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About the Change

Altynai Asylmuratova
and the Vaganova Academy

by Jeffery Taylor
Former dancer, Critic and an Arts feature writer for the Sunday Express. Pub 6 04 2003

Asylmuratova in reviews

Kirov Reviews

Vaganova Academy Website

Jeffery Taylor reviews

Web version held on by kind permission of Jeffery Taylor and the Sunday Express

Express Website

She is called 'The Divine' the world over. Her dancing redefines the term classical ballet not just for her generation, but forever. A poster displaying the name Altynai Asylmuratova guarantees full houses from St Petersburg to Sardinia, from Birmingham to Biloxi. But no more.

When the Kirov Ballet, the company she ruled as Prima Ballerina Assoluta for over two decades, visits Britain this year, first to Manchester's The Lowry in May then the Royal Opera House in London two months later, the great dancer will be absent. Back home in St Petersburg, instead of figure hugging tutus and elaborate tiaras, Asylmuratova, 42, will be wearing a floppy tracksuit while her chestnut hair free falls round her face as she sits in her 5th floor office as artistic director of the Vaganova Ballet Academy.

"I really hate the paper work",

“From the beginning of my career I was determined to finish earlier rather than later.”
Altynai Asylmuratova

she admits, surrounded by an eighteen foot desk buried in the stuff. "But it wasn't difficult to stop. From the beginning of my career I was determined to finish earlier rather than later. I don t like funerals.

"Of course I miss dancing and it must appear a strange job for me, I know", she adds. "But I really love ballet and in a very real sense I feel I am the channel for the future."

Altynai Asylmuratova & Irek Mukhamedov
dancing together at Sadler's Wells in 2000/01
Photograph by Richard Dean © & courtesy of Sadler's Wells

To most people Asylmuratova is the epitome of the traditional aspect of the classical technique and her leading place at the heart of it, one assumes, can only mean more of the same. Not a bit of it. "Nobody knows more about classical

“... my job is not conservation but innovation.”
Altynai Asylmuratova

ballet than we do here, where it was founded, but my job is not conservation but innovation", insists this radical traditionalist, defiantly lighting her next cigarette from the present stub.

"Every day I watch the classes to assess the students , and the teachers progress. I talk all the time about my ideas and what I imagine for the future. You only have to see videos of both Galina Ulanova in the 1930s and my performances to see that ballet is always changing. That is why I am here". And it is clear from the awed curtseys and respectful bows from those of the 300 students Asylmuratova passes on her way through her corridors of power that her presence, even after just three years, carries a serious cachet even for those too young to have seen her dance.

Twenty two years ago, Asylmuratova married a fellow principal Kirov dancer, Konstantin Zaklinsky, and they have one daughter, Anastasia, 10, who will start at the Academy next year. Zaklinsky, 48, retired in 1995 and looked after Anastasia while his wife continued to tour the world. Now for the first time and often a recipe for disaster, both parents are at home in their apartment in one of the grandest city districts, the Peter and Paul Fortress area.

"No problem", says Asylmuratova. "All our married life we have been together, at school and in the theatre. Even after

“He is an outstanding husband because he does the cooking, the shopping, everything.”
Altynai Asylmuratova on
husband Konstantin Zaklinsky

all these years we love being with each other. Now I have more time to settle down together for the evening on the sofa with Natasha and Kolya and watch TV. And Kolya doesn't get under my feet because I have always been a terrible housewife. He is an outstanding husband because he does the cooking, the shopping, everything. I am a very lucky woman". It is the rest of the world, now denied Asylmuratova's performances, that feels deprived.

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