New York has always attracted great talent from around the world, in all fields, including dance. Polina Semionova, a ballerina who has danced with the American Ballet Theatre since 2011, wowed audiences around the world, from Moscow to Berlin, before coming to the city. NY1's Budd Mishkin filed the following One On 1 profile.
Polina Semionova isn't just following in the footsteps of some great ballerinas at the American Ballet Theatre -- she is wearing their old costumes.
"To have a costume in which written Amanda McKerrow or Natalia Makarova, Susan Jaffe, it's amazing, it's really an indescribable feeling," she says.
Semionova is making quite a name for herself, in New York and around the world. She made her city debut with the American Ballet Theatre in 2011 and became a principal dancer with ABT in 2012.
This season, she has danced in "Swan Lake" and with fellow world-renowned dancer David Hallberg in "Romeo And Juliet."
"'Romeo And Juliet,' it's a performance where you die in the end and I really feel like dead yesterday," Semionova says. "And of course, after such an emotional performance, I have problems with sleeping. I don't sleep, usually my heart is beating so fast."
Perhaps the beauty of Semionova's dancing speaks for itself. But what is Semionova thinking as she combines the physical skills honed through countless hours of rehearsal with the emotional elements of performance, dancing in front of thousands of knowledgeable and passionate fans?
"My teacher always said to me in school, 'Your head must be cool. Keep calm, then you can think better and don't get too much excitement,'" Semionova says. "Of course, we have in our head structure, 'I go this way and this way.' But what is the best I like about performing and about these roles like 'Onegin' and 'Romeo And Juliet,' at one point you don't control yourself. You just let it go."
Semionova's international popularity extends beyond the world of ballet. She is the subject of a biography in German. She danced in the Berlin State Ballet for more than a decade. She inspired the character Polina in a French graphic novel of the same name and she is called "the world's leading ballerina" in a commercial for the international clothing company Uniqlo.
Semionova is a bridge between the world of ballet and the general public, making the high art form more accessible to millions.
"If it's professional public or just a normal person who has nothing to do with ballet, to me, it's one public. Either they like it or they don't like it," she says.
Perhaps the greatest example of Semionova's crossover appeal is a 2003 music video made in Germany that has attracted more than a million YouTube hits, unprecedented in the ballet world. Semionova did the video just after she moved to Berlin in the early 2000s.
Now she is getting accustomed to life in New York and its audiences.
"I'm always surprised at how people are knowing so well, the piece and how passionate they are about it, which is great," she says.
Semionova is no stranger to this type of pressure. For 10 years, she has been dancing on the world's greatest stages, in China, the United States, Italy, Japan, France, Great Britain and her native Russia.
"When you come on a big stage, there's something to think about that you have to prove," Semionova says. "I take myself out, I try not to think about it. I just think about the role, I think about how to perform good and hold in other thoughts and put them away. You know horse's [blinders]? That's [what I] sometimes wish to have."
Semionova grew up in Moscow and started dancing not long after she learned to walk. As a young girl, she enrolled at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, where she danced for eight years.
"This is I was really lucky. I never had the doubt that I should try something else," she says.
But not all of her memories of the Bolshoi Academy are so warm, especially as a teenager.
"I don't remember myself going out. I don't know clubs in Moscow, I know few restaurants. I never went out, it's just work, work, work from morning to late," Semionova says. "I think it's necessary this time, necessary to be like this, if you want to be prepared for the years which are coming."
Semionova was still a teenager when she graduated from the academy and won international competitions. She resisted the urge to stay near her family and join a top Russian ballet company and accepted an offer to become, at age 17, the youngest principal dancer in the history of Berlin State Ballet.
"When you grow up eight years being in a school and you think you’re going to dance in the Bolshoi or Mariinsky [Theatre] or one of the theaters in Russia and then suddenly in the last year you change your whole idea on where you’re going to be, of course from this point of view it's a little hard, but I got a really good offer," she says.
Asked if anyone pressured her to stay in Russia, Semionova says, "Yes, there have been people, which all of them they just wanted the best for me."
Semionova would eventually return to Russia to perform as a guest artist.
"Of course the first performance was really hard, because I'm thinking people judge you because like, 'OK, show us why you left, what can you do better?'" she says.
Semionova is married and one day wants to have children. She has a particular admiration for those dancers who have successfully managed careers and families.
"They are dancing even better than before, kids, because they just see everything with different eyes and they have the strength to come back and be even better than before," she says.
It is clear that Semionova's already high profile is on the rise, and she is not yet 30 years old. But in the dance world, she has had a lifetime of experiences.
"I know what I have to do better and I will try my best to do it but I never forget what is behind my back, where I start, how I start, what went through and I appreciate very much what I have," she says.
On Tuesday and Friday night at Lincoln Center, Semionova will dance in the American Ballet Theatre's production of the ballet "Sylvia."