Daria Klimentova - prima ballerina at the English National Ballet

Daria Klimentova

The Czech Republic's best known ballet dancer, Daria Klimentova, has been in Prague recently hosting, as she does every summer, a ballet master class. Born here in the Czech capital, for the last decade she has been a prima ballerina at the prestigious English National Ballet in London. During a break in the master class, Daria Klimentova told me how her career as a dancer began.

"I started when I was 10 years old, but before I did gymnastics, doing flick-flacks and summersaults since I was five. And we had ballet there, one hour a week, and the teacher thought I was talented. She went and spoke to my parents and they thought it was a good idea, because it goes much further than gymnastics. So I did an audition for ballet school and I got in."

Is it difficult for a 10-year-old to be motivated, to want to go every day and practice and practice all the time?

"I was quite an ambitious child I guess, but I didn't like ballet for the first two years. Because when you come from gymnastics and run around and do summersaults and then you go to ballet school and there is just a bar and you do quite small movements first...So I thought it was quite boring in the beginning. But then when we started to learn repertoire, to do the variations it was much more exciting for me."

Is it true that when you first started learning that you had never been to a ballet performance?

"That's true, yes, I saw my first performance after two years at ballet school."

You've worked in Prague here, in South Africa, in Scotland and now you're in London...this could be a really stupid question, but is ballet the same everywhere in the world?

"No, it's not the same everywhere in the world. The level of dancing is different. In South Africa it was a little less...technical, it was more emotional and the company was much smaller than in London. London is much more competitive, it's actually an international company - there are dancers from all over the world and they're really good so you have to work really hard."

What about the system of teaching here in the Czech Republic? Is it similar to what you might find in Britain?

"Well, abroad it's much faster, the process is much faster, you rehearse one role maybe a month, sometimes only for three weeks, then you're on stage and then you dance for maybe five weeks. As a principal you would dance three times a week, but in ballet de cour you would dance every day. But here in the Czech Republic if you do a new role you've got two months for it, which is much slower."

What about teaching of young people? I read the system here was like in Russia.

"It is like a copy of Russia, yes. Everything is the Vagonova school, the technique, it's much slower. The Western school is much faster."

Do you think either of those systems is better than the other?

"I don't think one is better than the other. I think if you combine those two, I think that's the best. And I was lucky enough because I studied that Russian technique and then I went to the West, with the Western technique - I combined that and it worked for me really well."

You had a daughter five or six years ago. Does she do ballet? Is she interested?

"She doesn't do ballet. She wanted to do it when she was about three years old. She said, I want to be a ballerina. Because she liked the tutus, and the crowns and tiaras, make-up. So I said, you have to take lessons. So she went there once and everything was fine and then she went the second time and then she started to cry and said she didn't want to do it anymore. I said, you have to take the lessons, but she said, no I know everything already. So I think she's not going to be a ballerina!"

You live in London but have you taught her Czech?

"She speaks Czech perfectly, yes. I only speak Czech to her. She speaks English and Czech."

Do you get Czech TV?

"I don't get Czech TV but I record lots of programmes here in the Czech Republic and I buy lots of video tapes. I also have my mum, who helps me to look after her and she talks to her in Czech."

Did having a child have any affect or impact on your work at all?

"Yes, I think I got much more confident, and I am able to enjoy it much more than before."

Why would that be?

"Because the priority of life just changed, the most important thing is my daughter, and the rest is just enjoyment...I cannot explain, but I just feel much happier and I just want to dance!"

As I said, you've worked in many different places and now you're in London - do you like living in the UK, and in London in particular?

"On one hand I like it because it's a centre of culture and there're lots of things happening and I love that. But on the other hand I don't like the fact there are so many people, it's overcrowded, the Tube system doesn't work, they're on strike constantly, so that's very stressful and frustrating."

I'm sure your work opens a lot of kind of social doors and you meet a lot of interesting people. I know for instance that you met Princess Diana - I'm curious what kind of impact she made on you.

"Yes, Princess Diana was the patron of our company, so she came to see our shows regularly. Sometimes she would come to our rehearsals and she would even talk to us. Yes, it was great, she was an absolutely great person."

You model clothes for people like Armani and Versace. I must say you're rather slight in build, not like a typical model - do they have to make special clothes for you? I don't mean to make fun, but do you know what I mean?

"Well, I'm definitely not a normal model. They were looking for a dancer who would be dancing and moving in those clothes. So yeah, they had to adjust it a lot - I had lots of pins at the back so it would fit me!"

You come to Prague every summer to teach at this master class - what do you get out of that experience?

"I just love doing it. I do it for the students, I do it for Czech people here. I wanted to open the door here. I wanted to bring teachers here who are still dancers, who are on top of their careers. So yeah, I love doing that, giving to people."

What about the standard of students here - are they good?

"It's every year better and better."

As well as being a ballet dancer you're also a photographer - at the moment in Prague there's an exhibition of yours at the Czech Centre. Where does your interest in photography come from, and what kind of subjects are you most attracted to?

"I think I've been interested in photography since I was about 14 - my dad used to have a camera and I used to borrow it and take some pictures - but nothing serious. It was actually six years ago that my husband gave me a digital camera, then I progressed to a professional digital camera and I'm doing it professionally now."

And what subjects are you most interested in?

"Oh, I love movement, I love the body, I love faces...of course dancers, but normal people as well."

Your husband is English, and I believe you met in a most unusual way.

"Yes, I met him ten years ago when I joined the company. He was on the technical side. And there was one man who was bothering me back stage, and basically he came and he saved me from him. He said, hi, I'm Muppet, and then he disappeared. I started to think about this 'Muppet' a little more seriously after that."

Your husband is here now in Prague - does he speak Czech at all, or has he learned anything?

"He learns a few sentences, a few words, but I don't think he understands."

Can you see yourself dancing for a long time to come, for many more years?

"No, I don't think I will dance for many more years. I'm 35 years old and actually I'm at the end of my career, so I'll be happy if I can do it for another two, three years."

And then what do you imagine?

"Then I want to still continue with the master classes, maybe teach a ballet school - be a ballet mistress, or maybe be a director of some company. Maybe I would like to be a photographer, or I'm interested in teaching Pilates - I have my own studio as well...I quite like to have people working for me."