Maria Chugai
Photo: Sebastien Galtier

Maria Chugai


As a pupil of the famous Vaganova Ballet Academy in St Petersburg, Maria Chugai had only one dream: to dance at the birthplace of Russian ballet – with the renowned Mariinsky Ballet. When she was eighteen, her dream came true, after graduating with distinction and dancing the role of Gamzatti in La Bayadère and the Grand Pas Classique on the stage of the Mariinsky Theatre for her graduation performance. She remained with the company for three years, dancing solo roles in the company’s rich classical heritage, including Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, Raymonda, Don Quixote and Le Corsaire, as well as in several Balanchine works, such as Theme & Variations, The Four Temperaments and Serenade

After those three years, she followed the advice of Altynai Asylmuratova, who was then director of the Vaganova Ballet Academy, to consider switching to Dutch National Ballet. Maria says, “I’m still glad I listened to her. Not only because it’s a company where classical traditions are blended with unique modern repertoire, but also because I’ve learnt a lot from my fellow dancers here in Amsterdam, who come from different backgrounds, schools and theatres. It’s fascinating to witness such a bright variety of styles in one company.” 

Musical and expressive 

Maria’s father, an engineer, originally hoped his daughter would follow in his footsteps. Nevertheless, her parents were great art enthusiasts and took their daughters to museums, concert halls and theatres. This encouraged Maria’s younger sister Lucia to develop a passion for music (and she is now a well-known jazz singer-songwriter, after graduating from the conservatoire in Prague). And Maria herself was spellbound by the first ballet performance she saw at the age of five: The Nutcracker. “It was Tchaikovsky’s music that touched me most. I saw ballet as a poetic visualisation of this music and after that performance I started to dance myself at home.” Her mother supported Maria’s aspirations and took her to audition for the ballet school founded by the famous Ukrainian ballet dancer Vadim Pisarev in Maria’s hometown of Donetsk. “I fell in love with ballet right from the start.” Maria was the youngest in her class and had no previous ballet experience, but she was praised by her teachers for her musicality, expressiveness and desire to work hard.

Vadim Pisarev saw potential in her and let her represent the school among its best students at competitions and international summer festivals, through which Maria was spotted by teachers from the Vaganova Ballet Academy. At the age of thirteen, she was accepted into the 4th-grade class of Olga Baltacheeva, and later she was chosen by the highly acclaimed professor Ludmila Kovaleva to successfully graduate under her leadership in 2006. “I remember my school years as a magical time”, Maria says, “although living alone at the boarding school in St Petersburg far away from my family was a real character-building challenge. However, it allowed me to forge lifelong friendships and generated endless love for my second hometown.” 


Now, so many years after leaving St Petersburg, she says, “Just like my years at the Vaganova Ballet Academy, my time in the Netherlands has formed me as well. I’ve worked with so many wonderful people here.” Out of the many choreographers whose ballets she’s danced, Hans van Manen and Toer van Schayk are particularly dear to her, and she regrets never meeting the third ‘Van’ – Rudi van Dantzig (who died in 2012). “You can see what a special person he must have been just from his Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet and Four Last Songs.” One of her favourite Van Manen ballets is Kleines Requiem, but his Fantasia takes the cake for her, and the jewel in the crown has to be Van Schayk’s Requiem. “That was a true highlight, because of the choreography’s strong message, the unity that the dancers formed on stage and, first and foremost, Mozart’s outstanding score performed live by the orchestra and singers.” The musical interpretation is the most important part of all her performances. “For me, visualising music with my body and soul is the essence of the dancing profession.” 

Master’s degree 

In 2016, after creating two works for the young choreographers’ programme New Moves (Wild is the Wind in 2015 and Claire de lune in 2016) Maria started studying at the Vaganova Ballet Academy again – next to all her rehearsals and performances with Dutch National Ballet. In July 2023, she completed a seven-year educational programme and became a Master of Fine Arts. “Besides my interest in pedagogy and history of arts, this was also an opportunity to maintain close ties with my beloved city and alma mater. I was born in the multicultural Soviet Union, to a Ukrainian father and a Russian mother, and I’ve now been living happily in the Netherlands for more than a decade. So I see myself as a world citizen, promoting culture. I’m here in Amsterdam to learn, but also to express something of my background, and when I go home, I take something from here with me in turn.” 


Place of birth: 
Donetsk (former Soviet Union, now Ukraine) 

With Dutch National Ballet since: 

Career with Dutch National Ballet: 
Soloist (2022), grand sujet (2014), coryphée (2009) 

Previously danced with: 
Mariinsky Ballet (St Petersburg, Russia) 

Vaganova Ballet Academy (St Petersburg, Russia): Bachelor’s degree in Performing Arts (2006), Bachelor’s degree in Ballet Pedagogy (2020) and Master of Fine Arts (2023) 

Choreographed works: 
Wild is the Wind (2015), Claire de Lune (2016) 


  • 2006: Vaganova-PRIX, St Petersburg (Russia), second prize 

  • 2000: International Ballet Competition Tallinn (Estonia), second prize in the junior category