December never fails to deliver a flurry of spectacular cultural gifts to Boston—copious renditions of Handel’s “Messiah”; multiple Dickensian “Christmas Carols”; and a choice selection of wonderful “Nutcrackers,” the gold standard among which is staged by the Boston Ballet and artistic director Mikko Nissinen.
During 2018, the company’s “Nutcracker” packs an extra treat in the shape of recently acquired ballet superstar, principal dancer Viktorina Kapitonova, whose journey from small-town Russia to the top of her profession is nothing short of remarkable.
Vika, as she is known by friends, arrived in Boston over the summer on the back of a stellar stint (2010-2018) at Ballett Zürich, where reviews of her work were so glowing, they could keep you warm during a New England nor’easter. After proving her chops at the Kazan Ballet School and the Bolshoi Theatre Academy, she won the prestigious Young Ballet of Russia competition in 2003 before starting her career as a soloist in Kazan and Moscow. We chatted with Vika about chess, honey bees, cold showers, soccer and, of course, “The Nutcracker.”
Tell us about your roots and childhood in Russia.
I come from Cheboksary, a small town on the Volga river, and I grew up in a family of beekeepers, near a forest. When I was small my mum thought that I should learn how to dance, so she sent me to one of the art schools, where people were singing, dancing, drawing, making things. So I started to learn to dance when I was five years old. After some time, my teacher there said that I have talent and that it would be better to send me to a professional dance school.
Is eating honey the secret to being great at ballet?
I don’t know—but I had a lot of honey. My mum will send some honey to Boston: I’m just waiting.
Do you need mental toughness to be a great dancer?
Yes, I think so. You need to be strong, mentally and psychologically. If the people around you and your teachers believe you can do it, that will carry you through hard times. It’s hard work but you keep doing it and you become proud of yourself.
What differences do you notice when you turn professional?
When you are at ballet school, they encourage you to push your limits and they believe in you. In the theatre, you need to fight. Sometimes you just need to wait. Sometimes you just get lucky: there is no one [else] and only you can do it. Then, you can show what you can do.
Did your ballet training help you when it came time to have a child?
Actually, I think it’s the opposite. Because we train, our muscles are hard, so when we need to relax the muscles they are not relaxed. When I had my baby it was not very easy. In some ways yes, it helped, because you get used to the pain. It’s hard work when you have to deliver the baby—so in this way it helps—but our muscles are so tight it’s hard to relax when we need to.
What are you interested in outside of the world of ballet?
I play chess. When I was growing up I played chess with my mum. It’s nice to sit down and play chess. It’s a really fantastic game—there are so many moves.
We hear you’re a fan of Julie Andrews.
Actually, my husband introduced me to her. Julie Andrews is just wonderful, the way she is so elegant, the way she moves and talks. For me, I would love to be like that. She’s really natural. It seems so easy, the way she acts. Yes, she’s my favorite.
On movie night would you choose “The Sound of Music” or “Black Swan”?
I would definitely watch “The Sound of Music.” “Black Swan” was a little bit too much, and a little bit exaggerated.
On your instagram @vikakapitonova_ we saw you rehearsing in a Russian national soccer team jersey—do you follow soccer?
I think I am starting to become a fan of soccer. My son is starting to play really well and we watched the World Cup. It was really interesting to watch how the players control the ball. It’s really amazing, the things they can do.
What are some of the hardest things about being a high-level ballerina?
Sometimes you’re jumping so much on the point shoes that you get a little hurt. It’s important to stretch your muscles and to change the water from hot to cold in the shower. For example, it’s good to have warm water on the legs and then change to cold: [it’s called] a ‘contrast shower.’ The warm water relaxes the muscles and under the cold water the blood starts to move faster, the circulation. This way, it’s better for your muscles.
Why is “The Nutcracker” so special?
The music takes you to another world. You see amazing costumes and you’re taken to a dream world, and the magic starts happening. People believe in magic, that this can happen. It’s really beautiful. I think that people who come to see “The Nutcracker” get this warm atmosphere that all dancers try to give to the audience, and a magical experience.
Do you have any advice for young girls who dream of becoming ballerinas?
I would say you need to love to dance. Sometimes people work so hard they forget to enjoy dancing. Enjoy what you do every day you can dance. Take every opportunity: don’t be shy or scared about it. Just go and do it.