Xander Parish, Soloist, Mariinksy Ballet
Where did you grow up and how did you get interested in dance?
XP: I come from a village in East Yorkshire just outside of Hull. Dance didn’t interest me much until I saw my sister, who is 15 months younger than me, performing in a local ballet school show when I was 8. Apparently I turned to my parents and asked why she was on stage and I wasn't. After that, I went along with her to ballet classes in Hull. She's now a first artist of The Royal Ballet in London.
How did your background and your family's background; affect your passion for dance?
XP: My parents always made it very clear to my sister and I that our career paths had to be of our own choosing. They were and still are very supportive but never pushed us into anything one way or another so our passions for ballet developed of their own course. In fact at 10 years old I turned down my place at the Royal Ballet School as I wanted to be a cricketer (baseball with more rules) but when I was 11 I changed my mind and moved to board at the RBS in London where my sister joined me just over a year later. Our mother is very talented in many artistic areas so that's where it came from.
Tell us about moving to Russia. Why did you make the move?
XP: Moving to Russia at the time was a leap of faith into the dark but has proved to be one of the best decisions I ever made! I was in The Royal Ballet's corps de ballet for four and a half years before joining The Mariinsky Ballet and during that time I never once danced a solo and even good corps parts were few and far between. It was a very top heavy company with few opportunities for up and coming youngsters. I was desperate to grow and improve and one day my prayers were answered- a Russian guest teacher came to teach class for 2 weeks and gave me a lot of attention which I loved. On about his last day I asked him if he would mind looking at some of my jumps one on one after class and we ended up working for half an hour. He left back to Russia but six months later this same teacher who's name was Yuri Fateyev became the director of the Mariinsky Ballet, remembered me and offered me a place! I didn’t accept it at first but after a year had gone by, the Mariinsky came to London on tour and Yuri contacted me and asked if I would like to take class and watch the shows which I did. He then spoke with me and said "come to Russia!" I laughed as I thought he was joking but he wasn't. I explained all the reasons I couldn't go- inexperience, language, I'm British! But he said he could turn me into a prince which seemed very far fetched. I declined his offer but after discussing it with my parents and praying a lot about it, I decided I was supposed to go and so I arrived at Pulkova airport in early January 2010 with 3 suitcases not knowing where I was going to live. A jolly interpreter called Dmitri met me and led me to an old car which drove me to the theatre. It was –15c and the snow was about knee deep. It was already dark when I landed at 3.30pm and the streets were bathed in an orange mystical light from the old street lamps. The theatre came into view around a corner like an emerald shining in the snow and that was the start of my life in Russia!
How was it living in Russia not speaking the language when you first arrived? How long did it take you to learn Russian?
XP: Before I arrived in St Petersburg I had 3 months to prepare myself. During that time I went on YouTube and learned some Russian basics with something I found called 'BableYak Russian course'. That helped a bit but ultimately when I arrived I understood nothing. It was very hard indeed and sometimes rehearsals were the things of nightmares- people yelling stuff at me that I had no idea as to the meaning of. I understand a lot more now but my first 4 years I understood very little at all outside of the vocabulary used in the theatre.
Are the audiences different in Russia than they are in England?
XP: They are certainly tougher. The majority seem to know what they are looking at and are probably regulars. Ballet and the arts are in the soul of the Russian people and they prize it very highly which is wonderful to see. The Mariinsky itself is a source of pride to the St Petersburg locals. Ballet is much more a part of popular culture here than I've seen in Britain.
Do you have one moment in your career that you remember most fondly? Or one moment that you feel really defined your career or the trajectory of it?
XP: Well certainly what defined the trajectory of it was this- My final performance with The Royal Ballet before flying to Russia the next morning was as Mother Pig in Ashton's 'The Tales of Beatrix Potter'. I had to wear an enormous fat suit and a huge pig's head. The next day when I arrived at the Mariinsky, Yuri told me my first performance would be in 'Chopiniana' so I asked him what male role I would dance in that ballet. Looking a little bemused he answered, "there's only one!" Back in London I only knew it as 'Les Sylphides'! 4 weeks later I made my debut in that and actually a week earlier, replacing someone who was injured, I danced a soloist role in Raymonda, so those were my first soloist and principal roles within a month of being Mother Pig.
What career would you have chosen if you could not have been a dancer?
XP: Probably something in sport. I love cricket and tennis. In my mind they and other sports are not dissimilar to ballet in as much as you are performing. In these cases the pitch or court is your stage and the stadium your theatre.
If a child told you they wanted to be a dancer, what advice would you give them?
XP: Only pursue it if you are absolutely serious and willing to sacrifice everything else to focus on attaining your goal because unless you are prodigiously talented, that's what it's going to take, and even then, it's still going to require your absolute attention.
How has social media changed a dancer’s status and what is required of them?
XP: Social media has given dancers the platform to be recognized as individuals and to present themselves how they wish without the confines of a proscenium arch! Some dancers prefer not to take part in social media but I feel it is a dimension that has great benefits. Audiences these days like to know who they are watching, whether in a movie or a live performance and as I've often done myself, will look people up on Instagram etc who they've just watched to know more about them. It makes it more interesting to connect with the actor or dancer and the next time you see an advert with their name on it, you may be more inclined to go and take a look!
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
XP: I believe God created everyone with specific talents and abilities which all fit together in life and therefore my idea of perfect happiness is doing what God created me to do to the best of my ability. I'm honoured that I'm at the level I'm now, it’s a privilege, but if I was still back at the Royal playing Mother Pig, I hope I would still be doing that the best I could.
What is your greatest indulgence?
XP: Steak and cheesecake (two reasons I love New York so much!)
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started dancing professionally?
XP: I'm glad I didn't know then what I know now- it may have discouraged me as it's not been easy or quick, not that I exactly wanted those things when I was young, but I think I expected a smoother path. When I was younger my mum always told me, "success is not a destination, but a journey; therefore enjoy the ride." That's not always been easy to implement but she's absolutely right. That was the advice I needed then and I can only look back and shout that it's true! I might also shout back that it gets easier with experience!
What is the one thing you wished more people knew about dance?
XP: I wish people would try it before passing judgment on someone's performance.
Tell us about the ritual of taking dance class each day.
XP: Class at the Mariinsky is often more about warming up and getting ready for the day- shows and / or rehearsals. We do so many shows that I find I work on technique more in my personal rehearsals preparing for the ballets I'm performing. Class is much more a necessity when we're not doing for shows for whatever reason (which is rare!).
What does being a dancer mean to you?
XP: It's a badge I wear with honour as it’s a privilege! There are many who would love to be dancers but haven't been able to, so to be one of the few who has completed the training and become a professional dancer and has the privilege of going on stage and dancing for people who love to watch is a really wonderful thing.
Have there been setbacks in your career that you have had to overcome? What helped you through these setbacks?
XP: My path has required a lot of perseverance. Of course I've had to overcome injuries and problems like most dancers have, though thankfully these have been few, but to persevere and believe that I could make it, there is no way I could have done it without my Christian faith.
What elements have to come together to make for a great performance?
XP: All of them! Sometimes you've just got to show up and get on stage in spite of any doubts and everything falls into place and you finish and think "How?" For me, the best thing is dancing with a friend who I get on well with. I had this experience with Isabella Boylston in Sylvia with ABT just now. We met when she came to dance with the Mariinsky a couple of years ago and we immediately became friends but we didn't dance together until just now and it was so much fun! She is a great person and just a joy and a pleasure to work with and that makes for a great show I think!
With dancing being such hard work, what do you do to keep motivated and inspired?
XP: That's a good question. Getting out and travelling (usually for galas or guestings) is always very refreshing. I had such a great time with ABT just now and they were all so friendly. They inspired me! I've also guested a few times with the Ballet of the Opera National Bucharest thanks to Johan Kobborg and seeing the company there and their passion and hard work from Johan to the guys in the corps is very humbling and inspiring.
What is the best part about being a dancer?
XP: Hearing from people who have watched you dance and have been touched by it. It’s so wonderful to hear someone say that your performance inspired them or moved them emotionally. In my opinion it’s all about the audience really and to transport them to a different world for a few hours or to give them something to take away from it in their mind or heart is the aim of the game!
Tights by KeithLink