Artist Spotlight: Ruslan Mukhambetkaliyev

A native of Kazakhstan, Ruslan Mukhambetkaliyev danced in professional ballet companies around the world before landing in Pittsburgh as one of PBT’s newest corps de ballet members. His experience dancing such timeless ballets as The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, and Don Quixote across many different countries and cultures has helped prepare him to dance the classics in PBT’s 2013-14 season.

Ruslan took his first ballet lessons when he was 8 years old to learn the basics, but he considers age 10 and on as his official initiation to serious dance training.

“I think I started to become more serious [about dancing professionally] when I was 15,” Ruslan said.

He studied ballet at the Almaty Academy in Kazakhstan from 1996 until 2004. Since then, he has danced for companies worldwide and toured across the globe to perform. Ruslan was a soloist with the Moscow City Ballet and a principal with the Russian National Ballet, and he danced with American companies including the Cincinnati Ballet and Tulsa Ballet before arriving in Pittsburgh.

“I like everything here [in Pittsburgh]. Everything is something new for me,” Ruslan said. “I like the process of working, and there’s something new every day.”

Also helping Ruslan get settled into his new home is his cousin Nurlan Abougaliev, a principal dancer with PBT.

“It’s really good that I have Nurlan. He’s family, and it gives me more peace of mind. He gives me a lot of help,”he  said.

Throughout his professional career, Ruslan has performed major roles in ballets including The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, Giselle, Cinderella, The Nutcracker, Don Quixote and more – roles that have prepared him for the mix of classic and contemporary works found in PBT’s current season.

Ruslan’s first performance with PBT in An Evening of Twyla Tharp proved to be a memorable experience.

“We worked really hard for about eight weeks to prepare our bodies and build up the stamina to perform In The Upper Room,” he said.

Ruslan has been preparing for PBT’s production of The Nutcracker since October. He has performed many different versions of this timeless ballet throughout the world, including performances in Russia, Poland, Germany and the United Kingdom, as well as in cities throughout the United States. With its wide range of inventive characters and choreography, Ruslan is finding many new surprises to learn in PBT’s own Pittsburgh-inspired version of the holiday classic.

He has been learning nine different parts that he will be dancing in various performances of The Nutcracker this December. Some of his roles include the Pirate, Spanish and Russian dancers, Party Guests, the Sugar Plum cavalier, and the nephew. His favorite so far is the Sugar Plum pas de deux.

PBT Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr’s production of The Nutcracker requires Ruslan to learn more roles at one time than he ever has before.

“I love to learn. You have to be quick because you learn all of the different parts very quickly,” he said.

Ruslan is looking forward to all of the upcoming ballets this season. He has experience dancing Swan Lake and Don Quixote, both of which are a part of PBT’s current season. These pieces remain such classics throughout the years because of their unforgettable stories, choreography, and music, according to Ruslan.

“They’re really beautiful ballets,” he said.

Ruslan has danced the role of Siegfried in Swan Lake more than 80 times in his career, but every time he steps onstage, it’s a new and different performance.

“In every performance, you have adrenaline before the show,” he said. “You cannot dance the same performance twice…It may be the same ballet, but I’ve never danced the same performance twice.”

Ruslan enjoys this season’s contemporary pieces as well, in which he will have the opportunity to learn new works. He particularly enjoyed learning the intense, powerhouse choreography of In the Upper Room as part of An Evening of Twyla Tharp, and he is excited to learn new choreography in PBT’s March mixed repertory performance, 3×3.

“I like contemporary, I want to dance it more,” Ruslan said.

With the season underway, Ruslan is appreciative of the company and the learning experiences he has had so far.

“This is the ballet world—every day you learn something new,” he said.