KOIBIRD goes to ballet school with Isabella McGuire Mayes
It’s a fact that most little girls grow up wanting to be a ballerina. For Isabella McGuire Mayes that feeling never went away. “I remember always being in love with classical music and it ignited something in me, that feeling of just needing to dance,” she tells KOIBIRD. Dancing from age two, taking lessons at age 9 and moving to Russia at 15 alone to train at the prestigious Vaganova Ballet Academy in St Petersburg, it’s clear that she’s always been dedicated to her craft. Since graduating, McGuire Mayes has been a soloist of The Mikhailovsky Ballet and Eifman Ballet and is now a freelance dancer, teacher (you may already know her from her Instagram @balletwithisabella) and producer of ballet events in the UK. A Londoner born and bred (well, until aged 15), McGuire Mayes is lucky enough to say she knows St Petersburg almost as well as her hometown, citing La Terrassa as the best place to get a cocktail with a blanket and view. Her experience of living in Russia, as well as her love of culture, travel and of course, dance, made her an easy choice of model for the AW20 Eastern Bloc collection.
For the shoot, which features pieces from Polish designer Magda Butrym, Georgian labels Anouki, George Keburia and Matériel Tbilisi, as well as Ukranian brand Chakshyn, it was important for KOIBIRD to inject character, flair and a sense of humour in order to bring these pieces to life. Welcome to the show, it’s ‘Never Boring.’
“FOR OBVIOUS REASONS, I LOVE THE MARIINSKY THEATRE. YOU CAN FEEL THE WEIGHT OF HISTORY WHEN YOU WALK BACKSTAGE.”
When did you first know you wanted to be a ballerina?
I started when I was 2 years old and began seriously training with a Russian Ballet teacher in London when I was 9. I never remember a moment when I suddenly wanted to be a ballerina but I remember always being in love with classical music and it ignited something in me, that feeling of just needing to dance. I fell in love with the hard work of ballet and the strive to perfection, it really intrigued me and fascinated me. I could express myself through movement and it felt very natural.
When did you move to St Petersburg? What are the major ways it compares culturally to your hometown London?
I went to Russia to Study at the Vaganova Ballet Academy and was the first British girl to study there. It was quite an honour to be accepted and I moved from my family to Russia at 15. The Russian way of life is extremely cultural. Everybody knows about art and ballet, opera you name it. In Saint Petersburg most people would recognise a ballet star like they recognise football players in England. Art is a big part of the Russian culture and it was an honour and amazing thing to experience that.
Tell us a bit about the teaching you do, we are obsessed with @balletwithisabella!
Ah thank you so much! I coach young dancers to professional level as well as teach online and in person group classes. A part of why I love coaching young dancers is because I have the chance to influence young people to believe they can achieve what they desire to. It’s a wonderful thing to give someone self-belief they didn’t know they had within them but we all do, sometimes we just need to have someone to guide us. I myself have big dreams and ideas, and I think we are all truly limitless when we go after what we want.
“IN SAINT PETERSBURG MOST PEOPLE WOULD RECOGNISE A BALLET
STAR LIKE THEY RECOGNISE FOOTBALL PLAYERS IN ENGLAND.”
Describe how it feels when you are dancing in 3 words.
Free. Passionate. Emotional.
What are your favourite spots in St Petersburg?
For obvious reasons, I love The Mariinsky Theatre. It has always been a spot of huge inspiration for me where many past stars of ballet have performed and where I have been lucky enough to perform several times. You can feel the weight of history when you walk backstage.
La Terrassa is one of my favourite restaurants (I have a few favourites but this stands out) most of all because it has an amazing view of the Kazan Cathedral and Nevsky Prospect which is like the Oxford street of Saint Petersburg. It has a fantastic menu with so many different types of cuisines. You can sit and watch the sunset wrapped in a warm blanket with your cocktail in hand.
Another place I adore is The Hermitage. It is one of the most historical museums and one of the most beautiful architecturally to look at.
Whenever I do venture back, I always make a trip back to The Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet, as it’s where I spent some prime years of my youth and training. I obtained so many incredible memories I will never forget and cherish from that place. An incredible building and institution with teachers who have truly devoted their lives to ballet.
What would you say is the Russian approach to style?
One word: glamour. They love to dress up in high heels and look elegant. Of course there are many types of styles people have but in general, evoking elegance is how I would describe it.
Describe St Petersburg in 3 words.
Beautiful. Majestic. Artistic.
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