To be made a prima ballerina and not to be accepted by the Bolshoi – the beating heart of Russian ballet – left her wide open to sneering from the dance elite.Then, four years later, when Irina married the founder and director of St Petersburg Ballet Theatre Konstantin Tachkin, critics accused her of being promoted to star status because of their relationship.
‘All my life I have had to deal with attacks,’ she says to me. ‘I had been wanting a baby for so long,’ says Irina, ‘and I was so happy when I found out I was expecting. As I lay in hospital, I knew I would have to dance The words come slowly through Irina’s translator (Irina is worried about speaking imperfect English). I was weak, I had done very little preparation and I was grieving. She is a Russian ballerina and this is Russian ballet – a world that seesaws between beauty and brutality, where sacrifice and passion are taken for granted, and there are no excuses. Irina was brought up in the harsh poverty of 1980s Soviet Russia and her mother Natalya would cut up old T-shirts to make her daughter leotards.Irina Kolesnikova has found fame as the star of the innovative St Petersburg Ballet Theatre, founded by her entrepreneur husband.As she prepares to take to the London stage, she tells Louise Gannon about the dark side of ballet and the only time in her life that she didn't want to dance In a room overlooking the baroque splendour of St Petersburg’s Winter Palace, one of the world’s greatest ballerinas, Irina Kolesnikova, is recounting the story of the most difficult performance of her life.The ballet elite of Russia, however, sharpened its claws.The all-powerful Bolshoi is seen as the very pinnacle and protector of classic Russian dance and Irina, because of her shape and size, had never measured up to its exacting standards.