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28 November 2023

Azerbaijani Ballerina Chinara Alizade on Leaving the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow and Becoming a Prima Ballerina in Poland

Chinara Alizade’s life is but a fairytale. Dancing ballet from the age of five, she since gained her title of a prima ballerina, and was awarded the titles of “Honored Artist of Azerbaijan” and “The Best Classical Ballerina in Poland.” In this interview, she opened up on her move from Moscow to Warsaw, her marriage, and what it takes to be a successful ballerina.

Azerbaijani Ballerina Chinara Alizade on Leaving the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow and Becoming a Prima Ballerina in Poland

Image: Ewa Krasucka

As a child, Chinara used to watch ballet with her mother on TV. Being an active child, she would soon start repeating after the gracious ballerinas on the screen, performing for her mother. Her mother, seeing the interest of her daughter, decided to give choreography lessons a try. Unfortunately, when she brought her four-and-a-half-year-old daughter there, it was already too late for that year’s admission, and they decided to try figure skating instead. Chinara did that for half a year. “As soon as I went on the ice, I felt uncomfortable and cold,” the ballerina remembers. She was more interested in the warming up and stretching part of her figure skating classes, before the main training began. Seeing her daughter’s struggles, her mother got her into choreography as soon as possible. At the age of five, Chinara found her calling in life and never left it since.

The child’s talent was noticed by the teacher who advised to enroll her in professional choreography. Then there was the Academy of Dance at Nesterova’s Humanitarian University, Moscow State Academy of Choreography, final exams at the Bolshoi Theatre, and Chinara joining the Bolshoi as a ballerina. 

Born in Moscow to Azerbaijani immigrant parents from Baku, Chinara never felt herself a victim of misogynistic stereotypes—common for Eastern families when a daughter decides to be a performer. Her parents always supported the young ballerina in her career. However, now she remembers that maybe some of her relatives were on the verge of disapproval at first, but when Chinara was awarded the title of “Honored Artist of Azerbaijan” in 2012, she became the pride and joy of everyone in her family. 

Although Chinara never lived in Baku, she used to visit as a guest ballerina a lot in the past. It was in Baku where she got her first solo part in Giselle. “It was an amazing feeling to dance in my historical homeland. It was a big responsibility,” the ballerina remembers. “We developed a collaboration where I went to dance in Don Quixote, Swan Lake, and Giselle several times a year,” she reminisces, stating her desire to perform in Baku again, but for now there has been no such opportunity.

After ten years at the Bolshoi Theatre, Chinara wanted to try something new. She decided to move to Poland where she joined the Polish National Ballet. “I had never been to Poland before. I wanted to work in another place, see how a different system works, and try a different repertoire. I wanted new development,” the ballerina says. Ballet in Warsaw proved to be different. “In the West, in Europe, they are moving away from the classics. There are more neo-classical performances,” Chinara explains. It’s not only the repertoire that is different than the one in Moscow. “The system in Warsaw is different. There are fewer performances, but there are more rehearsals.” At the Bolshoi Theatre, it was the opposite. “Since there were many performances, there were few rehearsals. But the body was so fit and ready that it was possible to go out and perform.” 

“Of course, more performances are better for ballerinas, because they want to be on stage more,” she says. It was thanks to Poland that Chinara was able to work with choreographers that she dreamt of working with, and performances that she wouldn’t be able to do in The Bolshoi Theatre. In 2021 Chinara was awarded the title of “The best classical ballerina in Poland”. “Many of my dreams have come true here.” Yet the biggest dream come true was when Chinara became a prima ballerina in Poland—the most important title any ballerina can dream about. 

Seeing how ballet in Warsaw had much more to offer, and after being on a sabbatical at the Bolshoi, Chinara had made up her mind. “Two years later I left Moscow. It was not an easy decision.” Now, nine years later, the ballerina is certain that was the right decision. “My move has played a positive role in my life. I expanded my repertoire with new performances and worked with new interesting and talented people,” she adds. “Here I met my husband and created a family. This played a decisive role in why I stayed in Poland.”

Chinara is a very private person and prefers not to share much about her husband. Yet, what we do know is that after meeting this mysterious director of photography in the spring of 2016, the ballerina got married. He is a “creative soul” who has an “interesting vision” and does professional photography as a hobby, Chinara conveys. But this is as far as she lets us into her private life. 

Having found love and success in her career in Poland, the ballerina says she doesn’t want to return to Russia. “There is no turning back,” Chinara says. However, she can’t say for certain whether Poland is her final stop or not. “I love warm countries, the sea, and the sun.” As per her career, she explains, “Now I’m more interested in invitations as a guest ballerina around the world.”

Thanks to her profession, she has travelled to many countries, from France and Greece to Germany and England, and danced on the stage of such world-renowned theatres as La Skala and Covent Garden. One of her latest guest star performances was at the National Opera and Ballet Theaters in Tbilisi and Riga, in the summer she performed in Swan Lake in Paris. This spring she is going to be in Sleeping Beauty in Thessaloniki, Greece. 

And yet no matter where she is, she always remains Azerbaijani first. “I have always felt my Azerbaijani roots within me. Azerbaijani traditions were observed in my family. It doesn’t matter whether I’m in Moscow or Poland, I’m always proud of my people and always enjoy following the successes of our national figures,” she says. 

Being a ballerina is not easy. It takes discipline, hard work, rehearsals, stamina, and sacrifices. “You must have a strong character, an inner core—this is important in this profession,” Chinara says openly. “On stage, everything should be beautiful, light, airy, relaxed, and behind this lies a lot of hard work in the ballet hall. But no one knows how much time we spend there for all this to happen.” Yet she regrets nothing. “When I set out on this path, I set myself the goal that I wanted to be a prima ballerina in the theatre. I always knew that I wanted to play the main role, I wasn’t interested in anything less,” Chinara says shyly laughing. 

After spending her nine to six at the theatre, Chinara gives individual ballet classes for children. Surely, there is a lot of wisdom and knowledge that the ballerina can pass on to the new generation. One of the main pieces of advice she gives to young ballet dancers is, “You have to work hard every day so that you can reap the rewards in the future.”

It seems like Chinara was able to crack the code of a happy and successful life, being able to balance her career and private life. On the weekends, you can find her cycling with her husband or enjoying nature. She is no stranger to the simple pleasures of life that are so common for the rest of us, yet most of the time she is at the ballet hall. “There is always something else to work on and improve,” the ballerina says. “If you don’t give yourself completely to your profession, there will be no results. It requires some kind of sacrifice.”