It’s interesting that you use Chernobyl as an example. I suppose you are interested in health issues that may prevent a child from auditioning for Vaganova? VBA have a document on their website with a very long list of health issues which would prevent a child from studying at the academy, and medical examination is a big part of the audition process (many of the children fail it).

            Chernobyl is located in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. The area has been abandoned since 1986, which means that any infant or child who was there during the Chernobyl disaster would be in their 30s now. The aftermath of the disaster is too complicated to get into. Suffice to say that it is devastating and far-reaching. I knew a woman who was evacuated from Chernobyl after the explosion and gave birth to a child with severe developmental issues many years later. It’s tragic. I suppose a child of a parent (or even a grand-parent) from Chernobyl is likely to suffer serious health issues, which would prevent them from auditioning. 

            Hello i have i question that i don’t know if it’s relevant. I saw an old movie about vaganova academy ( the name of the video :the best ballet school in the world strict russian ballet) And I can’t recognize the girl who dancing masha in nutcracker she look very good and I want to know what she is doing today do you know something about that? Thanks anyways for all the information you are posting in this blog.

            That’s Maria Chugay. She won 2nd place in the 2006 Vaganova Prix, graduated with honours around that time, and danced with the Mariinsky for a while, before joining Dutch National Ballet in 2009. She’s been there ever since. You can find her on YouTube.

            In Kovaleva’s recent interview, she mentions that sometimes, once a dancer matures, she turns out to be too short/doesn’t grow. I know this was a concern for Olga Morgulets in the Dance of the Little Swans documentary, so I’m wondering if you know what the academy considers too short to be an employable dancer?

            I don’t know for sure, but I suppose anything below 160cm would be considered problematic, as would anything over 175cm. This is just guesswork on my part, though. If anyone knows otherwise, do let me know.

            hi! do they take academic classes into account for the red diploma? or just ballet?

            Yes, they do. Which is why Eleonora Sevenard didn’t graduate with honours – she didn’t do too well academically (I’m only using her as an example because Tsiskaridze kept bringing it up during her final year).

            I’m a bit confused about VBA’s structure with teachers. Do students have one classical teacher throughout their time at the academy, or is the class they graduate from only for their final year? (ie would Khoreva and Ionova have had Kovaleva from day 1 or just for the 8th year?) Why do only a couple of classical teachers graduate students in a given year?

            Typically, a student will have studied under several teachers by the time they graduate. For example, Maria Khoreva studied under Alkanova, Zabalkanskaya and Kovaleva. This has to do with the fact that different teachers specialise in training students at different levels. Diana Vishneva claims to had studied under Kovaleva from day one, but that has been disputed

            As for the graduating classes, most of the graduates complete Grade 8 / Level III at Vaganova, though some students may choose to graduate early (Grade 7 / Level II), though they receive a different (slightly lesser) qualification. Grades are broken into four groups – 8a Girls, 8a Boys, 8b Girls, 8b Boys – two girl classes and two boy classes, with each class having a dedicated teacher. This keeps class sizes small and allows teachers to really focus on each individual student. 

            Class of 2018 were taught by the following teachers:

            • Kovaleva (8A Girls)
            • Ilyin (8A Boys)
            • Miozzi (8B Girls)
            • Kasenkova (8B Girls)

            The year below (graduating next year) is taught by:

            • Tsiskaridze (7A Boys)
            • Sitnikova (7A Girls)
            • Vasilieva (7B Girls)
            • Ermolenkov (7B Boys)

            I hope that makes sense.

            Recently I found 3 girls who were in the “corps de ballet” of Suite en Blanc who attracted my attention on instagram because they are particularly young: Sofia Dinershtein, Kaitlyn Zylka, and Maria Cherynyavskaya. They are in grade school (5/9 I believe), and I was quite impressed that they were dancing in such a mature ballet at such a young age. Do you have any opinions on them?

            All I can say about “Suite en Blanc” and everyone involved in the performances is that I was completely blown away by what I saw. All the students did an amazing job and, like yourself, I was surprised to see so many younger students involved in the production and impressed by their performance.

            d i s c l a i m e r



            The 2018 Vaganova Ballet Academy graduation ceremony at Catherine Palace in St Peresburg. June 26. Photos by Andrew Lush.