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A Russian ballerina with a fascination for the syrtaki September 14, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Ballet Dance Opera.

Alexandra Iosifidi of the Mariinsky Ballet talks about her Greek heritage

Amid the small group of dancers of the Mariinsky-Kirov Ballet that recently appeared in Greece, we detected a spot of Greek blood. Her name is Alexandra Iosifidi, the daughter of Black Sea Greeks who was born and raised in St Petersburg. Though her body, she says quippingly, is not exactly suited to ballet, her appearance at an athletics meet a few years ago changed the course of her life. Iosifidi, who was born in 1977 and began taking dance lessons at the age of 10, describes the adventures experienced by her family and by herself with the Mariinsky, while also sending a message to Greece, “her country,” as she described it: “I am always eager to teach and help the development of ballet in our country.”

What exactly is your connection to Greece? > My father is Greek, but, unfortunately, to this day he is heartbroken by the fact the he doesn’t speak Greek. My grandparents lived in the Crimea. But shortly after World War II, Stalin deported them to Uzbekistan, where my father and uncle were born. That is when their parents decided that Greek would not be useful to them. That is why, even though they spoke the language when they were young, they later forgot it.

Did your father talk to you about Greece when you were young? > All the time, hoping that one day he would return. He was also the reason my younger sister Elisabeth enrolled in the Modern Greek Studies Department at University and is now a Modern Greek philologist. It was her gift to my father, her way of keeping contact with the country and the language.

Have you ever been to Greece? > Once on tour, when we performed at the Herod Atticus Theater. I’ve also been to Cyprus twice for work and another five times on holiday.

Do you remember any of the stories your father told you? > He mostly told us about the experience of deportation. Yet he had a very clear recollection of my great-grandmother cooing to him in Greek when they lived in Uzbekistan.

Do your parents have any connection to the arts? > None, they were both athletes. My mother played the accordion but only as an amateur.

Why did you decide to become a dancer? > I had Charlie Chaplin legs even when I was first born. My height was not at all suited to being a ballerina, I am 1.82 meters, while I also had a very rigid posture. One day my mother took me to a small town for an athletics tournament. A woman there approached her and said: “Is that your child? Did you know she has the legs of a ballerina?”

How old were you when you first stepped into the Mariinsky? > I was still at the Vaganova Ballet Academy at the time. Back then, just getting a ticket to the ballet was a huge accomplishment, but my grandmother had somehow secured them. I must have been 11 years old at the time.

Is the competition fierce? > Yes. It is hard and extremely fierce. Getting a lead role is a battle because the standards are very high.

In which performances have you danced the lead? > Quite a few. My favorites, though, were “The Fountain of Bakhchisarai,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Don Quixote” and “The Nutcracker.”

What is your favorite dance? > The syrtaki! Even though in Greece it is considered to be only for tourists, I still find it fascinating.

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