Pressures on Pointe: Talking to San Francisco Ballet Principal Dancers, Davit Karapetyan and Vanessa Zahorian

San Francisco Ballet power couple  Davit Karapetyan and Vanessa Zahorian Karapetyan once ended an emotional and sad "Romeo & Juliet"  ballet  with tears of happiness, when after the performance Davit dropped on one knee, leaving it for the audience of 3,000 figure out what was happening. I got to spend an inspiring two hours talking with talented, tall, dark and handsome perfectionist Davit and his miniature and elegant partner and wife Vanessa.

Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetian. Photo by  Lauri Levenfeld .

Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetian. Photo by Lauri Levenfeld.

Juliet: Tell us an interesting fact about your ballet background?

Davit: I started Ballet at the age of 14 years old and most kids start at 5 years old.  I won gold medal in the Armenian Contemporary Competition just a year after I started Ballet at 15 years old.  Nobody knew my name and I danced a piece with a chair. From that day on everybody knew me as the guy who danced with the chair.

Vanessa: I danced and lived in St. Petersburg Russia when I was 16 years old for a year. I won a scholarship as the first American female recipient from the Prince of Monaco to be an apprentice at the Kirov Ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Juliet: Davit you started dancing ballet at the age of fourteen, after dancing folkloric dance what made you switch into classical ballet? Was it an easy transition?

Davit: The athleticism of Ballet enticed me to switch and Ballet seemed more challenging. I like challenging myself and that's why I wanted to do Ballet. Was it an easy transition? It wasn't easy because when I started doing ballet the class I was in was five years ahead of me and I had a lot of catching up to do. It was my age group but they were in ballet for five years. I worked very hard for one year. I sacrificed a lot of time in the studio to work on my technique. It wasn't easy but working hard will make you get there.

Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetian. Photo by  Lauri Levenfeld .

Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetian. Photo by Lauri Levenfeld.

Juliet: Vanessa do you see a difference in the training technique between American and Russia ballet?

Vanessa: There is a more controlled way and proper technique way of dancing the Russian technique. Formal and exact. The American technique has more freedom and movement and bending. Over-exaggerated positions and really crossed legs. Epaulments.

Vanessa Zahorian. Photo by  Lauri Levenfeld .

Vanessa Zahorian. Photo by Lauri Levenfeld.

Juliet:  If your style was a dance what would it be?

D&V: We are both technical and lyrical dancers combined. 

Vanessa: Specialty is powerhouse, strong technician, fearless. I also have a very lyrical quality to my dancing. 

Davit: lyrical dancer and powerful.

Juliet: Costumes are such a big part of ballet performances. As principal dancers do you get to say what works and what doesn’t work in the costume for the performance?

D&V: Yes absolutely we have to feel comfortable in the costumes too.  And to look good visually for ourselves.

Juliet: Do they follow your advice?

D&V: Yes they do. Costume people have been working with us since we began dancing for  San Francisco Ballet so they know our bodies very well and what will work for us.

Juliet: Have you ever experienced difficulty during a pas de deux lift because of the costume?

D&V: Yes all of the time.  Costumes can be heavy, uncomfortable. Beautiful to look at but the men have challenges to lift such a heavy costume.  The costumes need to be sewn in the back of the girls tutu in order to not come apart when doing lots of pas de deux work or a long flowing skirt that needs to be sewn.  The guys fingers can easily get caught large in between the fastenings and tear the costume  etc…

Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetian. Photo by  Lauri Levenfeld .

Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetian. Photo by Lauri Levenfeld.

Juliet: What is your favorite costume?

Vanessa: Romeo and Juliet baby doll dress longer and flowing.  It is easy to dance in this costume. I love the Balcony dress and Onegin costume -the mirror pas de deux. 

Davit: 2nd act Giselle costume.

Juliet: And what is your favorite ballet part ?

Vanessa:  “Juliet” in Romeo and Juliet and “Tatiana” in Onegin.  I also like to dance whatever it is that I’m dancing at the moment but those are my all time favorites.  

Davit: Whatever I dance in the moment becomes my favorite part.

Juliet: I am pretty sure most of the folks who love to see ballet performances often wonder what it is like behind that curtain. Can you share some of the things you or other dancers do for good luckbefore anyperformance? 

D&V: We both cross ourselves religiously . Vanessa kisses the ground with fingers and Davit claps the ground twice.  Pray.  Some of the corps dancers come together in a circle and link arms and say something as a group to have fun and be united etc…

Davit: I like to wish all of the members in the same performance with me "Merde" which is the “Good Luck” term with dancers. 

Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetian. Photo by  Lauri Levenfeld .

Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetian. Photo by Lauri Levenfeld.

Juliet : Do you ever talk to each other during the performance? 

D&V: yes we say small things to each other to remind the other of a correction, or timing, or to just say hi and love you...

Juliet: If you were a muse for a fashion designer, who would it be?

Davit : Giorgio Armani and John Varvatos
Vanessa: Chanel and Christian Dior. Hard to pick just one.  Christian Louboutin.

Juliet: I am fascinated with the fact that the two of you, lovebirds danced Tomasson's Romeo & Juliet in 2010 and after one of the performances Davit proposed on stage . Davit you must be a true romantic at heart is that so?

Vanessa: Yes obviously he is. After professing his love in front of the whole audience of 3,000 audience members and coming up with the idea to tell our director and to organize everything so that I would have no clue. I would say he is a true romantic...

Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetian. Photo by  Lauri Levenfeld .

Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetian. Photo by Lauri Levenfeld.

Juliet: Davit were you nervous about what her answer will be? 

Davit: YES! I was quite sure that it was going to be yes, but I was still nervous. 

Juliet: Was it a complete surprise? Vanessa what  did you feel at that moment?  

Vanessa: It was a complete surprise. I was in such shock and didn’t know what was happening that I lost my words when Davit asked me and got down on his knee in front of everyone. I couldn’t believe it was in front of everyone and I had no clue.  I stepped forward to look at the ring and just about fell over trying to walk.  I’m used to dancing gracefully onstage in a rehearsed manner and this was a complete surprise and it was written all over my face as everyone could see.  I wanted to jump up and down but I needed to keep my composure in front of the audience so when the curtain came down I was able to really react! I was so happy, excited, elated. This was one of the best days of my life.  I was so happy that Davit would think of something like this and that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me and to profess that in front of everyone. How romantic is that… I was so happy that he thought about this whole thing and asked our director for his permission and the backstage crew knew etc… It was all a big secret. That is so exciting for a woman.  

Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetian. Photo by  Lauri Levenfeld .

Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetian. Photo by Lauri Levenfeld.

Juliet: What is a future goal for Davit and Vanessa in terms of dancing ?

Davit : I can see myself directing a school or Ballet company.  I’d like to create something around the dance world that has never been done. I’m not 100% sure what it will be, directing, film, dance, photography, something like that.
Vanessa: I’d like to work with chidren in a school or open my own school.  I’d like to teach and coach and to pass on my knowledge and expertise as a dancer from my former teachers.  I’d like to travel and stage Ballets all over the world of Ballet.

Vanessa Zahorian in Alexander McQueen dress. Photo by  Lauri Levenfeld .

Vanessa Zahorian in Alexander McQueen dress. Photo by Lauri Levenfeld.

Juliet: What can you tell young aspiring dancers today?

D&V: Be patient and live each day in the moment.  Don’t try to grow up too fast because in the blink of an eye the Ballet career will be over.  There will be good and bad days in the Ballet studio but to not get frustrated and give up but to say that tomorrow is another day and to try again.  The studio process is just as important as the performance.  Training everyday and hard work pays off.  Working hard everyday in the studio will reap the rewards.  Focus on yourself and not get distracted by someone else's career or path.  Try to be positive.  Also try to have fun.  No matter what life shouldn’t be so hard or a struggle but try to enjoy it because it does go fast.  Try to Smile.  

Vanessa Zahorian in Alexander McQueen dress. Photo by  Lauri Levenfeld .

Vanessa Zahorian in Alexander McQueen dress. Photo by Lauri Levenfeld.