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Bulgarian Dancers In Berlin

The FriedrichstadtPalast in Berlin is Europe's most modern show palace with the largest theater stage in the world.

Its ballet company consists of 60 dancers from 22 different countries, such as Mariya Kovacheva and Zaharia Zahariev from Bulgaria. Mariya Kovacheva, 29, has danced in the ballet company of the FriedrichstadtPalast since 2001. Zahari Zahariev, 25, has joined the ballet ensemble in 2009.



Hello Mariya and Zahari and thank you for allowing us this interview with you.
What part of Bulgaria are you from?

Mariya: We are both from Sofia.

How old were you when you first started dancing?

Mariya: I was five; my first performance was in the kitchen in front of my parents (laughs). I then went to the National School for Dance Art in Sofia when I was eight.

Zahari: I started when I was 15, which is very late. I had only done children's theatre up to then and had no experience in dancing whatsoever. One of my teachers in the theatre course thought I was talented and suggested I should go to an audition in the National School for Dance Art in Sofia. So I went to the audition without any expectations and they accepted me which was amazing. That was when I started dancing.

When did you decide that you wanted to pursue a career as a professional dancer?

Mariya: I come from an artist family, my aunt was a dancer in the State Opera in Sofia and my mother was an actress. I have always been in love with ballet, that's why I was so excited that I was accepted at the National School for Dance Art. It was then clear to me that I would want to try to become a dancer. My mother was excited about the decision but my father was not. He had a serious talk with me to tell me about all the disadvantages the life of a dancer could have: a tormented body, a lack of private life, and many sacrifices. Once he had done that and I was still convinced to pursue my goal he completely supported me and has been very proud of me since.

Zahari: Until I was 15 I had no idea what classical ballet meant. Once I was part of the experimental class of the National School for Dance Art with other boys that had just started dancing, I realized how much I liked it and put my heart into it. I worked like crazy for two years at the National School for Dance Art. At 17 I went to a ballet seminar in Varna for two weeks with famous choreographers from all over the world. Tadeusz Matacz, Director of the John Cranko School in Stuttgart/Germany, saw me there and offered me a full scholarship for a three-year training at the school. The offer was very tempting, so I went to the John Cranko School in Stuttgart. And my decision for a professional career was taken.

Can you describe to us what it was like growing up in Bulgaria, were there many dancing prospects there?

Zahari: I only lived in Bulgaria until I was 17, but I had a wonderful childhood. Changing school at 15 and going to the National School for Dance Art was obviously quite a big step for me. My original plans were completely different; I wanted to become a doctor (laughs). But once I started dancing, I completely focused on it. We spent the whole day at school, first school lessons, and then dancing classes. So I had less and less time for my friends outside the dance school. But we all felt like a family at the National School for Dance Art so I was very happy.

Mariya: My childhood was beautiful, even though it was not a normal childhood and far from being easy. I got up at six, then drove one hour to school, had my school lessons. After that I put on my toe shoes and had 3-4 hours of ballet training. It was definitely hard work but I loved it: I could do what I most loved which was dancing, and at the same time could share it with other children. And that's still the most important thing to me, to be able to share my passion with others.

How many years of training did it take to become a dancer?

Mariya: It took me nine years of training. And then it's a lifetime of keeping up and trying to improve.

Zahari: I only had five years of training. My further development took place in the ballet companies I was part of.

What is your best attribute in dance?

Mariya: Personality is very important in a theatre like the FriedrichstadtPalast. You need to express something. If you merely move, it is step aerobics and no dance. We do show ballet here in the FriedrichstadtPalast which is very versatile. We can all contribute with our different skills and interpretations. But obviously the classical ballet foundation is very important; otherwise we would only be actors.

Zahari: I would also have to say that apart from your dancing skills, personality is very important. Our ballet company consists of 60 dancers from more than 20 different countries. That's what makes it so wonderful to be working here. But at the same time you need be able to express and present yourself on stage, especially on a huge stage like ours; otherwise the audience won't notice you.

What problems or challenges have you faced during your time as a dancer?

Mariya: You are always your biggest challenge yourself. You need to work on yourself every day to keep your level, to improve it, to stretch your limits. I appreciate competition because it motivates me. If someone does or knows something better than me, I try to gain strength from this other person, for my own improvement.

Zahari: I cannot say I have faced many problems yet. I know I'm still young and things have gone almost too smoothly up to now. I just love my job and completely enjoy it.

Have you visited any other countries on behalf of dancing?

Zahari: I have been living in Germany since I was 17, first in Stuttgart for three years. After finishing my studies, I worked at the Landestheater in Eisenach for four years. In 2009 I finally came to the FriedrichstadtPalast.

Mariya: After finishing my studies, I spent a year in Aruba dancing in a show ballet (laughs). That was great fun. Then I decided to go back to Europe and came to the FriedrichstadtPalast in Berlin.

When did you start your career at the FriedrichstadtPalast?

Mariya: I became part of the ballet company of the FriedrichstadtPalast in 2001. Bulgarian friends had recommended it to me. They knew the shows and the incredible stage and thought I would love to be working here. And they were right. I have been here for ten years; I guess that says a lot. Our ballet company, the impressive shows, the sheer size of the stage, and the excited audience that keeps coming every night, are all very special.

Zahari: It was always my dream to dance in the FriedrichstadtPalast eventually. I knew their shows and I loved the show dance they perform here. So in 2009 I finally went to an audition and was incredibly happy and proud when they accepted me. I had never danced in such a big company before and I was quite touched by the harmonic atmosphere within the group. There is a sense of cooperation, not only among the dancers but also from the directory. It's a great pleasure to be part of this ballet company. So now I can officially say that one of the dreams of my lifetime has already come true.

And you perform up to eight times per week, how do you do it?

Zahari: You need a lot of discipline, passion and joy for what you do, and then it works. I just enjoy dancing and performing here in front of almost 2000 people every night and don't really think about the hard work.

Mariya: I think, I need to disagree here. You're not a robot, you can't possibly enjoy the hard training or rehearsals every day and 100%. Once you're on stage it's true, you're mesmerized and forget about everything else. But apart from the stage you face difficulties like tiredness, temporary pain, etc. Then its discipline, respect for your colleagues and the love for the job that keeps you going.

How many hours per day do you spend training?

Mariya: It's about quality and not about quantity (laughs).

Zahari: We have one hour of classical ballet training every day from ten to eleven. Then we rehearse for the current show 'Yma' and sometimes have workshops etc. for upcoming shows. At two we have a break of about four hours. Around six we come back to the FriedrichstadtPalast, do the warming up for half an hour, get our show make-up and hair done. And then it's finally show time.

How well did you settle in Berlin?

Mariya: To be honest the first two years were difficult. I had left Bulgaria and everything that I loved and had to face a new language, culture and mentality. In addition, not only my body but also my mind had to get used to the hard training here. But now I feel like I have two homes, one in Bulgaria and one in Berlin. All my friends and colleagues here now are like family to me. And what I love about Berlin is that every district is different and there is always something to explore. You have performances, art and culture around every corner.

Zahari: I went to Stuttgart when I was 17 and still felt like a child. The first months were very tough. I didn't know the language and felt quite alone, being so far away from my family. I kept calling my parents. Then my mother said I should just give it a try, for my own sake. And that I could always go back home if I didn't want to stay in Germany. So I did try. And once I had learned the language and got to know my classmates better, it all went much smoother and I started really enjoying it. After that experience coming to Berlin was just wonderful and easy, it feels like home.

What advice would you give to young, aspiring dancers?

Zahari: Take care of your body and be self-disciplined.

Mariya: You need to be absolutely sure you really want to live the life of a dancer. Dance training as a child basically is torture; you give up your childhood. And there is always the possibility that your dream of becoming a professional dancer will not come true. If you know that and are still in love with dancing, go for it.

What plans do you have for the future?

Mariya: I just finished a distance teaching course in dance pedagogics at the State Musical Academy 'Pancho Vladigerov' in Sofia. The course took five years and I am proud I managed to do it next to my job. I will soon start another course to learn directing, which will take two more years. For the exams, I will need to go to Sofia. I hope to be able to dance for another five to six years. But at the same time I want to be prepared for the future.

Zahari: I would like to stay in the world of art, once my career as a dancer is over. Though I hope this will be in the very distant future. I'm quite a good singer and would love to combine singing and dancing.

Mariya: You could combine the two when you live under the bridge (both laugh).

Quest Bulgaria would like to thank all those who have participated in our interviews from the FriedrichstadtPalast.
If you are interested in visiting Berlin and the FriedrichstadtPalast remember flights from Sofia start from around 100 Euros and with just over a 2 hour flight is a great city to visit for a weekend break from Bulgaria.