Oliver Marcus Starpov practically grew up at The Royal Danish Ballet. He is a dancer in the company, and tomorrow his very first piece as a choreographer is going on stage, it’s the premiere of Swan Lake. He is only 19 years old, but already his visual expression is strong and coherent, he has a very personal style and is reflected in his way of talking about his work, both as a dancer, choreographer and photographer.
Earlier this season Oliver was asked by Nikolaj Hübbe if he wanted to choreograph a part of the new production of Swan Lake, and let’s face it; being given the chance to choreograph on a ballet like that is quite an accomplishment this early in his career, and not a task that should be taken lightly.
Oliver describes the transition from dancing with the other dancers to deciding how they should look on stage as a barrier that needed to be broken down. Naturally, he was nervous before the first rehearsal, but the other dancers were open to trying out a lot of different things, and he was soon comfortable with his role as the choreographer.
Oliver’s relationship with ballet started early and he begun his training with The Royal Danish Ballet in second grade. The company is often described as a family and Oliver explains that it’s actually not far from the truth. Many of the dancers have known each other since the early years of ballet school, and they have practically grown up together. They are taken out of school when they start, so they have both regular classes and ballet classes together from a very young age, but not everyone makes it into the company.
When you begin your career so early you are, as Oliver explains, not really conscious about the decision or what it means in the long run, you just enjoy being able to dance every day. Then there comes a time when you realise that you can actually make a living from it, and the real choice lies ahead of you. It’s not a life you want to choose unless you are extremely dedicated, and Oliver underlines that it is simply too hard to do it halfway.
When talking to Oliver, one thing that really impresses me is how he relates to his own work. The things he is doing is something that is quite out of the ordinary, but he has such a calm and relaxed attitude towards it. When he was in kindergarten one of the teachers had said to him that he was a young boy with an old soul, something he didn’t understand the meaning of at the time, but has come to make more and more sense to him.
It feels like he has a lot of experience although he doesn’t, and he says that people probably get that impression because he is so confident. He is comfortable in his artistic expression and very humble.
Having gruelling ballet classes six days a week, dancing in the different productions and doing an endless row of rehearsals must mean that days off are spent doing as little as possible, or as Oliver answered when I asked him: Sleeping till two, having a late breakfast and just stay in bed ordering takeout. Sounds like a pretty perfect Sunday if you ask me. At least they don’t need to go to the gym like the rest of us.
I really admire his take on things, and the way he reflects about his own work. When I was going to photograph him for this interview I asked him to take me to one of his favourite locations at the ballet, and after having talked to him it all made a lot more sense. He brought me to a dusty, dark attic where we played with shadows and light, and some of the things he is visually attracted to are just that. The mysterious and weird, shadows and light. Having a model that has a clear vision of the shapes that are being created makes my end of the bargain very pleasurable.
One of the reasons that Oliver caught my attention was his instagram feed @allmyfriendsaresuperheroes, long before I knew he was a dancer in the company. He is not doing photography outside of that context, but his pictures still have a very strong, personal expression that really draws you in. He explains that the pictures are very personal to him, and not simply put there because he wanted to photograph something beautiful. Oliver underlined that he is a very visual person, and that he relates the way he photographs to the way he choreographs, and in both fields he navigates from what feels natural and intuitive to him, which must be why his visual expression is so clear.
With the talent that Oliver has, combined with the ambition to be both a dancer and a choreographer, I’m sure that this is only the beginning of a great career and I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us.