Artiklar från 2008 – till idag

Artiklar från 2008 – till idag

Ella Persson 1 Foto Cristian Hillbom

Ella Persson outside the Royal Opera in Stockholm. Photo Cristian Hillbom

20 sep

Ella Persson: After the Mikhailovsky Ballet in St. Petersburg, new future awaits.

I was born in Solna 25 years ago. We were a normal family with mom, dad, my brother and sister. We lived in Bergshamra, I went to a normal school and played around a lot.

My younger brother Isaac went to ballet school two classes below me. He even got into the Vaganova School, but later chose a different path. My older half-sister is into art.

How did your interest in dance come about?
There was no such thing in my family or extended family.

At school there was a dance studio where a woman who had previously danced at the Opera held the business. I was very energetic as a child and when a couple of friends absolutely wanted to dance ballet, "then Ella can also go”. So, I hung on and we took ballet lessons a couple of times a week. This was in grades one through three, we were small girls. But I remember that at the time I found it uncomfortable to be judged and didn't really like going to these classes at all. I thought that if you're going to show off, you should choose it yourself.

But I came along when our parents thought we should go on to the Ballet Academy every Saturday. There was no compulsion in it, I just hung up on my friends. The teacher was stern, and I wasn't thrilled, just wanted to go home!

Eventually, the recommendation came to apply to the Opera Ballet School. The admission procedure I experienced as a difficult atmosphere with lots of confident children and parents.

Each step went well, and we had to wait a couple of weeks for the letter telling us that I had been accepted. Mom was happy, I wasn't that excited, but it was ok.

But why did you do everything without protesting, I wonder.
Think I wanted to please, was a little afraid of conflict.

Ella Persson porträtt

Ella Persson Photo Sergey Sherbakov

But you still must have done your best?
Well of course, I was well compliant and did what was expected of me. Two of us came in, one was my friend from basic school. She was addicted to theatre and was delighted. It wasn't that my parents decided for me, but they said: ”Shouldn't you try”, and ”it can be fun to go to school in the city.” So, my friend and I started the 4th year in Högalidsskolan. It was scary with such a big school, so many people after our little Bergshamra school.

Ella describes that she didn't feel any enthusiasm. There was even more discipline than earlier, and she tells how a teacher said that "you should long for the class/lesson". Ella just looked at her watch and wished it would end...

But something must have worked, I object.

Pierre de Olivo taught acrobatics and character dancing and he was also strict and disciplined but in a different way, hard to explain! I felt it was discipline "in the right way", without performance anxiety. He was a very good educator.

In fifth grade, a turnaround seems to have taken place.
There was an extremely good atmosphere in the class, boys and girls talked to each other and there was no fuss. I enjoyed myself more and more and started to like working hard for the first time. I noticed that I could work hard and liked that feeling!

Ella Persson studio

" She became aware of the standard out in the world and found herself becoming more mature". Photo Charles Thompson

When you are at that age that you understand why you should do different things and then the training start to makes senses.
Now Ella mentions the word attention, which I understand has been a key for her. Performance is still sensitive and challenging for her, but now she selected to participate in performances at the Opera. She starts to experience the atmosphere on stage and in the wings. Still, stress for exams and other things at school is hard, but leaving theory lessons and being at the Opera meant something important. It was inspiring to sit in the wings and watch the dancers, the atmosphere.

She also gained attention when Pierre de Olivo selected her for a performance at the school, and when she dances at the "Stora Daldansen", a competition held in Dalecarlia in Sweden.

During this time Ella took extra lessons. It was a bit "under cover" to sneak off to Johanna Björnson's studio and teacher Olga Kliapovskaya. Among other things, Olga gave a program of strength that meant a lot, and Ella underwent a rapid development, just during the years the body is incredibly malleable.

Ella says: Olga took advantage of my opportunities; she helped me tremendously. Her lessons were amazing, and I understood my potential better.

The YouTube gave us the opportunity to look at other countries' schools, compare themselves with their students and what they had achieved and see other dancers. She became aware of the standard out in the world and found herself becoming more mature.

Olga trained me in the Russian style and it suited me very well, says Ella. I became fond of Russian ballerinas and with them the Russian style, simply got hooked on it.

The Royal Swedish Ballet has been great, appreciated and highly admired, at that time the school's teaching was now good enough and I stand for that criticism, says Ella seriously.

Ella Persson 

Ella Persson as Valeria from Spartacus. Photo Charles Thompson

Dreams begin to take shape.

At that time, she becomes passionate and things start to move. When she graduates from gymnasium, Ella did auditions for the Cranko Schule in Stuttgart. At that school there are many Russian teachers. She was accepted when she was only 15 years old. Ella tells how a strong vision was formed: to become a ballerina and to dance in Russia.

Before the following summer, Ella Persson reads about a summer course in Mikkeli, Finland, with Vaganova master classes. She becomes enthusiastic and immediately signs up. Ella receives attention, a teacher offers a place at the famous Vaganova School in St. Petersburg, a great opportunity. But there were complications. The time aspect of visa application and other formalities delays the process. Ella was instead allowed to start the following year.

Ella moves to Stuttgart, which becomes a stopover, but a good one. The first year away from home, with new friends and new experiences. The school and the class were very good, she made great friends and had fun. There and then, there was doubt about Russia, a hesitation. When it was time to make up her mind, Ella describes how she had tremendous decision anxiety.

Still, she explains, was it a goal she'd had for so long, would she really be able to let it go? No, she concluded, she must try her dream.

In the autumn of 2013, Ella has reached the age of seventeen and was starting at the Vaganova School in St. Petersburg. She was promoted to a higher class and therefore finished the school after only two years.

Ella Persson

Ella Persson in a Pas de deux from Spartacus. Photo Charles Thompson

What was your first job?
It was in Saint Petersburg at the Mikhailovsky Company. But, earlier, I had signed on to jobs in Munich, at the Bayerische Staatsbalett. Timing for auditions are different in Europe and in Russia and when I was offered a job in Russia, I took it. Breaking the contract in Munich was not popular. But the dream had to be tried!

Ella has just turned 19 when she starts her employment.

You have now lived in St. Petersburg for a long time. What was your life like there?
The first year, life was tough and hard. It was a harsher atmosphere, everyone is more straightforward, especially in the theatre but also in the community. I think Russians would like to test who you are. If you can pass the test, the press releases a little bit. In the theatre there was an extremely high tempo and, of course, fierce competition. On the positive side: a bustling big city, lots to explore. Challenging tasks at the theatre, like Giselle for example!

What about the language, do you speak Russian?
Yes, I speak Russian. International dancers like me got Russian lessons. There were maybe six of us in the beginning, today there are more.

How was your housing situation?
At first, I stayed at the boarding house for a few months, that opportunity existed for both opera singers and dancers. But after a few months, in the middle of the first season, I moved to an apartment. There are homes to be found in St. Petersburg, the market is not like in Stockholm, but it's a lot about contacts.

Is it true that an injury prevented you for a period?
You probably mean when I was in the Vaganova School. I lacked the solid foundation I had needed at the time and with sloping floors and heavy tasks I overworked my hip. The training was solid with repertoire and character dance (professional folk dance) which was enormously demanding. I had an injury and I went home to rest and rehabilitate, but a lot was lost that season. It was my first major setback. I was home about six weeks and could barely walk. Then I was depressed for the first time in my life. Everything had gone so well, I had gotten attention at school, so it hit me hard.

Ella Persson

Ella Persson. Photo Max Moden

Tell us about the roles you've been given, how they've developed you, and what you like most about dancing?
Every big role has of course meant a lot. The first season the ballet master Messerer saw me and gave me tasks. Giselle, Cinderella, La Sylphide, I was a street dancer in Don Quixote and a special role in Spartacus.
The first season was important. Giselle came so early, in my first year and the challenge showed to myself that I could do it. The strength, the nerves and the design. Understanding that I'm doing something I enjoy.

Spartacus probably developed me the most, it was acrobatic, a lot of "acting" during eleven minutes of tough partner work. It made me technically and mentally strong. I loved doing it.

Now you have left St. Petersburg. What does your life look like now?
I'm in Stockholm. Decided to choose security and I left Russia a couple of weeks after the war against Ukraine started. I had contact with the consulate and the situation felt uncertain. I wanted to be close to my family and chose to go. Now I want to move forward with my career, I've been seven seasons in St. Petersburg. During the pandemic, I spent a lot of time in Sweden. I have taken classes with the Royal Swedish Ballet before the summer break and work extra to keep fit, because one class a day is not enough. One needs to be on stage and do performances. Everyone has had a really hard time during the pandemic. It was emotional to find myself in the ballet studio where it all kind of started, I'm grateful and appreciate it a lot.

Five months have passed since you left Russia. What are your feelings about it today?
It's a kind of a sorrow. I couldn't finish my time there as I would have liked. But now there's something else ahead. I'm curious about new styles.

Do you think you would have stayed in St. Petersburg if the circumstances had been calmer?
Thoughts of moving on were already there at this time, but of course I intended to stay the whole season! If it had been the case, I would have been in top shape to give myself the best in auditions. Now, instead, it has been a tough battle to keep fit. Small muscles, for example in the feet, can be lost quickly.

Ella Persson

Ella Persson as Valeria in Spartacus. Photo Charles Thompson

Do you think you have lost contact with Sweden; do you still have friends here?
Well, I've lost some contact, but I still have a couple of friends. I was a very short time in Sweden until the corona hit us, but during the pandemic I spent more time here.

How has your summer been so far?
In many ways struggling. In my situation, I have been in a development phase on several levels with myself, it is stressful.

Thoughts on the future?
In the first place, it is Europe where I want to be. There are currently no contracts in Stockholm. I have experienced the Russian ballet during my period there and gained a broader view of life. Now I feel ready to broaden my horizons, it means new repertoire, new coaching, new cities, explains Ella, who is now 25 years old.

When you moved to St. Petersburg, it was to fulfil a dream. What do you dream of now?
To feel good, to develop and continue dancing! To combine a glorious life with a wonderful profession.

To the extent that you have any free time, what are your interests?
When I'm free, I do things that make me feel good. I don't have a specific hobby, but I like to relax, meet friends, go out and have a drink and be out and experience nice environments. And I write a lot, I always have.

Ella Persson

Ella Persson Photo Charles Thompson

How was your position in Russia? You were on TV from time to time?
I'm basically shy, Ella says, but I got attention! She admits that before premieres, there used to be interviews and advertising posters.

How was life in Russia when you left?
I can feel sorry for the Russians. I have seen a lot of development in the country, it has been easier to travel, and many speak better English. It is sad that the country is closing again. Russians are hospitable and interested, many in the younger generation know what is happening and are inspired by the West. But there are concerns and risks...

As a young girl you were some withdrawn. Still, you have chosen one of the most demanding professions in the world?
Yes, says Ella, I know. It was a combination of when I felt like pushing myself hard and the experience of being on stage that made it worth all the rest. That's how it happened.

Marie Louise Waldenström

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