Glimpse into the Corps de Ballet: Anton Osetrov

Not everyone becomes a prince overnight, but Anton Osetrov might just be on his way. Now in his third season at the Mariinsky, the corps de ballet member recently assayed the role of Prince Siegfried in the White Swan Adagio as part of the “Theatrical Lesson” series for students from public schools citywide. In late March 2024, he debuted in the role of the Student in “Anuita”. VaganovaToday spoke to this young artist about his beginnings and aspirations. For the Russian version, click here.

Why did you start dancing?
I’ll start with the fact that I went into ballet myself, my family isn’t from the ballet world. My parents don’t like ballet. My mom loves opera and my father only likes dramatic theatre. They’re both artists though, my mother is an illustrator for books and my father restores historical paintings. 

In childhood, I attended the Anichkov Palace of Pioneers for choreographic classes, acting and pantomime. I was good at it and they recommended that I try to attend the Vaganova Academy. My parents were against it. Most people who aren’t from ballet think that ballet is only for girls, and also the career is not very long, only 20 years or slightly more than that. But since my parents always supported me in doing what I want to do, they gave me a chance and I was accepted after the auditions.

What was your impression when you began to study there?
I was quite surprised. Prior to that I had studied choreography, and I had participated actively in sports, in swimming. I continued to do rowing (athletic crew) during my first two years at the Academy.

The school classes impressed me, but my pedagogues did not see me as a dancer at first. Unlike many dancers who immediately move forward. They didn’t really pay much attention to me. But Nikolai Tsiskaridze, the rector of the Academy, despite how busy he is, believed in me and defended me. I was able to remain at the Academy for the full 8 years. I had one teacher for the first 3 years and another for the next 2, and both of them by year 5 were not sure I should continue. Tsiskaridze said “I don’t see any problem, let him continue”.

In the remaining classes I studied well and got good grades. When you attend the 6th year (called “course” starting from this year), then I met my artistic father, who is now a great friend, Fethon Miozzi, who took me into his class and believed in me, he was the first pedagogue who believed I could become a dancer and we began to work together very actively. And step-by-step I tried to perfect my dancing.

Then Covid began. And the Academy closed completely from February 2020 until September 2020 with no classes whatsoever. And the problem was where to go to stay in shape. I found a studio and ended up in the class of Margarita Kulik, that was my second fated meeting while everything was on pause I continued to take classes. We rehearse a lot together now because Vladimir Kim, her husband, is my pedagogue. So I work with both of them and am very grateful to both.

At the Mariinsky, only 2 months were lost during Covid. They soon reopened and you could attend performances if you wore a mask and distanced between spectators. Also in the theatre, we had two groups of dancers, red and green in masks and they both rehearsed in different studios and were not allowed to interact in order to prevent spreading the virus.

When Covid ended, I continued to work with Fethon, or “Fyodor Ivanovich” as we call him, in the last year of school. We actively worked in the evenings, on the winter “Nutcracker” performance and our graduation performances. So I had those three wonderful years at the Academy with Fethon. He still helps me now and when I have a chance I go see him and we work on roles together.

How was the workload at the Academy?
It was difficult at age 17 and 18 years, because we started at 8:30 a.m. and finished at approximately the same time in the evening, 8:30 p.m.  When I was in for example, the 5th year, it was easier. But at that point it was not clear what was going on, I was trying and working but they did not see potential in me. I wanted people to work with me and pay attention to me, but it wasn’t happening. It’s normal probably, some people like you and some people don’t.

What is the role of the pedagogue in your training and now career?

Fethon for me is, as I mentioned, an artistic father and a friend. We discuss my problems in ballet if any arise, and he always helps me. I’m in frequent contact with my pedagogue Vladimir Kim in the theatre, who is a wonderful person and professional with a capital “P”, and Fethon and Vladimir and Margarita are all friends and can consult each other. So you could say we’re all like one big family.

Was it a surprise to be accepted into the Mariinsky?
The audition took place in the Mariinsky II New Theatre. I was calm about it because I had already been accepted at other theatres and so I felt, “let what is meant to be, be.” Thank God they accepted me, I’m grateful to the director that they gave me a chance and offered me work here. I was born in Petersburg, and it was a dream to work here. And my dream came true, I was accepted and started to work immediately.

How did the transition from the Academy to the Theatre go?
There were a lot of similarities, because I continued to study with my colleagues and pedagogues and learn the repertoire, new components in ballet. But the differences were that, immediately there is more responsibility. Because when I go onstage, I’m responsible to the viewer who has come to view a fairytale and beauty and I need to demonstrate that on stage. In school we study in order to dance in the theatre, and here I began to dance and perform more; of course that’s more pleasant than simply studying in the studio.

What is your focus when you go on stage– more technical, or more emotional output of the role, emotional interaction with other dancers?
I can say that if the role was prepared quickly, and the if the order of steps are still being studied then the focus of course is on the technical side, but if you’ve prepared a role scrupulously for a long time, studied the history of the character and their personality, and you know all the nuances on stage, you’re not thinking about new steps, you’re focused on the character.  Often people ask me “did you FEEL that I was in the audience, did you see me?” and when I’m on stage I am like the character from the ballet, even if the role is insignificant, I delve into it so deeply that I do not notice the viewers in the audience. It is only when the bows come after the final curtain that I realize, “Oh that’s right! I am on stage,” and there are several hundred people sitting there in the audience.

So that means you do not get nervous on stage?
No, I don’t get very nervous. You get nervous only when you feel you haven’t prepared the part well enough. Or if the circumstances somehow are not so smooth.

You’ve already danced the White Adagio in “Swan Lake” which is the first step to performing the full ballet on stage here. Do you feel that that emploi, the role of a prince, suits you, or do you see yourself in another way?

From an acting point of view, of course the dream is to dance classical roles like princes. It’s a great dream of mine to go on stage in the role of a prince.  It came true in terms of, I did just a portion of “Swan Lake” and now the next step is to dance the full ballet. God willing, it will happen at some point.

But just as with any actor, I would like to try myself in different emplois, since the theatre has a wide repertoire and Yuri Valerievich [Fateev] looks at us in various emplois, to see what works and what doesn’t.

I’ve danced the part of the Chief Magistrate, the role of a strict soldier, and, if I can characterize it as a villain, he is like a judge, he is as dictator who subjugates everyone else underneath his rules. And I prefer roles where the character develops. Probably my dream role is that of Romeo, because there is so much inner turmoil, so much emotion.  From “Don Quixote”, Basilio is also a role of my dreams, but I have already prepared the role of Espada and want to show it to our director. I’d  love to dance Basilio but I don’t know if it suits my emploi because he’s not a tall character, physically speaking. It all depends on how the director sees me. Although we have a tall Basilio in the Mariinsky, Andrey Ermakov. It depends on what suits you.

I’d love to dance Albrecht, but it’s too early from me emotionally speaking, I need to experience more of life first. Also Solor in “Bayadere”, another dream role, or Ferkhad in “Legend of Love”, it’s interesting that he’s also an artist like my parents.

Every role that contains a lot of dancing interests me. Our language is the language of dance, and through it we express our emotions. So I want to dance everything!

What do you think about the rule that a dancer “must” spend time in the corps de ballet?

I can say that each dancer has their own path, but in my opinion a person should be in the corps for some time to understand how the stage works. Because when you dance a solo you’re not going to think about what’s happening behind you in the corps de ballet. I had the chance during our recent tour to China to watch the pantomime roles during Act II with the men who hold trumpets. And during the course of so many “Swan Lakes” I learned each step, each gesture of each role. I know the music down to the notes. (laughs) You can say that is may be a bit much but it’s great when you know what is happening onstage. Of course there are exceptions when dancers go on stage and do not know what else is going on around them. Lots of artists in solo roles or even duets and trios, they may “get lost” on stage and forget that he or she is performing a role. We are actors, we play a role. When they don’t know what happens in the libretto, they are themselves on stage. I believe a dancer should spend some time in the corps de ballet so that this does not happen.

It used to be that dancers here had days off very rarely. What is  your schedule like now?

Thankfully everyone has one day off per week. In theory, everyone here should have that. Of course for some unclear reasons sometimes there’s a performance on a Monday, but then they try to give you another day off to compensate.

As for the load, I handle it Ok now but the first 2 years in the theatre it was difficult because as people told me often, “Anton you have to listen to your body”. But I didn’t listen to it, I blocked all my feelings and as a result I incurred and injury. Now thank God I started to listen to my body and if I feel that something is not right, then I try to heal it quickly.

What’s the hardest part of your job?
There are no hard parts if the work is interesting.

What’s the best part of your job?

Expressing myself on stage. Even as a child, I danced to any music I heard.  I just enjoy dancing especially on the dramatic level, becoming a new character. You need to not forget that the person onstage is not you but the role you are playing.

Is the shift into a character difficult?

The shift begins when you prepare a role, studying the character’s preferences and history. Then you translate that into the language of dance. Probably most serious step is when you put on the costume, that helps a lot.

Do you have any rituals before going on stage?
Before I go on stage, and the night before, I say a prayer. I’m not a superstitious person. I’m religious. And if you believe in something then superstition cannot exist.

Advice for younger students who want to dance in the Mariinsky?
Believe in yourself and relate more easily to everything. I wasted a lot of nerves when I was graduating and it wasn’t clear what was going to and I got seriously tired. Believe and work.