When Irina Dvorovenko took her final bows after a performance of “Onegin” at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City, it capped a 17-year run for the principal dancer of the American Ballet Theatre.
But Dvorovenko is ready for the next stage of her career, which she hopes will involve acting, modeling, fashion design and training the next generation of ballet stars. She spoke in a studio at the Manhattan Movement and Arts Center with ABC News correspondent Tanya Rivero – herself once a ballerina with the New York City Ballet –in a “Newsmakers” interview.
“ABT was my home, my life, my company,” Dvorovenko said. “For me, ballet is not a profession but a lifestyle.”
That lifestyle began when Dvorovenko was 10 years old and by 17, she was a principal dancer with the National Opera Ballet of Kiev. Along the way, she won four major international ballet competitions. Dvorovenko counted classic dramatic ballets, including “Romeo and Juliet” and “Onegin,” as her favorites, although she said they are really difficult to enjoy because of the levels of exhaustion.
“I always thought, I don’t want to be a ballerina, I want to be the star,” she explained.
Yet her confidence masks insecurities that she said had plagued her all her professional life.
“All ballet dancers, all artists, are very vulnerable,” Dvorovenko said. “There are so many insecurities because it’s a huge responsibility and you’re dealing with discipline, routine and pain. From an early age, you have to learn how to control yourself. And have tremendous inner strength.
“The ballet world is pretty hidden,” Dvorovenko continued. “We dedicate our life to it. The audience sees beauty, grace, glamour, lightness, passion. Behind the curtain it’s a very difficult routine and strict discipline.”
For a professional ballerina, that means no more than three days off because “you’ll lose muscle tone and if you stop, you will be an invalid.” So even on vacation, Dvorovenko would take her pointe shoes. And since she plans to remain active as a dancer, she will continue taking ballet classes every morning.
The strict regimen extends to her diet as well.
“I do a lot of cooking at home,” Dvorovenko said. “Nothing is restricted, but I eat in normal portions. It’s not what you eat, it’s how much you eat. I would rather have little meals every two hours.”
But in the midst of intense rehearsals for a performance, eating does not take priority and she has sustained herself on little snacks such as yogurt, a banana and coconut water.
Diet and discipline are not all. The movie “Black Swan” gave audiences a fictionalized glimpse at a darker world backstage.
“That was an exaggerated version, but it does exist,” Dvorovenko said. “I never experienced it but I never hesitated to congratulate and compliment someone even if they hate me. I never felt that I’m a star or that I’m better than everyone else because all my life I have suffered difficulties and insecurities about my body and my strength.”
But along the way, Dvorovenko found a partner who understands intimately the world of ballet. Maxim Beloserkovsky was also a principal dancer with the ABT and has been her husband of 20 years. They have known each other since they were children.
“From an early age, I wanted to meet my Prince Charming,” Dvorovenko recalled. “A person with whom I could share life together on stage. In most companies, ballet directors will not pair couples together, but we had no drama in the studio because of our respectful relationship.”
The couple has an 8-year-old daughter, Emma, who will now likely see a lot more of her mother.
“It’s very difficult to balance dance and being a mom,” said Dvorovenko. “You have to be either 100 percent mother or 100 percent ballerina.”
Now that she has retired from the ABT, Dvorovenko has turned her attention to acting. She debuted on Broadway recently in Encores! production of Rodgers and Hart’s “On Your Toes,” which featured choreography by George Balanchine. It was also the first time Dvorovenko spoke on stage.
“I got drunk with this world of acting,” Dvorovenko said. “I could express my personality, musicality and dance skills. Ballerinas talk all the time but inside our head. I was trained not to do movements but to express the music.”
Dvorovenko and Beloserkovsky will also conduct intensive summer programs for children who wish to become ballet professionals. She sees it as her duty to help the next generation of dancers.
“For young kids, they need to be selected in order not to suffer,” Dvorovenko explained. “You need to have the right body type, physical strength and inner strength. And they need to have passion for it. It’s not fun, it’s dedication.”
And she will likely give them the advice that she gives herself as she starts a new phase of her career.
“I’m a very risky person,” she said. “I’m not afraid to challenge myself. I’m not afraid to fall down. I have nothing to lose. I could only earn experience.”