The Australian Ballet

A princely opportunity

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Artists of The Australian Ballet, Swan Lake (Hallberg) 2023
Photo Kate Longley

Maxim Zenin joined The Australian Ballet in 2022. As a member of the corps de ballet he had danced a wide variety of roles in the company before being cast in the principal role of the idealistic Prince Siegfried in Anne Woolliams' Swan Lake. Behind Ballet chats to Maxim about taking on this role and how he is settling into life in Australia.

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Grace Carroll and Maxim Zenin, Swan Lake (Hallberg) 2023
Photo Kate Longley

You joined The Australian Ballet in 2022, how has the experience been so far?

It’s hard to believe that a whole year has already passed. It has been so wonderful learning and becoming more familiar with The Australian Ballet. I’ve been able to dance more complex roles throughout the year and I feel like an important part of the company. Sometimes I catch myself, because everything feels so familiar, it’s like I’ve always been here, when in fact I only arrived from the other side of the world 12 months ago.

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Maxim Zenin and Grace Carroll in rehearsal
Photo Christopher Rodgers-Wilson

You’re originally from Russia, but have worked extensively over Europe, how are you enjoying Australia?

The Australian Ballet is an amazing troupe, with an incredible combination of high professionalism of the artists and artistic team and warm family relationships. I have never encountered such an atmosphere. It seems to me that individuality is highly valued, which provides a huge opportunity to develop and learn from your colleagues and tutors.

The biggest difference I’ve noticed between The Australian Ballet and my previous place of work (Mariinsky Theatre), is that each artist who prepared a solo repertoire at Mariinsky Theatre had their own personal teacher. You’re under their supervision and come to depend on only one opinion, I would call my teacher Vladimir Kim my ‘ballet dad’.

It’s a completely different system at The Australian Ballet, here we work with different tutors depending on the role and the ballet, which gives you the opportunity to form your own opinions from a wide variety of people. I don’t think either approach is better or worse, all these experiences are invaluable when it comes to developing as an artist.

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Robyn Hendricks and Maxim Zenin backstage, Swan Lake (Hallberg) 2023

You’re currently in the corps de ballet but have been cast in the leading role of Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake, a role usually performed by principal artists. How did you feel when you found out you’d be performing the iconic role?

I was very happy; it was always my dream to dance Prince Siegfried. To be honest, I think this is the dream of any ambitious artist. It was a little scary, this is one of the most important roles in the arsenal of the principal dancer and it’s a huge responsibility.

Is there extra preparation or anything special you need to do when learning a principal role?

It seems to me that the main thing that every artist needs is time, we always think that there is not enough time or rehearsals, and that you could devote even more of your attention to roles. This is how you develop an excellent skill - trusting the process and the people who help you. After all, it is not quantity that matters, but quality. Concentration and trust helped me prepare for the role. I am very lucky to be partnered with Robyn Hendricks as Odette/Odile, she is a wonderful ballerina and has made this job such an easy and fun experience.

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Sylvie Guillem
Photo Pierre Toussaint

We’ve had some incredible guest coaches on Swan Lake, who has helped guide you in your performance?

Sylvie Guillem has been one of our guest teachers which has been an invaluable experience. It is a great honour to work with such an incredible artist. She has so much experience and ballet knowledge, and has learned from the great artists before her, so I tried to absorb everything she taught us.

Sometimes it can be overwhelming. I was worried about voicing my own opinion to such a legendary artist, but Sylvie was amazing, she always helped us to reveal our individuality, but at the same time maintain traditions. I am also very grateful to our company teachers, David Hallberg, Kirsty Martin and Steven Heathcote. I couldn’t have done it (Swan Lake) without them. I can talk about them endlessly, they are wonderful artists and teachers, and I feel very lucky to have such professional support.

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Maxim Zenin and Robyn Hendricks, Swan Lake (Hallberg) 2023

Prince Siegfried is an idealistic person, searching for meaning in his life, how do you think his character evolves throughout the story?

Dancing this ballet is like living a small life. Siegfried is a young prince who wants to know love and finds it in a beautiful swan. This story seems very naive and simple, but in fact every artist can find something very personal in it. Every one of my performances has felt different. This is the magic of ballet; you live many different lives on stage and you start each of them over again with new feelings.

What is your favourite moment in Swan Lake?

I want to say that the whole ballet from beginning to end. I don’t even know what to highlight. For me this ballet is very complicated, it is set up very logically and everything is connected.

What was it like to take the final jump at the end of performance?

Oh, for a few seconds, I really felt like my heart was broken. This is a very dramatic and powerful moment; everything feels real at this second. The music, the light, the final ballet scene, it all makes us believe it. And by the way, it's not scary at all (I mean the jump). We rehearsed this many times, so everything is under control!