Education She trained at the
Family She is married and has one daughter. The family live in
Anyone travelling in the crush of London Underground's District line last week could have seen a tiny woman with dark brown eyes, a sharp nose and witty face, talking in heavily accented English with a younger man. Most wouldn't have known that this was one the city's most admired prima ballerinas, Daria Klimentova, with her dancing partner Vadim Muntagirov, on their way back from rehearsals in east
"Of course it is very emotional and scary. It is a huge moment," Klimentova told the Observer this weekend as she looked back at a life in dance that began at the heart of the communist system of elite training in Czechoslavakia and eventually took her around the world. "Vadim is more fine about it than me, I think," she said. "He is 19 years younger and knew from the beginning that he would be dancing with someone else one day. It is harder for me. For me it is completely over."
The ballerina has plans to teach and perhaps to return to
"Classical ballet is already getting smaller and smaller. I hope that it is not going to disappear. But what I see around me is a lot of choreographers who are destroying the classics. I wish that instead of doing Sleeping Beauty in some crazy new way, they would just go and invent their own full-length ballet story."
Fresh generations should be able to see a classic Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, she argues. "Why destroy a masterpiece? That drives me mad."
If Klimentova is sometimes recognised on the tube it is because of her appearance three years ago in the BBC4 television documentary Agony & Ecstasy, where she gained viewers' sympathy for her apparent rough treatment at the hands of former artistic director
"I watched the show for 30 minutes and I thought, 'Oh!' But it's OK now. I have known
This summer will see an abrupt change to the strict regimen of life since her
She was, she said, really looking forward to taking charge of her own daily timetable. "One of the reasons why I am stopping is I have had enough of people telling me to stand over there in the corner and smile. And when you get younger directors coming in, you know it is time to go."
Her daughter Sabina has no ambitions to dance, which pleases Klimentova because, as she bluntly puts it: "I don't think she is talented so she would suffer." Yet she would not discourage others. "It is an amazing life if you make it as a ballerina. If you stay in the corps de ballet, most of the time it's not amazing. Although the corps can be good too for some people, unfortunately they all want to be Juliet."
There is no chance Klimentova will take it easy for long. On Thursday she finished her teacher training exams at the
Her attitude to food would not be changing, she said. "I am not on a diet and I was never on a diet, so I will eat absolutely the same like I always did. I am just naturally looking like this, ill, all my life!"
She loved the sausages, cheeses and bread of her homeland, she said.
Her petite figure and flexibility as a girl marked her out for training as a potential Olympic gymnast in
"We could only buy bananas in the winter at Christmas and we didn't have toilet paper. But I wasn't unhappy. I didn't know anything else. I didn't want 10 watches or a Burberry handbag."
As the Soviet bloc faltered in 1989, Klimentova won a competition to dance in
I had an offer to join the
The world she left in
All the same, the prospect of returning to work in
Popular ballet mythology has it that Klimentova extended her career because of Muntagirov, but she said she had not been ready to retire until now. "I was looking for a partner I could get on with and Vadim was a complete accident. He was supposed to have a different partner, who went off. So he didn't have anyone and I was the only one available."
When the two take to the stage for the last time as Romeo and Juliet on 22 June, they will be saying goodbye to a working union that has seen them compared to Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev. And like many ballerinas, including Fonteyn, Klimentova feels she has become a better Juliet with age. "You use your own life experience. I play it much better now I am older. I didn't know about death. Now I have experienced it myself. You have to grow into Juliet."
Her transition into teacher is only just beginning, the dancer suspects. "Yesterday I was happy when I passed my last exam and then suddenly I thought, 'I am teacher now.' How can I be a teacher? I am a dancer. I will have the paper, I am qualified, but I am not quite ready. It is hard."
She does believe, however, that the combination of her Soviet bloc training and the
Physical aptitude, she said, was the key thing for a dance student. Without loose hips and mobility they would never thrive in ballet. Musicality and acting, in contrast, could be learned with good teaching. "I will be learning as a teacher all my life, but the key thing must be to understand the students and not to be a bully like quite a lot you see around. I want them to want to work hard though. You cannot be too nice."
For now Klimentova's greatest apprehension is not her last
What is odd, the ballerina admits, is that this shy woman has loved the adoration of her
"I will miss the everyday discipline. I don't know if I will be able to push myself. The great thing about this job was you exercise straightaway each day and you are being paid for it. Much easier!"
Klimentova as Odette in
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