by Len Lear
She has lived in Germantown for two-and-a-half years, but Pennsylvania Ballet dancer Oksana Maslova, whose divinely graceful leaps through the air seem to defy gravity, grew up in Nikopol, Ukraine, where her artistic development began early with rhythmic gymnastics. This led to an intensive ballet program with Irina Sycheva, former ballerina of the St. Petersburg Ballet.
Oksana went on to the Kiev Choreographic College, where she studied under several renowned Russian teachers and artists. While there, Oksana began performing with the Kiev Youth Ballet, where she danced Arabian in “The Nutcracker,” Kitri in “Don Quixote” and Odette in “Swan Lake,” among others. She later earned a master’s degree as a choreographer and ballet master at the Institute of Culture and Arts.
In 2004 Oksana became a member of Odessa National Operahouse, where her transcendent talent immediately elevated her to soloist. In 2008, Maslova came to the U.S. to become a principal dancer with the Grand Rapids (Michigan) Ballet, performing the entire classical repertoire. In June, 2011, she became a principal dancer for the Connecticut Ballet Company, and she joined the Pennsylvania Ballet as a soloist for the 2014-2015 season.
She has since danced featured roles in Christopher Wheeldon’s “Polyphonia” and the role of Odile/Odette in Wheeldon’s “Swan Lake.” Last year she was promoted to principal dancer. Oksana declined to mention her age, and a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Ballet told us, “Unfortunately, the dancers are not comfortable sharing their age as it can sometimes take away from their art form if they are perceived as too young or too old.”
Last week we conducted the following interview with Oksana:
What was your childhood like?
“Nikopol was a small city (in Ukraine), but we lived in an apartment in a tall building. Most of my days were spent at my grandma’s house, climbing on the trees. The rest of the time I was busy with ballet and gymnastics. I did rhythmic gymnastics, practicing 6-7 hours a day. Since the age of 10, I traveled frequently throughout Ukraine and Russia for competitions.”
What was it that hooked you on dancing at such a young age?
“It was naturally in my body. My mom saw that I was moving non-stop around the apartment. It was a small city, and everything was very close. She brought me to the ballet, and then I would take myself each day. I didn’t bother them anymore.”
Did you ever feel you were missing out on some of the things that other kids do after school?
“No. Gymnastics was like my second family since we spent a lot of time together practicing. During breaks we would play with other kids on the streets, like ball games. We even played intellectual games. I never felt like I was missing anything.”
How did your parents feel about your devotion to dance?
“When I chose to go to Kiev to the Ballet Academy, my parents were disappointed as they wanted me to be an office worker. My parents support me in ballet because it is what I want to do, but it isn’t their wish for me to do. They think ballet is ruining my body.”
Ballet demands a great deal from the body. Have you suffered any serious injuries?
“I never had any serious injuries like breaking a bone. My nose was broken, and I had to have surgery after I was hit by rhythmic gymnastics sticks. My body is very flexible, so I have a lot of soreness in my body. I have to take care of my joints and muscles; I always have to stretch them; otherwise, I feel pain in my muscles. I always have to warm-up and do splits.”
What have your favorite roles been?
“Giselle and a few contemporary ballets I’ve danced with Pennsylvania Ballet have been my favorite roles thus far.”
Was your ambition always to be a principal dancer for Pennsylvania Ballet?
“My goal isn’t focused on the position but to have the quality of dance I want to have, like my idols. I want to like how I dance but meet my vision of perfect ballet dancing.”
What are the positives and negatives about living in Germantown?
“We chose to live in Germantown because we felt it was a nice place to raise our son. We really love that there are parks with green space and trees, a river and the Wissahickon Valley Park, where we can walk and play with our son.”
Did you speak any English when you came here? Has the language barrier been a problem for you?
“No; I didn’t speak English when I came to the U.S. I had my basic school knowledge of English. The language barrier hasn’t been a huge problem. When I first started dancing in the U.S., I didn’t always understand the directions the choreographers were saying in rehearsal. That was the extent of my issues with a language barrier because the language of ballet is based on French terminology, so it is pretty easy for any dancer to understand it.”
How many more years do you think you can dance professionally?
“I would like to dance 10 more years, but it depends on whether I can stay healthy that long without injuries.”
What do you think you will do after your dance career is over?
“I really like crafts, and I currently make tiaras. Perhaps I will have a small craft business. I also might begin choreographing again, which I did when I was younger.”
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
“Being in a very positive atmosphere where others are happy and my family is healthy. Perfect happiness is when there is harmony surrounding you.”
Who are your favorite ballet dancers, living and/or dead?
“Sylvie Guillem and Baryshnikov.”
How often have you gone back to Ukraine to visit your family?
“Every summer I go back to Ukraine to visit my family.”
How do they feel about your living in the U.S.?
“They don’t love the distance, but they are OK with it since I get to do what I love in the U.S.”
What is your biggest pet peeve?
“When people talk very loud.”
For more information, visit www.paballet.org. Len Lear can be reached at email@example.com