Prima ballerina chooses Finland
The lure of the main roles in the Finnish National Ballet repertoire persuaded Maria Baranova, 19, to return from Germany to Finland
By Leena Pallari
Ballerina Maria Baranova was just packing her things at home in Hamburg when her mobile phone rang. It was a beautiful September day, and the Hamburg Ballet was soon to leave for a tour.
All steps and movements vanished from her head for a moment, when she heard what the caller was suggesting.
Kenneth Greve, the artistic director of the Finnish National Ballet, was only offering the 19-year-old ballerina a job and a promotion from a chorus dancer to a prima ballerina.
In other words, leading roles that every ballet dancer would fight tooth and nail to get.
Until this point, Baranova had thought that she would stay in Hamburg.
She had left Finland alone in order to study ballet in Hamburg when she was just 16 years old.
Already at that stage, she was being spoken of as a rare and promising talent on a Finnish scale.
”The intention was that I would have studied at the ballet school for two years, but after the first year, John Neumeier invited me to join his group”, Baranova notes.
”His group” was nothing less than the Hamburg Ballet, directed by John Neumeier. Baranova started at the ballet in the autumn of 2009.
The invitation to Hamburg occurred in a very intense period in Baranova’s life.
She had just won the first prize in the junior category at the Helsinki International Ballet Competition, and had received a job offer from the National Ballet. After thinking it over, Baranova chose Hamburg instead.
”I thought that I would have time to come back to Finland later on. But then I fell in love with dancing in Hamburg and decided to stay there for the rest of my life”, Baranova continued.
Even Baranova’s language skills were considerably more than adequate for the trip, as she speaks fluent German, has gone to the Franco-Finnish School in Helsinki, and speaks Russian at home.
In addition, she speaks Finnish and English. ”I can also speak a little Ukrainian”, she adds modestly.
In Hamburg, Baranova proceeded quickly from chorus dancing to performing small solo parts.
”Even in Hamburg, I was supposed to become a soloist, but it would have taken a while longer there”, Baranova notes.
In a way, making the decision to return to Finland was terribly difficult, but at the same time, it was ludicrously easy.
Totally bewildered by the nature of the call, Baranova stuttered to Greve that she would "think about his offer" for a while, even though she had made her decision right away.
”I got a chance to return home, to live in Finland, and to have the opportunity to dance all roles right away”, Baranova contemplates. It is not rocket-science to understand why she had little difficulty with her course of action.
Baranova started at the Finnish National Ballet at the beginning of November. The first ordeal she had to go through was the role of the snappish Kitri in Don Quixote, which was to be presented just two weeks later.
How on earth did she manage to finish up her large role so soon?
The laughing ballerina now gets serious. ”I just worked hard every day. I did not do anything else. I was thinking of steps all the time. If I had had to do it, I would have learnt the role in three days”, Baranova says.
Baranova’s ability to learn fast can be explained by her phenomenal motion and muscle memory and by her great passion for dance and hard physical work.
Since she was 12 years old, Baranova has felt strange and off-colour if she has not been able to practice every day. It is in her blood to go the practice hall and even onto the stage.
”Hey, it does not even feel like work, it is so lovely!” Baranova enthuses.
Barankova’s début created a sensation in local ballet circles. Has it built up pressures?
”Yes, it has! When I received the offer, I wondered to myself whether I was quite ready for all this. But of course one is always dreaming of something like this to come along. And I am learning all the time. Nevertheless, sometimes I am scared stiff”, Baranova reveals.
Baranova has a contagious laugh, and she looks happy.
”I would never have believed myself that I could be so contented here. I feel happy at once, as soon as I have come into the house”, Baranova says.
Baranova blames the pressures on normal performance anxiety:”I walk amid the stage flats and the backstage whatnot, reflecting on every single step I take. But during the performance, once I am out there, the adrenaline kicks in and anxiety becomes forgotten. Another thing that is wonderful in this job is that I can be a completely different person from one night to the next - Don Quixote’s Kitri or The Nutcracker’s Clara”, the ballerina notes.
At the moment, Baranova lives at home with her Ukrainian-born parents.
”My mother still gives me a lift to work, but at the beginning of next year, I will go to driving school”, the ballerina continues.
Baranova’s father is a football player and a coach.
”At the moment he runs a business, but he is still dreaming of continuing his career as a coach”, she adds.
FACTFILE: Maria Baranova
Maria Baranova was born in Lohja in Southern Finland in 1992.
She started in the children’s creative ballet group at the age of four, and at the Helsinki Dance Institute at the age of eight.
In 2007, Baranova won the first prize for juniors in the Scandinavian Ballet Competition, and the second prize in the International Ballet Competition in Grasse.
In 2008, she won the third prize for juniors in the International Ballet Competition in Rome.
In 2009, Baranova won the top accolade for juniors at the Helsinki International Ballet Competition.
From 2009 to 2011 Maria Baranova was a member of the Corps de Ballet with the Hamburg Ballet. In March 2011, she won the International Competition for the Erik Bruhn Prize in Toronto, in Canada.
Since the beginning of November 2011, Maria Baranova has been engaged as a prima ballerina with the Finnish National Ballet.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 10.12.2011
Previously in HS International Edition:
The talented Mr. Greve (11.1.2011)
Finnish National Opera and Ballet
LEENA PALLARI / Helsingin Sanomat