Behind the Ballet, Features & Spotlights

Behind the Ballet: Becoming Anastasia & Dimitri

June 21, 2021

Mark your calendars, Anastasia is re-born this summer on Stingray Classica. Leading up to the premiere, Behind the Ballet will give you a behind the scenes look at the film, including Q&A’s with some of the creative team.

Anastasia premieres Thursday, August 19 at 9PM exclusively on Stingray Classica. For more information about how to subscribe or start a free trial click HERE.

We talked with Saniya Abilmajineva and Daniel Da Silva about their character development and some of the challenges involved.

Saniya Abilmajineva

“Anastasia occupies a special place in my heart! I am incredibly glad that I had the opportunity to dance this ballet!”

Daniel Da Silva

“…throughout the whole ballet one word is key — passion. I had to truly believe in all of the things Dimitri wanted with passion.”

Anastasia ballet Jörgen
Saniya Abilmajineva and Daniel Da Silva video still.

Q Saniya: How did you prepare for the role of the Grand Duchess of Russia?

A: I saw the Ballet Anastasia for the first time in the beginning of my first season with the company in 2009.  I fell in love with this ballet immediately and forever! Tara Butler and Preston McBain danced the leading roles of Anastasia and Dimitri. They both were just perfect in those roles! I also participated in those performances and had the opportunity to watch them dance when I was not on stage. Coming back to the memories of that time and my feelings for ballet, now I understand that this was the beginning of my preparation for the role of Anastasia. Every time I watched the last scenes of the ballet backstage, I cried with real sympathy for the characters! 

It was then that I decided that I would definitely dance the part of Anastasia! For 3 years I thought about the ballet and dreamed of dancing it and finally it happened! I knew well the history of the last tsarist family in Russia, and I continued to replenish my knowledge by reading a lot of articles and historical records about the events of 1917-1918 in particular. I also looked at some of the documentaries that could give a great introduction to the spirit of that time. 

I was very lucky that Tara was able to do some rehearsals with me. She helped me with some technical and acting nuances. My main tutor for this role was Svea Eklof-Grey. I am very grateful to Svea for doing huge preparatory work with me! She had also worked with Tara and Preston before, so she knew this ballet very well and helped me a lot with dance techniques, acting, artistry and improvement of the partnering work! 

The rehearsals took place in one breath, I was so carried away by the preparation process that I did not even notice the fatigue. It was very important that Bengt Jörgen himself rehearsed this role with me as well. As the choreographer of this ballet, he explained his vision of the image of Anastasia. How could she have behaved in different periods of her life, starting from childhood? It was important to convey to the audience the qualities of character that are decent for people of royal blood — such as fortitude and reading of centuries-old royal traditions. Despite any shocks in life, remember and remain who you really are.

But at the same time, I had to show Anastasia from the side of an ordinary person with all her personal joys and experiences. Therefore, a lot of time was spent on understanding and mastering the character of Anastasia. And the preparation for the ballet was productive and fun because of my partner Daniel Da Silva! He is one of the most cheerful people I have met! He is a talented dancer and a wonderful natural dance partner! 

Anastasia ballet, Ballet Jörgen, ballet blog
Lawrence Ho Daniel Da Silva as Dimitri.

Q: Daniel: The role of Dimitri has a lot of intensity — how did you prepare for getting into the character?

A: The role has an incredible character development throughout the course of the ballet. He starts as a young boy, then he experiences a friendship with Anastasia, then he grows up to realize the world is not all fun and games. War, poverty, and oppression have dominion over the majority of the population, so he soon has to decide between love and freedom for his people. But throughout the whole ballet one word is key — passion. I had to truly believe in all of the things Dimitri wanted with passion.

Q: Saniya: What is the most challenging part of dancing Anastasia? 

A: It was quite difficult for me to dance new choreography.  I had some difficulties with solo dances especially. I lacked the freedom and some naturalness in the performance of the choreography. I rehearsed in my usual classical style and my acting seemed to be pretending in some moments. Sometimes it was difficult to cope with feelings in the last scenes of the ballet.

Q: Daniel: What is the most challenging part of dancing Dimitry? 

A: Being sad in a show is one of the hardest things for me. I find it so much easier to feel happy when I’m dancing those sad moments requires more focus to accomplish. In order to channel sadness, you have to really believe that you are living the character’s plight. How would you deal with an issue with impossible odds?

Anastasia Ballet Jörgen
Clea Iveson & Saniya Abilmajineva video still.
Daniel Da Silva as Dimitri video still.
Anastasia Ballet Jörgen
Saniya Abilmajineva and Daniel Da Silva video still.

Q: Saniya: What do you think the audience likes most about this ballet?

A: I think the combination of history, wonderful choreography, beautiful music, appropriate time costumes make Anastasia ballet a wonderful work of art! Many audiences shared their opinion that they were completely immersed in the events of that time and sincerely empathized with the main characters! This is what brings the audience back to Anastasia!

Q: Daniel: How much of dancing this role is dependent on your acting abilities?

A: In order to fully immerse yourself in the story you first have to train really hard on your ballet technique, so that you can have completely freedom of movement”

Q: Saniya: What were some of your rituals before you went on-stage?

A: Usually, I play some scenes in front of the mirror in the change room when makeup is done and the costume is on. I would make sure to check all shoulder straps, ribbons and elastic bands on costumes and ballet shoes. I would do good warming up of the feet and body muscles. I love to eat a piece of chocolate before the show as well! 

Anastasia occupies a special place in my heart! I am incredibly glad that I had the opportunity to dance this ballet! The most beautiful music of the composer Ivan Barbotin won my heart!

Q: Daniel: What is your favorite scene in the Ballet?

A: Anastasia and her family have just been taken prisoners by the revolutionary army. Dimitri confronts Anastasia in hopes to win her trust back so he can try to save her life!  We dance a beautiful pas de deux with so many different emotions — love, despair, anger — to one of the most beautiful pieces of music in the show!

Watch the Trailer

Get more info about Anastasia. Next up, Behind the Ballet: Director’s Take!