MULTILINGUAL. FREQUENT FLYER. TROTS GLOBALLY.
BY LINDA BESANT, February 2007
Ballet is Alexey Dmitrenko’s ticket to the world. Dancing has taken him from his birthplace in Moscow to perform in far-flung cities from the Czech Republic to Korea. His desire to dance in an American company with a diverse and high-quality repertoire led him to Portland and Oregon Ballet Theatre.
How did you begin studying ballet?
My Grandma encouraged me to be an artist. I was doing figure skating for a while when I was four years old. I was actually pretty successful. I even won a competition at age four at the six-year-old level. When I reached the age that I could study dance, I decided to switch to dancing. I started classical ballet when I was ten. Before ballet I danced in a folk ensemble. We had classes that included steps from various national dances.
What age were you when you left your homeland?
I was 18. My ballet teacher helped me receive a Nureyev scholarship at the Ballet School of the Vienna State Opera. So, I studied in Vienna for two-and-a-half years. As a student of the school, I did some performances with the Vienna State Opera. Upon graduating, I danced in productions at the Volksoper.
When did you start to study English?
I studied English when I was in grade school, but I did it only for two years. After, since I switched to a school where I was doing ballet, we studied only French because French is the language of ballet. Actually, I forgot my English completely. Then studying in Austria, at an international ballet school where we had many English-speaking people, I recalled English from my memory. I didn’t speak English much in Austria until I attended Vienna State University, where I studied to be a language interpreter between German, Russian and English.
How did you find your way to Portland and
Oregon Ballet Theatre?
I came to the United States to dance with Columbia Classical Ballet in South Carolina. Then I was just considering places to learn something new—learn more styles, to dance Balanchine pieces, faster type of dancing. I read Christopher’s biography on OBT’s website, and I heard that Portland is a nice city. So I sent my picture and my documents, and Christopher invited me to audition. When I arrived in Portland I got good impressions. I thought it would be the right step.
Do you enjoy Portland?
Yes, I like the city as much as a newcomer can. When you first move to a city, you are busy learning your way around. I’ve been to different cities in the States and I think this one is probably one of the nicest. It’s not usual that a city in the U.S. has public transportation that’s quite comfortable. Since I lived in Europe, where people rely on public transportation a lot, I was used to a way of life without a car. So, to me Portland combines an American feeling and some European style. I like that most of the people in the city know what OBT is. It’s nice that you can see the posters and announcements about upcoming shows. If you say that you dance with OBT, people are interested.
How do you spend your time when you’re not dancing?
I like learning languages, making friends and communicating with people.
What do you like best about OBT so far?
I like the variety of repertoire. I am a classically trained dancer. But here you can learn many styles, not losing what you already have, but building up. The Four Temperaments was my first Balanchine ballet. Could be it was a surprise to my body. In something like The Four Temperaments you have to have more plastique, softness, than in classical ballet. You have to feel the movements. I was learning new skills that I wasn’t taught in school. It was interesting.
Have you seen dancers in the world whose work you particularly admire?
Yes, sure. I can’t name all of them. Some dancers are born with the perfect body, some are natural movers, some develop strong technique. But all these skills and gifts do not necessarily make you a fabulous dancer. Great dancers are fresh, they have a power in their dancing. What makes them complete is an enigma.
What would you like to tell audiences about ballet that they might not realize?
wouldn’t want to tell them anything because ballet is an art, and each art has a mystery that cannot and should not be explained or revealed. But I have an impression that in the United States, not everyone takes seriously the profession of a ballet dancer. In Europe, if you work in the opera house, everyone understands your position. You have a certain status that has existed ever since the king built the opera house far back in the history of the city. Here, the system is different. If you say to someone that you’re a dancer, they might say, “Oh, I’m a dancer too, I go to the disco club.” They don’t always realize that dance is a demanding occupation.