Dancing to the top in Hamburg

Dancers Silvia Azzoni and Alexandre Riabko left their countries as teenagers to study at the prestigious John Neumeier School of Hamburg Ballet. Little did they know that in Hamburg they would reach the top of the dance world, fall in love and find their home. In an exclusive interview for Gute Leute Magazine, the principal dancers of the world famous Hamburg Ballet look back at the start of their careers and relationship, and told us all about the new choreography that they are presenting in the city that has seen them grow.

Text & photography by Veronica Sanchez 

Moin! How many years have you been living in Hamburg?

Silvia: I’ve been here for 28 years. I spent two years at the Hamburg Ballet School, then I joined the company. This has really become my home, more so than Italy.

Alexandre: I came in 1995, so it’s been 23 years. I came to the Hamburg Ballet School as a young boy, expecting to return to Ukraine pretty soon after, but I ended up staying. Now we have a child together, great jobs and we’ve met so many people that Hamburg has become home. I even have the German nationality now!

What about you, Silvia?

Silvia: No, I am still Italian, but my Dad just told me “you should become German” (laughs). I just said “Wow,” from an Italian father it is very strange to hear that!

So how did you meet?

Silvia: Here, working together. Sasha (Alexandre) is younger, and I went to see his performance when he was still at the School of Hamburg Ballet. I remember thinking “Wow, this boy has so much talent.” Later he joined the company and we started working together – we were cast to learn Hamlet and Ophelia. We never danced the whole performance together, but we danced a Pas des Deux later on and somehow we fell in love.

Alexandre: We developed chemistry which evolved into some kind of intimacy. I think it helped us grow as artists and as people, and we were able to further develop that special relationship both on stage and at home. It is one of those unique things. We are lucky to have found each other.

You now have a seven year old daughter who is taking ballet lessons, do you think she will follow into your footsteps?

Silvia: Well, I think she likes to do ballet. We don’t push her, she can choose whatever she wants to do, but I think ballet is a good discipline anyway. When you’re little, it structures your muscles in a good way, it’s an interesting hobby and who knows where it might take you.

Alexandre:  I remember that for me it was a game. There was a little ballet school and my mom said: “Let’s just try it.” Much later I realized it was something I really liked and that I wanted to to keep doing it.

And how did it start for you, Silvia?

Silvia: I was actually a bit older than most, I only started at 11. I was doing gymnastics and a neighbor told my mom she thought I had a talent for dancing. Unfortunately, the ballet school was in the city and my mother didn’t have time to take me. Then the neighbor offered to drive me along with her own daughter. Thanks to her, that’s how I started!

As the company’s longest active female principal,  I guess you now have performed all of the main roles?

Silvia:  Not all of them. There is one role that I always dreamt to dance and it is the only one I didn’t. It is funny. When I was in school I saw Othello, and I fell in love with Desdemona. I said that if one day I become a professional ballerina I want to dance that role. Now that I am a professional ballerina I’ve danced everything, except that.

But you still have time…

Silvia: No, no, no more chance. It is over. I am already too old for it.

Until when do you plan to stay on stage?

Silvia: I don’t know. Before, I said to myself: “When I will be 43 or 42 I will stop dancing.” Next week I will be 45. Maybe in three years time I’m still dancing because there are so many projects that I want to do.

Do you have a favorite ballet in which you dance together?

Silvia: Giselle was very special for us. We worked with Irina Jacobson, who was a teacher from the Vaganova School. She really shaped us. It wasn’t even the roles so much, but rather the work behind it all that made it so special. Because you know, artists are always searching for more, to challenge and develop ourselves beyond our limits.

Alexandre: Maybe the best performance was the one we just did at a ballet gala in Moscow, a new piece from Natalia Horecna. It was the premiere and we had this incredible feeling of excitement, wondering how it was going to be.

What makes this piece unique?

Alexandre: Normally it is presented as a Pas de Deux: a choreography for two people. But in this one we are four: the two of us, and Elisa Carrillo Cabrera and Mikhail Kaniskin, the principal dancers of the Staatsballett Berlin. That means more work and travel, but it it is also unknown territory which makes it exciting.

How did the performance go?

Alexandre: It was very exciting to be part of something that had never been danced before. And the fact that we were dancing not alone, but with Misha (Mikhail) and Elisa made it really memorable. Once we were on stage it was just pure joy. We’ll do it again at Kampnagel very soon, so we want to make it special again.

You’ll perform it at Kampnagel, right?

Alexandre:  Yes, it will be part of a gala that is organized by Braulio Alvarez, a former dancer of the Hamburg Ballet and now a soloist in the Tokyo Ballet. It will be the German premiere of this piece and it will be exciting for us to do it again. The other piece that we will do is from Yuka Oishi, also a former dancer of the Hamburg Ballet, who is now an upcoming young choreographer. She made this Pas de Deux for us several years ago.

Silvia: The company of Kiel will also be part of the gala. Heather Jurgensen und Yaroslav Ivanenko who are directing this company were also former dancers of the Hamburg Ballet. So, it is like a get together of former Hamburg Ballet dancers.

How is it to perform in Kampnagel, quite a different setting from the Staatsoper Hamburg?

Silvia: Kampnagel attracts a different kind of people than those who usually visit the Staatsoper, so it is exciting for us to dance for a different audience with a new perspective.

Alexandre: The place itself makes the performance different. The audience is much closer to the dancers than in the Staatsoper. As dancers we see and feel the audience much more directly and the audience also feels like they become part of the performance.

That sounds so cool. Thank you very much for your time. We can’t wait to see these special performances!

Tanz – Gala Koinzidenz at Kampnagel: Jarrestraße 20, 22303 Hamburg

Saturday 27th October
20:00 hr

Sunday 28th October
16:00 hr

Tickets: https://festivalkoinzidenz.de