Masha Tolstunova was born in Bishekek, Kyrgyzstan but grew up in Vienna, Austria. She graduated from Vienna State Opera Ballet School in 2013 and joined the Wiener Staatsballett under the direction of Manuel Legris. In 2015 she joined the John Neumeier’s Hamburg Ballet and danced there till 2018. Masha is now freelance and her current professional coach is Magaly Suarez.
If you could describe what type of dancer you are with just 3 words, what would they be?
Honest, Emotional, Fearless.
What has been one of your favourite experiences on stage so far?
It is so hard to compare and pick just one! But I guess my most recent show was quite a special one. I danced `Fraudulent Smile` by British choreographer Ross Freddie-Ray on Sergei Polunin’s Russia Tour in February. It is always very moving for me to dance in Russia, where I feel my roots so deeply. Being able to perform at venues such as the Mariinsky 2 and the Zaryadye Hall in Moscow was just out of this world.
What’s your personal strength as a dancer?
I believe my personal strength as a dancer is to transform myself and become the character I am portraying on stage. This is also one of my favourite aspects of this profession. I enjoy learning everything about the piece I’m dancing – about my role, the music, the epoch the piece is about and the time it was created in. All these details give me a deeper understanding of what I want to express and what I want to make the audience feel.
Is there a specific choreographer that inspires you?
I get inspired by many choreographers for different reasons. Some are great storytellers that are exceptional at creating an atmosphere on stage. Others I admire for their ability to express emotions through movement, or for challenging the dancers to use their physicality in extreme ways. I believe we can learn something from every creative mind out there.
Do you have a favourite theatre to perform in?
I have been so fortunate to perform in many different theatres worldwide. I will always call the Vienna State Opera my home, since I have made my very first steps as a dancer on this stage. The Hamburg State Opera will always be dear to me. Dancing on the historic stage of the Bolshoi Theatre was definitely a dream come true! But most of all I wish to return to the Bunka Kaikan in Tokyo - I love the atmosphere and the energy this place radiates. Plus, the Japanese audience is so loving and kind!
How would you describe the difference between a rehearsal and a show?
I have always enjoyed performing more than rehearsing! It is a paradox but I feel I have more privacy when I am performing on stage although I am watched by far more people than in rehearsals. Being on stage feels intimate to me, I feel fearless and vulnerable at the same time. Another very nice thing is, you can know for sure that no one will interrupt your dancing with corrections during a performance!
Is being a professional dancer anything like you imagined it to be when you were in training?
At this point I have to thank my teachers, they did a good job preparing me for the sometimes not so cotton-candy-life as a professional dancer. They also taught me that it is not always about how hard but how smart you work. That you have to take risks and always believe in yourself, even if no one else does. So I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy career, that is why I never had unrealistic expectations.
Do you focus on specific exercises alongside your daily training, rehearsals and performances?
I am very passionate about Gyrotonics and I love the benefits of Pilates!
Are you conscious about nutrition and how you fuel your body?
I try to eat organic food and buy local products. I believe that supporting the environment in which you live is as important as taking care of your own health.
How do you go about relaxing and taking time away from your active lifestyle?
Taking time away from our active lifestyle is very important for body and soul. I enjoy going to the sauna or treating myself with a massage. I consider having the time to sleep in in the mornings a luxury too. However, what helps me to relax and recharge is spending time with my family and friends. It gives me strength, fills me with love and energy and helps me to recover faster.
How do you imagine life after dance?
I don’t! Don’t get me wrong here, I do not mean to sound as fixated as Natalie Portman in Black Swan but I simply don’t want to think too far ahead in the future. I truly enjoy what I am doing every day. Plus, making strict life plans never got me to the right places!
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