Susan Walker, The Star
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The Star: What was your greatest moment on stage?

Ida Nevasayneva: Oh, gosh there have been so many. Maybe it was at a grand gala given at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. It was nerve-wracking — all the big stars were there. They saved me for the end of the second act to ensure that the audience left with fond memories.

The stage of the Bolshoi is massive and it’s on a rake. You know what that means, don’t you darling? Slanted at a slight angle. It lent a certain edginess to my performance. I was dancing The Dying Swan, with a vitality I hadn’t shown since I was a young person.

The swan always bows in front of the curtain. When I came out, the audience started stomping their feet and yelling. And I looked over at a TV monitor and I thought, “Omigod I’m really here on the Bolshoi stage doing one of the coveted roles in ballet. It was quite emotional for me. I do believe I shed a tear.”

The Star: The Dying Swan is your signature role, is it not?

Ida Nevasayneva: Yes, and that was probably the apex of Dying Swans for me. I’ve danced it for decades. I actually got to meet one of the queens of The Dying Swan, Plisetskaya. She was so complimentary, not only to my work, but the whole company. She just thought we brought something new to Russian classical ballet.

The Star: You’re very slender. How do you keep your weight down?

Ida Nevasayneva: God bless me. I never had an issue with weight. If anything I had a problem keeping it on. I could eat and eat and eat whatever I wanted. Ballet kept me kept me thin and youthful beyond my years. I was dancing well into my 40s. But being six feet tall, I didn’t get lifted too much.

The Star: You are known to have had many lovers among ballet dancers and patrons. Would you care to name names?

Ida Nevasayneva: I could never do that to those people. The paparazzi would hound them to death. When I look back on those love affairs now, they were just flings, just brief encounters. I tried to keep my love life off the stage, but you know, people always talk. One day I’ll write my memoirs and tell all… about a certain N and a Mr. B and… oh, but you’re forcing it out of me.

The Star: Who would you compare yourself to among ballerinas of our time?

Ida Nevasayneva: But I’m beyond compare! I’m very old-world and very traditional. I have been studying ballet for a long, long time and ballet is my life. I wake up in the morning thinking about tendus. You can often see me waiting for the subway doing an arabesque. Oh yes, it’s been said I’m neurotic, that I’m high-strung and high maintenance, but that is what keeps me so vital and gives my performances that special je-ne-sais-quoi. They call me the prima diva. But I wouldn’t want you to think of me as arrogant or flashy.

The Star: So there are no other ballerinas you admire?

Ida Nevasayneva: Oh dear, yes, oh yes. There is Pavlova, who originated the role of The Dying Swan. She had such a great reputation was such an inspiration to me. And Plisetskaya, of course, and the Cuban dancer Alicia Alonso. I worship the ground she bourrés on.

The Star: Any other favourite roles?

Ida Nevasayneva: Taglione in Pas de Quatre. It always gave me so much pleasure. When I danced that I owned the stage. And of course I was such an inspiration for the young ones.

The Star: You are a legend. Tell us about your life story.

Ida Nevasayneva: I came out of the womb dancing. In my youth I was a heroine of the Revolution. Once, after effortlessly bourréeing across a minefield, I lobbed a loaded toe-shoe through the window of a capitalist bank. I was a grande etoile by the time I was in my mid-teens. It was my unusual character and my exceptional footwork. And I brought such intensity to my dramatic roles. Did you see me as Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty? It took three extra courtiers to carry me sleeping off the stage at the end of Act I. People left the theatre crying: I was more popular than Cats.

The Star: Can you tell us about how you defected to the West? Is it true that you flew into the arms of an American businessman after doing 14 fouettés and then a grand jeté over a turnstile at JFK?

Ida Nevasayneva: It was 17, actually and he never knew what hit him. America gave me a royal welcome. I have never regretted my spur-of-the-moment decision. But I still weep sometime for Russia, Russia, the Motherland.