Olga Smirnova on why dance matters and leaving Bolshoi Ballet

Olga Smirnova on why dance matters and leaving Bolshoi Ballet

The Royal Academy of Dance’s Why Dance Matters podcast celebrated its 50th episode in conversation with one of the world’s great ballerinas, Olga Smirnova.

Smirnova joined Dutch National Ballet in 2022 after making headlines with a courageous, life-changing decision to leave Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In a wide-ranging and thoughtful conversation on the Why Dance Matters’ 50th episode, she discusses her momentous decision to leave Russia and her profound sense of why dance matters.

As a young girl, Smirnova had no dream of becoming a ballerina. However, she did go to dance classes, and was then accepted into the famous Vaganova Ballet Academy in St Petersburg. On completing her training in 2011, she joined the Bolshoi Ballet, starting immediately as a soloist and shining not only in the classics, but also in new and modern works. In 2016, she was promoted to prima ballerina, but when Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, Smirnova – strongly opposed to the invasion – decided to leave her homeland, making the transition to Dutch National Ballet.

Highlights from the 50th episode include the following reflections by Smirnova:

On leaving Russia, “The decision was obvious for me, so this made it easier. But of course it meant huge changes. I never lived in a foreign country before. A new language, new country, new traditions, new company – all of that was a big challenge. But I was lucky to find great support at Dutch National Ballet and from the director Ted Branson. I can confidently say that Dutch National has now become my home.

Contact with former Bolshoi colleagues, “No, not many, just with a few people. I think they feel weird not to be able to tour or share their experience with the world, or have many choreographers coming to work with them. But people don’t want to talk about it, or might be afraid to share their honest opinion.”

Why does dance matter? “I like to think about my body as a tool, which helps to reveal and express different emotions and share these emotions with the audience. And I believe that the more people share their emotions with one another, the better they come to understand one another, which helps create a better and more harmonious world. Art helps us find the inspiration to exist – I just want to share this inspiration with the world.”

The 50th episode of Why Dance Matters podcast is available on all major streaming platforms. Visit RAD’s podcast page to find out more: United Kingdom | Podcast (royalacademyofdance.org)