After a 22 year career dancing at Bolshoi Ballet and New York City Ballet, Valentina Kozlova is still heavily involved in the dance world as a director of both her own school and international ballet competition in New York.
BalletHub: Thanks for joining us today on BalletHub Valentina! After an exciting international performing career spanning 22 years, it’s safe to say you have a lot of knowledge to pass on to the next generation of dancers. Did you always have the plan to open your own school and how did you come to the decision?
Yes, the training and personal experience as a lead dancer, where I worked with many different choreographers/coaches indicated that I must give all my knowledge to the new generation. There are many good teachers in the US, but not coaches.
I grew up with great teachers and fantastic personal coaches. In Russia, star dancers in general became coaches and they passed their knowledge about classical technique and artistry. This is my calling.
Having lived and danced in New York, was it an obvious choice to open your school there as well? Or were you considering other cities?
Do you teach the same style of technique and methods to your students that you learned while training at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy?
However, I respect the dance styles I learned after my defection, thus I incorporate Balanchine’s feet work in my classes, and I ensure that my student’s have an open mind when it comes to other works and styles.
What are your thoughts on students taking classes in other forms of dance, if nothing else, to strengthen their ballet technique and performing abilities?
At my conservatory, students have weekly contemporary technique classes, as well as perform contemporary works. These days, dancers must do it all, the classics, neoclassical work, contemporary works, so I make sure not to limit my dancers in any way.
They must understand contemporary, character, music, everything is a must.
Take one step of your life and career at a time and completely flourish and strive for each thing you attempt to succeed in… but most of all, stay grounded.
Along with running your own school, you also founded an international ballet competition! What was the spark that motivated you to start such an undertaking?
After many years of having my dancers compete in international competitions, doing very well I thought there was an opening to start a competition that can foster talent and ensure true art was being displayed.
Part of that is why I started my compulsory section of my competition, where all the dancers (by gender) learn the same piece via video. This portion of the competition shows how dancing in a company really is and I think it furthers dancers artistic instincts.
Your competition originally started in Boston and has since moved to New York. What prompted the move?
Boston was a great starting place; our relationship with Boston Ballet and Mikko Nissinen was extraordinary but NYC is my home and base, plus it is the center of dance and we wanted to take full of advantage of that culture and audience.
Do you feel that every competitor should enter a competition with the goal of winning a medal?
No, it’s about being exposed to the stage and improving your artistic and technical abilities. It is also a great way to get exposed and see what other talented people this world has to offer – it is an exchange of culture and of knowledge.
What advice can you share for dancers looking to compete for the first time?
To prepare well and take it as face value. Always go for the experience and dance clean. Medals don’t indicate how great you are. Your drive is.
Do you have any other projects in mind that you want to start or contribute to in the future?
Great dancers are not great because of their technique they are great because of their passion.
Right now VKIBC is having its first edition of Contemporary Dance and Choreography Competition. It will be here in NYC, at David Norton Symphony Space Theater in the Upper West Side, on April 28th and 29th, 2014. (2537 Broadway at 95th Street,) We have judges from Ailey, Juilliard, and many other elusive places and people.
Prizes will be absolute treasures and we already are having great interest abroad, so as we grow we can further artists of all forms.
If you could only say one word about what it takes to become a professional dancer, what would it be and why?
Passion. Great dancers are not great because of their technique they are great because of their passion.
What is your favorite role you’ve performed in a ballet?
Loved many, but Juliet stands out as my favorite – and Swan Lake, since it was my first full-length and I danced Odette/Odile most often during my career.
Your biography is truly packed, from dancing principal roles in major ballet companies and performing on Broadway to directing your own school and competition. What advice can you give students who aspire to have a successful professional career in ballet?
Take one step of your life and career at a time and completely flourish and strive for each thing you attempt to succeed in, while always remembering to honor your past and the people who helped you become and what you are; but most of all stay grounded.
Excellent advice! Thank you again for joining us today, Valentina, and sharing your wonderful insight with our readers.