An Interview with Nikolai Zubkovsky

by Cassandra

August 2003, London

If Nikolai Zubkovsky were a Londoner I’d be describing him as “a bit of a geezer.”   Tough and streetwise, he challenges most people’s idea of a typical male dancer. But look beyond the super-cool exterior and an interesting and complex personality emerges.

Nikolai conducted almost the entire interview in his very idiosyncratic English and I have changed very little.

What is a typical day on tour for a Kirov dancer?

Every morning we have class after we have rehearsals then performance. Every day we work and Sunday too - every day of the week.

How many months of the year do you spend on tour?

Four or five.

How long have you been in the company?

It’s my 8th year in the company (he was 26 yesterday). Maybe I look older, 31 maybe?

You come from a family of dancers

Yes, of course, there was my grandmother Inna Zubkovskaya, she danced “Swan Lake” with the Kirov ballet in London in 1961. My grandfather was also called Nikolai Zubkovsky and he danced with both the Kirov and Maly Theatres. He danced with Vecheslova (One of the most outstanding dancers of the Soviet era). He both choreographed and danced the role of the Golden Idol in “La Bayadere” and when he finished dancing he taught. He had many, many students. My grandmother taught also, she too had many students. She taught Asylmuratova.

So you always wanted to be a dancer

Me? No! I truly didn’t want it. I wanted to be a painter, everyone in my family thought I was a great painter, then afterwards I started the ballet, but I really didn’t want it because my legs (he makes a grimace of pain) my legs were hurting.

How old were you when you entered the Vaganova Ballet School?

Nine. I danced because my mother and father were artists at the Maryinsky. My mother, Katya Zubkovskaya, after she finished dancing at the Maryinsky she went to work in Italy, in Rome, teaching the Vaganova style. Now she is teaching in Korea. My father Volodya also danced at the Maryinsky. We are a big mafia. [He means the Zubkovsky family—ed.] We have this family tradition, we are a dynasty.

I ask how he felt about his grandfather's choreographic creation, the Golden Idol, being dropped from the current production of “La Bayadere.”

My grandfather he do this in 1956 or 1957 in “La Bayadere” [actually it was 1948—ed.] now this ballet must be all Petipa. But it is still danced in the Royal Ballet and the Paris Opera Ballet.

We next talk about his roles and I ask - Do you have a favourite role?

”The Fountain of Bakchiserai.” Yes. [He dances the role of Nur-Ali] and the Indian dance in “Bayadere” and the Gipsy Dance in “Don Quixote.” I want to dance Carabosse in the “Sleeping Beauty” and I want to dance the Golden Slave in “Scheherazade.” The Golden Slave is very interesting for me because I see everyone else dance the role. For me the best in “Scheherazade” was Asylmuratova and Ruzimatov because they understand what they are doing, you understand? More expression and more sexuality.

I tell Nikolai how much I enjoyed his dancing in Leningrad Symphony last year

Yes (laughing) it is bad role; I don’t know how you say this in English.

I tell him he played a traitor.

Yes! I enjoyed this ballet because it is about family, before me my father danced it, my father was from the Russian east and didn’t look typically Russian, after he danced this role he give it to me. It is a small role but you can do something with it.

Who are your favourite dancers generally?

Asylmuratova, Makhalina, Ruzimatov, Zelensky….

Do you have the opportunity to watch other companies either live or on video?

Yes and I like all forms of dance including contemporary.

Away from the stage do you still paint?

No. Away from the stage I like music. Jazz. I like intelligent music. We have a jazz radio station in St Petersburg and I give my jazz collection to this station. Best of all I like Jamiroquai. I have every thing of Jamiroquai, everything. He is a crazy man but makes really fantastic music. I like classical music too, particularly Rossini.

In Russia I have made a film as a movie actor, I enjoyed doing it, it was very interesting and I would like to make another film, but right now there is no time.

So presumably when you are on tour you never have time to go out...

(Interrupting) Yes, I always have time, because we have night, (he laughs wickedly). You know at home in St Petersburg it is a very beautiful city but the weather is not so good and my temperament is for warmer climes, I have been all over Europe, America and Japan but I love Latin America, Mexico and Brazil – it is paradise. My girlfriend is Brazilian, I met her in Russia, she is an advocate (lawyer).

Don't you get homesick when you 're away on tour?

“Yeah”, But some cities he enjoys more than others. He finds London “too cosmopolitan”, crowded with tourists and without an “English atmosphere”, his favourite cities are Rome, Madrid and Rio, but best of all he loves Rome.

I ask about the future: Do you have any interest in choreography like your grandfather?

No. No, I tried but its difficult for me, I am more active person than a choreographer; I am best suited to dancing. Maybe I will try teaching but so far I never try. But all aspects of art interest me. If I ever change my life, if I change my job, it will be for something else in the arts.

At this point the half hour call is announced and Nikolai hastily thanks me and says goodbye.

He is quite a character and seems to take everything in his stride, including the rigours of touring and performing almost every night. He is as he rightly says, part of a famous dancing dynasty, the current member of the famous Zubkovsky clan to grace the worlds dancing stages.

Watch out for the talented Mr Z. as he is a highly gifted dance-actor and I feel the Kirov has so far only scratched the surface of his remarkable talent.

N.B. Nikolai Zubkovsky was listed in the London souvenir programme as simply an "Artist". He is however officially a Principal Character Artist of the Kirov Ballet.


Edited by Jeff

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