He can't deny his gift
The speed with which he whips through high, turning leaps is astounding, as is his ease in landing, wrote The New York Times critic last spring of Daniil Simkin, 22, a shining, rising star in international ballet.
Her predecessor, the sometimes harsh Clive Barnes, said in the last review he ever wrote that Simkin's dancing has "the glint of gold in it." While critics swoon, more than 5,000 fans have signed on Facebook and there is an official Web site plus pages on YouTube, MySpace and Twitter.
In a telephone interview from his New York apartment, the new soloist of the American Ballet Theater says he never thought of dance as his fate.
"I cannot deny the fact that I have a certain gift, which makes it easier for me to become a ballet dancer, but, to say it was fate, that it is the meaning of my life to be a ballet dancer, no, I cannot say that. To me it is irrational; it is not something that I would say about myself. Yes, I'm a ballet dancer, I chose to be one, but it's not like I knew that I would be a ballet dancer from when I came out of my mother's womb, that's just a cliche, and that is stupidity in my opinion, because it's a mixture of a lot of things together. There has to be talent, but talent is not everything, there has to be a proper education, a certain upbringing, and a certain way of thinking, too. Also the character."
Is there anything that you thought you would like to be other than a dancer?
"If you asked me when I was six to 10, I think I would have said that I want to be a dentist, to make money, to lead a proper life. It's a good job. To be honest, I didn't decide to be a dancer until I was 16, and this is exactly what my parents aimed for, to keep my mind open."
He was born on October 12, 1987 in Siberia to Dimitrij and Olga Alexandrova, both former dancers with the Novosibirsk Ballet; his half-brother, Anton Alexandrov, 10 years his senior, dances with the Hamburg Ballet. In 1990, the family moved to Wiesbaden, Germany and so Simkin was spared a childhood in a ballet school far from his family, as was the case for his parents and brother.
His mother taught him every day for two hours from the time he was nine. "I was the only one in class, and my mother would teach me, therefore her attention was completely on me. I was schooled more like a musician; musicians are privately trained normally, whereas in a ballet school, you have classes of 10 people or more. Therefore, it is quite unusual how I was brought up. I went to a normal high school. I had normal friends. Actually, up to a certain point, my friends didn't know that I was doing ballet. It's not spectacular, famous and appreciated as, let's say, soccer or football, and it comes - everybody will agree - with certain prejudices, especially from people who are not adults."
It became clear he was doing ballet when he would have to leave school for competitions. At 18, he left home and at 22 is the soloist of a famed ballet troupe.
Do you have time for a social life?
"I have friends. I'm in a ballet company where everybody else is a dancer, so now I don't have the problem of keeping it a secret - it's not like I'm special, or I'm the one doing ballet. It's a part of my life, it's my job, I get to travel quite extensively, which is great. Normal is hard to define, that's why it's hard to say if my life is normal or not."
Do you have a girlfriend?
"Currently I'm unattached."
Simkin's training started when he was nine, but he has been performing since he was six ("I was a cute kid who was cast in roles in ballets that my father was in"). He does not recall his first performance "but I have a video of it."
He believes the ideal dancer combines the charisma of Rudolf Nureyev, the work ethic of his father and the technical abilities of Mikhail Baryshnikov. Simkin is constantly compared to the aging star, who in 1974 defected to Canada from the Soviet Union. Simkin's Soviet roots, physical similarity and strong technique, and the fact that the two of them are associated with American Ballet Theater, only reinforces this. The company's artistic director, Kevin McKenzie, said about Simkin in an interview with W magazine last May: "In his face and in his concentration, I see Misha."
Simkin is sober, but mostly flattered by the comparison. "On one hand, it's very charming, and I feel honored. But people always have a certain tendency to compare something to the past, they cannot accept that everybody's different, everybody's not perfect. They always have to find something to grip onto - a personality, or a dancer or an artist - this is the new so-and-so. And that one is the new... that one is the new Nureyev and I am the new Baryshnikov."
Simkin, at 9, began participating in competitions and collecting prizes, among them the gold medal in the Varna international competition (when Sylvie Guillem won 21 years earlier, she received her first principal role with the Paris Opera ballet) and first prize in the International Ballet Competition (the Grand Prix) in Helsinki.
In 2006, he joined the Vienna Opera's ballet troupe and danced classical and modern roles. A year later he got his first principal role, Basilio, in "Don Quixote" as a guest of Lithuania's national opera. In October 2008, he became a soloist with the American Ballet Theater and has since been conquering roles in the classical repertoire, one after another.
Is there a dream role?
"I'm very young, and I think that for now I have to dance the principal male repertoire. This is my aim and what I want to do. One of the things that I haven't done yet and that I really badly want to do is Albrecht in 'Giselle.'"
Simkin says he has no ideas about "a dream partner." His fans imagine him performing with Sylvie Guillem. He's a big fan, he says, having received pointers from her and apparently was a little afraid of her. "She was one of the few people whom I hadn't met yet who are so up there for me, I was a bit amazed, a little bit like a little kid."
Like her, he has so far suffered only minor injuries.
Is there anything that scares you about being a dancer?
"What scares me, actually, is being too calm and not having enough nervousness to be on stage. Because in that moment you are not concentrated - if you did something too much, if you did a piece too many times, if you danced too much, you start to not care. That's what I'm frightened of. That moment, I think, you have to change direction or stop dancing. Because I think it is essential for an artist to keep going, to improve, to want to advance. Progress is the epitome of art, in my opinion, so the moment I stop progressing is the moment I fear the most."
His favorite choreographers are Jiri Kylian, Alexei Ratmansky and Mats Ek, "but no less than that, I would be happy to perform works by William Forsythe."
When asked if he aspires to choreograph, he answers in the words of Maurice Bejart: "Choreographers are born, not made.
You are undeniably one of few celebrities in the dance world. What is the craziest case of adoration that you've experienced? "I was signing on a Hermes Birkin bag, which is worth bout $10,000, with a pen, in Japan. I felt kind of bad because I must have destroyed it, but, you know, some fans like it that way. So that's the craziest I had, destroying value."
Simkin is a fan of computer games and social networks. "People like to read about certain stuff and people like to have information, and if I have that information, then why not give it to them? Why not let them be a little bit a part of my life?"
He says there is a mystique around ballet and wants "to demystify, open this whole thing, and maybe this way bring a little bit broader audiences to ballet and to dance in general, which still has a big potential as an art form and as a means of expression."
Here's how he describes his job: "Just moving around, up and down, from side to side on the stage. That's it."