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About the Change

Leonid Sarafanov...
First Soloist

Profile and interview
by Kevin Ng

Natasha Razina ©

Sarafanov in reviews

Kirov Reviews Kirov resources

Just turned 21 in June, the Kiev-born Kirov Ballet soloist Leonid Sarafanov is an exciting young talent to watch out for in this London season and beyond. Leonid was a dazzling Ali in "Le Corsaire" last Monday on the first night of the Kirov's Covent Garden season, and revealed himself to be a splendid virtuoso dancer. He has a light and high space-devouring jump, and his series of 'double assembles en tournant' are impeccable. His classical dancing is well-schooled and graceful. London audiences will be able to see Leonid dance this role again in the afternoon of the last day of the Kirov season on 9 August.

I met Leonid for dinner in a restaurant near Park Lane in London's West End last weekend. Joining us for dinner was Leonid's girlfriend Nadezhda Gonchar, another young Kirov soloist who is also from Kiev and who joined the Kirov a month earlier than Leonid. Leonid is extremely easy-going and down-to-earth, and has a good sense of humour. He is great company and is most pleasant to talk to.

Discussing his opening night's performance, he said, "I was so nervous. Makhar Vaziev (the Kirov Ballet's director) had told me before, 'It's very important because many journalists will be present, and you are a new name.' I was so scared. I think I danced better in the second matinee performance."

It was actually director Vaziev who invited Leonid to join the Kirov last year. "Perhaps Vaziev saw me on TV when I was dancing in the Moscow International Ballet Competition in 2001. (Leonid won the first prize and the gold medal.) He asked about me afterwards. I phoned Vaziev, and he invited me to travel to St. Petersburg to audition."

Leonid Sarafanov in Flower Festival in Genzano
Photograph by Natasha Razina ©

So Leonid was offered a place and joined the company at the end of March 2002 from the ballet compnay in Kiev. "I am so happy to be dancing with the Mariinsky Ballet. It's the best company in the world, I think. And everyone in the Mariinsky Theatre is very nice to me." In May 2002 he went with the Kirov company on their tour to Mexico City. However something unfortunate happened when he was dancing his first performance of "Don Quixote" with Natalia Sologub, another very talented young soloist in her twenties.

"I injured my leg during that performance, and after that I stopped dancing for two months." So Leonid unfortunately had to miss the Kirov's important season at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City in July 2002. But he recovered at the beginning of the 2002/3 season, and he danced in the company's tours to Paris, Hong Kong, and Switzerland last autumn. In Hong Kong last November, I saw him for the very first time in "Giselle" when he made his debut as Albrecht. One sensed immediately that this was a new star in the making.

The Kirov's endless touring is most definitely not a problem for Leonid. "I like so much to be able dance in different countries. And I am very happy to be here in London. It's my first visit here. So far I've been so busy that I haven't had any time to do any sightseeing. I spent most of my time in the Opera House and in the hotel." However Leonid confessed that he sometimes misses his dog in St. Petersburg.

Besides Albrecht, Leonid has also undertaken other new roles this season. He was one of the two male soloists in the first cast of "Etudes" when the Kirov first staged Harald Lander's widely-performed ballet in April, and which can be seen at Covent Garden on 4 and 5 August. He made his debut as Solor in the Soviet version of "La Bayadere" when the Kirov performed at The Lowry Theatre in Manchester in April. And this coming weekend he will dance Solor for the first time in Sergei Vikharev's reconstructed version of the ballet which was premiered at the Mariinsky Theatre in May 2002.

He had already danced the other classics with the Kiev Ballet, his former company. "In Kiev I danced "The Sleeping Beauty (Grigorovich's version), "Don Quixote", "Swan Lake", and "Nutcracker" (in a production by the Kiev choreographer Valery Kofton)." Comparing the classics, he remarked, "For me "Giselle" is the hardest ballet, there are so many lifts in the second act."

The Royal Ballet star Alina Cojocaru also danced with the Kiev company for a year before she came to Covent Garden. "Alina is a year older than I. I spoke to her in London before she left for Japan to dance in the World Ballet Festival."

And next season? "I hope to be able to dance "Rubies". Next season William Forsythe will create a new ballet for the Mariinsky. It should be very interesting, and of course I hope that I will be in the cast. And Alexei Miroshnichenko (a young Kirov choreographer) will create a new ballet set to Brahms' Hungarian music. I will hopefully be in it too."


Leonid Sarafanov and Nadezhda Gonchar relaxing in London
Photograph by Kevin Ng ©

Leonid has already danced with many of the Kirov's ballerinas including Diana Vishneva and Svetlana Zakharova. He danced the pas de deux from the Shades Act of "La Bayadere" with Vishneva at the special Gala in the Mariinsky Theatre on 31 May to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the city, which was hosted by President Putin to entertain the many visiting heads of state including Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Chirac of France. The gala was broadcast on BBC and caught many people's eye.

Leonid also danced in a charity gala held in the Hermitage Theatre in St. Petersburg in mid-July which was attended by Prince Charles who was on an official visit to the city, and was introduced to the Prince afterwards. "Prince Charles asked me, 'Was it you who danced in the 300th anniversary gala shown on BBC?'"

Leonid very much admires his personal coach Gennady Seliutsky, a notable former Kirov dancer. "I am very happy to work with Seliutsky. He's the best teacher!" Director Vaziev also takes an interest in his progress. "Vaziev sometimes comes to my rehearsals and gives me some corrections." Leonid also very much admires the Kirov star Faroukh Ruzimatov who is one of his favourite male dancers, together with Baryshnikov and Nureyev.

Leonid's home is now of course in St. Petersburg where he lives in a hostel very near the Mariinsky Theatre. "I still have many friends and relatives in Kiev. My grandparents live in Kiev, and I stay with them whenever I go there. My father has passed away, and Mamma is now living in Canada with her second husband. And I now have a stepbrother and stepsister. I look forward to visiting them in Vancouver after the Mariinsky Ballet's tour to Las Vegas in September."

In his spare time Leonid enjoys watching movies and surfing the Internet. And he hopes to start his driving lessons soon in order to get a driving licence. Unfortunately he won't have much time for these leisure activities in London in the next fortnight - but his loss is merely our gain.

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