The ballerina and the violinist

David Mead looks ahead with Svetlana Zakharova to Pas de Deux for Toes and Fingers, a unique evening of dance and music featuring her and her violinist husband, Vadim Repin, at this year’s Hong Kong Arts Festival.

They are undoubtedly two of the finest artists of their generation. Svetlana Zakharova (斯維特蘭娜•薩卡洛娃), prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Ballet and étoile at La Scala is a dancer of grace, poetry and emotion. Her husband, Vadim Repin, the youngest ever winner of the Queen Elizabeth Competition at the age of 17, has performed with distinction with the world’s greatest orchestras. The late Yehudi Menuhin once described him as “the best and most perfect violinist I’ve ever heard.” Married since 2011, now this husband and wife team come together in an evening of music and dance: Pas de Deux for Toes and Fingers (足尖情弦).

When it became known that Vadim and I were a couple, we started to get a lot of proposals from presenters to perform together, explains Svetlana. “But it was not so simple. We just didn’t have the time to create such a programme, and so we refused for many years. The idea didn’t leave us, though, and eventually we decided to take the risk. The idea was, of course, that I would dance and Vadim play but for us it was a very special project, more than simply music and dance. It would let everybody know what we have in our hearts.”

Svetlana Zakharova in The Dying SwanPhoto Pierluigi Abbondanza
Svetlana Zakharova in The Dying Swan
Photo Pierluigi Abbondanza

The first performance of Pas de Deux for Toes and Fingers was at the 2014 Trans-Siberian Festival of the Arts, where Vadim was the Artistic Director. “It was our first experience of working together, but it has been very successful,” says Svetlana. “I always listen really closely when Vadim plays. I get inspiration from his performance. I try to catch his mood, his state of mind.”

Although Toes and Fingers has been performed several times since then, finding dates to perform and rehearse is not easy. “Usually we rehearse separately, then together just before the show. When we go somewhere with the project, we also plan some rehearsals with the orchestra and, of course, do a full dress rehearsal.”

Besides her roles in the classics, Zakharova has not been slow to explore the new challenges and fresh takes and technique offered by contemporary ballet, as in her recent Amore programme in London. The music and choreography selected for Toes and Fingers is certainly wide-ranging.

Svetlana Zakharova and guests in La ronde des lutins by Johan KobborgPhoto Pierluigi Abbondanza
Svetlana Zakharova and guests in La ronde des lutins by Johan Kobborg
Photo Pierluigi Abbondanza

“Each piece, music or dance, has been chosen according to our tastes. The intention was always to create a show that combines classical and contemporary choreographies. I have five pieces, completely different from one another,” explains Svetlana. Will she perform in all of them? “Absolutely!” she exclaims.

The choreography will be largely unfamiliar to most audiences. “I wanted a diverse program to fully express myself; to make people understand the sort of dance I work with much today. Contemporary choreographies help to open new possibilities. Practically, they don’t have any rules. They have no frames and no boundaries, and this means more freedom for movement.”

Svetlana Zakharova and Vadim RepinPhoto Pierluigi Abbondanza
Svetlana Zakharova and Vadim Repin
Photo Pierluigi Abbondanza

The programme also includes The Dying Swan, though, a ballet with enormous meaning for Svetlana. “I always get ready for this piece very carefully. For me, the Swan is the symbol of Russian classical ballet. It has been danced by all the greatest dancers: Anna Pavlova, Galina Ulanova, Maja Plisetskaya and many others. It is such an emotional piece. It cannot be performed without bringing your soul into it. It actually doesn’t have specific choreography, so, every time I dance The Dying Swan, there is a moment of improvisation.

Pas de Deux for Toes and Fingers has been a huge success wherever it has been performed. Is there a chance that audiences in Britain will be able to see it one day? “We are thinking about it,” says Svetlana. “I am sure that in a very near future we will show our beloved project also in London.”

Planned programme for Pas de Deux for Toes and Fingers:
Variations on The Carnival of Venice by Paganini.
The Adagio from Raymonda by Asami Maki, director of Asami Maki Ballet, Tokyo; music by Alexander Glazunov.
Second and third movement of Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor.
Plus Minus Zero by Mariinksy Ballet choreographer and dancer Vladimir Varnava, to Fratres by Arvo Pärt
Tzigane by Maurice Ravel.
Revelation by Japanese independent choreographer Motoko Hirayama; music by John Williams.
Divertimento for two violins and orchestra by Igor Frolov.
The Dying Swan by Mikhail Fokine; music by Camille Saint-Saëns.
Estrellita by Manual Ponce/Jascha Heifetz.
La ronde des lutins, choreography by Johan Kobborg, to Antonio Bazzini’s Scherzo Fantastico.

Svetlana Zakharova’s dance partners on stage will be Vladimir Varnava, and Bolshoi Ballet principal dancers Vycheslav Lopatin and Mikhail Lobukhin.

Pas de Deux for Toes and Fingers with Svetlana Zakharova and Vadim Repin is at the Grand Theatre, HK Cultural Centre as part of the Hong Kong Festival of the Arts; February 27 & 28, 2018. Visit for details.

More great dance at this year’s HKAF:
Ballett Zürich (蘇黎世芭蕾舞團) in Christian Spuck’s beautiful and tragic tale of Anna Karenina (安娜•卡列妮娜).
American Ballet Theatre (美國芭蕾舞劇院) in Alexei Ratmansky’s Whipped Cream (芭蕾小忌廉).
Saburo Teshigawara | KARAS (勅使川原三郎| 渡烏舞團) in Tristan and Isolde (崔斯坦與伊索德)
FLA.CO.MEN: In praise of Israel Galván (佛蘭明高大師:伊斯雷爾•加凡之頌)
The Hong Kong Jockey Club Contemporary Dance Series (香港賽馬會當代舞蹈平台)
On Identity: Asia Pacific Dance Platform (身份面面觀:亞太舞蹈平台)
Full details at