Excerpts from my interview with Irina:
Why do you enjoy being an accompanist?
I can emotionally say something, but I prefer to be in the shade, off to the side.
How did you learn to play for ballet class, when you had no experience or knowledge about ballet itself?
My friend, Marina, who was an OBT accompanist at the time, was so good to me. She gave me music, the tempo for class, gave me a couple notes about what to play, how to play for class. It should be square…I had no clue! She gave me a couple waltzes, polonaises, mazurkas, polkas, gavottes, for tendus. It wasn' necessary to know the names of steps, but she spent an hour with me explaining. Somehow, after my first class, the director asked me to come again on Saturday. And I came again, and after a couple weeks, she offered me a full time position.
Did you enjoy playing for ballet at first?
Enjoy?? Because my first company class was with James Canfield (OBT's former artistic director), it was so helpful; he explained so much. I played a Russian adagio from my memory. Which he loved. After class I felt how amazing, artistic James was, that i should pay HIM, not the other way around!
How did you learn to be such a good accompanist, with such intuition for which pieces to play for each exercise?
Nobody told me exactly, ‘you have to play this waltz,’ but I watched and watched and watched as the teachers explained each movement. I’d think, ‘this waltz is too lyrical, I have to play more sharper, stronger.’ It came. Three or four years ago someone said, “Irina has natural sense of what music to use for each exercise.” I didn’t understand what they meant, but I do now.
You can play frappe with a 2/4, but if it’s not with an accent, not with a sharpness, it’s not good for frappe.
Does it ever get boring?
You know what? No! I love it. I love to express what I feel playing this music. I feel like nirvana when my music matches the movement. It feels so good. Sometimes I think I didn’t play something right, but mostly I can say I put the right accents in the right places.
Like one teacher used to say, music is 100% of our class. Some teachers feel it’s 50 or 75%, but I believe it is 100% music. I feel so happy when I feel I match my music with the exercises. And if I add passion there, oh my goodness, it’s happiness. Even sometimes if you make wrong notes, it’s ok. Great masters make wrong notes too. But if you have passion, nobody even remembers.
Do you enjoy watching the dancers during class?
I love to watch them, I love to watch them.
And students, I get to watch them grow. I love to see that in the beginning, they could not do one pirouette, two pirouettes, but by end of year, they do it easily. I see that. When they do big waltz at the end of class, I do something special for the dancers. I suspend the music, especially for the men, to help them jump higher. Like a breath, give them air. It’s so good when you do that together WITH them, not faster, not slower, but like suspend your music and give them the ability to do bigger jumps. I love that.
Who's your favorite composer?
Bach, Bach, Bach. Piano music, cantatas, concertos... I love it.