Cupcakes & Conversation with Vanessa Zahorian, Principal, San Francisco Ballet

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Cupcakes & Conversation with Vanessa Zahorian, Principal, San Francisco Ballet

ballet dancer in white tutu

Vanessa Zahorian and Taras Domitro in Pepita's Le Corsaire. © Erik Tomasson

What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning ?

What motivates me at 8am to wake up on a Monday is dancing itself. Knowing that I get to work in a job that consists of my passion and love -ballet – and getting to dance every day as my job is motivation to get up, even on a Monday! Also I would say knowing that I have Davit Karapetyan, my husband, beside me when I wake up and a healthy family across the miles on the east coast. 

Why ballet?

Because I love it inside and out and want to explore it to its fullest every day with its challenges. Perfection. We can always strive to be better every day!

What are you looking forward to dancing this year ?

I would like to dance Juliet in Romeo & Juliet again!

Who would you most like to dance with & what would you dance ?

Of course I would most like to dance with Davit Karapetyan my husband, as my Romeo in Romeo & Juliet!

Vanessa Zahorian and Joan Boada in Balanchine's The Four Temperaments. Choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust; Photo © Erik Tomasson

If you could dance anywhere in the world (not only in a theatre), where would you dance ?

If I could dance anywhere in the world it would have to be London, England and in The Royal Ballet!

How do you prepare your pointe shoes ?

I prepare my pointe shoes by taking out the nails from the shank and bending it to mould my arch and give flexibility by bending it other way too. Also flexing the releve so I can roll through my foot for jumping and a nice smooth releve passé. I will then super glue the tip and shank about a 1/4 of shank to give extra support under arch.

What is your daily routine at the moment ?

Wake up at 8am, drink a glass of water with tea, make oatmeal or lavash* bread with butter and honey to start off my day and take my multi vitamin. Then wash face and put make up on, then look at emails before leaving for ballet at 9am to put on my outfit for the day and stretch and lay on floor for 30 minutes before class starts at 10am. Class is an hour and fifteen minutes during which I drink water throughout to hydrate. Then I have rehearsals from 11:30-1:30 or until 2:30 then I finish and eat lunch and then whatever I want to do for the rest of my day. Then dinner at 6 or 7pm, then rest at night with my husband, sleeping at 10:45pm and then my next day starts. I have been so tired these past couple of days getting back into the swing of rehearsing so I’ve been tired and going to sleep at 10:45pm, but usually it’s 12 for me to go to sleep at night. 8 hours is a perfect amount of sleep at night!

What do you eat during the course of a typical working day ?

I don’t eat a lot during day while I’m working because it makes me feel tired and sick if I have to then go and dance hard. So I’ll make sure to drink lots of fluids and juice for natural sugar and crackers or croissant with ham and a granola bar. It depends how much rehearsal I have. I don’t eat too much artificial sugar during the day because I’ll crash and want to sleep. 

ballet dancer on pointe

Vanessa Zahorian in Tomasson's Romeo & Juliet. (© Erik Tomasson

You can ask six famous people to dinner – who would you invite ?

1. Audrey Hepburn

2. Audrey Tatou

3. Sarah Jessica Parker

4. Meryl Streep

5. Will Smith

6. Sandra Bullock

What would surprise people about you ?

I love listening to rap music, R&B, and pop music to chill and relax before a show!

Who inspired you to dance ?

Tina LeBlanc inspired me to dance professionally!

What is your best piece of advice ?

My best piece of advice would be to never give up and shoot for your dreams and wishes. Be patient and go for it!

How do you prepare in the hours before a show ?

I prepare before a show by chilling with my R&B, rap, and pop music and eat dinner and shower and sleep. I need downtime to just relax the body and need at least five minutes to elevate my legs.

ballet dancer as Black Swan

Vanessa Zahorian in Tomasson's Swan Lake. © Erik Tomasson

Which role has tested you the most & how ?

Swan Lake has tested me the most in finding my inner energy and inner balance. Finding the five energy points in the white swan was huge, and finding ways to incorporate Gyrotonics breathing and expansion of my upper body and arms. It is the most exhilarating ballet to dance! The process in the studio, and then to the stage was amazing! I loved portraying the story and being the swan. White and black are so different and possess such different energy qualities!

If you were asked to design your own ballet costume, what would you create ?

If I were to design a costume I would incorporate light material, a long floaty skirt with sheerness to it, light pink colour, and the top would have mesh 3/4 sleeves in light pink and the material would be Lycra; stretchy and not slippery. This would be a nice Julietesque costume! Easy and able to do flip lifts with a guy but yet classicalness movement and quality.

What do you look for in a dance partner ?

I look for a nice person to communicate with in partner, to work things out and support each other. The key is to not become frustrated if lifts don’t work, but rather, practice them. Help each other. Trust is key!

What is your favourite quote ?

“You must be the change you wish to see in the future!”

Do you have a ‘signature step’ – one that comes naturally to you ?

Flicking my leg at barre before I start class on both sides from first.

A phrase I use far too often is … ?

I say “whatever” all of the time!

What’s been your best on-stage moment so far ?

When Davit Karapetyan proposed to me during the bows after Romeo & Juliet. He was Romeo and I was Juliet!

Here is a clip taken from that moment :

In terms of your ballet career, where would you like to be in a year from now ?

In a year from now I would like to be doing what I’m doing now, which is growing and learning and being challenged dramatically. I love dancing classical ballets but would also like to be choreographed on more. 

ballet dancer on stage

Vanessa Zahorian in Pepita's Le Corsaire. (© Erik Tomasson

If you could dance in front of anyone, who would it be and what makes them special to you?

I would like to dance in front of my first ballet teacher in the near future, Marcia Dale Weary. She is special because she showed me the world of ballet. She disciplined me and showed me what it takes.

Watch Vanessa

Further reading *Lavash Bread 




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7 Responses to Cupcakes & Conversation with Vanessa Zahorian, Principal, San Francisco Ballet

  1. Dancing Branflake August 11, 2011 at 8:16 pm #

    That was them?! I remember that proposal, I even blogged about it! Wow!

    And I love the question about the food. Makes me realize how important food is to your body when you have to push it that hard.

  2. Couture Carrie August 12, 2011 at 1:47 pm #

    Gorgeous pics and interview!
    Love her dinner party guest selections!


  3. jo August 12, 2011 at 6:18 pm #

    wow what an amazing best stage moment 😀

  4. Austin Dance August 12, 2011 at 9:24 pm #

    What a lovely lady inside and out! Hope Vanessa gets to dance Juliet again, especially with such a heartwarming back story!

  5. Ballet News August 14, 2011 at 1:52 pm #

    @Dancing Branflake – yes, that was them !

    @Couture Carrie me too!

    @Jo I agree !

    @Austin Dance very true!

  6. Audrey Allure August 14, 2011 at 6:06 pm #

    Such beautiful photos + great interview!

  7. Val August 15, 2011 at 4:15 pm #

    Amazing photos as always! I love her favorite quote!!! “You must be the change you wish to see in the future!” ~Val