Julia Pochko returns to Cork for the classic ballet. She tells Ellie O’Byrne about her training regime and the importance of dance to her life.
“I saw an advertisement for ballet school on TV when I was four and I liked the costumes and the way the dancers moved on the screen and I asked my mom if I could go to ballet school. In Ukraine, that was similar to day-care and primary school; it’s just a dance class with some ballet moves to improve the body.
Then I learned that there was a professional ballet school where all the dancers go before they start their career, so at the age of eight I had a very serious conversation with my parents, telling them that if I really want to pursue a career as a dancer I have to go to that school.
There are three difficult steps to the examination, so I had to start preparing and I had a year before I did the examination. I was almost ten when I did the examination.
You have to be pretty advanced in your cardio, so I started doing a lot of stretching and running to prepare, as well as things like improving my musicality. I did the exams and got into the Kiev National Ballet.”
“I’m a freelance dancer so I can have different contracts: sometimes it can be one full-time contract and sometimes it can be a few contracts combined. My regular day starts with a ballet class to warm up. If I have three different contracts, I have to prepare for three different performances at the same time.
"Every role you prepare needs a minimum of 15 hours of rehearsal.
"Then I have lunch, then stay in the studio to rehearse a different production for two hours. On some days I finish then, or I might have another two to three-hour rehearsal if I have a third production.”
“I always have oatmeal and coffee in the morning; it’s very important to feel energy but not to have a big breakfast because you have to go straight to class.
"Dancers love their sleep and don’t want to have to wake early enough to have a big breakfast and take time to digest before their morning class.
"So it’s better to wake as late as possible and have something that’s not heavy on the stomach.
I will usually have a snack in the morning of fruit; it’s light and juicy. You get some water and sugar. For lunch, I’ll have a salad or a bowl with mixed vegetables, maybe with chicken or tuna.
Because you need to keep going with your exercising, you need to eat something light for lunch, but at dinner time you can eat whatever you want: I will have a small salad and maybe some roast or bakedvegetables, and seafood or meat.”
“I consider myself Ukrainian because I was born in a country that was already independent, with our own culture. I’m not one of those people who is against Russia, though.
"Because of the situation in the country at the moment, there are conflicts, but they don’t really get in between the ordinary people, I hope.
"The history of ballet in Russia is that it was a way of showing off and making connections; only rich people could afford tickets so by going to the ballet you were showing that you were wealthy and educated and could appreciate ballet as an art form.
"Ballet is not the kind of art you can understand the first time you see a show.
"It takes about five performances to really understand the body language and to move beyond just seeing it as just a pretty thing. In Russia, if you’re educated enough, you enjoy and understand ballet as art.
"In the past, people used to really dress up to go to the ballet, to show their wealth.”
“Ballet is a seasonal thing. In the summer you don’t usually get to dance a lot because it’s the off-season.
"Lots of dancers use this time to take vacations or learn new things, but most dancers also need another job to pay the bills in the summer too. I started modelling by accident when I was asked to model for a catalogue for ballet dancewear.
"You’ll notice that one little finger is sticking out or that your foot is not fully pointed. When you are working on photography you focus on making sure everything is 100% perfect, which makes you a better performer.”
“Swan Lake is one of the greatest ballets in history. It has amazing music: you almost wouldn’t believe that one composer could be responsible for that variety of music.
"It’s also very famous for its visual scenes; if you watch how the dancers transition from formation to formation on the floor, it’s incredibly beautiful. It’s a wonderful love story, so I think the dancers get very attached to it.
"Even the bad characters come to life, so you feel sorry for them. It’s also a lot of fun that there are so many dancers on stage and so many interesting diversions.
"I think some people who don’t watch ballet often don’t understand the art behind it, so after some people watched the movie Black Swan they realised there’s these characters and storyline and drama, and I think that’s making some people want to watch the ballet again, or maybe even for the first time, because they realise there’s more to the story than they thought.”
“I moved to Toronto eight years ago, when I was 17, so it’s my home. The man who is now my husband also graduated at 17 and he moved to Toronto; I came to visit him for two weeks, to see the city and basically date him.
"I knew I wanted to move to a more developed country, because I think art can only improve in a country that is stable. Canada was perfect.
"I realised I really liked the city and I realised I really liked him. We got married just this summer, afteralmost eight years together. We’re very happy.”
Cork City Ballet’s production of Swan Lake runs at Cork Opera House from Thursday, Nov 7, to Saturday Nov 9.