Passion Points: Arts/Culture
When ballet dancer Daniil Simkin first burst onto the stage of the Metropolitan Opera a few seasons ago—he joined American Ballet Theatre as a soloist in 2008—there were audible gasps from the audience. Diminutive with a rash of blonde hair, Simkin has an explosive energy and uber-charismatic stage presence that reaches the top tiers of an opera house. New York Times critic Roslyn Sulcas has described him as possessing a “slouchy, Baryshnikov-like charm and virtuosity.” Often paired with ABT soloist Sarah Lane (Natalie Portman’s now-famous dancing body double in Black Swan), Simkin has won numerous awards, including the coveted ballet competition in Varna.
Born in Russia, raised in Germany, based in Vienna for years and now touring the world with ABT, he is a voracious traveler and one who blogs and writes while on the road. To read his latest posts, visit www.daniilsimkin.com. Because unlike the ballet creatures of the past, whose personal lives were always shrouded in a veil of secrecy, a new generation of dancers, including Simkin, is hard at work to demystify their world and make it more accessible for outsiders. The 23-year-old dancer spoke to Indagare about his fondness for social media (he twitters, Facebooks, blogs etc.), the current MET season, his travels and the definition of home.
You can catch Simkin performing with American Ballet Theatre in New York: The Bright Stream (June 10, 11, 14 and 15); in Coppélia (June 17 and 20); in Los Angeles: The Bright Stream (June 15 and 17); and in Tokyo: Don Quixote (July 22 and 23).
Why did you launch your own blog, writing about dance and travel?
There are so many interesting parts of a dancer’s life, but only a few individuals tend to have access to our world. I wanted to break this up by making our art form and subculture more open to the general audience—students, fellow dancers, audience members—and therefore more accessible. By adding transparency, I hope to draw new audience members and increase the attention that ballet and dance generally receives. I think it definitely has the potential.
Have you always loved to travel?
I was moving around the world from an early age on and therefore probably do not appreciate it as much as I should. Still, traveling to different countries, seeing different cultures and meeting different people not only expands my own world view but also improves my dancing and artistry. I think it is essential to have an open mind and that a constant flow of stimuli helps me grow as a person and an artist.
You were born in Russia, raised in Germany, danced all over Europe and now are a soloist with American Ballet Theatre. Where is home?
It’s hard for me to define the term home. Is it where my parents live? Is it where I live six months of the year? Is it where I was born, but don’t remember? Is it where my suitcase is? Is it where my laptop is? Home is not just one particular place, but has different meanings and layers. I was born in Novosibirsk, in Siberia, Russia, and I feel connected to the essence of my Slavic soul. My psychological home is where my parents are. I was trained as a dancer by my mother, one of the reasons I am very close to my parents who remain incredibly supportive of my career and life. I make sure to stop by Frankfurt, where they live, a couple of weeks each year in order to reboot. I spend about six months of the year in New York which I love. The rest of the time I am performing in different places, often in Europe and Asia. Thanks to the Internet I can be in touch with my friends and family from basically anywhere and nowadays even on planes. Overall, I would say I am cosmopolitan and become more so every day.
Your travel schedule is quite hectic. What were some of your favorite recent destinations and why?
I have visited Japan at least once a year for the past eight years, and every time I arrive I feel a strange sensation of coming home. It is difficult to explain, but I feel connected to Japanese culture. Perhaps it’s the country’s combination of technological advancement and deep longing for spirituality, or its rigorous cultural order, or the people’s anti-confrontational behavior. I also love the crowded but extremely structured environment that Tokyo offers. All of these factors always make me want to go back as soon as possible.
What is a favorite discovery from a recent tour?
Last summer I spent a couple of nights at the Mandarin Oriental in Singapore, which made a tremendous impression on me. Singapore has a great energy, plus the hotel’s incredible service and pool with a beautiful view of the skyline made me want to return.
When you return to New York, what are some of your favorite local spots?
I live on the Upper West Side, since we perform at Lincoln Center two months of the year, so I tend to frequent places in my neighborhood. I love anything chocolate or cookie-related, therefore I recommend Levain Bakery for the best cookies and Jacques Torres for hot chocolate. For dinner, I like Tenzan for Japanese fusion cuisine and Land for Thai food. And for a great brewed coffee, nothing beats Joe’s. Also, I am a great fan of Armani and I love the recently opened flagship store on 5th Avenue. They have a great selection—if not the best—of all of their stores and a wonderful restaurant upstairs in order to dine in true Armani fashion.
You’re on the road weeks at a time, do you have any packing tips?
I am still working on my efficiency and reducing unnecessary luggage but I honestly enjoy packing. I think there are over-packers and under-packers; I used to be the former but made it my goal to reduce. I find that the more I structure my luggage, the less I take, but to properly structure something you need time. If you start packing too late, you take more things than you need. I approach every trip as a challenge to improve and/or try something new.
Who are some dancers you consider inspiring (both past and present)?
I would take Mr. Baryshnikov’s technique and coordination, Mr. Nureyev’s charisma and stage presence and my father’s work ethic, put them all in a shaker and you would have the perfect male ballet dancer. Unfortunately—or maybe fortunately—life is not that simple.
At ABT, you are exposed to various styles of dance. How does learning the classics differ from creating new works with a choreographer?
Both are important to me. I consider working on and performing the classics as measuring myself with eternity, comparing different approaches from the past and trying to leave a mark for the future. It is an essential part of a complete classical dancer, a basis on which you build your essence and substance. A contemporary creation is a very satisfying, too. It is happening in the here and now, the choreographer is inspired by the current situation, place, time, trends and people. It’s a gamble, since not all of the pieces we create are masterpieces, but that’s what makes it even more exciting and inspiring.
Who are some of your favorite people to follow on Twitter?
I use twitter as my main source of news and information and therefore I follow a wide array of different people and outlets on Twitter. To give an idea, I like: - @nytimesarts: no need for explanations - @wired: for the inner geek - @theballetbag: a blogzine about the inner workings of our world - @brainpicker: awesome, curated, interesting - @fastcompany: another one for the geek - @Zen_Moments: Zen quotes for the daily spoon of inspiration
I also follow other ballet colleagues : - @ashleybouder : from the New York City Ballet - @evanmckie : from the Stuttgart Ballet - @bennet76 : from the Royal Ballet of London
Where are you traveling next?
After our season at the Metropolitan Opera, we tour in Los Angeles, performing at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for Performing Arts and then travel on to Japan for two weeks. After Japan I’m on tour in Buenos Aires, Argentina, then a week of rehearsals in New York, then Ann Arbor, Michigan, then Moscow, then Indianapolis, then back to Moscow, then a couple of days of holidays in Germany and then back to rehearsals with ABT in the end of September. It will be busy.
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